A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Century Ago: A Young Cartographer Reports for Work

On October 21, 1914, a hundred years ago today, a young, 26-year-old Oxford scholar, linguist, sometime archaeologist and former clandestine intelligence officer, reported for a new job in the Cartographic Section of MO4, the Geographical Division of the Imperial General Staff at Horse Guards, Whitehall. It was a civilian job and designed to be temporary, but it was beginning of his role in the Great War.

His name was Thomas Edward Lawrence.

He wouldn't stay long, and it is unlikely David Lean would have ever made an epic film called Lawrence of Cartography.

Though he entered as a civilian, when he was asked to brief a senior general the general reportedly asked for an officer, so the undermanned office proceeded to commission Lawrence as a Temporary 2nd Lieutenant/Translator within days of his arrival.

The job Lawrence was hoping for was as an intelligence officer in Cairo, and that was already in the works, but since Britain did not formally go to war with Turkey until early November, it was on hold.  
Lawrence had already done clandestine intelligence work with archaeologists Leonard Woolley and D.G.Hogarth; early the same year an "archaeological" expedition allegedly for the Palestine Exploration Fund had been a covert effort to create detailed maps of Sinai and the Negev, in the event of war with Turkey.

I'll be noting a lot more 100th anniversaries in coming weeks, as the centennial of Turkey's entry into the war arrives.

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