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Lawrence of Arabia images found in Belfast records office

Published 19/01/2016

Forgotten images of Lawrence of Arabia have been discovered at a records office in Northern Ireland.

British officer TE Lawrence was best know for his exploits in the deserts of the Middle East during the First World War when he helped promote rebellion against the failing Ottoman Empire.

Amongst the photographs are two of Lawrence astride the motorcycle he was fatally injured on in May 1935 in Dorset. He died aged 46, two months after leaving military service.

The pictures were taken from the papers of Lawrence's biographer, Belfast-born Harford Montgomery Hyde, which included a set of 58 photographs and notes relating to Lawrence.

They were Hyde's notes for his work, Solitary In The Ranks: Lawrence Of Arabia As Airman And Private Soldier, printed in 1977.

Lawrence's job during the war was to help prompt insurrection among the Arab subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Dressed in native attire, he travelled long distances by camel over the dunes in what is now Jordan.

He persuaded the Arabs to attack the Hejaz railway which supplied Turkish troops in modern-day Saudi Arabia and fought alongside irregular troops in guerrilla operations.

The images were found in the archives by Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) staff member Colin Shaw.

He said: "I subsequently found out that Hugh Cairns, the neurosurgeon who tended his injuries, would later write a pioneering study entitled 'Head injuries in Motor-cyclists - the importance of the crash helmet', which would lead to the British Army ordering all despatch riders to wear safety helmets in November 1941.

"I had no idea that there had been so much resistance to the wearing of helmets."

Lawrence was a practising archaeologist in the Middle East before he joined the Army.

Mr Shaw added: "There is a lot of interest in the First World War at the moment because of the centenaries, so I was fascinated by his distinguished military career.

"After the war he experienced difficulties readjusting to post-war life, and enlisted in the RAF under the pseudonym of John Hume Ross, and then the Royal Tank Corps, where he again enlisted under another pseudonym - TE Shaw.

"He refused a knighthood, worked for Winston Churchill, and unlike the 6ft 3in Peter O'Toole (who played him in Lawrence Of Arabia), he was only 5ft 5in."

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