Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to Air Vice-Marshal Sir Oliver Swann
I can't ask the corporal how an aircraft hand addresses an air-vice-marshal:- so please take this letter as a work of my late existence! I hadn't meant to write, except when I changed station, but the mess I made of Henrietta St. demands an apology. I thought I was fitter: but when it came to the point, walked up and down the street in a blue funk, and finally went in with my nerves dithering, and my heart dancing. My teeth never were any good, so the doctors threw me straight downstairs again. There Dexter caught me, and lent me what was no doubt his right hand to steer me past the medical, and through other rocks of square roots and essays and decimals. However I was obviously incapable of getting through on my own, so he got another chit from you, and that did the trick satisfactorily. If I'd known I was such a wreck I'd have gone off and recovered before [join]ing up: now the cure and the experiment must proceed together. I'm not very certain of myself, for the crudities, which aren't as bad as I expected, worry me far more than I expected: and physically I can only just scrape through the days. However they are a cheerful crowd; and the N.C.O.'s behave with extraordinary gentleness to us (there's no other word fits their tone - except on the square, from which good Lord deliver us!) and I enjoy usually one hour of the sixteen, and often laugh in bed after lights out. If I can get able to sleep, and to eat the food, and to go through the P.T. I'll be all right. The present worry is 90% nerves.
Would you tell the C.A.S. that he's given me the completest change any mortal has had since Nebuchadnezzar: and that so far as I'm concerned it's to go on? Fortunately I told him I wasn't sure how long I could stick it, so that there is always a bridge - but it isn't required yet, and I hope won't be: only it's a comforting thought for the fifteen bad hours.
As for the special reason for which I came in - there's masses of gorgeous stuff lying about: but the scale of it is heart-rending. I found the Arab Revolt too big to write about, and chose this as a smaller subject to write about: but you'd have to be a man and a half to tackle it at all decently.
I must say you have an amazing good crowd in the ranks: as a new force it ought to be pretty alive: but its keenness and life is better than I dreamed of.
In case I'm wanted by the Colonial Office I'll send you a note as often as I change station: but not more unless I want something, which will be a sad event. Less than two years won't do what I planned, in my present opinion: and they all say that things are easier outside Uxbridge. Also I'll have got used to being a dog's body.
Please tell the C.A.S. that I'm delighted, and most grateful to him and to you for what you have done. Don't bother to keep an eye on what happens to me.
T. E. Lawrence
I've re-read this letter: it gives too dismal an impression. It's only the sudden change from independence to dish-washing, and from mental to physical living which has been too much for my strength. And I'd harmed my health more than I thought by these three years trying to write a war book. It's hard to squeeze the last drop out of your memories of two years, and I sweated myself blind trying to make it as good as possible. Result that I leap into the air when spoken to unexpectedly, and can't reply a word: only stand there shivering! And it's hard not to give oneself away at such moments. The actual conditions are better than I thought.
|Last revised:||6 February 2006|
T. E. Lawrence chronology
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