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T. E. Lawrence to Ernest Thurtle



Dear Thurtle

(This sounds very familiar) I have read your little bomb. It would modify all subsequent wars. I do not see it coming off: but I think the death penalty will cease pretty soon. The debates on it in the House make my blood boil. I wish I could talk to some of the old stagers for a few minutes, about funk and courage. They are the same quality, you know. A man who can run away is a potential V.C.

A possible modification of the enlistment regulations might be brought in by some progressive government: to allow service men to give notice (a month, 3 months, six months: even a year: plus such money penalty as seems equitable) and leave the service in peace time. At present to buy yourself out is difficult. The application is usually refused. Anyway the permission is an act of grace: whereas it should be a right. I think the knowledge that their men could leave the service would effect a revolution in the attitude of officers and N.C.O.s towards us. It would modify discipline profoundly, for the good, by making it voluntary: something we could help, if we wished. We would become responsible, then, for our behaviour. At present we are like parcels in the post. It is the peace-army and navy and air force which is the concern of parliament. War is a madness, for which no legislation will suffice. If you damage the efficiency of war, by act of Parliament, then when the madness comes Parliament will first of all repeal its damaging acts. Wars, in England, well up from below: from the ignorant: till they carry away the (reluctant) Cabinet.

Graves' book isn't apocrypha [8 words omitted] I eat anything except oysters and parsnips. I live in barracks (i.e. we dog-fight promiscuously). What is handshaking? The reason I had no overcoat was financial. It seemed a wicked waste of 3 or 4 pounds, for a mere month.* When I felt cold I changed into uniform. G.B.S. lent me his second overcoat: but it was too gigantic a cloak for my normal wear. If it rained: yes: or late at night. Our evening was not too chilly. I'm very susceptible to cold: in England I'm always getting into hot baths, whenever they are available: because then only I am warm enough. Yet I never get what they call 'a chill'. Odd: because usually I get all the infections going!

Please don't get the public feeling that I'm different from the crowd. By experience in many camps I have assured myself (so certainly that all the print in the world won't shake my conviction) that I'm a very normal sort of Anglo-Irishman.

Women? I like some women. I don't like their sex: any more than I like the monstrous regiment of men. Some men. There is no difference that I can feel between a women and a man. They look different, granted: but if you work with them there doesn't seem any difference at all. I can't understand all the fuss about sex. It's as obvious as red hair: and as little fundamental, I fancy. I will try and call at Temple Fortune Hill and pay my respects: but I will make no promise. London's centre holds so many pleasures for one who has wasted 20 years abroad: and I'm selfish enough to go walking by myself usually. A sense of social duty does some-times overcome me, and whilst it lasts I pay calls, and try to recall my manners. Only so often (especially in new houses) I feel like a Zoo beast without bars to defend me. There are all these absurd stories, with, in my fancy, people watching to confirm them, or make new ones. I know that is absurd: but you can write it down as a nervous affliction. The wearing a false reputation is as itchy a job as a false beard. Mine drives me crazy.

Yes, I get a huge correspondence: and the answering the justifiable percentage (20%) makes an inroad on my time. Also there is a Yankee dealer who pays £20 for my letters. Would you write, ever, if that happened to you?

If you ever come to the far west, by all means let me know, and if I can we'll meet somewhere: but my bike has no pillion: so you are safe not to break the speed law on my tail. Airmen are not allowed to carry pillion riders, or ride pillion. Another injustice! Poor troops. Yet I wouldn't change with any civilian.


T. E. Shaw.

Cattewater is shaping well. I shall like it, in the warm weather, (if any).

* I daren't spend my little reserve of cash. Any moment press chatter may extrude me from the R.A.F. and I've got to live while trying to find a rumour-proof job.

Source: DG 648-650  
Checked: dn/  
Last revised: 29 January 2006  

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