The Relevance of Lawrence of Arabia’s Bike

The Evening Standard report that the Imperial War Museum has removed from its collections the 998cc Brough Superior SS100 motorbike on which TE Lawrence had the accident that would eventually kill him on 19th May 1935. According to the Evening Standard report, IWM consider it no longer “relevant”.

“…(A) skittish motorcycle with a touch of blood in it,” is how Thomas Edward Lawrence, dubbed ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ once described his custom built motorbike – one of eight Brough Superiors he owned in his lifetime. Two months after leaving military service, Lawrence was involved in a fatal crash. He was driving in rural Dorset near his home in Wareham when he swerved to avoid two boys on bicycles. Having lost control, he was, it is reported, thrown over the handlebars and sustained head injures. He was not wearing a helmet. Six days after the crash, Lawrence passed away in hospital.

According to this Daily Telegraph story, after the accident the bike was sold back to manufacturer George Brough and then sold on to a Cambridge dealer. It is now valued by some in excess of £1.5 million.

The final period of TE Lawrence’s life was one of disillusionment that lead him to cease to work for the British government on Arabian political affairs and seek anonymity and isolation. Lawrence had been a strong advocate of Arab independence after WW1 but subsequently found that the British and French governments would renege on pledges made during the war and carve up the region to fulfil their own Imperialistic ambitions. The Sykes-Picot secretly deal divided up the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into French and British spheres of influence. TE Lawrence left politics in frustration and would later seek positions in the RAF and the Royal Tank Corps under pseudonyms.

The Imperial War Museum report that the Brough Superior SS100 bike has been returned to its private lender, ending a loan period. It would seem that IWM could find no place for the item in its newly revamped London branch.

Update 1:

Whilst TE Lawrence’s last motorbike is out, coming into IWM is a Honda CG 125 (clone) motorbike allegedly belonging to the Taliban that British forces collected in Afghanistan during Operation Herrick. According to the MOD, it is the first piece of “‘enemy kit” that they have picked for IWM’s ‘War Stories: Serving in Afghanistan’ exhibition about British forces in that country. The bike was reportedly captured by members of C Company, 1st Battalion The Rifles in Nahr E Saraj on 4th May 2011. It was transported to Britain with the aid of the MOD who, along with weapons manufacturer, Boeing Defence Uk, support IWM’s War Stories exhibition.



  1. I think ‘disposal’ is the wrong term here.
    Things often return to their owners from museums after being on display.

    I also think nearly every object in the IWM tells the story of imperialism. That’s the idea, isn’t it?

  2. Disposed changed to “removed from collection” to avoid confusion. The bike has been returned to its owner, according to the Evening Standard.

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