Rare pictures of Lawrence of Arabia uncovered in Belfast
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Rare pictures of Lawrence of Arabia uncovered in Belfast

PHOTOGRAPHS of Lawrence of Arabia that were hidden for decades have emerged from the archives of the Public Records Office in the North of Ireland.

Staff member Colin Shaw was following up on an inquiry he had received about TE Lawrence, who was best known as Lawrence of Arabia, when he came across the documents.

“The more I investigated Lawrence’s background, the more intrigued I became” Mr Shaw said.

“Although I had seen the movie, I was amazed at how much more there was to this gentleman.”

Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as TE Lawrence and later Lawrence of Arabia, was a British archaeologist and military officer.

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He became renowned for his liaison role in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18, which eventually saw the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

Lawrence gained an almost mythical reputation in the Arab countries after ensuring the surrounding territories freedom.

Film fans will know Lawrence from the 1962 film based on his life, Lawrence of Arabia, in which Irish actor Peter O’Toole portrayed him.

Despite O’Toole’s impressive 6’3” frame, Lawrence was only 5’’5” – which initially saw him rejected by the British Army.

“For somebody who died at a relatively young age, 46, he achieved so much,” Mr Shaw said.

“He was a practising archaeologist in the Middle East before he joined the army.”

But his little known connection to Ireland led to the emergence of these rare pictures – including one of Lawrence on the motorcycle that he would be killed on in May 1935.

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His biographer, Harford Montgomery Hyde, was a Belfast barrister and MP – and was among the first to examine Lawrence’s life.

It was among documents collected by Hyde that these pictures lay collecting dust - presumably since the 1970s, when he completed his biography of Lawrence.

Lawrence was born in Wales in 1888 to an Anglo-Irish father, Sir Thomas Chapman. Unusually for Victorian Britain, he was born outside of wedlock.

Lawrence’s Irish roots can be traced back to Co. Westmeath, through his father.

And Mr Shaw’s digging also led him to discover that Lawrence’s untimely death in a motorcycle accident led the British Army to re-examine their safety protocol.

“I subsequently found out that Hugh Cairns, the neurosurgeon who tended his injuries, would later write a pioneering study which would lead to the British Army ordering all despatch riders to wear safety helmets in November 1941,” he said.

“I had no idea that there had been so much resistance to the wearing of helmets.”

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See the pictures below