Nothing much happened to break the routine of his service days at Cranwell, except that in April, 1926, he broke his arm cranking up a stranger's car on the road, and bore that very painful mishap with stoical fortitude. By the beginning of January, 1927, he had been transferred to the station at Karachi, India. Nothing much was recorded by him of a voyage which took him over familiar seas and past ancient lands he knew, though he complained sharply to Sir Edward Marsh that the ship's accommodation was defective, and wrote a prose poem (headed "Leaves in the Wind"), describing. with relish the nastiness of a stopped-up women's lavatory. 60 At first, he was "restless" in Karachi, and his racial superiority found Indians as despicable as he had found negroes in Arabia: "There's a suppressed meanness about them" (Indians) "which makes me regret their likeness in shape." 61 But the work in camp was "cushy" -- a little over five hours' work a day for five days a week, with no duties after 1 p.m., and Thursdays and Sundays a whole holiday. In spite of which he neglected the opportunity to see a little of a country new to him (though as Karachi is a comparatively modern town, there was little interest apart from the people, whom he despised), and kept to the camp reading the old favourites among his books. 62
It was while he was at Karachi that Revolt in the Desert and Mr. Graves Lawrence and the Arabs were published, and Lawrence made his last stroke of vengeance on the Guilty by finally renouncing his reputed name and taking by deed poll the name of "Thomas Edward Shaw," which henceforth was legally his. The choice of the name is significant, and there is no reason for hastening to believe him when he says that its choice was purely the result of hazard. In the Shaws, Lawrence found substitute parents on whose interest in him he could
He had been there six months, most of the time in the recruits' depot.
securely rest and to whom he could give what affection "was "in "him -"Lawrence's solicitude for both the Shaws certainly equalled that of any son for his parents, and it was reciprocated by each of them." 63 The more important of the couple to him was, of course, Charlotte Shaw, to whom Lawrence wrote so many confidential letters for eventual publication; but he also got to the point of suggesting themes for Shaw to write on. He wanted a play about Venus and Adonis (psycho-analysts!) and was insistent that Shaw should write a biography of Sir Roger Casement, who was shot as a traitor when he landed in Ireland from a German submarine after trying to recruit Irish soldiers who were prisoners in Germany to fight England. There was at first sympathy with Casement in English influential circles as a "highly romantic" Irish patriot, until the government allowed it to be known that among his papers was a diary describing "sex perversions." That was the end of him. As a Communist, Shaw was naturally not interested in romantic failures, but in successful tyrants; and complains that Lawrence never would discuss Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Ataturk and Hitler, 64 though, as a matter of fact, Lawrence frequently asserted to other people that Lenin was the "greatest man" of the 20th century, "greater than Napoleon." He claimed that he had had a sharp difference of opinion with Mr. Churchill on this very topic; and no doubt it would be difficult to decide which of the two had caused more human bloodshed.
Though Lawrence remained as self-absorbed and self-important as ever, sedulously cultivating his legend, and playing his latest part with relish, the tone of his letters becomes calmer in these years. He is no longer the tortured soul, and, though his threat of suicide was probably never anything but stage thunder to frighten old Baldwin, there is no longer in him the feeling of stress. Psychologists must determine, if they can, whether this relaxation was due to the symbolical repudiation implied by the change of name and all that went with it, or by his "home" life in the R.A.F., or by the self-imposed imprisonment within the Karachi air station, or by the mere lapse of time. At Karachi he completed his revision of The Mint and began the negotiations for translating the Odyssey, on which he spent four years and about which (the Odyssey) he said some rather silly things. How, for instance, could "Homer" be a "book-worm" 65 at a time when there were no written Greek books and when the Greeks
[This page intentionally left blank.]
Clouds Hill [National Trust photograph]
notoriously knew no language but their own? His prefatory note to the translation is at once pretentious and unimpressive. He writes for example, condescendingly of the Journey to the Underworld (the "Nekuia") without realising that its core is the old Babylonian epic tale embroidered by later Greek Rhapsodists, whose additions have been tentatively lopped off by Bérard, leaving a weirdly primitive epic core. The "experts" have condemned Lawrence's translation, but les classiques, c'est le pain des professeurs, and they will never do justice to the work of an "outsider" -- even an Oxonian -- because by their definition. Homer is "untranslatable." "A pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer." Lawrence's Greek was perfectly adequate to his task, and his version, though perhaps a little near the crib, is readable -- the most important thing. But Lawrence resented the time and toil exacted, and the work at last became a labour of hate. "Homer," at any rate the "Homer" of the Odyssey, who at one time had been for him "a greatest one," was now demoted to "Wardour Street." But Lawrence got £600 for translating him.
In June of 1928, Lawrence was moved -- or, as he claimed, arranged with Air-Marshal Salmond to be moved -- because he disliked his superior officers, 66 to Miranshah Fort in Waziristan on the borders of Afghanistan. This appears to have been a peaceful sort of place, judging from Lawrence's references to its remoteness and silence. There he translated a specimen book of the Odyssey for Bruce Rogers, and there he remained for about six months (although the usual period of service there was only two months) until he was suddenly and dramatically returned to England, amid a fracas of journalists and angry politicians. He was now accused of espionage, or rather of having been employed on secret missions to Arabia and Afghanistan, with a rumour that he had been arrested by the Afghans, for assisting rebels to cross the frontier. 67 The absurdity of these stories is selfevident. If Lawrence had really been employed on any secret missions requiring sudden and indefinite absences the authorities would not have put him into camps or forts in India, where a whole hut-full of his comrades would instantly have known that he had left camp, and the rest of the unit in a day or two. It would be ridiculous to expect a number of men to keep such a secret, even if they had been ordered to do so. Lawrence's actual duties were merely routine of a humdrum sort. He began as a sort of continuing orderly man, cutting up
bread for meals and so forth, then went to the engine repair section, where he was employed on clerical work and also as runner or messenger. 68 A former comrade of his at Karachi, Mr. T. Summel, recollects that Lawrence still kept up his habit of practical jokes by such witty devices as absconding with part of the guard's breakfasts and turning out the guard to present arms to the wrong person, so that they failed to be ready for the commanding officer -- which was doubtless very funny to Lawrence but not to the guard commander. 69 Lawrence's repeated statements that he never went outside camp bounds 70 might be construed as camouflage for espionage, but they are confirmed by the camp adjutant. 71 At Miranshah the R.A.F. personnel were by orders kept inside their barbed-wire defences, and Lawrence was mainly employed in office work. By that time he had learned to use a typewriter, so typed office letters and orders. 72 There is no confirmation either that he reorganised the engine repair shop at Karachi, or took a large share in running the small camp at Miranshah as claimed for him. He lived the ordinary and far from strenuous life of a peace-time service man without doing anything astonishing and with far more leisure to do nothing than most civilian workers.
How then did these sentimental espionage stories get about, so that the (wholly unsympathetic) victims of the Russian "trials" of Trotskyists and Rightists "confessed" to nefarious dealings with the notorious British agent and so forth, Colonel Lawrence, in 1929 in London, when he was in India? The fact that he was so cited in itself seems a complete alibi. But the rumours were really due to Lawrence's incurable habit of building fantasies about himself and telling them as true stories to his comrades. It is noteworthy that if ever one of his service acquaintances was posted to Arabia, Lawrence quickly dropped him -- he might find out too much. Lawrence's vanity led him to claim impossible experiences, such as his statement to James Hanley (who had been a seaman), that he ( Lawrence) "once spent a month on the lower deck of a Q boat." 73 At what period of the war was Lawrence in the Royal Navy? The sole basis for this ridiculous lie was his acquaintance in the R.A.F. with Mr. A. E. Chambers, who had been a naval rating on Q ships during the war. 74 In a similar spirit he had written ( June, 1927) to Sir Edward Marsh one of his pretentious letters about the "clash with Russia," which he felt was "bound to
come." 75 He also said that he had "nearly gone" to Afghanistan which he considered the "most dangerous point." And he went on self-importantly:
"The British attaché at Kabul is entitled to an airman clerk, and the depot would have put my name forward, if I'd been a bit nippier on a typewriter. I'll have to mug up typing: for from '14 to '18 I served a decent apprenticeship in semi secret-secret work, and Russia interests me greatly." 76
The letter was meant for Mr. Churchill to see (Sir Edward Marsh was his secretary), containing as it does somewhat fulsome praise of "Winston's gorgeous letter." Mr. Churchill had evidently called his book The World Crisis a pot-boiler, on which Lawrence commented, "Some pot! and probably some boil too" -- a phrase Mr. Churchill may have unconsciously recollected when he came to discourse to Congress of the chicken and its neck.
It is a fact that during his Karachi period Lawrence was called on to give what information he could to an R.A.F. survey party which was looking for landing grounds on the cast coast of Arabia -- which he had never visited except from afar during his sea trip and river journey to Kut. It is said that he requested that there should be no females in the party! 77 By Lawrence's habitual process this became transferred into a self-important statement to Captain Hart that he ( Lawrence) had "spent eight months flying and driving over every yard of the North-West frontier between India and Afghanistan." 78 This feat was achieved in six months without his ever leaving the fort. To this may be added Mr. E. M. Forster's revelation that during a walk in Surrey, Lawrence insisted on giving him what he ( Lawrence) asserted were the names, addresses and telephone numbers of two members of the Secret Service who thought the nation's safety depended on their incognito. 79 Forster does not say how or why Lawrence had been given this information, or whether he tried to verify it. Probably not, one would surmise. For supposing Mr. Forster had done so, and the information had turned out to be correct, what would Mr. Forster have gained but two blank denials and much suspicion and unwanted attentions from the police?
Here we are confronted by a variation on a familiar situation, in which Lawrence exaggerates an ordinary enough fact or two into a
"story" or series of "stories" (which he may ultimately have come to believe) told by him to his friends, circulated in gossip, and suddenly exploded upon an uncritical public with all the unscrupulous inventions of sensational propaganda -- even to the "rumour" of his arrest in Afghanistan. The basis of the whole affair seems to be no more than his hope that he might get to be airman clerk at Kabul; that he had been a junior staff officer in Cairo; and that he had been present at a conference of an R.A.F. survey party. From this to knowing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of members of the British Secret Service in England and to eight months of driving and flying along the North-West frontier was a trifling effort for Lawrence's mythopoeic mind. Of course, some of this development occurred after he left India, but the hints in the letter to Marsh are enough. Lawrence especially enjoyed telling sensational versions of such stories to his more credulous comrades, and how easily might they have passed them on to England by letter, leave or transfer. Or Lawrence's own letter would be enough. At any rate, there were the blaring newspaper headlines arousing the animosity of the friends of the U.S.S.R., to such a point that Lawrence suffered the fate of many popular heroes and passed from being flattered and fted to being execrated and burned -- fortunately only in effigy. Even the government must have rather looked down its nose on finding that its great romantic hero had once more turned out to be more of a nuisance and an embarrassment than an asset. They decided to bring him home at once, and thereby demonstrate that he was not labouring to overthrow King Amanulla and the Soviet Union in the disguise of an Arab sheik, talking Pushtu learned from the Greek dictionary he was using for translating Homer. 80 If this was reported by R.A.F. rankers, why not Lawrence's fanciful tales to them about himself and his secret service? But this was exactly what Lawrence wanted. Life in India was exile to him, and he longed to return to his motor-cycle rushing about the English roads, and to opportunities for seeing his English friends -- exactly as all his comrades no doubt wished to return to their home interests. As far back as 1927, Lawrence had written wistfully to Mrs. Hardy of the years that must separate him from his return to England, 81 and with curious prescience had written to his friend Sergeant Banbury, mentioning that he would be in Karachi
until 1929 or 1931, unless the Press transferred their attentions to him, as indeed happened in January, 1929. 82
The whole episode is an instructive example of the abuse of what is called the "freedom of the Press," itself a tendentious phrase which tries to insinuate that nothing but newspapers come from printing presses. They might at least have taken the trouble to find out whether there was any truth in their assertions. For once, the offenders were not "the vile capitalist oppressors," but the Liberal Daily News and the Socialist Daily Herald. 83 The action of the authorities in bringing Lawrence home so precipitately has been much criticised as a feeble capitulation, but it is hard to see what else they could have done. It was a choice of evils, and they chose the less. Unfortunately, one cannot altogether praise either the plan or the execution of the plan for bringing him quietly into England without newspaper fracas -- though it must be admitted that if the plan had succeeded amid complete silence, Lawrence for one would hardly have been pleased.
A radio message to his ship ordered him to avoid being interviewed "as far as possible." 84 This order appears to embody the view that a man may be interviewed against his will; and then, by way of reassuring the newspapers and the public that no mystery was connected with Lawrence's sudden return, the intelligent plan was formed of sending the R.A.F. commandant at Cattewater on board in civilian clothes to take off Lawrence, in uniform, on the guardship pinnace, through the boatloads of expectant reporters and photographers; and accompany him at once to London. Everything possible was done to create a maximum of fuss with a minimum of secrecy, in a journey which sounds like a parody of a detective story. By way of a brilliant idea for getting quietly to London, the smart Wing Commander motored his charge to Newton Abbot and boarded what he thought was an ordinary train for London, which was then attached to the section of the boat train carrying all the reporters they had been told to avoid. 85 No wonder Lawrence "chuckled."
From "knowledge" in his possession, the Labour M.P., Ernest Thurtle, reached the conclusion that Lawrence was a spy being used to foster British imperialism. 86 With this capacity for melodrama, Mr. Thurtle was naturally not reassured by the Dr. Watson methods used by the Air Force for Lawrence's home-coming and began asking House
of Commons questions, which -- whether he knew it or not -- would inevitably have led to Lawrence's dismissal from the Air Force. To parry this, Lawrence arranged to meet Mr. Thurtle and his colleagues at the House, answered all their questions, and lent them copies of Seven Pillars and The Mint, 87 though how those works cleared him from the charge of espionage in Afghanistan is not explained. At any rate he succeeded in turning Mr. Thurtle into an admirer of his "almost devastating air of intelligence" and dazzled him with such views as this:
"I think the planet is in a damnable condition, which no change of party, or social reform, will do more than palliate insignificantly. What is wanted is a new master species -- birth control for us, to end the human race in fifty years -- and then a clear field for some cleaner mammal. I suppose it must be a mammal." 88
It is unfortunate that law-givers have "no time to read," or Mr. Thurtle might have realised that this was a clumsy parody of something published by D. H. Lawrence nearly ten years before, ending with his vision of "a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass and a hare sitting up." 89 Luckily these attentions dried up the questions, though Lawrence claimed he was reprimanded for the offence of talking to M.P.s, and told that he would be discharged if he had any more talks with newspaper men. 90 Interesting admission! By way of warning, he was then posted to Cattewater ( Mount Batten), where the C.O., Wing-Commander Sydney Smith, and his wife were Lawrence's humble admirers. It is typical of Lawrence's methods of ingratiating himself that he posed to Thurtle as "almost entirely self-made," one who had "gone up so fast" from a position where his father "had five sons, and only £300 a year." 91 Strictly speaking, it was true, and yet not exactly what a Socialist means by "self-made" -- what would Mr. Thurtle's electors have said at a political meeting if he had proclaimed Oxford, Carchemish and a Staff appointment in December, 1914, as marks of a "self-made man"? The district would probably have speedily run short of dead cats. Hogarth said that Lawrence was quite ready to sacrifice the means to any end on which he had determined. 92 This applied in small as well as in large things; and the end worked for here was the silencing of Thurtle as a hostile and dangerous House of Commons critic. Yet in a sense
quite different from that he intended, Lawrence might justly be called "a self-made man" for had he not "made" himself by a series of successful impersonations and a brilliantly organised propaganda? In this case Lawrence again succeeded so well that he soon had Thurtle working to carry into law Lawrence's dislike for swagger sticks and compulsory church parades, as well as their common desire to abolish the death penalty for cowardice.
The period at Mount Batten, which lasted with interruptions until 1933, would seem to have been peaceful and happy. Lawrence, for part of the time (up till October, 1931), had the company of his adorers, Wing-Commander and Mrs. Smith, whose friendship with him is narrated in a work by Mrs. Smith, entitled The Golden Reign. One daughter of the house was nicknamed "Squeak," and Mrs. Smith had a delicious sense of humour which could not help "giggling like a naughty child in church" whenever anyone played Bach, in which mirth "Tes" thoughtfully joined. He had also a new interest in speed boats, and seems also to have learned to fly. He had a brand-new and "apolaustic" motor-cycle given him by the Shaws, his friends to see again, new books and new records to enjoy. And yet at times there came on him -- or he said there did -- a deep sense of weariness and tdium vit, 93 ". . . how tired I am of bikes and books and music and food and drink and words and work." 94 This was the man who some months later claimed that he had never been bored.
He was but forty when he wrote those words of discouragement. Were they the expression of a passing mood or the more serious statement of his nihilism? 95 With such a histrion who can tell? Yet it is the fact that such expressions of weariness and boredom thread his later letters, ending in the rather too conscious pathos of his too brief days after discharge from the R.A.F. when he declaims:
"Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle me and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That's the feeling." 96
Of course we may connect that with the " lost" feeling of complete -- and vacant -- liberty after so many years of military service.
But the feeling of life's emptiness and his own weariness had been just as keen six years before. Again one thinks once more of his sicknesses and accidents as at least a contributory if not a chief cause. He told Graves that he had had malaria "so often that it's hardly worth mentioning," and also "Malta fever, Dysentery, Typhoid, Blackwater, Smallpox, etc." 97 That was in 1927. What was meant by the "etc." is anyone's guess, and there is no other mention of blackwater fever or smallpox. How could he have come through smallpox unmarked? Then there were his airplane and motor-cycle accidents, and his wounds, which had a tendency to increase, like Falstaff's men in buckram, from nine to "over sixty." 98 All these would explain moods of depression and the not infrequent expressions of weariness and disgust with life, though it must be recognised that his whole attitude towards life was so falsely mental and mechanical that he automatically hated almost everything which really makes up a man's life and gives it savour. A man cannot with impunity allow himself to be so completely "super-cerebral" for so long, despising or recoiling in disgust from all the "animal" experience common to us all, despising work, avoiding responsibility, wanting to be kept and to do nothing. As Martin Luther so rightly said:
' Who loves not women, wine and song,
He lives a fool his whole life long."
Lawrence was one of Mr. Eliot's hollow men, and both make a virtue of the same unwholesome incapacity for living -- that genius for accepting the world which was so greatly the gift of D. H. Lawrence and, in a quite different but equally authentic way, is the gift of Roy Campbell.
After allowing Lawrence to moulder for several years as a Q.M. storeman, mechanic, airman clerk and runner, the Air people at last made some use of his mechanical bent in these Mount Batten years, although his service at the Schneider Cup race brought him into the limelight again. Lawrence's story is that Italo Balbo asked him to see that the slipway for the Italian planes was as clean as that of the R.A.F. Liddell Hart says Balbo "knew T. E. of old." 99 Where and how? Mussolini and his party did not come into power until October, 1922, when Lawrence was already out of "the world" and an Uxbridge recruit. At the date of the race, September, 1929,
there was a Labour government with Lord Thomson as Secretary of State for Air, and it is claimed that he was annoyed because various members of the late government talked to Lawrence. He was therefore again dismissed from the Air Force, and only reinstated because, immediately afterwards, he met in Whitehall "a public personage" (unnamed) who, learning that Lawrence was free, suggested that they "make a trip across the desert." Terrified at this the "Foreign Office" rang up the "Air Ministry" to persuade them to allow Lawrence to remain, "which," Graves reflects, "was what Lawrence had foreseen." 100 A condition of his reinstatement was that he should not visit or speak to any "great men -- e.g., Winston, Austen, Birkenhead, Sassoon, Lady Astor," but was permitted Bernard Shaw, who was annoyed at not being included. 101 Such was this very true-to-type Lawrence story, based so far as I can discover on no evidence but his own. Lawrence liked to boast of such triumphs to his humbler friends, and wrote to Aircraftman Hayter: "In November I had a tiff with Lord T., our present boss. He tried to sling me out: I double-crossed him. So am airmanning on. Our C.O. is a treat." 102