A priori, the Balbo tale is suspicious, and it seems unlikely that Lawrence would be discharged from the R.A.F. a second time, and then immediately be reinstated because he threatened to go to Irak. He could have gone to Jericho for all Thomson cared. What does seem possible is that Thomson was annoyed by Lawrence's persistent and officious efforts to "reform" the R.A.F. from the ranks, through the influence of his political friends, and told Lawrence to shut up or get out. The story would then be manufactured to hide the discomfiture of a reprimand.
More interesting is the story of Lawrence's Biscayne Baby fast motor-boat, given him by a Major Colin Cooper. This is introduced impressively as "one of six made by the Purdy Boat Company, the six best things that the United States have made." 103 From this the unwary reader might imagine that only six such perfect and speedy machines existed, whereas in fact the United States was then far ahead of England in such manufactures, and, in the late 1920's, one American firm alone was turning out 1,500 such boats with speeds between 25 and 35 m.p.h., and others as fast as 55 m.p.h. were manufactured. Those who visited the United States in those years will remember such boats rushing out to meet the liners from New
York harbour, and even in the waters round Bermuda. The British were slow in following up, and Lawrence claimed that it was through him and the performance of his boat that the R.A.F. were induced to design and to build a fast flat-bottomed speed-boat of similar type, in order to pick up airmen who had crashed or been forced to parachute into the sea. During the period when the boats were in the trial stage, Lawrence was employed as one of those engaged in running and reporting on them. We have the familiar type of tale that through his C.O., Lawrence succeeded in imposing these craft on a Ministry which otherwise would have remained blind to their merits. The claim is also made that these boats "saved hundreds of lives" during the last war, which let us hope is true. But whatever the extent of Lawrence's share in causing these speed-boats to be adopted by the R.A.F. for picking up fallen airmen (impossible to determine without official papers), he cannot exclusively be credited without some injustice to the original American builders, the Major who introduced them to an ignorant England (were they so unknown in 1929?) and the English adaptors or improvers, boat-builders and engineers.
Lawrence's own claims for the boats went a good deal further than that they might and could save the lives of airmen forced to come down on the sea. In 1933, Liddell Hart took Lawrence to see Mr. Lloyd George, then of course long since out of office, and surviving only as the ghost of the great Liberal Party sitting uncrowned on the ruins thereof. Lawrence importantly informed the ex-Prime Minister that with "his" new speed boats it would no longer be possible for a submarine to operate near the coast of Britain. 104 Would he had been right! And if indeed they did anything to curb the bitter danger, then all honour to him for whatever share he had in it. But Lawrence -- like nearly everybody -- was not happy in his predictions of future warfare. "As for physicists," he wrote, "rot 'em." 105 Why certainly, but let us admit that sub-atomic weapons which frighten dictators and bureaucrats as much as soldiers and human beings have their sinister good side. Moreover, Lawrence thought tanks clumsy and obsolete, a view which is said to have been shared by General Gamelin.
Certain irrelevant but interesting little events must be here recorded. In March, 1930, the University of St. Andrews ( Scotland) offered Lawrence the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, which he
wittily pretended to believe was a students' hoax. In August, 1930, a flash of wit lights up the enormous mausoleum of Lawrence's Letters, which would not contribute much to a new La Rochefoucauld, Voltaire or Oscar Wilde. Lawrence had formed (very rightly) a high opinion of Noël Coward's plays, and by way of cheering his favourite dramatist, had sent him a copy of the somewhat lugubrious Mint. In replying, Mr. Coward began: "Dear 338171" (may I call you 338?) . . ." Of course, "T. E." laughed heartily at it, but on which side of his now cherubic countenance? And in 1932, Yeats for reasons known to himself, nominated Lawrence for the Irish Academy of Letters. By way of showing his respect to the poet and the Academy, Lawrence delayed his reply for eight months, but then turned on the blarney tap full cock:
"I set eyes on you once, in Oxford, many years ago, and wanted then to call the street to attention (for lack of the power to make the sun blaze out appropriately, instead) but fortunately did nothing!" 106
Lawrence appears to have agreed with Disraeli that everyone likes flattery, but that with some people you should lay it on with a trowel.
In September of 1932, Lawrence was "returned to duty" from his task of testing speed boats, but on consideration he felt indisposed to accept this without a fight, and accordingly brought the R.A.F. to their senses by a request to be released from service from 6th April, 1933. He did not wish to continue if it meant that he would be employed on routine station duties. * 107 Of course, the Ministry capitulated. He was posted to Felixstowe, where he was attached to some contractors' yards and ordered to wear plain clothes to avoid publicity, or so he said. A confidential report stated that his ideas on high-speed craft were worth considering. 108 This is why he was sent to Messrs. White, at Cowes. The Under Secretary of State for Air at the time was his friend Sir Philip Sassoon. He was never weary of wire-pulling, and knew all the right people.
During the final years of Lawrence's service, his Clouds Hill cottage was gradually fitted up against the time when he would have to take his discharge. The money earned by his translation of the Odyssey went towards furnishing the cottage with a distant approximation to his boyhood's dreams of a William Morris "hall." Outside
* Lawrence's letter of resignation exists, but was it ever sent in?
the door was carved a well-known but rather cryptic phrase from Herodotus, which might be called a learned way of naming his home Sans Souci. There were carved teak doors brought back from Jidda after the luckless embassy to Hussein. There were a water supply and a bath, and, if there were no "shut-beds, there were the sleepingbags marked "Meum" and "Tuum." If the artistic decorations he introduced are a little disconcerting, we must remember that in taste there are always great differences. Outside he had rhododendrons set, and his mother put in quantities of daffodils and other flowers close up to the house. 109 He grew much attached to the place, and felt great resentment when he had to lend it to a married couple, for, as he said, he didn't like having women there. 110
The cottage housed his collection of gramophone records and his books. It is rather a surprise that a poor man with only his airman's three shillings a day and a small income could have afforded so many expensive records, until we learn from Miss Patch that many were given to him by Charlotte Shaw. Lawrence was not a musician, but a music-lover apparently without any training, so that to try to criticise the collection from the point of view of a professional or trained musician would be unfair and irrelevant. Moreover, his choice was necessarily limited by the records then available, which are far from being almost unlimited like books. He had records of early music, but said he found the Dolmetsch concerts "pretty poisonous," though he approved the gift of a Dolmetsch clavicord to Bridges. His main collections, as is almost inevitable, were of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert, but he had some Wagner and Schumann; and a good deal of Delius and Elgar. French, Spanish, Russian and Italian music are poorly represented. It is, in fact, an average sort of collection such as might be found in any musicallyminded middle-class family. On the other hand, it is probably the best and largest collection of classical music records ever made by a ranker during service.
More interest attaches to the books, since Lawrence was or wanted to be both scholar and writer; and his library is usually an indication of such a one's interests and culture. In Lawrence's case we must remember that if he had read at Oxford half of what he claimed, and his memory was half as "phenomenal" as asserted, his mind must have been a miniature London Library, and his need for books
less than that of other men. Moreover, his wandering life was not conducive to book collecting, and he complained that some of his pre-1914 books had been lost or stolen. The catalogued collection amounts to about 1,250 books, about half of which are by contemporaries, many are presentation copies and others were Hand Press books collected for their printing rather than their contents. The largest collection of any author is of D. H. Lawrence (26) followed by Robert Graves, Bernard Shaw, W. H. Hudson (17), William Morris (16), Conrad and Maurice Baring (14), S. Sassoon and Thomas Hardy (13), Doughty, Norman Douglas and James Hanley (12). The English poets are well but not exceptionally represented, for there are many gaps. There are a certain number of French texts, but few medieval and not one Provençal. Otherwise, foreign books, even French, are nearly all in translations. It is in no sense a scholar's library nor a carefully selected choice of the world's books, but the haphazard collection of a dilettante who knew a considerable number of contemporary authors.
The passage of time and Lawrence's reiterated protestations that one of his reasons for enlisting in the ranks was to be "ordinary" among ordinary men did not prevent him from telling them extraordinary and unfounded stories designed to show how important he was. Perhaps the most striking of these was his reiterated claims that he had been offered and had refused the great office of High Commissioner for Egypt, advanced so often and with such confidence that it seems quite likely that he came to believe it himself, as the august "Prinney" came to believe that he had led the cavalry charge at Salamanca. (What a very English character Falstaff is!) I ask the reader's indulgence for going rather more deeply into this little episode than it seems to deserve, since it was this which first aroused my suspicions of Lawrence's veracity and led me to find proof after proof that much he reports of himself -- including and especially his Arabian experiences -- was heightened, exaggerated, faked, boastful and sometimes entirely without foundation. I have tried, but perhaps not always successfully, to give the evidence in the whole of this book fairly and in such a way that it can be instantly verified, though not without some indignation that such a man should have been given the fame and glory of the real heroes of 1914-1918.
The post of High Commissioner for Egypt was a great one, and the
man to whom it was offered might (if he chose) boast that he had the full trust of the King's government. It was not in the gift of the Colonial Secretary, like the post of Chief British Resident at Amman, or of Governor of Cyprus or of the Bahamas, but was a Cabinet appointment. When it was camouflaged as Consul-General, it had been held by Kitchener; and before him by Lord Cromer and Sir Eldon Gorst. After them, as High Commissioners, came Sir Henry McMahon, Sir Reginald Wingate, Allenby, Lord Lloyd. Was it possible that such a post had been offered to Colonel Lawrence, let alone to Private Ross or A.C. Shaw? First, let us look at Lawrence's claim. On the 30th September, 1934, Lawrence wrote to the first Lord Lloyd some comments on his book, Egypt Since Cromer, and among them Lawrence said:
"My statement, when they offered me the succession to Allenby, was that I'd shut up the Residency, except as offices, take a room at Shepheard's, and ride about Cairo and the Delta on my motor-bike; and yet 'run' the Government of Egypt, from underneath! OutEldoning Gorst, if I may put it so. T. E. S. . . . Winston tried to get my consent to take Allenby's place, and so to accept his resignation at this moment." 111
In December of 1926, Lawrence more briefly but confidently made the, same claim to Charlotte Shaw, again saying that it was Winston Churchill who made the offer at the time of Allenby's threatened resignation early in 1922. Moreover, in that extraordinary collection or hotch-potch of recollections, T. E. Lawrence by his Friends, we find the following reminiscence from Mr. Alec Dixon, who was a corporal in the Tank Corps with Lawrence in 1923-5:
"Once or twice during his service at Bovington, T. E. was offered official posts in the Near East and elsewhere, all of which he refused flatly. Only once did he show any interest in these offers. One day at Clouds Hill he said to me: 'They've offered me Egypt.' I suggested he was just the man for the job. 'No,' he said decisively; ' Egypt would make me vicious. I believe they're talking of Ronaldshay as an alternative. If so, they're barking up the wrong tree. George Lloyd's the man for Egypt, and I'm going to tell them so.' This I believe he did." 112
The facts are that Allenby went to London early in 1922 prepared to resign as Fligh Commissioner unless Egypt was granted independence; which was done, and he remained as High Commissioner until May, 1925, being succeeded by Lord Lloyd in October of that year. And yet Lawrence and his friends would have us believe first, that in 1922 the Lloyd George government was prepared, if Lawrence would only agree, to accept the resignation of a Field Marshal and entrust to a 34-year-old, temporary civil servant in the Colonial Office an incipient revolt in Egypt which the conqueror of Palestine and Syria felt unable to control; secondly, that in 1925 another Cabinet, presided over by Stanley Baldwin, made a similar offer to Private Ross of the Tanks.
According to Mr. Winston Churchill's recollections in T. E. Lawrence by his Friends: ". . . governorships and great commands were then ( 1921) at my disposal. Nothing availed. As a last resort I sent him (Lawrence) out to Transjordania . . . " 113 It must be repeated that Mr. Churchill, though Secretary for the Colonies, had not the "disposal" of so high an office as " Egypt," and that Lawrence, whatever else was then offered, was sent by Mr. Churchill to Amman "as a last resort" in July, 1921, seven months before the crisis of Allenby's threatened resignation. To quote Mr. Churchill again: "One day I said to Lawrence: 'What would you like to do when all this is smoothed out? The greatest employments are open to you if you care to pursue your new career in the Colonial service.' " The italics are mine; Egypt came under the Foreign, not the Colonial Office. Lord Curzon as Foreign Secretary would certainly have had to be consulted, and he had little reason to favour Lawrence who, as we have seen, had tried to bring him into ridicule and contempt.
Again, if the government were prepared to accept Allenby's resignation, it would only be because they were opposed to granting Egypt a greater measure of independence and were looking for a man prepared, if necessary, to crush the national uprising which Allenby foresaw. Is it likely that they would choose, to carry out such a repressive, Imperialist policy, one who was uncompromisingly committed to be the champion of Arab freedom?
In a letter of March, 1922, Lawrence says he left the Colonial Office on 28th February, but had been there daily since; in another of the 31st March, he announces that he may be leaving England
not for Cairo but for Baghdad, which would hardly be the residence' of the High Commissioner for Egypt. On the 10th April, he says his "tenth resignation" had been rejected, but that he was sitting in Barton Street working at his book. 114
I felt that I should try to obtain some authoritative statements on this, without disclosing the fact ' that I thought the claim suspicious or giving away the passages in which Lawrence made it. Through my friend John Browning, and Mr. Colin Mann, then Public Relations Officer of the Conservative Party, I caused this and one or two others of Lawrence's claims to be submitted to Mr. L. S. Amery, who was a Cabinet Minister; to the second Lord Lloyd; and to Lawrence's friend Sir Ronald Storrs.
Mr. Amery replied:
I should think it extremely unlikely that Lawrence was asked to succeed Allenby as High Commissioner in Egypt. My recollection is that the Foreign Office were very keen to secure the post for a diplomat, while Sir Austen Chamberlain and others of us favoured George Lloyd, who was actually appointed.
It will be noted that this applies only to 1925. Lord Lloyd replied:
I was on extremely good terms with my father and he talked to me frequently about Egypt, on which he was a great authority, and about Lawrence, whom he knew well. Considering how much he told me on both these subjects I think it unlikely that, had he known that such an offer had ever been made to Lawrence, he would not have told me about it. In fact, I never remember hearing him mention it.
Sir Ronald Storrs, who was also asked about Lawrence's claim (we shall glance at it later) that he had been asked to reorganise Home Defence, wrote:
Here is a strange question. My answer to both (1) and (2) is an emphatic NO. Indeed I regard both suggestions as grotesquely improbable. I saw a good deal of T. E. and was, I believe, more in his confidence than most and he never mentioned anything of this nature. 117
In the ranks
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Of course he didn't. Sir Ronald knew the facts. But from 1918 until 1923, Lord Lloyd was away in Bombay, and Mrs. Shaw and Corporal Dixon were easy game. By way of making sure, I inspired another intermediary to put the Egypt question to One Whom I will only designate as a Much Greater Man, who was understood to growl that the assertion that Lawrence had ever officially been offered the post of High Commissioner for Egypt was "certainly unfounded." 385 Good enough! The assertion was never made by me. But it is surely interesting that the great authority on Lawrence and author of the Dictionary of National Biography notice on him -- Sir Ronald Storrs -had overlooked these interesting passages in his hero's letters and in the book by his "Friends" to which Sir Ronald is himself a distinguished contributor.
This habit of attributing offers of imaginary grandeurs to himself rather grew on Lawrence as the time for his final discharge from the R.A.F. came nearer. It is true that he was offered by a banker, and refused, a position in the City of London, 118 where at one time he had also reserved for himself the position of night-watchman at the Bank of England. He also talked of starting a printing press at Clouds Hill. But these things were mixed up with such fantasies as his telling his neighbour, ex-Sergeant Knowles, that the printing press might have to be postponed for years "since he might again be asked to undertake the reorganisation of Home Defence, and if so would feel that he had no alternative but to take the job, as it was work of such national importance." 119 The distinguished persons who were asked about the Egypt myth also brushed aside the idea that Lawrence had ever been offered "Home Defence." Yet he told Liddell Hart that he had received "approaches" to become successor to Sir Maurice Hankey, afterwards Lord Hankey, who was Clerk to the Privy Council from 1919 to 1938, and Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence from 1912-1938. Lawrence added negligently that he had answered he "would only do so if the normal Cabinet side was removed from the Committee of Imperial Defence!" 120 On which Captain Hart reflects that it was "interesting to see him even contemplating the latter role." Yes, indeed, but what evidence is there that he was ever offered such a post, especially since in 1935
385 Sir Winston Churchill has since affirmed that although he never offered the post of High Commissioner to Lawrence officially he may have talked over the possibility of his being offered it unofficially with Lawrence.
Lord Hankey still had three or four years of office ahead? Lawrence's friends, Hart especially, played up to the megalomania of the selfimportant egotist who made these claims, although one of his favourite poses was that he had joined the ranks in order "to degrade himself" and make it impossible for him to be employed in any responsible post.
Liddell Hart informed him that many people were approaching him (Hart) to get Lawrence to become "dictator." Lawrence said the Fascists had been after him, and he had replied that he would not help them to power, but if they gained it, he would agree to become "dictator" of the press for a fortnight. Lawrence went on to say that a new lead would be popular and that it would be Fascist only till power was gained. He thought Mosley would not "tolerate any really good chief of staff," but his "(whose?)" chance might come if someone really big took him (whom?)" under their wing." Hart then asked "T. E." if he would contemplate leading any movement? To which Lawrence replied "No," and said he still intended to settle down in his cottage, but that there were many jobs for him to do if he tired of life in the cottage. On which Liddell Hart noted that his attitude was changing, perhaps more than he knew. 121
When in 1935 Lawrence took his discharge from the R.A.F. and retired to Clouds Hill, it is not surprising that among the reporters who tried to interview him was one whose questionnaire began: "Do you intend to make yourself Dictator of England?" 122 An idiotic question, of course, but if a man with a newspaper reputation tells his friends that he has been "offered Egypt" and "offered Hankey's jobs" and "offered Home Defence," and discusses with a London Times correspondent the possibility of leadership of the Fascist Party, what is to be expected? Once more the sensationalism is to be traced, not to the journalists, but to Lawrence who started it. And, when a man starts such rumours about himself, it is ridiculous to complain of being "persecuted by the press," and something worse than ridiculous to assault a newspaper photographer, as Lawrence did.
Strangely enough, Lawrence's sudden death was directly involved in this toying with the idea of Fascist dictatorship. A friend had written to him suggesting a meeting between Lawrence and Hider. Apparently, the idea was that Lawrence, being "the natural leader of that age in England," should meet the late but by-few-regretted Adolf, and that together they would fix up the future of the world for the
next thousand years. The snag about this was, that while Hitler certainly commanded Germany, Lawrence didn't command anything, while most people will agree that the English have a strong antipathy to all dictators except the Trades Union Council, Mrs. Grundy and the yellow press. Even if the interview had taken place, it would scarcely have ranked as even a pre-view of Munich. Lawrence dashed off on his motor-cycle and sent a telegram fixing an appointment (with the letter-writer, not with Hitler) for the next day, wet or fine. He then remounted and dashed off home. 123
He had said that his motor-cycle speeding would end tragically one day. Already he had had several warnings. He told Liddell Hart that he had skidded when taking sausages to his comrades at Cranwell, and again on the slippery tram-lines on Highgate Hill. 124 More serious smashes are mentioned in the Letters. In April, 1923, he damaged his cycle badly, but himself escaped unhurt; 125 in December, 1925, he skidded on ice going at 55 m.p.h., damaged the cycle, and hurt his knee, ankle and elbow. A year later he wrecked his motor-cycle and lamed himself by an accident in Islington. And there were others. From which one might infer he was rather a fast than a good rider.