By a coincidence, on the very morning that Lawrence wrote that
letter to Bernard Shaw, a London newspaper revealed that the uncrowned king of Arabia had joined the ranks of the R.A.F., "seeking peace" and "the opportunity to write a book." 10 The secret of the incognito had been kept from the public for just over four months. But how did the newspaper get the "story" of which it had apparently heard rumours on or about the 16th December, just before the newspaper silly season of Christmas? According to Lawrence, one of the officers recognised him, and sold the information "for thirty pounds" -- and the officer was one he had known during the war. 11 It would indeed be a dramatic incident, if true, that a former disciple sold for thirty pieces of paper money a secret which Lawrence was so anxious to preserve that, when he enlisted, he took with him as a precaution against being recognised the official document appointing him plenipotentiary to Hussein, which in 1921 continued to name him C.B. and D.S.O. Now, as the officers had known Lawrence's identity all along, why did they wait so long to sate their lust of pelf by this Judas-like betrayal. Would an officer do such a thing, since the selling of even such a trifling piece of information would technically be a serious offence, not to mention the fact that in the mess it would be thought dishonourable? And would the news have been worth that much to a reporter? I doubt it. Sir Oliver Swann says that the discovery of Lawrence's presence in the ranks of the R.A.F. was "solely due to carelessness at the Colonial Office and to Lawrence's unfortunate love of drawing a veil of mystery about himself." 12 Was this publicity a gaffe or a private news-release? Real carelessness at the Colonial Office is surprising when you reflect that it would be hard to find a more reticent set of administrators than British civil servants charged with the least government secret. A curious fact is that this unnamed officer not only recognised Lawrence but was able to tell the newspaper one of the explanations of his enlistment which Lawrence was then giving privately to his friends -- that he wanted "peace" and the "opportunity to write a book." How did the "officer" find that out?
Now, it was perfectly true that Lawrence had been making notes almost every evening for a book about his experiences in the R.A.F., which fact he had communicated to Sir Oliver Swann either as a threat or a promise. Whether it was this fact or the newspaper
comment or both or some unknown factor which caused the unnamed "high authority" to reverse himself and to agree that Lawrence should be dismissed is not definitely established, but the fact is that the decision was made to turn him out. It is said that the official explanation given Lawrence was that his recognition made it difficult for the officers, while his friendship with an R.A.F. officer of high rank, presumably Trenchard, also complicated matters. 13 These seem inadequate reasons and rather unfair, especially since we know from W. E. Johns that Lawrence had been known to the local officers all along. The profound dislike for Lawrence and the cunning he had used to get into the R.A.F. expressed by Sir Oliver Swann 14 may have been a more potent motive. In any event, as one would expect, the effect on Lawrence was that he set himself to the task of being reinstated with all his tenacity of will and genius for intrigue.
In January, 1923, very soon after the dismissal, Lawrence made an appeal in this sense to the Secretary to the Chief of Air Staff, rather -the not very hopeful tone of the letter seems to imply -- with the idea of putting his request on record than with any real hopes that it would be granted. His psychological and family problems still remained exactly the same, and by the beginning of March ( 1923) Lawrence was back in the ranks, of the Royal Tank Corps this time, through the friendly influence of Sir Philip Chetwode among others. 15 In the interval, he asserted, he had spent his time in trudging around London. 16 He was posted to Wool in Dorsetshire, not far from the home of the then living Thomas Hardy, and near land owned by relatives of his father, where he rented and furnished a small cottage called Clouds Hill for his leisure hours and eventual retirement.
Lawrence's life was henceforth more divided than ever between the routine of peace-time soldiering in the all-pervading human promiscuity of the barrack-room and his literary-sthetic interests, together with the many celebrities he so carefully cultivated. Such was the impasse into which he had been driven by the complicated motives of his family situation, his neurosis, and the vanity that he tried to conceal behind his masks and subtleties. The writers who have identified Lawrence and all his doings so completely with themselves that they start angrily at any fact which once recognised chips their idol, like to maintain that he was really "perfectly happy" during his dozen years of service in the ranks. There is something
to be said for this view if it is limited to Cranwell and the Cattewater period in the 1930's, when he had grown resigned to his fate, was occupied as an individual in testing speed-boats, and was favoured, not to say adored, by his C.O. and wife. 17 The change is shown in the endless sequence of those photographs he courted which evolve from the lantern-jawed ugly pseudo-Arab of the Peace Conference to the round-faced, chubby, contented-looking little fellow in a turtle-necked sweater, standing on a projecting quay-pile in the wistful hope of looking as tall as the lanky Liddell Hart. But a good many years were to pass before he reached that comparative felicity.
In one of Lawrence's unwanted letters from Uxbridge to Sir Oliver Swann he spoke pathetically of the fifteen wretched hours he spent daily, 18 and retrospectively lamented his five weeks there of daily fatigues, often till eight at night, and much of it heavy work too. 19 At Wool he found the great improvement that most of these fatigues were done by duty-men and not by recruits, which again raises the query whether his squad at Uxbridge had not been severely tested in the hope that he might voluntarily get out. Moreover, the Wool camp had more of the necessities of life, such as food and fuel, blankets and baths, and a library. 20 In spite of this, Lawrence's remarks on the life at Wool are in general not very indicative of that happiness he is supposed to have found in the abnegation of the easy job. He wrote Edward Garnett that he hated the Army and his fellow-soldiers with their animal outlook. 21 He dramatically told Lionel Curtis that his aim was "mind-suicide," and that after seven years no one would be able to propose him for a responsible position 22 -- rather overlooking the probability that, after his turning-down of Mr. Churchill's generous offers, nobody in an official position was likely to renew them. Six months later he wrote Graves that he had attained "peace of mind" (had he?) by putting up with the unpleasantness of the life and allowing his mind to stagnate. 23 And this culminated in a despairing cry to Kennington in November, 1923, that he hated the Army. 24 How irresistible then must have been the compulsion neurosis which forced him to accept an environment so repugnant.
In August, 1924, he complained to Lady Sandwich that his lot was one-twentieth of an army hut, and said how much he disliked the
noise and animal spirits, especially since he liked warmth and colour. 25 Even after he had got himself back into the R.A.F., he could write chat (in December, 1927) he had lived five years in barracks and had never really got on with the men he had mixed with, 26 about which, however, he changed his mind four years later. 27 His unpublished letters from India have many complaints against life in the R.A.F. However much we allow for the moods of a hyper-susceptible man and the studied pathos of one who so deliberately created stylised portraits of himself, the conclusion seems obvious that he was not really resigned into comparative content until the 1930's, and even then deluded himself and his friends with nostalgic imaginations of great offices awaiting him, if only he deigned to accept them. In the many changes of his perpetual posing, he always remained intensely interested in himself -- the eloquent letters wholly about himself to Lionel Curtis were written from Wool.
As was to be expected, he fostered a new growth of "stories" about his life in the ranks -- there was even a revived and revised version of the saluting story, the victim this time being an unnamed major-general, who had the effrontery to want a copy of Seven Pillars, and to be rude to Lawrence of Arabia in his military disguise. 28 But these may now be taken for granted, and dismissed as inevitable. The first-hand testimonies as to his behaviour in the ranks are nevertheless contradictory. According to Mr. A. E. Chambers, who was in the same hut with Lawrence during his first R.A.F period (this aircraftman acquired the Master's jargon so far as to describe him as "clean looking"), Lawrence was a "rear-rank soldier" who always fell in as an odd number so as not to have to move when the squad formed fours. 29 He hated drill, always tried to dodge fire picquet duty, and severely denounced the cook-house fatigue of peeling potatoes for two hours as a waste of technical time -- sentiments shared by about 99.9 per cent. of all rankers, if indeed there are any so eccentric as to enjoy these grievous afflictions. At night, Lawrence was restless, having repeated nightmares of some unspecified "horrible experience" of war time; and would then get up and walk about the camp . in the dark. 30 In view of this testimony, there seems a decidedly optimistic note in Captain Kirby's belief that Lawrence went through his second recruits' course (in the Tanks) of drill "with enthusiasm." 31 According to Mr. A. L.
Dixon, a corporal in the Tanks, Lawrence (then T. E. Shaw) was "not a happy man" during his first two or three months at Bovington Camp (Wool), as he hated the routine and the perpetual drills and guard duties. 32
It was a great relief when, on completing his first sixteen weeks in the Tanks, he was given the "cushy" job of storeman and clerk to the quartermaster. In this store-room he worked on the proofs of Seven Pillars. 33 His real alleviations were in the letters of his friends, his escapes on his Brough motor-cycle (for the possession of which he was much more admired by the troops than for his Lawrence of Arabia reputation), 34 and above all by the hours he was able to spend in his cottage, which he gradually repaired and fitted up, with the aid of a pioneer-sergeant and money from the sale of his gold Arabian dagger to Mr. Curtis. There he gradually housed his books and pictures, his records and gramophone with its long straight horn, fibre needles, special sound-box, and dusting graphite. 35 As an economy measure he had a wide mantelshelf built at exactly the right height for him to use as a table to eat at standing; and there he entertained his soldier friends on a coarse diet of stuffed olives, salted almonds, baked beans and "T. E.'s own blend of China tea." 36 The China tea was probably that sent from Fortnum and Mason's by Charlotte Shaw, who also sent to Clouds Hill chocolates from Gunter's, and at Christmas peach-fed ham and pâté de foie gras. 37
In confirmation of this austerity of diet, we learn from Graves that Lawrence lived mainly on bread and butter, and preferred water to any other drink. Exactly at the period when he was storeman at Bovington and eating as just described, Lawrence told Graves on one occasion that between Wednesday and Saturday he had taken only some chocolate, an orange and a cup of tea. Again, at the very time when he was carrying on these agapes of private soldiers at Clouds Hill, he assured Graves that eating was an intimate matter which should be done locked away in a little room. 38 He would sometimes condescend to eat a public apple, but was liable to affront coarse-grained sensual people by his combination of delicate asceticism and courteously fine Oxonian manners. Thus, being "extremely sensitive and kindly," he accepted an invitation to a dinner party, where he never once looked at his hostess or at any of the other guests, refused to shake hands with anyone, said nothing, and refused
to eat. The following dialogue is said to have taken place between his hostess and himself:
' "Hors d'oeuvre?
"No thank you."
"No thank you."
"No thank you."
"No thank you."
"No thank you."
"But surely you're going to eat grouse?"
"May I just have a little fried potato, please?"
"But you must have some of this delicious bird, Mr.
"Really, no thank you."
"But don't you ever eat normal food?"
"What do you like as a rule?"
' Shaw began to feel it was funny. He told the truth.
"Tea and wads."
"Whatever are wads, Mr. Shaw?
'He explained, sitting motionless in chair, hands clasped inertly
"I'm sorry we haven't a canteen here, Mr. Shaw, since so
obviously you seem to prefer your own food." ' 39
Henry Williamson, who relates this tale with indignation, comments that the story as "the good woman tells it is, of course, a self-criticism; which one day she may perceive." 40 Now, for the life of me, I can't see that. It seems to me that she kept her temper admirably under gratuitous and ill-bred provocation.
Even his benefactions -- which were genuine -- were marred by a too lordly lavishness or by patronage and the desire to snoot some-
body as much as by the wish to succour misfortune. Even his successful effort to get a cure for a lame sergeant by Sir Herbert Barker, which was worked through the Bernard Shaws, was mingled with a malicious pleasure in showing up the camp doctor. His compassion was as calculated as his flattery, and scoring off the R.A.M.C. as important as healing the sick.
It was during the Bovington Camp period that Lawrence began to make a little extra money by translating -- which points up Graves's remark that "he has taken great care not to make a penny out of any of his writings." 41 Lawrence talks of translating French books (plural), but the only one recorded is Adrien le Corbeau Le Gigantesque which was published by Jonathan Cape as translated by J. H. Ross. Lawrence told Graves that he had other aliases besides Ross and Shaw, but did not say whether for literary or other purposes, and warned Graves not to mention the fact, if it was a fact. 42 Obviously enough, through Mr. Cape and Edward Garnett he could have had plenty of French translating; and indeed he asserted that at different times he had done "a lot of translating." 43
Either from a strain of indolence or from some pseudo-aristocratic prejudice, Lawrence always objected to working for money. He was quite ready to take a pension, he assured Bernard Shaw, but he loathed the idea of "earning money." 44 That a man should talk such stuff and get away with it is the marvel, though no doubt Bernard Shaw as a Communist would have approved on principle, though in fact he himself was a tremendous worker. Lawrence carried his indolence so far that he sent out his Seven Pillars without an index, inventing one of his absurd excuses -- that he had never used an index for any history book! Which merely shows that he had never done any serious literary work. Modern medical opinion has rather reversed itself on the subject of the effects of prolonged malaria which is (mysteriously) said to affect communities but not individuals: otherwise, the indolence might at least in part be traced to the disease. And, of course, the noise and promiscuity of a barrack-room are a wretched environment for any intellectual work -- in fact, he must have done most of his literary work at this time in the Q.M.'s store. 45 A service to literature at this period was Lawrence's recommendation to Cape of Roy Campbell The Flaming Terrapin, the script of which Lawrence had seen in Augustus John's studio. At different times he wrote a few
reviews, and also introductions to Arabia Deserta and Richard Garnett The Twilight of the Gods.
Not much may be said about The Mint, which is still kept in an aura of pre-publication mystery and exclusiveness, dimmed by time and growing indifference. The script was given to the Garnetts, the copyright bequeathed to Lawrence's brother, but also vested, seemingly, in the Chief of Staff of the R.A.F. 46 Publication was promised for 1950, but in 1953 seems as remote as ever. The sub-rosa circulation and discussion of this work afforded Lawrence a hobby for years. In the Letters at least eighteen people are mentioned as having read it, and it was still being sent round in 1934. It is essentially a polished-up diary of Lawrence's experiences at Uxbridge, including the most lurid "obscenities" he could pick up, and some quite irrelevant attempts at fine writing. His hatred for women sexually is expressed there, as he might have put it, plangently. The book will never be publicly issued intact, and, even if it were, would probably disappoint most readers except those determined to worship everything "T. E." did.
There is talk of Lawrence's having compiled an anthology. Could this be the collection of mostly forgotten poems torn from the pages of issues of The English Review between February, 1913, and March, 1914, and preserved in the Clouds Hill library.? 47
If I seem to dwell overmuch on these literary occupations, it is because Lawrence had a genuine respect for literature and above all for poetry, on which he was duly rallied by his Communist friend Shaw, who thought that poetry was an end product of brandy and cigars. Lawrence with his over-conscious self-importance imagined that, by taking thought, he could add cubits to his mental stature and consciously make himself a "titanic" writer. Lawrence had picked up the itch for writing, but was not a writer. He had no creative ability, and was dependent on the hazards of his life for copy. By sheer will power, skill at intrigue, and their capacity for servile adulation of the Prince of Mecca, he imposed himself on his contemporaries as a literary genius. It was all artificial, and he knew and acknowledged that it was, yet his implacable conceit demanded the perpetual tribute of a worthless incense. What is the value of extorted praise and un succs de snobisme? But in the world of literature much will be forgiven him, quia multum amavit.
Lawrence thought that his "future biographer" would have great difficulty in explaining why he so greatly preferred the R.A.F. to the Army. The reason is simple enough -- the R.A.F. tried to keep him out, and his maniacal will gave him no rest until he had got back. He admitted to John Buchan that he had gone into the Tanks only with the hope of returning to the R.A.F., and when, after infinite wirepulling and the threat of suicide, he managed to get back, he admitted to Garnett that now he was in the R.A.F., he had ceased to care about it. 48 Quite so -- what mattered was not the life or the service, but getting the better of those who had thwarted him. As early as April, 1923, he had applied for help in that direction to his faithful patron Hogarth who on this occasion failed. 49 Lawrence then emitted a cloud of pathos; he declared that whenever he saw an R.A.F. uniform in the street he felt a strange homesickness, though up till then the R.A.F. had not done much to earn such a sentimental yearning from him. 50 Then Bernard Shaw wrote to Stanley Baldwin trying to get Lawrence a pension, an obviously futile effort, as it might have proved the thin end of a rather dangerous wedge. In March, 1924, Lawrence again wrote to the Air Council asking for reinstatement, and was again refused. 51 Early in 1925 he began pulling more wires, writing to Lord Trenchard, 52 and thanking Sir Edward Marsh for seeing Churchill, who he thought might approach Sir Samuel Hoare, at that time Secretary of State for Air. 53 But either Churchill did nothing or Hoare did not agree, for Lawrence was refused for the third time. He thereupon wrote a sentimental letter, saying he was homesick for the R.A.F. 54 A month later he wrote Garnett in a truculent style: "I'm going to quit : but in my usual comic fashion I'm going to finish the reprint and square up with Cape before I hop it!" 55 In case that seems ambiguous, he wrote in November, 1925, after his reinstatement: "I had made up my mind, in Bovington, to come to a natural end about Xmas." 56
Edward Garnett, to whom the threat was made, communicated with Bernard Shaw, who wrote to inform the Prime Minister ( Stanley Baldwin) of this planned suicide, threatening him with a dreadful scandal which would be worse after Lowell Thomas's book had made Lawrence such a hero. 57 John Buchan also intervened, whereupon Baldwin weakly gave way, and ordered that Lawrence should be reinstated in the R.A.F., once more demonstrating the great
principle of British government which is to yield to threats or violence what is refused to reason and justice. It was an error in the first place to allow Lawrence's wire-pulling to foist him on a service whose senior officers obviously did not want him in the ranks. But once in, it was unjust to expel him when he had done absolutely nothing unmilitary calling even for minor punishment, let alone a punishment so drastic, public and humiliating. To restore him to the R.A.F. was then only plain justice, but in the way Baldwin allowed it to be done, he merely added pusillanimity to the original error. This was probably Lawrence's most difficult intrigue -- he was two years and four months in achieving success by frightening a Prime Minister with the threat that a private in the Tanks would commit suicide if not given what he demanded. One can but applaud him.
His first surviving letter from the Cadets' School at Cranwell, Lincolnshire, written to a private in the Tanks, lets us, for an unguarded moment, into the workshop of his legend-factory and shows how eagerly he cultivated small renown among private soldiers as he enjoyed lofty fame among writers, Oxonians, politicians and the public. He had been sent to an R.A.F. station at West Drayton (Nottinghamshire), and on arrival there was immediately accosted by a flight-sergeant with "Hullo, Ross," whereupon a "dynamo switchboard attendant" who "happened" to be passing behind the sergeant, said "Garn . . . that ain't Ross. I was at Bovington when he came up, and he's Colonel Lawrence." After which comes one of Lawrence's "delightfully humorous" scenes with a stage doctor, followed by an interview with a stage headquarters adjutant who didn't recognise him until Lawrence said: "If your name was Buggins and I called you Bill . . ." whereupon the H.Q. adjutant "yelled with joy, recognising my names for him, and gave me tea." 58 It was a bit of a coincidence that a sergeant who had known Lawrence at Uxbridge or Farnborough should have been moved to West Drayton and happen accidentally along to recognise him, but the coincidence becomes miraculous when a man who had served with Lawrence in the Tanks at Bovington has been transferred to the R.A.F. and happens along behind the sergeant to give the Lawrence of Arabia clue, while a super-coincidence makes the adjutant Lawrence's clear old friend Buggins. The childish vanity of the procédé is no more ridiculous than the gaping credulity of the stage-
struck fans who took it all as gospel and spread it to the great man's greater glory. Of course it may be true -- after all, Louis de Rougemont did actually ride an Australian turtle. In fact the C.O. at Cranwell was an old friend of Lawrence's, which is probably why he was sent there; but it would be too much of a good thing to have a similar experience at West Drayton, where he has staged all these affecting little scenes of welcome. The next day, Lawrence wrote to Mrs. Thomas Hardy that the R.A.F. was home to him, * even although he was surrounded by strangers. 59