Seventy-five years ago today, on the morning of May 13, 1935, a 46-year-old retired British army officer was riding his motorcycle home from the post office, when he swerved to avoid hitting two boys on bicycles. He was thrown onto the road and sustained head injuries, then died six days later in a provincial hospital. It was a mundane circumstance for the death of an extraordinary man.
Thomas Edward (T. E.) Lawrence was an intellectual and adventurer who became known to the world as “Lawrence of Arabia.” Lawrence could read books by the age of four. He attended Oxford on scholarship and spent one of his summer vacations hiking 1,100 miles through Syria, Palestine and Turkey to survey crusader castles for a thesis on military architecture. He spoke Arabic, Turkish, German, French, Latin and Greek. When World War I broke out in 1914, he was recruited into the British army for his extensive first-hand knowledge of the Middle East. During the course of the war, Lawrence became one of the architects and leaders of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks – a remarkable adventure that was retold in David Lean’s 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif and Alec Guinness.
Lawrence was an intensely private man who, as Lowell Thomas famously put it, “had a genius for backing into the limelight.” When the war was over, however, he succeeded in staying out of the limelight by refusing a knighthood and serving out his military career under assumed names. He translated Homer and wrote a memoir of the Arab Revolt, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. And he had a penchant for fast motorcycles, including the custom-made Brough Superior SS100 which he rode into town on a mundane errand 75 years ago today.
Today, to mark the 75th anniversary of his tragic motor cycle accident, we feature some of the only known footage of T.E. Lawrence above.