C. 1 February 1916

“Sherif Hussein is not working in the British interests, except in so far as they further the particular dreams and hopes of the political party to which he belongs. His aim is the establishment of a Khalifate (not the only one) for himself, and independence for people speaking Arabic from their present irritating subjection to people speaking Turk. His aims are thus in definite opposition to the Pan-Islamic party, who are his strong obstacle, and to the Young Turk party, who are however less dangerous to his schemes; his activity seems beneficial to us, because it marches with our immediate aims, the break up of the Islamic ‘bloc’ and the defeat and disruption of the Ottoman Empire, and because the states he would set up to succeed the Turks would be as harmless to ourselves as Turkey was
before she became a tool in German hands. The Arabs are even less stable than the Turks. If properly handled they would remain in a state of political mosaic, a tissue of small jealous principalities, incapable of cohesion, and yet always ready to combine against an outside force. The alternative to this seems to be control and colonisation by a European power other than ourselves, which would inevitably come into conflict with the interests we already posses in the Near East.”

An unsigned memorandum written by Lawrence, The Politics of Mecca, arrived in London in early February. Its intention appears to have been to disarm opposition to Sherif Hussein and to open the way for the Arab Revolt.

Yet what was then unknown to those in Cairo was that another
secret document was by now on its way to being ratified. At the same time that Lawrence’s memorandum was on its way to London, a draft of the Sykes-Picot Agreement received approval. It defined how Arab lands would be divided between British and French influence and control should the Ottoman Empire be defeated in the Great War.

25 December 1915

“I’m writing just a few words this morning, because it has surprised me by being Christmas day. I’m afraid that for you it will be no very happy day; however you have still Bob and Arnie left at home, which is far more than many people can have. Look forward all the time … I am now living in
the Savoy, which is the new Headquarters: the staff has been somewhat increased, and we have more to do: most of it is fiddling little work, but some of it is interesting.”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

Lawrence’s Christmas message to his family reflects the tragedies
of the past year; but his anticipation of interesting work in the year ahead would be more than surpassed.

16 November 1915

“I have not written to you for ever so long … I think really because there was nothing I had to say. It is partly being so busy here, that one’s thoughts are all on the jobs one is doing, and one grudges doing anything else, and has no other interests, and partly because I’m rather low
because first one and now another of my brothers has been killed. Of course, I’ve been away a lot from them, & so it doesn’t come on one like
a shock at all … but I rather dread Oxford and what it may be like if one comes back. Also they were both younger than I am, and it doesn’t seem right, somehow, that I should go on living peacefully in Cairo.

“However I haven’t any right to treat you to all this.

“Salute Bell from me: tell him it is what I have to do to Lieut-Commdr. Hogarth when I first meet him in the morning. It’s very good to have him out here, stirring one up to all sorts of other ideas.

“I wish one might have an end sometime.”

T. E. Lawrence to E. T. Leeds (Lawrence of Arabia, The Selected Letters, edited by Malcolm Brown, published by Little Books, 2005).

Lawrence’s candid letter to his old friend at the Ashmolean Museum reveals something of his state of mind following the death of his brothers Frank and Will.

23 October 1915

William George Lawrence – the third of the Lawrence brothers,
and the one to whom T. E. was closest – went missing in action while flying as an observer in a Royal Flying Corps BE2c near St Quentin
in France.

The family received the news in a telegram sent by the War Office three days later:

“Regret to inform you 2Lt W.G. Lawrence Ox and Bucks LI and R.F.C. is missing since 23rd Oct. This does not necessarily mean that he is killed or wounded.”

Will had been serving in France for less than a week. He was 25. Though his death would not be confirmed until the following May,
T. E. always took it for granted that his brother had died.

Will was the second of the Lawrence brothers to be lost in the war, following the death of Frank in May.

W G LawrenceWilliam George Lawrence

19 September 1915

“Now about Sherif [al Faroki]. His plans are to slip into the Hedjaz, have a chat about tactics with the Sherif, slip out again, raise the 10 Syrian officers & the 600 rank & file we took on the canal, add to them 50 officers and 2000 men now in India, & drop into the Hedjaz heavily this time. Nuri Shaalan has promised to help him, & can cut telegraph wires, tear up the Hedjaz line, & provide transport, which will enable them to proclaim the Sherif Khalifa, & roll up Syria (with the help of Syrians) from the tail end. It will come off, if the first landing & attack on Medina succeed. The G.O.C. is shy of it, Clayton is for it: I – but you will guess what I’m at:-”

T.E. Lawrence to Captain George Lloyd (Lawrence of Arabia:
The Selected Letters, edited by Malcolm Brown, republished
by Little Books, 2005)

When a young Arab officer crossed the lines at Gallipoli, offering
to provide information on the Arab nationalist movements, all Lawrence’s hopes of an uprising in Syria were suddenly revived.
Debriefings held in Cairo with Sherif Mohammed al Faroki confirmed widespread support for Sherif Hussein among the Arab
nationalists; but there was a warning, too, that the Arabs might turn to Turkey and Germany, if Britain failed to promise her support.

19 August 1915

“This is only a scribble. I’ve just got back, and there is a post going. Athens was very hot, and glare of sun very bad. Otherwise not dull. I was in office there from 9a.m. (when shops opened) till 7p.m. (when shops shut): so I bought nothing, and saw nothing:- except the Acropolis from the window. Letter by next post: I have a great lot to do today.”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

Lawrence’s brief note to his family, written following a temporary posting to Athens, once again gives no hint of the portentous events that were taking place in Cairo at the time.

Lawrence’s return to Cairo coincided with a letter being received from Sherif Hussein outlining his conditions for uniting with
the British in a revolt against the Ottoman Turks. The letter (the
beginning of the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence) would set in motion the chain of events that would lead Lawrence to Arabia, and end in him becoming one of the most famous figures to emerge from the Great War.

17 July 1915

“We live in offices and in railway trains; also interviewing Turkish
prisoners, and supplying information on any subject that crops up.
No civil work however and much map-drawing and geography, both
of which please me.

“Frank’s death was as you say a shock, because it was so unexpected.
I don’t think one can regret it overmuch, because it is a very good way
to take, after all. The hugeness of this war has made one change one’s perspectives, I think, and I for one can hardly see details at all. We are
a sort of Levant Foreign Office, and can think of nothing else. I wonder when it will all end and peace follow?”

T. E. Lawrence to Will Lawrence (The Letters of T. E. Lawrence, edited by David Garnett, published by Jonathan Cape, 1938).

No mention is made in Lawrence’s letter of a visitor who had
arrived in Cairo at around this time: a politician and diplomatic
adviser gathering information to help formulate British policy
towards the Turkish Empire after the war. Yet he would for ever loom large in Lawrence’s life. His name was Sir Mark Sykes.

23 June 1915

I got a letter yesterday asking for more details of what I am doing.
Well, drawing, and overseeing the drawing of maps: overseeing printing and packing of same: sitting in an office coding and decoding telegrams,
interviewing prisoners, writing reports, and giving information from 9a.m. till 7p.m. After that feed and read, and then go to bed. I’m sick of pens, ink and paper: and have no wish ever to send off another telegram.”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

Perhaps with one mind on the censor, Lawrence reveals only sketchy details of his work in letters to his family written from Cairo at this time.

c. 10 June 1915

Military Intelligence Office

Poor dear Mother

I got your letter this morning, and it has grieved me very much. You will never never understand any of us after we are grown up a little. Don’t you ever feel that we love you without our telling you so? – I feel such a contemptible worm for having to write this way about things. If you only knew that if one thinks deeply about anything one would rather die than say anything about it. You know men do nearly all die laughing, because they know death is very terrible, and a thing to be forgotten till after it has come.

There, put that aside, and bear a brave face to the world about Frank. In a time of such fearful stress in our country it is one’s duty to watch very carefully lest one of the weaker ones be offended: and you know we were always the stronger, and if they see you broken down they will all grow fearful about their ones at the front.

Frank’s last letter is a very fine one, and leaves no regret behind it.

Out here we do nothing. There is an official inertia against which one is very powerless. But I don’t think we are going to have to wait much longer.

I didn’t go to say goodbye to Frank because he would rather I didn’t, and I knew there was little chance of my seeing him again; in which case we were better without a parting.


T. E. Lawrence to his mother (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

Is Lawrence’s letter to his mother, written after his brother Frank’s death one month before, one of the most moving pieces he ever wrote?

9 May 1915

Frank Helier Lawrence, aged 22 – the youngest but one of the Lawrence boys – was killed in action at Richebourg l’Avou, leading his men forward in preparation for an assault. What follows is his last letter to his parents. (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

Sat. May 1 [1915]

Dear Mother and Father

I am leaving directions so that should I be killed this letter will be sent to you. We know fairly well that the attack has been fixed for about May 12, if all goes well in the meantime. If the Gloucesters are in it there will most likely be very few of the regiment left, as it will be a huge affair and no means must be left untried to help it to succeed. It is quite possible I shall be killed, though I have no premonition about it. I am glad I have not. It is a queer thing to be out here in this beautiful weather and to think that perhaps I have only another fortnight to live. I am writing this letter on the hypothesis that I have been killed, so will treat it in that way. I am glad I have died, not so much for my country, as for all the many wrongs by which the war was mainly commenced and also which it inspired. The purpose for it all I do not think can be seen by us in this life but there is a purpose all the same. Now I come to a harder part. I know you will grieve for me, and it is no use asking you not to; remember me as one who has gone before, not as one parted for ever. This present earthly life is after all a very limited space of time. Although I have been parted from you on this earth for 8 months, yet all the time I have felt in closer communion with you than when I was at home. This more especially applies to my time in France. I think you have also felt much the same. I do not think this communion will be broken now. It will still exist, though there will be no letters travelling between us. If you cannot see me, yet I hope I shall be able to see you. I have many times felt how much I owe to Him who put me in my family. It has been a very, very great help to me all these last months, though I have fallen very short in many things.

This letter will be written in bits, as I do not mean to close it till the attack is near, unless of course death overtakes me first. We have been told we leave here (Hinges) on May 10, as at present arranged, which means we shall practically go straight into the attack. The bombardment on the German line where some division, which will most likely be ours, will attack is going to be fierce. I hope it will make the gaps in the wire as has been arranged. The ground on which we have in the last few days been practising the attack has been made as much like the real place as possible. The bayonets are all being sharpened, and the photo this morning I expect was taken by order.

Thursday May 6

Have learnt tonight when and where the attack will be made (by us). I shall be on a fatigue all day tomorrow, starting from here at 6.30. It is now after 12.0 m.n. and as I don’t suppose there will be any rest now till the job is over I want to get a few hrs. sleep. Goodbye,

Still your son,

Friday evening.

Have finished the fatigue (6.30 p.m.). It was hard work. Am expecting the battalion to come up any time now. The fight tomorrow will be a big one. Cannot say all I want to, but I will not say ‘goodbye’ again. Rather, by His grace,

Au Revoir,

Saturday evening.

As I said this morning, only not in quite so many words, the attack was postponed 24 hrs. It will come off tomorrow morning I expect. I am not looking forward to it.

No time for more just now.

FrankHelierLawrenceFrank Helier Lawrence