The Boy in the Mask

The Hidden World of Lawrence of Arabia

By: Dick Benson-Gyles

Publication Date: March 2016

(11 customer reviews)


This groundbreaking work chronicles the author’s quest to uncover previously unexplained areas of the life of T.E. Lawrence, the enigmatic desert fighter, aircraftman and writer. The result of years of painstaking research, it contains new material that throws a completely fresh light on Lawrence’s concealed private life. Following an extraordinary journey to find the unknown man behind the many myths, the book’s two halves are underpinned by the author’s personal mission to reveal the man behind the mask; the secret T.E. Lawrence.

Part One reveals Lawrence’s lost Irish heritage – his father’s real family (the aristocratic, Anglo-Irish Chapmans), his abandoned half-sisters (with evocative interviews), his illegitimacy, and his mother’s obscure forebears. The author shows, for the first time, that his concealment from his titled and wealthy Irish family affected Lawrence more deeply than previously thought; and a surprising truth emerges – that he thought of himself not as English but as Irish. This compelling narrative is powerfully supported by a wide range of unseen photographs. These include his Chapman family and forebears, views of Killua Castle and South Hill (the family seats in Westmeath), and of his time in the RAF during the 1930s.

The second part, which follows the author’s adventurous travels to the Middle East in search of the lost love of T.E. Lawrence, has a surprising dénouement – a convincing solution to the cryptic dedication to ‘S.A.’ of his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The author also presents new evidence to vindicate Lawrence’s account in the Seven Pillars of the brutal sexual assault on him at Deraa during the Arab Revolt of 1916–18, a controversial episode that has often been questioned.


Dick Benson-Gyles, who lives in Plymouth in the west of England, was educated at Marlborough and is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. A newspaper journalist for many years, specializing in sports and news coverage, he has also been an archaeologist in Baghdad and TV documentary presenter.

Also available as an ebook

11 reviews for The Boy in the Mask

  1. Lilliput Press

    “I met Dick Benson-Gyles some months ago in a Devon parish church. During the service he read one of his poems. I thought this rather good and asked him to send me a copy. I met him again in the same place a few weeks ago and it was only then he mentioned his book on Lawrence. I confess that I had little interest in Lawrence and purchased and read his book largely out of curiosity. I was utterly overwhelmed. It is a work that while it rests on painstaking research, is of an extraordinary beauty and sensitivity. I confess that as I read the last few pages my eyes filled with tears. He has created a world that while it shines light on Lawrence also illumines our own lives as it unravels the mystery of an exceptional human being. A truly wonderful and inspiring book.” A review on Amazon

  2. Lilliput Press

    “This is a stunning biography. It is compelling, lyrical and contains detailed research, travel writing, in-depth analysis of a personality and a fascinating story. The author’s personal quest and exhaustive research has become a book that will sit alongside other great biographies, and I am sure will be referred to and deservedly praised for many years to come.” JUSTINE MCGRATH,

  3. Lilliput Press

    “This extraordinary book is the product of years of research and dedication on the part of the author. It does what all good biographies should do in that it creates an entirely new impression of Lawrence of Arabia… The selection of photographs is amazing, especially those of the places in the midlands (of Ireland) that had a particular resonance for Lawrence. Many of these are published here for the first time. It is all most commendable, especially the fact that the author forces the reader to completely re-evaluate the life of Lawrence of Arabia. The immense detail of the book makes for compelling reading. Such is the depth of Benson-Gyles’s research that it seems unlikely that anyone will be able to overturn his verdict.” HUGH ORAM

    HUGH ORAM, ‘Lawrence of Westmeath? Exploring T. E. Lawrence’s Irish antecedents’, Books Ireland, July/August, 2016, page 28.

  4. Lilliput Press

    “…it has great virtues: deft story telling, lucid writing, careful close argument. The book’s greatest virtue, though, is its sympathy with its subject, and I closed it believing what I had been given was a sharper, clearer portrait of Lawrence than any I had ever previously encountered.”

    ‘Lawrence of Hibernia. By Carlo Gebler. A new study of T.E.Lawrence explores, among other things, his relationship with Ireland’. In The Irish Times, Saturday, April 2, 2016, page 12, Arts & Books.

  5. Lilliput Press

    “This is the best biography about Lawrence written in many years. While certain recent works about the young Lawrence, wartime Lawrence and post-war Lawrence have done little more than regurgitate and rewrite older (and in many cases better) works, The Boy in the Mask breaks new ground, not in one area but two. First, Benson-Gyles provides a wealth of important new biographical data about Lawrence and his family’s Anglo-Irish background. This will prove useful to Lawrence scholars for a generation, but it makes fascinating reading for the general audience. Second, the area where this book scores doubly is in offering the most plausible solution yet to the enigmatic dedication in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom: ‘To S.A.’”

    EAMON GEARON, ‘Review Essay: Lawrence of Arabia, by Eamonn Gearon,’ in Journal of The Middle East Policy Council, Volume XXIV, Spring 2017, Number 1. Eamonn Gearon is an adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, USA, and a senior fellow of The Middle East Policy Council. He is a recognised, front rank scholar on The Middle East and the author of several seminal books on the Arab world.

  6. Lilliput Press

    “Benson-Gyles fills in a great deal of information concerning one of the truly interesting men. I cannot imagine how difficult life became for TE Lawrence and his brothers with the sudden disappearance of their father. “Lawrence’s” success in archeology and contributions to the British war effort in the Middle East are astounding, especially in light of his father’s abandonment of his boys. Benson-Gyles paints a appealing picture of an extremely bright and energetic young man who matured into a thoughtful man of action. “The Boy in the Mask” will be a book that I will read over and over, as it is quite thought-provoking and filled with information that provides the background on the consequences of political decisions. Now I am interested in reading “The Boy in the Mask” in parallel with the “Seven Pillars” to see how the two stories of TE Lawrence’s life provide flesh for this historical figure.” JOSEPH FALKINHAM

  7. Lilliput Press

    “Remarkable. The fresh photos alone are worth the price of the book. There are all kinds of groundbreaking revelations to be found here. At last we have an exploration of Lawrence’s dramatic family background, and I am so glad somebody finally took on this investigation. Knowing now what he knew about his Irish forebears gives us much more understanding of Lawrence. The story of TEL’s timid prewar relationship with a fitting, like-minded young woman is unbearably poignant. Over it all, the author’s fondness for his subject is especially charming.”

  8. Lilliput Press

    “This is a wonderful book. Benson-Gyles did extensive research and actual interviews with people who were important in TEL’s life. He assembled the puzzle pieces together and formed true historical and psychological portrait of this extraordinary man . This should definitively put some of the stranger ideas about TEL’s life and proclivities to rest. I highly recommend this book to people who are interested not only in TEL ,but also the social history/mores of England of that time and their impact on a family.” S. JULIEN

  9. Lilliput Press

    “A beautiful book. The author spent dozens of years to follow nearly all possible connections and information about T.E. Lawrence and then used them delicately and with empathy, but still punctually and very fairly. The result is really a gem and really something different from all other biographies of T.E.L. As a foreigner I was not able to appreciate fully the detailed parts about his Irish noble roots, but as the book continues, I was deeply touched by the tragedy of his personal life. When in the end one gets to the final chapter, it is not a consolation, although the beautiful romance is there. Our modern world is hopelessly rotten compared with T.E.L. and his thinking.” N>K

  10. Lilliput Press

    “I bought this book as a gift for a friend who has attended a number of seminars covering the life of Lawrence of Arabia and is very well read on the subject.The recipient commented that Dick Benson-Gyles has carried out meticulous research which gives the book considerable credibility. The other feedback I received is that this book very much lives up to it’s title in that it really does take you “behind the mask” revealing many new perspectives of Lawrence especially in relation to his formative years. The book is also well written and I’m assured a compelling read for anyone interested in Lawrence because of its new insight into so many issues. My friend billed this as a “must have” if you’re interested in Lawrence of Arabia.”

  11. Lilliput Press

    “A passionate and detailed (with some of the Irish geneology, too detailed for me at points) examination of Lawrence, his drives and motivations. Perhaps the first serious study since homosexuality lost its titillation, the author is free to take a more grown up perspective. We benefit instead from seeing an Aesthetic intellectual entirely of his era, steeped in a mystical romanticism that, like the man’s Brough, would carry him against the winds and ultimately destroy him. If the author’s conclusions on the “identity” of SA disappoint you, then the reading is wasted on you and you will find more meat in the tittle tattle of the endless turgid assassinations before.
    I believe TEL himself would find this an uncomfortable read. Dissecting and yet, worse still for him, trembling with admiration, empathy and fondness for the hero with each new layer revealed.” IVOR R

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Weight .75 kg
Dimensions 154 × 236 mm

320pp, Hardback

Publication Date

March 2016


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