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Mission to Deraa

In his account of his role in the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence writes of an incognito reconnaissance mission from Akaba to Deraa, a Turkish supply base. He reports that he was captured — though not identified — beaten and raped before escaping. This incident is alluded to in David Lean’s film “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Some of the more recent of Lawrence’s many biographers lean to the conclusion that it never occurred. Adrian Greaves, for example, notes that Lawrence never mentioned the incident for a year after it was alleged to have taken place and that Lawrence’s account had changed and was full of questionable assertions. This included the notion that the Turks would have persisted in believing that this fair-skinned, blue-eyed man they had arrested was some unimportant Arab they might abuse and then impress into their army. “The whole alleged incident appears to be little more than a fabrication,” Greaves writes.

Could Lawrence, as the historian David Fromkin suggests, have made it up in order explain whip marks from a voluntary session of sadomasochism? His account also has suspicious similarities to a scene in Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim,” asserts J.N. Lockman. Biographer John E. Mack, however, accepts the story and Lawrence’s later assertion that what happened to him at Deraa “apparently did permanent damage” to his psyche.

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    Image: 16a TEL
    Lawrence and Lt. Col. Dawnay with Middle East sage D.G. Hogarth outside their Arab Bureau in Cairo, May 1918.
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    Image: 16b TEL
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Image: 17 TEL
Smiling for the camera moments later.

Audio

Clip 7

Tom Beaumont of the Arabian Armored Car Company defends Lawrence’s reputation.

General Allenby’s forces captured Jerusalem from the Turks on December 9, 1917. Lawrence accepted Allenby’s invitation to join the victory parade. And it was in Jerusalem that T.E. Lawrence first met the young American journalist Lowell Thomas. Their meeting, noted in Thomas’ journal, was of significance for Thomas, who was looking for stories to tell and for a hero for audiences back home. Thomas followed Lawrence back to Akaba — conducted interviews, took pictures, shot film and even recounted a raid on Turkish train lines. Their meeting would prove of even greater significance for Lawrence, for it would eventually help transform him into a global hero.

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    Image: 18a TEL
    Armored cars literally painted in a romantic light.
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    Image: 18b TEL