On 25 February 1935 the 'real' Lawrence left his final RAF posting, at Bridlington, Yorkshire, and began his long journey back to Clouds Hill by bicycle. Persistent journalists soon invaded his privacy, despite his urgent appeals to be left alone.
In what would prove to be the last weeks of his life, his mood swung between optimism and pessimism. He was planning to revive a long-held ambition to set up a fine printing press, but he was also uncertain about the direction his life would now take. On 13 May he rode his motorcycle down to Bovington Camp to send a telegram and post a parcel. On the way back he clipped the wheel of the bicycle of one of two errand boys who were riding towards Clouds Hill. He crashed heavily and was rushed to hospital with severe head injuries. He never regained consciousness and died on 19 May, to widespread grief and dismay, at the age of 46.
Lawrence's wartime exploits became known to a wider public through an 'illustrated travelogue' - a lantern-slide show which drew huge audiences in Britain and abroad. Initially Lawrence - now known to all as 'Lawrence of Arabia' - welcomed his new fame. He used it as a means to publicise the Arab cause, attacking government policy through letters and articles in quality and mass-market newspapers. Although glad of this opportunity, he later came to despise the publicity which surrounded him.
Recently letters by Lawrence of Arabia in which he says how well his Brough Superior motorcycle (a Brough pictured below) is running and speaks of his love of book collecting. He uses the sign-off “Woof” after saying that Captain Liddell Hart had written a study of him; he describes 1933 as a “vintage year for books” after listing some of those that he had read; he enthuses about how his old motorcycle is running “like a new one”; and he says that he has been spending money on his cottage in Dorset, to which he had moved his book collection.
The Hollywood version of this great man stared the very sexy Peter O’Toole, where the film opens with Lawrence as a civilian, riding his motorcycle down a narrow English country road, only to be killed when he tries to avoid a collision with a couple who are bicycling on the wrong side of the road. At his memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral, reporters try to gain insights into this remarkable, but enigmatic, man from people who knew him, with little success.
The film then flashes back to Cairo during World War I, where Lawrence is a misfit army lieutenant, notable only for his insolence and knowledge of the Bedouin. Over the objections of a skeptical General Murray (Donald Wolfit), he is sent by Mr Dryden (Claude Rains) of the Arab Bureau to assess the prospects of Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) in his revolt against the Turks.
Lawrence of Arabia loved his motorcycling and his motorcycle. 'A skittish motorbike,' he said; 'with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa' - Boa was Lawrence's pet name for his Brough - 'loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.'
Now the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire, UK, has announced a major new exhibit which will be joining its Hall of Fame: Lawrence of Arabia's Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle. The Brough, which has been loaned to the Museum by its current owner, is considered to be the one on which Lawrence had his fatal accident on May 13th, 1935. Finding it, and bringing it to the Museum has not been an easy task.
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