Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to Dick Knowles
I've wanted for so long to write to you, only I am no letter-writer. All the good of life goes out when second-handed on paper. So I used to compromise by asking always after you at Clouds Hill: and now the writing to you is made harder by your father's going. It will be such old and weary news to you, by now: and what can anyone say that is of any use in such circumstances? He was so excellent a neighbour, and I looked forward to living opposite one another for ever so long. There it is.
Your letter from Bagdad gave a good picture of an airman's activity. I am glad there was the car, and I am glad that you have found the country possible. If I returned I would find myself an utter stranger: yet it was a good place for looking upon in the Turkish days. Ugly: yes and dirty and shabby and smelly, but very human. As I get older I feel safer and easier in contemplating the animal facts of existence. It is as though the brains in my head were burnt out.
Now for what happens to me at Mount Batten. There is the Brough in stable: used for transport, not for sport. I go to places on it. The Devon roads are vile, and the camp hard to get in and out of by land. In stable also in a little Yankee motor-boat with a 6-cylinder s.v. 100 h.p. engine. It does 46 miles an hour, roars and bumps, splashes and bucks. When I can manage the petrol (usually an afternoon per week) it goes into the water and makes a playground of Plymouth Sound.
In the office there is a Greek text of the Odyssey of Homer, and many sheets of pencil, pen or typed draft translation of it into English prose. By its means I buy the petrol and spares for the bike and boat, and my spare hours are a sad and difficult adjustment between the claims of pleasure and finance.
I have forgotten, or left till last, my working hours. I am clerk A.C.II in workshops and do the technical correspondence. Actually do it. I write the letters, type them, and do not sign them. The poor C.O. takes that responsibility. Often it is a responsibility. Also, I am one of the crew of a motor-boat, and work in what running I can when I'm not clerking. An R.A.F. dull stupid heavy motor-boat, of course.
Just now I am wholly M[otor] B[oat] C[rew], for the R.A.F. is at last trying to get some marine craft of modern design, a need I have been urging on them (per C.O.'s signature) for 18 months. With some humour at the Air Ministry detailed me to proceed to Hythe near Southampton, and carry out the type-trials and engine tests. In the boat-trials we got to Penzance, my crew and me! That was my notion of what motor-boats should be fit for. The A.M. had a fit also. The engine test is now on. It's the 100 H.P. engine used in the Invicta car, and the Vickers Tank. We buzz it up and down Southampton Water, the Spit and the Solent, each of us (two on-the-job) taking the wheel in turn, while the other checks gauges. The weather is wintry, of course, and the speed-boat (it does 34 m.p.h.) dives through the seas like an inefficient submarine. So I am tired and salty-wet and cold.
Enough of this therefore. If ever you think I could be of any use to you in any way, drop me a line and I will do my best to come up to scratch.
|Last revised:||28 November 2008|
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