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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

T.E. Lawrence Anniversary of Death


It is now the 80th anniversary of the death of T.E.Lawrence (he hated the "of Arabia" suffix) and it caused me to dig into my old notes about my pilgrimage to respect the 50th anniversary in 1985. The 400 mile round trip to Dorset, in the pouring rain, on my motorcycle is not something I could manage (even by car) these days. I thought those notes, which would have been the subject of a blog had such things then existed, might be of interest. So.........

On 13th May 1935 he rode his Brough Superior motorcycle from his cottage, Clouds Hill, to Bovington post office, some 3 miles distant, to send a telegram to Henry Williamson - an invitation to lunch. The telegram was timed at 11.25am. Riding back to his cottage he breasted a rise and was confronted by two boys on bicycles. He swerved, but clipped the back of one bike and came off  receiving eventually fatal head injuries (no crash helmets in those days). He died the following Sunday, 19th May.

There was to be a 50th memorial service at the nearby Moreton Church on the date of his actual death, but he abhored crowds and was an agnostic. So I eschewed attendance at the service and instead rode down to lay a wreath at the actual crash site on the day/time of the accident, 50 years on. (11.30am 13th May 1985).
I recreated his last ride exactly, leaving Bovington old post office at 11.25 am to ride to Clouds Hill and lay the wreath on the dot. Uncanny!A shivering goose flesh came over me as I started away. As the time approached a small bird flew down on front of me. I took no more notice, but after laying the wreath I found it dead, wedged under the engine of my bike. It died, by motorcycle, to the minute. Did not Pythagoras say that the souls of the dead inhabit birds?



Upon the laurel wreath I left a dedication - some lines of Rupert Brooke's seemed very appropriate:





10 comments:

Tom said...

There are more things in heaven or earth, Horatio.......

Roderick Robinson said...

An equivocal figure Lawrence, whom far too many people took at his own estimation. I thought the "real" Lawrence was well captured at the beginning of the the movie when a journalist tackles Allenby (played by Jack Hawkins) emerging from the memorial service; asked some glorifying question about TEL, Allenby sighs and, I think, says that perhaps there's been just a little too much about Lawrence.

As a youth I went with the flow. Later, as a newspaper journalist myself, I was turned off by the opening chapter of Seven Pillars. Lawrence is sneering at the guy given the task of bringing order to the MS, in particular about L's camel, spelt in four or five different ways. "She was a wonderful beast," says TEL roguishly and refuses to bother himself about the spelling. A small detail but it made me wonder whether he was equally roguish about some of the larger details.

Avus said...

A figure who fascinates me, but I agree that he must be treated with caution.

He achieved much (especially when he was a major contributor to implementing and designing the RAF air/sea rescue boats in the early '30s.)

In fact he considered this his major life's work - the Arabia stuff was merely an embarassing fantasy

Anonymous said...

Shiver...

Daughter x

Lucy said...

I didn't know he'd just asked Henry Williamson to lunch.

I tried reading 7 pillars years ago, but didn't finish it. However, I treasure it because it's one of the very few possessions of my father's I have, indeed, one of the very few things he possessed of his own.

Avus said...

Lucy
Seven Pillars is well written, but an acquired taste. John Buchan, who is on record as saying that he would follow TEL over the edge of the earth, said that it was a masterpiece.

Good that you have so personal a memory of your Dad. I think that one's books are a bit of one's soul -which is why I have willed all mine to my daughter in Oz.

Anonymous said...

The books will soon have a new bookcase and always be here in the Sunburnt Land.


Pa, how did you take the photograph? Tripod and timer?

Avus said...

Daughter
The photo. There is more to the story:

When I arrived at the site there was a car parked up with a middle aged couple therein. It turned out that they, too, were there to remember his fatal accident at the precise time. I asked him to take the piccie. (He subsequently formed the "T.E.Lawrence Appreciation Society" - something TEL would have hated and which I definitely did not join!)

Quietly satisfying to think of my books' new home in Oz.

Kay Cooke said...

This is a lovely account and you taking the time to do the memorial bike ride and lay the wreath, with accompanying dedication, is to be commended. So often we have these ideas, or think how great it'd be, to do something special and meaningful, but we don't actually do it. Well done you.

Avus said...

Kay:

Thanks for coming by and your approval - although I must admit, when I woke up on that morning and saw the weather, I had to sum up all my "dedication"!

However, like all such events in life, it has remained a great source of quiet satisfaction and remembrance to me.