The Murder of Lawrence of Arabia

He was a small man, only 5-foot-5, but he cast a shadow that stretched across the Arabian peninsula.  Dressed in the thobe and ghoutra of an Arab sheikh, he banded together the Arab tribes and led his Bedouin raiders across the desert that had never been crossed, the Nafud, to assault the landward side of Aqaba, a World War I Turkish stronghold. And, after that stunning achievement, with the aid of the British army, he took his ragtag Bedouin force and launched a guerilla campaign that cost the Turks precious manpower and equipment. 

His name was Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known now as “Lawrence of Arabia.” But was his death in May 1935 a tragic motorcycle accident or a carefully planned political assassination?

T.E. Lawrence was born in 1888, one of five boys born to Sir Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner, a governess to Chapman’s first family. Although the pair never married, Chapman, who adopted the name Lawrence, left his first wife and lived with Junner. Eventually the family settled in Oxford, where the younger Lawrence studied history and archaeology. 

By 1912, he had become an archaeologist, working in the Middle East with famed scholars Leonard Woolley and David George Hogarth. It was at this time that Lawrence learned Arabic and became enchanted by Arab culture. This also was when he had his first exposure to covert operations, for Woolley’s and Lawrence’s dig was used as cover for a military survey of the Negev Desert.

Lawrence had been commissioned through officer’s training in a program associated with Oxford. When World War I erupted in 1914, he was assigned to the Arab Bureau under his former professor, D.G. Hogarth. Eventually, he was attached to Sheikh Faisal, son of Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca. Faisal was an Arab nationalist, as was Lawrence. This partnership succeeded in making the Arab Revolt against the Turks, during World War I, a resounding success. And Lawrence of Arabia became world famous.

Disillusioned by the partitioning of Arabia after the war, Lawrence, by then a lieutenant colonel, retired to private life, writing two versions of the history of the Arab Revolt. But he became bored with retirement and, in 1923, enlisted in the Royal Air Force as a mechanic, under the name John Hume Ross. Later, in 1925, he enlisted in the Royal Tank Corps as T.E. Shaw. Dissatisfied with the tank corps, he attempted to return to the RAF several times, finally receiving permission to rejoin in 1926. His tenure in the RAF was plagued by accusations that he was involved in espionage, especially during a posting to India, but he remained in the service until 1935, about two months before his death near Bovington Camp in Dorset.

Lawrence on his motorcycle
On May 13, 1935, Lawrence was out riding his motorcycle near Clouds Hill, his cottage close to Wareham. According to the official version of the story, he came to a dip in the road. As he rode up the rise, he found himself about to hit two boys on bicycles. Swerving, he lost control and was flipped over the handlebars of his motorcycle, sustaining a mortal head wound, but not without clipping one of the boys.

Lawrence died six days later: May 19, 1935. An inquest was held at Bovington Camp, and Lawrence was buried in a local graveyard.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Wrong.

Almost immediately, rumors cropped up of a mysterious black car that ran Lawrence off the road. And shadowy sources alleged that Lawrence was killed by MI-5 on the orders of Winston Churchill. Rumors are wonderful things.  They can be born out of thin air and take on lives of their own. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Lawrence.

Dorset historian Rodney Legg and Lawrence biographer Desmond Stewart both believed that Lawrence was assassinated. Four witnesses stated that they saw the mysterious black car: the two children who were involved in the incident;  a man in a delivery van;  and a soldier, one Private Catchpole, who happened to be in a nearby field. The children were kept incommunicado in a hospital and did not testify at the inquest, which was conducted, oddly enough, at Bovington Camp, and controlled by MI-5 rather than the local police. Catchpole did testify about the black car, but he, conveniently, killed himself shortly thereafter. The inquest was held in the morning; Lawrence was buried the same afternoon.

Winston Churchill attending the funeral of T.E. Lawrence on May 21, 1935
But why? Why would Lawrence be considered a threat?

The answer has to do with his political leanings. Around the time of his death,  Lawrence was aligning himself with Sir Oswald Moseley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. And when he sustained the injuries that led to his death, Lawrence had been on his way to see his good friend, Hawthornden Prize winner Henry Williamson, who was facilitating a meeting between Lawrence and Adolph Hitler.  Lawrence, like other veterans of World War I, abhorred the idea of yet another war in Europe, and, like Moseley and Williamson, saw dialogue with Hitler as a necessary first step to preventing it.

In 1935, Lawrence was still a national hero. Moseley advocated peace, but there was an active war lobby in England. It is thought that Lawrence was about to publicly embrace the peace movement. This would have been very embarrassing to the war lobby.

At this far a remove, it would be difficult to prove Lawrence’s fatal injuries were other than accidental, but the circumstantial evidence is considerable.  Forensic examination in this instance would provide little. It doesn’t take a political historian to realize that the recruitment of a national figure like Lawrence would have boosted Moseley’s movement. But only the release of information from MI-5 and the British government could potentially shed any light on the circumstances of the accident, and that is highly unlikely to happen. Like much of his life, the details of T.E. Lawrence’s death will remain in the shadows.

See these and other excellent photos at The Life of T.E. Lawrence tmblr.


When Tony Hays isn’t traveling the world, teaching students, and adopting puppies, he takes time out to write the Arthurian Mystery series from Tor/Forge.

See all posts by Tony Hays for Criminal Element.

Comments

  1. Scott Adlerberg

    Fascinating stuff. I’ve read a bit about Lawrence over the years but never knew about a Lawrence-Moseley connection. If Lawrence was indeed aligning with the British peace movement and a meeting between Hitler and Lawrence actually came to pass, it’s interesting to speculate what Lawrence would have thought after that meeting. How long would he and Moseley have been on the same page? I wonder.

  2. Neil Sjoberg

    As a VSO teenager working and living in the Nairobi YMCA in 1967,I was fortunate to know Kenneth Mason.Ken was the manager of the Donovan Maule theatre in Nairobi and had served in the RAF with “Aircraftman Shaw” Shaw (AKA Lawrence) anxious to remain undiscovered ,sometimes arrived back at base late and was questioned on his mission.
    “Where have you been Shaw,Why are you late?”
    “I’Rather not say Sir”
    I order you too”
    “Ive been to dinner sir”
    (Officers had Dinner Aircraftsmen had Tea”
    “Oh dinner is Shaw ,dinner and with whom did you have dinner?”
    “Rather not say sir”
    “I order you to tell me!”
    ” Winston and Lady Churchill, The Archbishop of Canterbury and Air Cheif Marshall Trenchard”

    Lawrence was put in the glasshouse for two weeks for insubordination.

    • Emily

      Is this true? If so, very funny! What excited did it mean to be put in the glasshouse? Did they think he was just being sarcastic, and didn’t actually meet the Churchills? Thanks!

  3. Chris S.

    Actually, Lawrence flatly refuted Mosley’s efforts to recruit him into the Blackshirts, telling one of his supporters “Please don’t make me any part of your club” and ridiculing their efforts in private. Williamson’s the only real source for Lawrence-as-fascist and as an unapologetic fascist himself, had an agenda to push. I know of few Lawrence scholars who take Stewart or the conspiracy claims seriously.

  4. John Jan Popovic

    There is a pattern: kill the man and attend the funeral. It is considered MI XX tradition …

  5. Nyah

    Laurence of Arabia is my great great great uncle on my mums New Zealand side

  6. Valerie Wells

    I live in Plymstock, Plymouth, near to Mount Batten where T.E. Shaw (aka T.E.Lawrence) was based in the RAF. When the MOD released land for redevelopment the main road leading to Mount Batten was named Shaw Road, with Shaw Way leading off it. I never cease to think about Shaw as I visit the area often. He was fascinating, adventurous and fearless. I have the utmost respect for him.

  7. Alistair McColl

    My Grandfather was Captain DS McColl 7878082 RAC / RTR and a career tank man for 9 years before the outbreak of WW2. He worked with TEL In Bovington in the thirties, and worked on Lawrence`s Brough Superior in the workshops on numerous occasions.
    My Grandfather saw action in the 8th Army in El Alamein and was a courageous Scot and not one to brag. He never spoke of the horrors he experienced and how those around him fell.
    I very clearly recall, however, his relating the stories and rumours that circulated the School of Gunnery in Bovington at the time. He spoke of Lawrence being a highly skilled motorcyclist who knew the roads of Dorset like the back of his hand. He also spoke of the shrouds of mystery and conjecture that surrounded the incident, and that the “black car” was widely witnessed by those on the ground at the time.
    There was no doubt in my Grandfather`s mind that Lawrence was removed by those above.

  8. n hodgson

    I am male of 64 years old. Around 1960 there was a television programme about the death of Lawrence and although only eight I remember well the fasination of making my own opinion based on the programme of a hero daring and clever man riding a powerful motorcycle .You see a few days before I sneaked into the back yard of a terraced property and removed the rain cover of a black 350cc matchless I sat on a motorcycle for the first time. In 1971 I had bought a velocette and was now a pilot using every instinct to survive and race which gave me tremendous pleasure. I continued buying motorcycles and finished racing cars and bikes in ,2010. You could say I was an experienced motorcyclist.

    I learnt to read the road long before bends ever arrived I looked for moss on trees to know which way north was to expect a greasy road surface. I knew when the sun would appear at each bend at anytime of the day. I would check the line of telegraph poles to read the bends ahead. I learnr how to stay alive.

    But Lawrence covered over 100,000 miles on his first few broughs easily.He talked about it. He was an extra special person,he knew how to survive life and a motorcycle was an extension to his personality. I am expected to believe that knowing all this he made an error while riding a dip in the road a few yards from his home. Somebody is having a laugh at my expense. So what happened on that early television programme as I viewed the images through a big magnified glass hanging onto the screen of a small valve television.

    The interviewer went through all the discrepences of the events .Two churches , the boys statements,the death of Catchpole etc., but it was the last ten minutes of the programme which brought home to me corruption and doubt of people which has continued to this day.

    He interviewed three local neighbours who lived around Lawrences home. These people simple and straight forward and I believe honest said they heard Lawrence set of from his house they heard the motorcycle crash.They then said they heard the motorcycle start up again and come back to the house. It only stayed a few minutes and then went back to the scene. They all stated that it was not Lawrence driving the motorcycle. So you ask the question how could they possibly know that. Quite simple a motorcyclists opens the throttle and changes gear different to any other the timing of the throttle is like hand writing everyone is different. A v twin motorcycle is loud and revs different to any other engine.Harley have built a reputation on there noise everybody knows when one goes down the street you do not have to look.

    So as a small boy I had my first taste of what every viewer realised that night. The chain of events does not fit in with the explanation given.

    Was Lawrence dead or was he sneaked of to do some other covert work. We might find out one day.

    Which brings me back to the present day. The death of David Kelly , do the authorities expect me to believe the body was found propped up against a tree in a copse.No laid down in a copse in a wood. No laid down in a corn field. And Robert Maxwell the sons came to the boat an hour too soon to pick up there fathers belongings.He hadnot even left the boat. The death of Jill Dando the jacket that had the speck of gunpower in was laid on the bench to be tested then examined the next day inadmissible evidence.Anybody could have planted that.So who what were the authoritise trying to cover up. I could go on .

    So when I hear another story I just smile. How daft and gullable do you think I am. Donot blame me for my thoughts, but I will never forget that documentary ever.

    • Maxine Fletcher

      Well Mr Hodgson. Neither did the boys concerned. They lived with the lies that were told about that day and a car that never existed.

    • A Caruana

      I was at school with a boy called Hodgson in the 60’s, could it be your father was 6′ 6″ a major serving in Cyprus?

  9. Don Stolwijk

    As far as I know Moseley is spelled wrongly here, it is spelled Mosley.
    I did some research in Dorset years back and to my opinion Lawrence was on his way back from Bovington Camp to Clouds Hill after a phone call with Williamson to advise him about a book Williamson intended to write. Williamson became a BUF member in 1937.

  10. Ray Attwood

    What a strange coincidence to stumble across this article and postings whilst trawling the internet. I have some information in my possession, property of my late father, which confirms the suspicions of posters 7, 8 and 9.

    Would Tony Hays, or anyone concerned with ‘CriminalElement’ care to contact me ?

    • Nicholas Hodgson

      It would be good Ray if let it be public what you know giving others chance to contribute

  11. alec

    What puzzle’s me in the official reports is the 2 boys were looking for birds nests,if so they would not be stood in the middle of the road but on the edge looking in the tree’s and bushes most likely with their cycles.

    • Maxine Fletcher

      Sorry Alec the two boys were on a delivery for the local butcher. Please don’t believe all you hear or read, find out the facts.

  12. scott buckingham

    Shortly before my father died (2011) I mentioned to him in passing that I was reading Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom.’ “There’s our family secret,” he said. He went on to tell me that my great uncle and fellow Air force officer was a good friend of Lawrence. He (my father) then produced an old photo of Lawrence and my great uncle together to prove the veracity of his claim. Lawrence, he told me, had left his bike with my great uncle to tinker with, given he shared a love of motorbikes and was an aircraft mechanic. They had taken the bike for a test ride, with my great uncle riding tandem when they had the accident – according to my father. My great uncle, finding Lawrence looked to be dead and fearing the repercussions due to Lawrence’s notoriety, had summoned help and then disappeared. I never knew my father to tell a lie, and later research confirmed Lawrence’s friendship with a man with the sir name of Buckingham, which looks to be my great uncle. Sadly my father passed away at the age of 87, so I can’t question him further and I was unable to find the photo among my fathers affects. Could this be a clue to the shadow over Lawrence’s death?

  13. Maxine Fletcher

    Sorry Scott. On that fateful day Lawrence was on the bike by himself.

    • scott buckingham

      That’s what they say!

    • Nicholas Hodgson

      So Ray you still have not helped with your thoughts as I discussed some months ago and Maxine you are very positive about your facts could you please let it be known where your source came from because I at the moment are thinking that Scott could be right and that’s why the people on the television heard another person ride the motorcycle to get help only a thought

      • Nicholas Hodgson

        Just spoken to the national trust at clouds hill there was no telephone in his house around the time of his death

  14. Alex Brown

    it doesn’t seem this will ever be solved. The world is full of perverse truths, lies and the unsolved. I suppose its time to accept it and scratch it up to an ‘accident’…

  15. sir charles drake

    churchill clean up crew normalcy.
    more white mischief i believe the mi5 clean up types where involved in the lord errol affair
    a book The Life and Death of Lord Erroll talks of mosley and mi5.
    the boston breaks techniques have been around at least 80 years.

  16. Rev. Spooner

    Off the bat, let me say that Churchill was a drunk and a narcissist and the fag T E Lawrence was in a way responsible for the collapse of the British Empire.
    The end result was Americans buying the Empire’s assets for a tenth of a dollar during the second world war. Google or duckgo if you have doubts.

  17. Dennis Gannon

    The huge red flag is the “death” of Private Catchpole. The second red flag is the silencing of the 2 boys. The third red flag is the jurisdiction being stolen from the police. The political angle provides a motive. So, yes, there is good reason to believe he was murdered. The propaganda war is still going on. The lies about both World Wars is still going on. God will judge the liars, eventually.

  18. Nicholas Hodgson

    Well Im back again.

    Firstly no help from Maxine and Ray.

    You now need to stop reading and put into google pictures of the delivery boys and the crashed cycle Involved in tbe crash with Lawrence of Arabia. STUDY THEM CAREFULLY

    You will notice the hercules bakery bike made by b.s.a. has a 58 tooth front driving chain sprocket. It also sports a copy of a brookes leather saddle which is inferior to the brookes model.

    If you use the scale In the picture measured by the sprocket of 8 3/4 inches you can conclude tbe person who rode the cycle had an Ieg measurement of 35 inches or highier. You can also conclude that tbe person riding the cycle was of considerable weight. The seat is built with two posts stretched leather acting as a hammock.

    Now look at the picture of the two boys. None ever rode that cycle. I rest my case.

    Now look at the damage to the rear cycles down tube to the axle. Using our scale of the front sprocket is 8 3/4 inches measure the height of impact. You will need nearside picture of a brough motorcycle model 100.

    Nothing sticks out of the motorcycle at that height to sustain that damage.

    Using my experience I am going to make an educated guess that that cycle did not belong to any delivery boy but was in fact one dragged out of the premises belonging to the camp.

    A bodged job was made to look like an accident to cover up an assassination.

    I also do not believe Lawrence died on the sixth day. It would have take considerable time to arrange an inquest and a burial.

    He was murdered.

    And thats why MI 5 were involved and not the police.

    Now if you read my first adventure here may 2016 you will realise I was right about Barry George.

    NOW the two men and the large organisation Involved in the death of Jill Dando have to decide what they need to do next.

    • Nicholas Hodgson

      I have taken for granted that the reader has ridden and set up a cycle to ride. You measure the distance from the centre of the seat with the crank pedal in its lowest position. This distance over 35 inches should be the distance measured of the inside leg with the knee slightly bend. Only this way does the rider not suffer a knee injury whilst pedalling. A person with an inside leg measurement would be around 6 foot one inch to six foot three inches in height.

      I am sorry I did not make that clear.

  19. Nicholas Hodgson

    It would be good if an army or air force or cycle mechanic could offer that the rear light fitted to the cycle was one for the military and common equipment

    Thank you

  20. Nicholas Hodgson

    I have now found a report on the brough motorcycle after the accident

    George Brough was asked to make a report on the condition of the motorcycle after the accident

    He quotes black paint found on the petrol tank and handle bars and goes on to say there was structural damage to the bike.

    He was asked not sure by who to illiminate the remark made about the structural damage in his report.

    It is then reported that George Brough does not get the repair job because quote by his brother over thirty pounds was too expensive.

    A bike that cost as much as a house to be repaired by somebody else does not fit with me.

    Its value would increase if it was a proper repair George did not make hundreds of these bikes they were hand made.

    Further proof that the black car was involved.

    Consider also no damage to any boy.No whip lash etc.

    Catchpole committing suicide the next day.

    It begs believe how they got away with it. It wouldnot happen today would it tongue in cheek with a big grin.

    Its happening all the time

  21. Nicholas Hodgson

    So is there a historian out there who could offer what might have happened if Lawrence were to have had a meeting with Hitler

    And if your looking for another adventure put into your computer the death of Jill Dando the bullet and the Liverpool criminal who supplied the gun…then…….ask yourself…..why arenot the police looking into her death.

    Check the polices coverage of there checks used in the area she travelled that day using her phone, and draw your own conclusion.

    Then ask why they still continued with the case against Barry George when clearly evidence was bouncing miles away from a proper truthful conviction.

    The Eastern assassination does not fit because they are suggesting a pipe gun that killed her. But check the doctors report….the gun with a sight impression was found in her head

    Clearly the police team were led with tunnel vision.

    This needs sorting and its going to be a member of the public who is going to give them the assistance they require

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