Lawrence of Arabia and the Revolt in the Desert
To mark the centenary of Sharif Hussein’s forces seizing the Ottoman port of Aqaba on 6 July 1917, the fourth Great War study day focuses upon the Arab revolt against Turkish rule, and the role of archaeologist turned soldier, T.E. Lawrence. The ‘revolt in the desert’ is placed in the context of French and British intervention in the Middle East, notably the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration; the consequences of which still resonate throughout the region known then as the Levant. Recreated in spectacular style by David Lean in the epic Lawrence of Arabia, the capture of Aqaba opened supply lines from Egypt to Allied forces operating further north in Transjordan and Greater Palestine. This effectively ended any lingering threat of a Turkish attack on the Suez Canal. By examining General Allenby’s successful offensive east of Suez in 1917-18, we can assess the military significance of Lawrence’s contribution – to what extent does the legend match reality? Before convincing Prince Feisal and other tribal chieftains to rise up Lawrence’s involvement in the Middle East was primarily as a scholar, prompting consideration of how pre-war archaeology disguised great power interest in the crumbling Ottoman empire. Examining Lawrence before and after the First World War offers an additional perspective on continuing conflict in the Middle East and his close connection with Southampton Water. In the 1920s and 1930s, a very public retreat from fame saw the writer of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom assume a fresh identity not once but twice, as a ranker in the Army and then the Royal Air Force. Extended service in the RAF led to a final posting in Hythe, where Lawrence worked on the British Powerboat Company’s latest rescue launches; weekends were spent at Cloud’s Hill, his Dorset cottage, or socialising in London with the likes of Churchill or Shaw. Since his death in 1935 popular interest in Lawrence and the revolt in the desert has never waned; fuelled by fresh revelations about his private life, and an urgent need to comprehend the creation myth upon which Saudi Arabia’s unbending monarchy claims its legitimacy. This study day recognises our continuing fascination with ‘El Laurens’, and his place in the violent and crisis-ridden history of the Middle East over the past one hundred years.
1st July 2017
*A Loyalty Scheme is being offered to those booking more than one study day paying the full rate.