52. T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)
Groundbreakers (143 votes)
1888 – 1935
Archaeologist, soldier, writer and campaigner for Arab independence
The extraordinary life of T.E. Lawrence began in what were definitely scandalous circumstances for the times.
He was born at Tremadoc on the Llyn peninsula, where his parents had fled to escape the disapproval of polite Dublin society. His father, Irish baronet Sir Thomas Chapman, had left his wife for Sarah Guner, Lawrence’s mother and the governess of Chapman’s legitimate children. The couple assumed the name Lawrence after their elopement.
Although their stay in Wales was brief – the family moved on to Scotland within a year or so- Lawrence’s birthplace qualified him for a Welsh scholarship at Jesus College Oxford where his life took a decisive turn.
At Oxford he studied Archaelogy and Lawrence began a lifelong fascination with Arab culture, visiting the Middle East several times before joining the army on the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
Lawrence was posted to British headquarters in Cairo where he eventually became liaison officer with the local Arab rulers. The quality of his contacts –and the considerable trust they placed in him – meant he was well placed to assist the Arab uprising against the Turks, then a major regional power.
Together they scored numerous successes against the Turks, including the capture of Aqaba which had been considered impregnable by the British high command.
After the war, Lawrence attended the Paris peace conference but was disappointed by its failure to grant independence to any of the emergent Arab nations.
The second phase of Lawrence’s life was spent escaping from the fame generated by the first. He joined the RAF under the name assumed name of
Aircraftsman Ross. Teasing his wish for anonymity, Noel Coward wrote "Dear 338171, or may I call you 338"?
When his true identity was publicly exposed Lawrence returned to the army, enlisting as Private Shaw. He died in a motorcycle crash at the age of 46 leaving behind his classic memoir The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.