Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB,DSO (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935) was a British archaeologist, army officer, military theorist, diplomat, and writer. He was renowned for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia, a title used for the 1962 film based on his wartime activities.
He was born out of wedlock in Tremadog, Wales in August 1888 to Sarah Junner, a Scottish governess and Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish nobleman from County Westmeath. Chapman left his wife and family in Ireland to cohabit with Junner; in 1914 he became Sir Thomas Chapman, 7th Baronet. Chapman and Junner called themselves Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, a name probably adopted from Sarah's likely father; Sarah's mother had been employed as a servant for a Lawrence family when she became pregnant with Sarah. In 1889, the family moved to Kirkcudbright in Scotland where his brother William George was born, before moving to Dinard in Brittany. In 1896, the Lawrences moved to Oxford, where Thomas attended the high school and then studied history at Jesus College from 1907 to 1910. Between 1910 and 1914, he worked as an archaeologist for the British Museum, chiefly at Carchemish in Ottoman Syria.
Soon after the outbreak of war, he volunteered for the British Army and was stationed in Egypt, becoming an officer with the rank of Lieutenant in General Allenby's army. In 1916, he was sent to Arabia on an intelligence mission and quickly became involved with the Arab Revolt as a liaison to the Arab forces, along with other British officers. He worked closely with Emir Faisal, a leader of the revolt, and he participated in and sometimes led military activities against the Ottoman armed forces, culminating in the capture of Damascus in October 1918. Allenby promoted him at first to Major, later to Colonel.
After the war, Lawrence joined the Foreign Office, working with the British government and with Faisal. He was offered both the Victoria Cross and a knighthood, but declined both. In 1922, he retreated from public life and spent the years until 1935 serving as an enlisted man, mostly in the Royal Air Force, with a brief stint in the Army. During this time, he published his best-known work Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an autobiographical account of his participation in the Arab Revolt. He also translated books into English and wrote The Mint, which was published posthumously and detailed his time in the Royal Air Force working as an ordinary aircraftman. He corresponded extensively and was friendly with well-known artists, writers, and politicians. For the Royal Air Force, he participated in the development of rescue motorboats.
Lawrence's public image resulted in part from the sensationalised reporting of the Arab revolt by American journalist Lowell Thomas, as well as from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In 1935, Lawrence was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident in Dorset.
Lawrence's birthplace, Gorphwysfa, Tremadog, Carnarvonshire, Wales
Thomas Edward Lawrence was born on 16 August 1888 in Tremadog, Carnarvonshire, Wales, in a house named Gorphwysfa, now known as Snowdon Lodge. His Anglo-Irish father Thomas Chapman had left his wife Edith after he had a son with Sarah Junner, a young Scotswoman who had been governess to his daughters. Sarah had herself been an illegitimate child, having been born in Sunderland as the daughter of John Lawrence and Elizabeth Junner, a servant in the Lawrence household; she was dismissed four months before Sarah was born, and identified Sarah's father as "John Junner, Shipwright journeyman".
The Lawrence family lived at Craigville, St Mary's Street, Kirkcudbright between 1889 and 1891
Lawrence's parents did not marry but lived together under the name Lawrence. In 1914, his father inherited the Chapman baronetcy based at Killua Castle, the ancestral family home in County Westmeath, Ireland, but his parents moved to live in England. They had five sons, and Thomas was the second eldest. From Wales, the family moved to Kirkcudbright, Galloway in southwestern Scotland, where their son William George was born, then to Dinard in Brittany, then to Jersey.
The family lived at Langley Lodge (now demolished) from 1894 to 1896, set in private woods between the eastern borders of the New Forest and Southampton Water in Hampshire. The residence was isolated, and young Lawrence had many opportunities for outdoor activities and waterfront visits. Victorian-Edwardian Britain was a very conservative society where the majority of people were Christians who considered premarital and extramarital sex to be shameful, and children born out of wedlock were born in disgrace. Lawrence was always something of an outsider, a bastard who could never hope to achieve the same level of social acceptance and success that others could expect who were born legitimate, and no girl from a respectable family would ever marry a bastard.
Lawrence claimed that he ran away from home around 1905 and served for a few weeks as a boy soldier with the Royal Garrison Artillery at St Mawes Castle in Cornwall, from which he was bought out. However, no evidence of this appears in army records.