T. E. Lawrence : The Air Crash of 1919

Steve Newman Writer
5 min readAug 15, 2022

One of the almost Forgotten Episodes in Lawrence’s Life

The giant Handley-Page bomber under fire (artist unknown). Image: warhistory.com

In the April of 1919 T. E. Lawrence was heavily involved in the ‘slow grind’ of the Paris Peace Conference, but then he received a telegram from his younger brother stating their father was suffering from pneumonia and that he should come if he could. The telegram was followed almost immediately by a letter telling Lawrence that his father had died.

Lawrence made his way to Oxford from Paris staying only a few hours before returning to be at Emir Feisal’s side. The Emir was eager to return to Cairo so that a decision could be made as to whether there should be a mandate between Feisal and Europe (he liked England very much due to Lawrence’s support, and he knew his people wanted a mandate with Great Britain), or one between the Emir and the United States (something the Arabs now living in the US wanted), a country he’d grown to respect. Feisal now felt, because of the rancour between France and Great Britain over the agreement it might be prudent to go with United States, especially as he already had an agreement of sorts (it didn’t last) with the influential Chaim Weizmann, who would become Israel’s first president. Therefore, he must get back to Cairo quickly to resolve the situation, and that Lawrence should follow him to give council.

Feisal at Versailles in 1919. Lawrence is to Feisal’s left. Image: postwesternworld.com & Corbis

David Garnett, who edited Lawrence’s letters for Cape in 1938, has written:

“General Groves, the British Air delegate at the Peace Conference offered him [Feisal] a passage in one of the Handley-Page aeroplanes which were being sent at that moment to ‘blaze the trail’. Since I regard this flight as a turning point in Lawrence’s life, I have included an account of it written by one of the pilots.”

The first machines started from Carnin near Lille in April 1919. Altogether fifty-one Handley-Page 0/400 twin-engined planes of 58 and 216 squadrons and detached flights were sent to Egypt in response to an urgent call…Of these twenty-six had arrived by the end of October and fifteen had been written off. No one seems to know for certain what happened to the other ten.

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