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Lawrence of Arabia images found gathering dust in Belfast

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 20/01/2016

Lawrence of Arabia on his motorcycle
Lawrence of Arabia on his motorcycle
At a Paris peace conference in 1919
With Winston Churchill

Forgotten images of Lawrence of Arabia have been unearthed in Belfast.

A British scholar and soldier, TE Lawrence was made famous by his Great War exploits in the deserts of the Middle East.

He mobilised the Arab Revolt in the First World War before dying in a motorcycle crash. His amazing life was captured in 1960s Hollywood biopic Lawrence Of Arabia.

Less well-known is that Lawrence's life was documented in a biography by Belfast-born author Harford Montgomery Hyde.

His book Solitary In The Ranks: Lawrence Of Arabia As Airman And Private Soldier was published in 1977. A set of 58 photographs and notes on Lawrence, which were Hyde's working notes, were found in the archives of the Public Record Office Northern Ireland (PRONI).

They include Lawrence sitting on the Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle on which he crashed in Dorset in May 1935. He died six days later aged 46, two months after leaving military service. They were discovered by PRONI staff member Colin Shaw when he was researching an inquiry.

"The more I investigated Lawrence's background, the more intrigued I became," he said.

"For somebody who died at a relatively young age, he achieved so much. He was a practising archaeologist in the Middle East before he joined the Army. I was fascinated by his distinguished military career."

Lawrence was best known for his Great War exploits in the Middle East, when he helped promote rebellion against the failing Ottoman Empire.

Dressed in native attire, he travelled long distances by camel over the dunes of what is now Jordan.

His aim was to help the Arabs achieve military success that would lead to post-war self-government, although his masters in London had very different plans for the region once the Ottomans had been defeated.

Lawrence had trouble readjusting to post-war life. He renlisted in the RAF, and then the Royal Tank Corps, under pseudonyms.

He also refused a knighthood, worked for Winston Churchill, and unlike the 6ft 3in Peter O'Toole who played him in the movie, was only 5ft 5in.

Hyde had a notable background too. A barrister, he served as a politician and was elected three times as Unionist MP for North Belfast.

He lost his seat after calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Hyde penned a range of other books, including biographies of past Prime Ministers Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain.

Lawrence Of Arabia, directed by David Lean, was released in 1962 and won seven Academy Awards, including the Oscar for best picture.

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