France’s forgotten rival to Lawrence of Arabia

The differences between Colonel Edouard Brémond and T.E. Lawrence were apparent in every aspect of their lives

His name is little known in histories of the First World War but Colonel Edouard Brémond has a claim, as Michael Delahaye says, to be France’s Lawrence of Arabia

For the French, no less than for the rest of the world, T.E. Lawrence – Lawrence d’Arabie, as they call him – is a figure of endless fascination: Was he a latter-day knight crusader or a shameless self-promoter whose fame owes more to a mythologising biopic made long after his death than to anything he ever achieved in his life?

There is, though, an equally intriguing sub-plot to the Legend of Lawrence, featuring French army officer Colonel Edouard Brémond who would have been hailed ‘best supporting actor’, had he not been written out at an early stage.

To explain his role, we need first to look at Lawrence’s own relationship with France…

Lawrence was just three when his parents took him and his two brothers to Dinard in Brittany. The family stayed there for two and a half years during which young ‘Ned’ learned French at the local school. And it stuck.

Throughout his life he read, and re-read, French classics. Though he would often be accused of Francophobia, he had an early, ...

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