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A New 'Lawrence of Arabia' Intrigue

THE WORLD

History: Records show that the famed British adventurer paid two-thirds of his salary to a mysterious woman for more than a year.

May 30, 2002|From Associated Press

LONDON — T.E. Lawrence, the adventurer immortalized as "Lawrence of Arabia" for leading an army of desert warriors, paid two-thirds of his salary to a mysterious woman for more than a year, according to newly released files.

The information, contained in confidential Royal Air Force records made public this week, is renewing speculation about Lawrence's little-known private life, which has been the subject of fierce debate among historians and biographers.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was a British archeology scholar, military strategist and author known for his legendary war activities in the Middle East during World War I, and for his memoir about them, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." During the conflict, he helped lead Arab guerrillas fighting Turkish forces allied with the Germans.

Lawrence was wounded many times, captured and tortured. He endured hunger, the extremes of desert life and disease. He also took part in atrocities against the enemy, which were common on both sides then.

He claimed to have been the victim of a brutal rape after being captured in Arab dress by the Turks in 1917, and it was believed to have left him physically and emotionally scarred.

After Lawrence's death in a motorcycle accident in 1935, a friend, John Bruce, told reporters he had been paid to beat Lawrence with a birch branch over a period of 12 years because of a "flagellation disorder" he had developed.

The new files contain medical records describing scars.

Disappointed with his country's strategies in the Mideast, Lawrence turned down honors and was demobilized in 1919.

He tried to disappear from public view, enlisting in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Tank Corps as a low-ranking serviceman under the assumed names John Hume Ross and T.E. Shaw.

But the press found out, and the newly released files raise more questions about his private life. They describe payments he made to a woman in Newark, England, in the mid-1920s while serving under the name Shaw.

Two-thirds of his meager 3-shilling daily salary (about 22 cents today) was paid to a Miss Ruby Bryant. The payments occurred while Lawrence was serving at a nearby British military base. Bryant and the reasons for the payments have never been mentioned in any of his biographies.

The files also show how unhappy Lawrence was about the fame his heroics generated, especially regarding Hollywood.

In one letter to Sir Philip Sassoon, then undersecretary at the Air Ministry, Lawrence was furious about a proposal by Alexander Korda in 1934 to make a "Lawrence of Arabia" film.

"I have sent him word that perhaps he ought to discuss his intentions with me before he opens his silly mouth again," Lawrence wrote.

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