Lawrence of Arabia: Irish Connection - January 2016

PRONI’s document of the month for January is taken from the papers of T.E. Lawrence’s biographer, Harford Montgomery Hyde.

Belfast born Hyde, was a barrister, politician and MP for Belfast North. Amongst his papers are a set of 58 photographs and notes about T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. The papers were Hyde’s working notes for his work, Solitary in the Ranks: Lawrence of Arabia as Airman and Private Soldier, printed in 1977.  

Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia

T. E. Lawrence, the son of an Anglo-Irish father, Sir Thomas Chapman had roots in West Meath.

Lawrence was best known for his exploits in Egypt during the First World War and would later die in a motorcycle accident in 1935.

Amongst the photographs are two of Lawrence sitting on a Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle. This was the motorcycle he was fatally injured whilst driving on 13 May 1935 in Dorset. He died six days later on 10 May, aged 46, and only two months after leaving military service.

The images were discovered by PRONI member of staff, Colin Shaw, when he was researching a query. Colin said “The more I investigated Lawrence’s background, the more intrigued I became. Although I had seen the movie, I was amazed at how much more there was to this gentleman. For somebody who died at a relatively young age, 46, he achieved so much. He was a practising archaeologist in the Middle East before he joined the army.

There is a lot of interest in the First World War at the moment because of the centenaries, so I was fascinated by his distinguished military career. After the war he experienced difficulties readjusting to post war life, and enlisted in the RAF under the pseudonym of John Hume Ross, and then the Royal Tank Corps where he again enlisted under another pseudonym - T. E.  Shaw - my surname. He refused a knighthood, worked for Winston Churchill, and unlike the six foot three Peter O’Toole (who played him in the movie), he was only five foot five”.

“ I subsequently found out that  Hugh Cairns, the neurosurgeon who tended his injuries, would later write a pioneering study entitled ‘Head injuries in Motor-cyclists – the importance of the crash helmet’, which would lead to the British Army ordering all despatch riders to wear safety helmets in November 1941. I had no idea that there had been so much resistance to the wearing of helmets.”

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