Laurence of Arabia was only 5ft tall. And an archaeologist. And Welsh. And potentially a masochist. And he’s the reason motorcyclists wear helmets today.
Welshman (yay!) Thomas Edward Laurence, immortalised on the silver screen by Peter O’Toole and made legend thanks to a travelling photographic exhibition—was rejected by the military due to his diminished stature. He was only 5 ft tall. However given he was super eager to be in the military and given he was already in the middle east on archeological business, the British military coopted him and a colleague to secretly survey the Negrev Desert whilst on archeological business. He was 26 but due to a reported youthful appearance and his smaller size looked to be in his late teens. The things that made him a bad choice for the front line made him perfect for intelligence work. Over four years he led a range of strategic and dangerous missions for Britain, persuading Arab leaders to join Britain’s cause and changing the face of war in the Middle East.
A war correspondent who filmed and photographed Laurence in his dashing Arab garb going to war on camel-back made him a household name with his show …And Laurence in Arabia, so much so that Laurence (seeking the obscurity that he’d enjoyed his whole life) re-enlisted in the British military under a false name.
When he was 46—after fifteen years in various military outfits—Laurence was killed when he swerved his motorbike to avoid two children on the road. The attending doctor was so affected by the senseless death of a legend he went on to undertake the research that led to the widespread use of crash helmets.
While Laurence’s sexuality is ill defined (there are no credible accounts of consensual sex at all on record) it is widely believed true that he was captured, beaten and sexually abused when he was 29 and that this triggered all kinds of sexual issues from his childhood (caused by the beatings his mother gave him to break his will). Also deemed true by biographers was the fact that Laurence paid a colleague to beat him regularly and volunteered for severe physical stamina and deprivation testing.
Bonus something new: TE Laurence wrote his famous ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ three times. At least one of those was after losing the entire, complete manuscript while changing trains in London. Whoops!
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