City Secret – Lawrence of Karachi

Lawrence in Karachi

Photo Credits: T.E. Lawrence Studies

An unlikely Karachi walla. T.E. Lawrence, or more famously, Lawrence of Arabia spent more than a year at Drigh Road in Karachi. Lawrence was posted at Royal Air Force Depot at Drigh Road in 1927 and served there until May 1928. The station was used as a base for assembling aircraft which were sent to RAF stations throughout India. His letters to his friends and family give us a snapshot of his time in Karachi.

T.E. Lawrence spent his days in Karachi doing his routine work which included keeping records of engine repairs and other maintenance. Does it sound weird? Of course! Compare it to the legendary Lawrence of Arabia who led the revolt in holy lands against not so holy Turks and made his mark on generations to come. The conspiracy theory that he might have been here for spying on communists is prevalent for obvious reason. Another plausible reason could be his discomfort with fame and focus which he could not endure and it led him to request a transfer to India. The mundane work and uneventful routine of his days gave him an opportunity to read and write. He added to his book collection and wrote well over 100 letters in a year. His letters describe the surrounding area and his wistful longing for the deserts of Arabia.

“‘The Depot is dreary, to a degree, and its background makes me shiver. It is a desert, very like Arabia: and all sorts of haunting likenesses (pack-donkeys, the colour and cut of men’s clothes, an oleander bush in flower in the valley, camel-saddles, tamarisk) try to remind me of what I’ve been for eight years desperately fighting out of my mind. Even I began to doubt if the coming out here was wise. However there wasn’t much chance, and it must be made to do. It will do, as a matter of fact, easily.’

Source of quotation: T.E. Lawrence to Charlotte Shaw 28 January 1927, Letters II p.12″

‘My walks, as I said, are only over the aerodrome, a mile-square flat place, (just faintly tinted green, with colocynth runners now over the sand) between the main railway and a dry, four-mile wide valley, of sand-ridges overgrown with dust-coloured tamarisk. At the end of the aerodrome is a stony bank, perhaps twenty feet high, on which I sit beside a cactus, and look back at the camp, from here rather like a broken Roman aqueduct, with its rows of dark arches on two stories, and a flat roof of loricated Marseilles tiles above. North of the railway is a mass of building, married quarters, officers houses, mess, and hospital. Unattractive, since it has no plan, no raison d’être or focus, like a grown village. This has been deliberately planned, and fails to justify its creator.’

Source of quotation: T.E. Lawrence to Charlotte Shaw 16 March 1927, Letters II p.43

Lawrance was not happy with the condition at RAF base either. He writes: “Our beds are narrow and close together, our cooks awful; our life harried by orders” (letter to Apsley Cherry-Gerrard, April 4, 1927, Karachi)

Lawrence was posted to Miranshah in the NWFP by mid of 1928 ending his adventure in Karachi.

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2 Comments on “City Secret – Lawrence of Karachi”

  1. Anonymous
    January 12, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    Lawrence arrived in Karachi in January 1927 and was stationed at the RAF base at Drigh Road in barrack No. 51 until April 1928.

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