An Extraordinary Man In An Ordinary Village
Arabia In Dorset – The Story of T.E Lawrence
Whilst driving through South Dorset and with some time between appointments I decided to call into the village of Moreton. From the outside, it appears a fairly unremarkable and modest village but as you approach the cemetery with its pretty yet somewhat grandiose portico it suggest that there is more than meets the eye.
Following the path I found myself at the grave of T.E Lawrence, best known as Lawrence of Arabia and one of Dorset’s most famous figures.
I doubt many have escaped watching the classic epic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ which won eleven Oscars. So long is the movie that when I watched it at the cinema (many years ago!), we had to watch one half then return the following week for the conclusion.
For those who may have missed it, Lawrence was an archaeologist, war hero and writer with a passion for Brough bikes; a real life Indiana Jones. He was renowned for his role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World where he played a significant part in the establishment of the map of the Middle East as we know it during his time in the military there.
After the war, good looking, poetic and charming Lawrence became a legendary figure with friends in high places and naturally became a tabloid hit. However, as a private man who even refused a knighthood, he decided to escape it all and moved to Dorset and joined the tank Corp at Bovington and took lease of a semi-derelict cottage at Clouds Hill. You can still visit his home today and it remains almost exactly the same as Lawrence left it. He referred to it as ‘a hut in a wood near camp wherein I spend my spare evenings’ and its modesty is humbling for such an extraordinary man.
Unfortunately, the story has a tragic ending. Just months after leaving military service age 46 Lawrence died after a fatal motorbike accident on his beloved Brough near his home at Clouds Hill whilst swerving to avoid two young boys on bicycles. However, some mystery and conspiracy surrounds this, but that is for another time!
His funeral was held at the church in Moreton and was attended by a variety of celebrities from every walk of society including Winston Churchill, Siegfried Sassoon, Augustus John and Eric Kennington and his grave is inscribed with the motto of Oxford University DOM MINA INVS TIO ILLV MEA ‘The Lord is my light’.
There is however, a silver lining. The neurologist who cared for him in his last days consequently began a study into the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle accidents and this research led to the use of crash helmets in both the military and by civilians which has saved countless lives since.
I was once told that he is buried six feet away from his marked grave to deter robbers.
A footnote to the story of an extraordinary man.