How Lawrence of Arabia miraculously survived a PLANE CRASH

How Lawrence of Arabia miraculously survived a PLANE CRASH: War hero’s lucky escape is recalled at a ceremony for two RAF pilots who were killed in the 1919 disaster

  • T.E Lawrence survived the plane crash at Rome’s Centocelle base in 1919
  • Pilots Frederick Prince, 27, and Sidney Spratt, 19, were killed in the disaster
  • Prince and Spratt were honoured at an RAF ceremony in Rome on Friday
  • In hospital Lawrence began his famed autobiography ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’

Lawrence of Arabia poses in local garb at Aqaba in Jordan in 1917

Lawrence of Arabia’s mythical status may never have been were it not for a miraculous escape from an air disaster in 1919.

T.E Lawrence was hauled from the plane in Rome with a broken shoulder blade and two broken ribs, while the pilot and co-pilot both died.

His coalescence in a Roman hospital, during which he was visited by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, allowed him begin his autobiographical account of his wartime experiences ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom.’

He had been flying to Cairo to gather his papers from his time as a liaison officer in the Arab Revolt.

The near-fatal journey in the brand new Handley Page Type O bi-plane bomber, among 50 being tested, was recounted at a ceremony to honour the RAF pilots who died in the crash on Friday, The Times reported.

The RAF’s bomber was being put through its paces for a proposed new route to India, in the first days of long-haul flying.

Lawrence was sat in the bomb bay as pilots 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Prince, 27, and 2nd Lieutenant Sidney Spratt, 19, began their descent into Centocelle air base.

The protestant cemetery in Rome where pilots 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Prince, 27, and 2nd Lieutenant Sidney Spratt, 19, are buried

Prince came in fast – unaccustomed to the Italian wind indicators – and at around 20ft from the ground his right wing smashed into tree, bringing the plane crashing to a road on the outskirts of the airbase.

The pilots died but Lawrence was pulled out by Frederick Daw, another airman on board.

Sydney Spratt, 19, was the young co-pilot killed at Centocelle

He later received a £10 note from Lawrence who wrote: ‘Will you buy yourself some trifle to remind you of our rather rough landing at Rome? I was not at all comfortable hanging up in the wreck and felt very grateful to you for digging me out.’ 

The pilots were buried at Rome’s protestant cemetery.

Prince’s niece Jackie Clews, 71, attended the ceremony in Rome telling The Times: ‘To have survived the First World War only to die like this was tragic.’

‘These courageous pilots were testing aircraft in ways that had never been used before,’ Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood said at the ceremony, The Times reported.

A week after the accident, Lawrence carried on his journey to Cairo to retrieve the notes for his book.

As his legend grew he applied to work for the RAF under a fake name. The interviewing officer put it to Lawrence that John Hume Ross was not his real name and he confessed it was not.

Aircraftsman T.E. Shaw – better known as Lawrence of Arabia while working for the RAF after the First World War

But he returned sometime later with an RAF messenger who carried a letter stating that Lawrence must be accepted.

After his identity was exposed a few years later he was forced out but later readmitted under the name T.E Shaw.

The eventual publication of ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ in 1925 brought yet more renown and he was brought back to Britain in 1928 after working in Pakistan and India where rumours had spread he was working as a spy.

Colonel T.E Lawrence with American writer and broadcaster Lowell Thomas in Arabia during the First World War.

Lawrence of Arabia on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in his RAF days – he was killed on the bike in 1925, aged just 46

Having survived the horrific air crash, Lawrence was killed while riding his motorcycle in Dorset close to his cottage in 1935.

A dip in the road had obscured his view of two lads on bicycles and as he swerved away from them he was thrown over the handlebars of his Brough Superior SS100 bike.

He died in hospital six days later. He was just 46.

Who was Lawrence of Arabia?

TE Lawrence, pictured, was born in North Wales in 1888 and died in 1935 following a motorcycle accident, aged 46

Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, was a charismatic British intelligence officer who fought alongside guerrilla forces in the Middle East during the First World War. 

Born in North Wales in 1888, Lawrence joined the army in 1914 and by December was posted to Cairo, Egypt, as a liaison and map officer – he had worked as an archaeologist and photographer, making him familiar with the region. 

After almost two years in Cairo, he began to undertake dangerous missions inside enemy territory in Arabia, following the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkey in June 1916.

In 1935, Lawrence was involved in a motorcycle accident near his home in Dorset, and died in hospital on May 19, aged 46.

His story reached a new worldwide audience through the massively successful multi-Oscar winning 1962 film Lawrence Of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole. 

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