Lawrence of Arabia: The Life, The Legend at the Imperial War Museum

Lawrence of Arabia died seventy years ago in a freak accident on an almost deserted road. The Imperial War Museum exhibition recalls his exploits and reveals a link to the current situation in Iraq.

T E Lawrence
Col T E Lawrence, 1919 (detail), Augustus John, Oil on canvas 80 x 59.7 Tate,London 2005 Courtesy of the Estate of Augustus John/Bridgeman Art Library National Portrait Gallery, London

Displayed is a recently discovered map outlining his 1918 proposals for the reconstruction of the Middle East and showing that he opposed the creation of modern Iraq. He suggested separate governments for the predominantly Kurdish and Arab areas in what is now Iraq.

Lawrence's book Seven Pillars of Wisdom has never been out of print and demand has increased eightfold since the Iraq war. At the exhibition entrance is posted the news report that this year the US military has "turned to the wisdom of Lawrence of Arabia for guidance on how to win the war in Iraq and understand the mindset of insurgants".

The exhibition is packed with pictures, letters and personal effects which have never been seen before and where they have it is the first time that these items have been together.

There are doors from Jidda, a British road sign saying just JERUSALEM and a Turkish street sign from that city.

But one item was given well in advance to the museum by Lawrence. This is a gilt bronze wreath which he found on Saladin's tomb in Damascus in 1918. It had been laid by the Kaiser who was Britain's enemy.

The climax of the display deals with his last days in a Dorset cottage. There are items from his home and even the wrapping paper from the parcel he posted just before mounting for the last time his motorbike, also displayed, and hitting the cyclist who was unhurt.

This is a remarkable and timely exhibition about a very well-read soldier whose recommendations, if heeded, could have prevented war today.

• Lawrence of Arabia exhibition at the Imperial War Museum is open daily 10am-6pm until Easter Monday 17 April; admission 7 (conc 6).
• The exhibition's accompanying book, Lawrence of Arabia: the life, the legend by Malcolm Brown (Thames & Hudson 24.95), includes Lawrence's own atmospheric photographs and quotations from his personal account of experiences. The author draws on his interviews over many years with those who knew Lawrence.

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