T E Lawrence Writes From Egypt
Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in August 1888 in Wales. His father had left his wife for a former governess producing five sons. As a teenager, Lawrence showed great interest in antiquities and monuments. He and his brother would take note and make rubbings of brass plaques. He attended Jesus College, Oxford and in the summer of 1909, he set out alone on a three-month walking tour of crusader castles in Ottoman Syria, during which he traveled 1,000 miles on foot. He became a practicing archaeologist in the Middle East, at Carchemish, Syria in an expedition set up on by the British Museum. Lawrence’s published work showed a competence in Ancient Greek, Arabic, and French.
From 1910-1914 Lawrence remained in the Middle East, primarily working at the archaeological dig at Carchemish but also working as a front for the British military as they studied the Negev desert, mapping of the area with special attention to features of military relevance such as water sources in preparation of defense against an Ottoman attack on Egypt. Lawrence extended his knowledge of Arabic and the different tribes in the Middle East.
With the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in August 1914, Lawrence was eventually called up and because of his skills, he was posted to Cairo in December 1914 where he joined the Intelligence Department working on maps and intelligence reports. He quickly became the department’s expert on Syria, and was keenly interested in the prospects of an Arab revolt.
On January 21, 1915 T E Lawrence wrote his brother Will Lawrence from Cairo, Egypt.
2l January 1915
Intelligence Department, Cairo
I hear from home that you are attaching yourself to some regiment in India: I wish you had been in Egypt, though there isn’t any job I can actually offer you, since you cannot speak Arabic. Can’t you get on a regiment that will come here later? This show in Egypt will be rather a pleasant one I hope. Turkey is crumbling fast.
More news when I next write. For the last 6 weeks I have been stuck in Cairo, in the office from morning to night, making sense of the news brought to us, and asking for more. Also writing little geographical essays. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it has been far and away the best job going in Egypt these few weeks. The people at the Pyramids or on the Canal have had a very dull time.
Not much news from home: things seem to be moving quietly enough, over there.
Belgium has become a very unpleasant place. I don’t want to go back there now!
G. is married, and settled down to a comparative peace. His pan-Ottoman feelings must be now much encouraged – but so long as things go quietly his sort won’t have much scope.
I expect Young is in the Persian Gulf by now, talking Arabic and Persian, and doing great things. If not salaam him from me.