Sunday 17 May 2015

Blowing Up Trains: A Lawrence of Arabia Relic

May 19th is the 80th anniversary of the death of T. E. Lawrence of Arabia. His fateful motorcycle crash was actually six days earlier, putting him in a coma from which he never recovered. (If he'd been wearing a crash helmet, he probably would have walked away from the accident, but that's another story.)

To mark the occasion, I thought I'd spotlight a little piece of history which has been sitting quietly in the Little Shop since it opened...

It doesn't look like much, but it's connected to this...

Blowing up a train on the Hejaz railway, David Lean style.

A recent photo of the remains of an actual train, blown up by the actual T. E. Lawrence.

The unassuming bookend features a piece of the railway track that was blown up by Lawrence and his Arab guerrillas.

The inscription reads:
'A sectios [sic] of railroad track destroyed by Lawrence of Arabia to prevent the Turkish forces from controlling the Arabian Peninsular, 1917. Recovered by Boy Scouts of America, Red Sea Troop 1, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1970.'

I bought it a few years ago, and while it didn't come with any solid provenance, I've no reason to doubt that it's the real McCoy. It's obviously got some age to it, and it would be a strange, not particularly obvious, and rather time-consuming thing to fake. There's also this learned article about the chemical composition of the Hejaz railway tracks of the time, which features a cross section photo which matches the piece on the bookend:

Boy Scouts or not, I imagine it would by frowned upon these days to go around nicking bits of the remaining track, not least because there is ongoing archaeological research into the period, headed by GARP (the Great Arab Revolt Project). You can find out more about them here.

As Lawrenciana goes, it's an interesting and presumably unique piece, but who knows what its value would be. Whatever the right collector is willing to pay for it I suppose.

I like it too much to sell it though.

2017 UPDATE: This link to the National Trust's collection of item's at Lawrence's cottage Cloud's Hill features a familiar-looking object... more proof that this piece is the real McCoy...


  1. did you see this fab article too? worth a read :-)

    1. It is a good article: I linked to it in the text! (where it says 'that's another story...'). I guess my hyperlinks are a bit too subtle in this design/layout...

  2. Thanks for referencing the GARP project. I must come along and visit your shop sometime when I am in the area and perhaps have a look at this fascinating item

    1. Thanks for your comment John, I'd love you to see it. I've also had an email from someone in the US who has an identical piece... so there were evidently a few which were 'liberated' from the site.

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