Tucked behind the ancient precincts of Westminster Abbey and the very nearly as ancient surrounds of Westminster School lies Barton Street home to a couple of blue plaques. At No. 14 is the plaque to T.E. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia.Where he rewrote The Seven Pillars of Wisdom his not quite 100% accurate account of his exploits in the dying embers of the Ottoman empire after he left the original draft on Reading Station.Its an extraordinary tale and one which certainly resonates today.
His pre-war career began with a first at Oxford during which time he travelled to both France and Syria (a trip that involved tramping for a thousand or so miles around the country) to research military architecture, his thesis was on The influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture – to the end of the 12th century. After graduating he started a postgraduate career at oxford before being offered work as a field archaeologist with among others Leonard Woolley and Flinders Petrie.
At the outbreak of war in 1914 he was coopted into the intellegence services in Cairo as a result of his knowledge of the near and middle east. Hed been in contact with many in the ottoman administration of mesopotamia and their technical advisors when given the prevalent political alliances happened to be german. The Arab Bureau of the Foreign Office esxploited the Arab feelings of discontent under the Ottoman yoke to raise a revolt - the British realised that an uprising would tie up vast amounts of resources that the Turks would otherwise utilise against the allied powers - what would these days be called assymetric warfare.
Lawrence fought alongside the arabs under Emir Faisal councilling avoiding set piece battles instead favouring guerilla tactics - particularly attacking the Hejaz railway and then fading away before the turks could counterattack. In proximity to the arabs, fighting alongside them he came to believe in the importance of Arab independence. Ive been
In 1917 Lawrences troops with assistance from Auda ibn Tayis forces captured Aqaba now Jordans only port. Ive been fortunate enough to travel a little in Jordan - Ive overnighted at Wadi Rum that David Lean used to represent a little patch of Lawrences world in his 1962 film and that Lawrence did accually use as a base.Indeed one of the local mountains is called the seven pillars of Wisdom.
Before the end of teh war Lawrence was involved with the capture of Damascus and the setting up of a provisional arab government. It was shortlived the british and the french carving up the middle east in the Sykes-Picot agreement which also mandated Iraq as under british rule (how times change) Lawrences dream of a united arab nation stretching from Syria to Yemen died at that point.
Would the rise of radical islam have happened if the allied powers had been a little less fixated on their own self-interest? I dont know - hindsight is always 20/20 after all but the manipulation of the arabian peninsula has certainly made us no friends