Lawrence of Arabia Trail

T.E. Lawrence

Thomas Edward Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, was born in Wales on 16 August 1888.

From the age of eight, he lived in Oxford, where he later studied Modern History at Jesus College.

In 1909, he undertook an 1100 mile walking tour of Palestine and Syria, collecting material for his thesis, ‘Crusader Castles’. In 1911, Lawrence started work as an archaeologist at Carchemish in Syria, where he gained knowledge of Arabs and Arabic.

The Army Years

In 1914 he joined the Army and was posted to Military Intelligence in Cairo. As Captain T. E. Lawrence he led Bedouin tribesmen in guerrilla raids against the Turkish Army, especially the Hejaz railway. He progressed to Major and then to Lieutenant Colonel.

In July 1917 Arab forces captured Akaba and then went on to capture Damascus in 1918, the highpoint of the Arab campaign. He returned to Britain in 1918 as Colonel Lawrence where he lobbied unsuccessfully for Arab independence. He turned down a succession of prestigious posts and tried to escape from the public eye by changing his identity.

Aliases

In 1922, he became known as Aircraftsman Ross at Uxbridge, but his alias was discovered.

In 1923, as T. E. Shaw, he made Dorset his new home. He joined the Tank Corps at Bovington and purchased nearby Clouds Hill as a retreat. During this time he was to finish writing ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ and ‘The Mint.’ In 1925, he was allowed to rejoin the RAF, and after a spell in Karachi, he was posted to Plymouth, where he lobbied successfully for faster rescue boats. He spent the rest of his career developing and testing high speed rescue boats, which formed the basis of the air-sea rescue service.

He retired to Clouds Hill in 1935, where, only a few months later, he was involved in a fatal crash on his Brough Superior motorcycle. His final resting place is in the nearby cemetery at Moreton.

Bovington and Wareham

The Lawrence of Arabia Trail starts at the Tank Museum in Bovington and concentrates on his life in this part of Dorset. Why not call in to the museum to see their new exhibitions?

When Lawrence first came to Bovington in 1923, the muddy main street contained a selection of shops and cafes known as Tintown, while the troops were accommodated in wooden huts on both sides of the road.

Lawrence had three diversions at Bovington. He could visit the author Thomas Hardy at his Dorchester home, tear about the countryside on his big Brough Superior motorcycle and restore the old cottage at Clouds Hill, near Bovington, which he hoped to retire to and in which he regularly entertained his friends.

He did not like the Army and in the summer of 1925 he was admitted to the RAF as Aircraftsman Shaw and posted to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.

In 1935 he came back to Bovington. He had now retired from the RAF and planned to settle down in peace and quiet, but was fatally injured on 13th May 1935 and died six days later in the military hospital at Bovington Camp. The Wareham Town Museum has devoted a special section to Lawrence with important documents and other exhibits connected with his full and fascinating life.

Clouds Hill, near Bovington

Clouds Hill was accepted by the National Trust and is held inalienably because of its association with T. E. Lawrence, who occupied it between 1923 and 1935.

It was given to the Trust in 1937 by Arnold Lawrence, as he wanted it to be kept for the nation as a memorial for his brother.

Formerly an undistinguished estate forester’s cottage of 1808, Clouds Hill was altered by Lawrence. Along with surviving decorations and furnishings, although incomplete, it today expresses and evokes his austere and sometimes innovative tastes and diverse intellectual interests.

Bought as a retreat from his army life he read, wrote and listened to music here. Of the many places where he lived, this is the only one to survive with physical evidence of his occupation.

The accident

The novelist Henry Williamson wrote to Lawrence in May 1935 to say that he would like to visit Clouds Hill. The letter was delivered on the 11th, a Saturday, so on Monday morning Lawrence rode into Bovington Camp on his Brough Superior SS-100 motorcycle, registration number GW 2275, to send a telegram to Williamson. Returning from the post office, Lawrence was travelling fast when he came upon two young cyclists in a dip in the road. Swerving to avoid them, he clipped one of the cycles and was thrown from his motorcycle. He sustained serious injury and died at the Military Hospital on the 19th May 1935 without recovering consciousness.

It was recorded that the cause of his death was congestion of the lungs and heart failure following a fracture of the skull and laceration of the brain. The inquest was held on the following Tuesday, the 21st, at the hospital. It was conducted by the East Dorset Coroner, Ralph Neville-Jones. Witnesses included the two cyclists, Frank Fletcher and Albert Hargreaves, Corporal Catchpole of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and Captain Allen of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Mystery inevitably surrounds the death of a celebrity but in Lawrence’s case it has been excessive. It has been prompted largely by Corporal Catchpole’s statement to the inquest that, just before Lawrence swerved to avoid the young cyclists, he passed a black car travelling in the opposite direction. Neither of the boys recalled the car and indeed swore that there was no car.

On 13 May 1983, 48 years after the accident, a memorial oak tree, dedicated to Lawrence, was planted close to the site of the accident by Mr. Tom Beaumont who served with Lawrence in Arabia as his No.1 Vickers machine-gunner. In the nearby woods, another memorial stone has been donated by the T. E. Lawrence Society.

St. Nicholas Church, Moreton

Lawrence’s funeral service took place at St Nicholas, Moreton, on the afternoon of 21st May 1935. It was conducted by the Rector, Canon Michael Kinloch, was well attended, and widely covered by the press, although the public were asked not to come. Six pall bearers were chosen to represent different aspects of Lawrence’s life.

The cemetery is located near to the church and Lawrence’s grave can be found at the far end, on the right. Notice that the headstone records his real name, although he was officially T. E. Shaw when he died, having changed his name by deed poll.

There is a bust of Lawrence by Eric Kennington in St Paul’s Cathedral, while St Martin’s Church in Wareham contains a Crusader style effigy of Lawrence, also by Kennington, showing him recumbent in full Arab dress.

Following the Trail

You can download a copy of the Lawrence Trail leaflet which includes a map and step by step instructions about how to follow the 7 mile walking route. Please note this leaflet is not an Accessible PDF - the text from the leaflet is included on this webpage.  Please contact us if you need this leaflet in an accessible format.

You may also like...

Thomas Hardy Trail

Follow in Thomas Hardy's footsteps as you visit the towns and villages which gave him inspiration.

Enid Blyton Trail

Visit places which inspired Enid Blyton to write some of her most loved books.

Broadchurch Trail

Visit the locations in West Bay where ITV's award winning drama series Broadchurch was filmed.