Lawrence of Arabia: Prang on a Brough led to his death 82 years ago today
The story of T.E.Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, continues to fascinate 82 years after his death. Famously, he died in a motorcycle accident while riding his cherished Brough Superior SS100. Lawrence's war exploits and his love of Arab culture are well documented, yet he ended the war severely disappointed. His leadership had helped defeat the Ottoman Turks but he had failed in his dream of securing a homeland for the Arabs. Disillusioned, he refused the Order or the Bath and Distinguished Service Order, leaving King George V, The Queen's grandfather, holding the boxes.
Lawrence continued his writing and his support of the Arab cause, eventually becoming a fellow of All Souls, Oxford. In 1921, Winston Churchill recruited him as an advisor on Arab affairs and he attended a conference in Cairo where he realised at least some of his ambitions for the region.
But he was deadly bored by all this attention. He decided to make a dramatic about-turn in his life, partly prompted by his new-found love of aircraft. Forsaking fame and fellowship, he joined the RAF as a basic squaddie under the assumed name of John Hume Ross. Unfortunately the press soon discovered the ruse and he had to leave the service, enlisting a year later as Private T.E.Shaw in the Royal Tank Corps. However, he was very unhappy and was driven almost to suicide before he was allowed a transfer back to the Royal Air Force. It is quite possible Churchill himself had an influence on the decision.
Lawrence's fascination with aircraft and machinery in general led to a long association with George Brough and his Brough Superior motorcycles, manufactured in Nottingham between 1919 and 1940.
When I worked for The Motor Cycle magazine in the 1960s, the Brough-Superior was long gone but continued to occupy an almost mystical status in the lore of motorcycling. My colleague Vic Willoughby, the technical editor, told lurid stories of riding Broughs before the war; and an earlier colleague, H.D.Teague, whom I never met, had dubbed the Brough as the "Rolls Royce of Motorcycles".
Lawrence became a leading light in the Brough world and owned a succession of seven models throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including the fabled SS100, the 1000cc flagship of which only 383 examples were manufactured in its 16-year life. This beast was powered by a massive v-twin engine manufactured either by JAP (J.A.Prestwich of Tottenham) or Matchless of Woolwich. It was on the latest of these machines that Lawrence was fatally injured not far from his cottage near Wareham in Dorset. He died six days later on 19 May 1935 at the age of 46.
At the time of his death he was waiting for the delivery of his eighth Brough, another SS100. This machine, which would have cost him around £180 had he lived to take delivery, is now in the Imperial War Museum in London.