Research & Discussion
Fiction: That there was a 'sermon' at Lawrence's funeralSource: Tom Beaumont, in P. Knightley and C. Simpson, The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, (London, Nelson, 1969) pages 275-6
This fiction, of little importance in itself, is included here because Tom Beaumont has been the source of other unverifiable information relating to T.E. Lawrence. This is a clear example of the unreliability his memory.
I was in occasional contact with the Sunday Times 'Insight' team while they were researching The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia. Moreover, Arabella Rivington, who was working on the book, was a friend. Consequently I became aware that Tom Beaumont was seeking to sell to the Sunday Times a piece of exclusive information - that he alone knew - about the identity of 'S.A.', the dedicatee of Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
This was not the first time that Beaumont had used his knowledge of Lawrence for financial gain. Early in 1935, he had passed to a journalist the contents of a private letter in which Lawrence had written of his forthcoming retirement from the RAF. The news - together with extracts from the letter - was duly published, with the result that when Lawrence reached Clouds Hill he found the place besieged by pressmen.
The Sunday Times did eventually acquire the 'S.A.' exclusive. Along the way, Beaumont provided other snippets of 'new' information. Some of this appears on pp. 275-6 of The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia:
As the coffin was lowered Gunners Beaumont and Bailey, on opposite sides of the grave, shook hands. Beaumont says he saw a name-plate on the coffin: T. E. Lawrence - but newspaper reports said the coffin carried no inscription . . .
Afterwards the mourners gathered at Moreton House at the invitation of the owner. Lady Astor, her eyes still red from weeping, tried to cheer everyone up. Beaumont remembers her saying to Canon Kinloch, who had officiated at the funeral, "That was a bloody fine sermon, the first time I've heard you sound really sincere." But when Churchill, who had wept during the funeral, took his leave, Lady Astor's composure broke down again and she ran to his car calling "Winnie, Winnie" and clasped his hands between hers . . .
It is clear from the content and context that Beaumont was the source for the above. Knightley and Simpson evidently doubted his memory about the nameplate on the coffin, but there is a general rule in journalism that if someone says something and you quote it as their statement, any error it contains is theirs not yours.
When he read this passage in The Secret Lives, Arnold Lawrence told me that he thought it utter nonsense from start to finish. Astor and Churchill were among the most important guests at the funeral, which he himself had arranged. He recalled no such behaviour or comments by Nancy Astor. The principal comment is totally impossible because there was neither a sermon nor any kind of address at the funeral (a fact confirmed by the printed service sheet). Moreover, Nancy Astor was a Christian Scientist and lived nowhere near Clouds Hill. It is therefore most unlikely that she would have heard Canon Kinloch preach on any previous occasion.
When the book was published, I met Tom Beaumont and thought him an endearing old rascal. He was obviously making the best of his story, with a twinkle in his eye. He had never had much money, and in most people's eyes his brief acquaintance with Lawrence was probably the most important thing about him. I felt that, if he made a few pounds out of the Sunday Times, good luck to him. He needed the cash.
Years later, after the service to mark the 50th anniversary of Lawrence's death, he joked with a friend of mine that, if someone paid, he would tell them anything they wanted. On that occasion, he solemnly told a camera crew that he had been involved in the machine-gunning of Turkish prisoners at Tafas. That was not true either: the documents show that his unit was many miles from Tafas at the time.
T.E. Lawrence 1888-1935
1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales
1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys
1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909
1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish
1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo
1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt
1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference
1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office
1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF
1923 January: discharged from the RAF
1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps
1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant
1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah
1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published
1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey
1929-33: stationed at Plymouth
1931: started working on RAF boats
1932: his translation of the Odyssey published
1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe
1935 February: retired from the RAF
1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May
1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset