Payments to a mystery Miss Bryant confuse the legend of Lawrence

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The Independent Online

The mystery surrounding the legend of Lawrence of Arabia, the great romantic hero of the First World War, has deepened with the release of confidential files to the Public Record Office.

Further debate among historians and biographers over Lawrence's private life is guaranteed by the revelation that he paid two thirds of his three- shillings-a-day (15p) salary to Ruby Bryant of 31 Portland Street, Newark. He made the payments between September 1925 and November 1926 while serving at RAF Cranwell as Aircraftman TE Shaw – an attempt to escape the fame generated by his exploits.

Miss Bryant receives no mention in any of Lawrence's biographies, indeed there is no record of Lawrence having had sex willingly with anyone – male or female – although he claimed to have been raped by Turks after his capture in 1917.

Lawrence also gave a W J Ross, of 76 Marsham Street, London, sixpence (2.5p) a day for a year after cancelling his payments to Miss Bryant. A further beneficiary of Lawrence's was his Scottish "minder", John Bruce, who received nine pennies (4p) a day. The men joined the Tank Corps together in 1923 after Lawrence's identity had been rumbled by the press. Lawrence subsequently transferred back to the RAF, successfully concealing his identity almost until the end of his service in 1935.

After Lawrence's death in a motorcycle accident that year, Bruce disclosed that his friend, who had a "flagellation disorder", had used to pay him to beat him with a birch. Some have argued that the "disorder" may have been the result of beatings he received when held by the Turks. His medical records offer some credence to the claim, revealing that he had "scars on both buttocks".

The files show a deeply unhappy man who could not live with the fame of his heroics as the leader of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks and wished for anonymity.

They include one letter to the Air Ministry expressing his fury at an approach by the movie mogul Alexander Korda in 1934 proposing to make a film called Lawrence of Arabia. "Presumably he means me, and I have strong views as to the undesirability of any such film. So I have sent him word that perhaps he ought to discuss his intentions with me before he opens his silly mouth again," he wrote.

He also dismissed attempts by a former German lieutenant, Helmut Zimmerman, who had served in the desert, to contact him. "I do not discuss my part of the war with anyone, nor do I read about it: the whole subject is repulsive," he wrote.