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Talk: Lawrence of Arabia by Philip Neale, Chair of the T.E. Lawrence Society

Event Date: 27/08/2020

Write up by:
William R McKay

SBS members enjoyed an entertaining and informative illustrated online talk about Colonel Thomas E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) on the evening of Thursday 27 August. Delivered by Philip Neale, Chair of the T.E. Lawrence Society, the talk addressed main stages in Lawrence’s undeniably eventful and accomplished life.

This included his early adult life working as an archaeologist in Syria on behalf of the British Museum. Then his adventurous role in the Arab revolt during the first World War, including his highly effective guerrilla style strategy skills which were ahead of his time and subsequently emulated by a variety of latter day leaders. Philip’s presentation further illustrated how Lawrence’s leadership collectively inspired the Bedouin to follow him, culminating in Lawrence ‘taking Aqaba’ from the Ottoman army to the disbelief of many in 1917 and Lawrence’s subsequent diplomatic role in the ensuing Middle east peace process.

We also heard of his literary legacy, including the books he wrote and his friendships with a wide range of literary and public figures, including George Barnard Shaw and Winston Churchill. His fascinating personality was also considered, having been thought of as unusual by some and as a genius by others. He moved in high profile circles yet at times seemed to want to avoid publicity. Despite his accomplishments, Lawrence appears to have struggled with emotional turmoil, perhaps from a tortured conscience stemming from a personal belief that he had betrayed the Arab cause as a result of the ultimate treaty agreements, as well as having been physically tortured when captured at Dar’a in 1917. Philip highlighted this inner turmoil, describing how later in life Lawrence anonymously enlisted in the RAF under an assumed name to avoid the publicity that his exploits in the desert was now attracting. As Philip explained, this public awareness of his exploits was rolled out in theatres internationally by Lowell Thomas, an American journalist come impresario. Finally we heard about Lawrence’s sad end in a motorbike accident aged forty-seven, on the road close to his home, Cloud’s Hill near Wareham in Dorset, which is now a National Trust property.

Philp Neale has confirmed his willingness to be involved in a further event in the future. So there may be a further opportunity for an event with the T.E. Lawrence Society. As Philp emphasised, it is always good to share and encourage knowledge and understanding, including in Lawrence and his times.

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