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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Clare Sydney Smith



A Christmas letter! To write it from the sea front of Bridlington at 10 at night with rain and wind outside and the long low-ride waves rolling up the sand, feels somehow just right. How unlike your Singapore! I am sent here by Air Ministry to supervise the overhaul of the ten R.A.F. boats that work the bombing range. A big, tricky job, which will probably keep me till I run out my time in February.

I haven't had to write for ever so long, because I met you both by deputy. There was Wood, one night in Southampton, on his trooper before he sailed. We talked for hours, and from what he said there grew up in my mind a half-picture (probably wildly wrong) of the shape and feel of Singapore. Your letters show that you don't find much in it. S.S. finds all and more than he can do. Well, the lucky him. If it wasn't for the work, I'd go daft over a whole winter in Bridlington. A job is an essentially masculine thing and very filling.

Another contact was Lady Louis Mountbatten. Philip Sassoon asked me to lunch, and sat her beside me. With the first came in the 5th Footman, carrying an enormous hat-box of smooth brown cardboard. 'Lady Mountbatten's hats,' he said. We all giggled. She cried out that they weren't for her, but for you, and scrabbled deep in the roll of paper inside the box till she drew out six or seven little frail hats of felt or linen, all pastel colours. These she pressed on Philip. "Here you are," she said, "when you get to Singapore, all you have to do is to give them to Mrs. S.S.!" Philip staggered and shut his eyes. Seven hats, and he had only a feather-weight suitcase containing his six necessary suits. He positively couldn't. Lady Louis fitted the hats one into the other like a nest of Chinese boxes until they were really only one hat. "It's nothing," she said, and turned to Philip's man with instructions to throw out some unimportant part of the Under Secretary's kit, and insert the hats.

More food came in. Duveen and Mrs. Gubbay and the rest of us discussed you and your hats and S.S. Another footman entered with another load, of several fiat boxes. "Lady M. B.'s bathing costumes," he said. We howled, all except Philip, and he looked as though he probably would howl, soon. "I suppose I'm to take these to Mrs. S.S.?" he asked ironically. "Of course," snapped Lady Louis. "You didn't think I wanted a bathing costume to lunch with you, did you? What nonsense!" Philip protested again about Imperial Airways restriction of baggage. She sent them up to his room with similar instructions, Philip vowing that he wouldn't present them to you till after the water-party(obviously being prepared for his welcome) was over and done. Lady Louis said they were magnificent bathing costumes, and wanted to drag me into it.

I sent affectionate messages via Philip, but I don't suppose you got these either, till after the bathing party. I left with the impression that Lady Louis would take a deal of stopping.

Another contact was with Admiral and Lady (yes, he has been promoted since) Fullerton. The Admiralty went on being mulish about Scott Paine's motor-boats, and I lost patience and thought it might be rather a rag to force one down their throats. Also it would buck the Navy up to have a modern boat set against their primitive junks. So I pulled string after string, and all the bells rang, till finally Scott Paine and I were asked down to Plymouth to explain these new boats. The Admiral put us up at Mount Wise for two nights, and behaved like the whitest sort of man. He really is a super-Admiral.

Scott Paine got a long way with him, and the Eyres-Monsell blew in, in a yacht. We roped him into the talk (he is a sort of S. of S. for the Navy, and a war-time partner of mine) and that about clinched it. So Scott Paine got the order for a new Admiral's Barge for the C. in C. Devonport.

We finished it in about three weeks, and down it went by sea, a great 45 foot thing, full of cabins and lavatories and chromium plate. The day after it got there happened to be the inspection day by the whole Board of Admiralty. Seven Sea Lords, and some Land Lords got into it at once, and Scott Paine nearly talked their heads off. The Admiral went on being as white as white, and Lady Fullerton remembered how Jacky Fisher fought for new ideas, and backed up.

It was very sad being at Plymouth and on the water there as the only survivor of our parties. I was glad to get away, fun though the boat-politics were.

Ah well, here endeth this paper: and in three months, endeth A/C Shaw. It is a lamentable and paralysing future, about which I think all day and cannot bear it.

S.S. - Sydney Smith
Fullerton, C.-in-C. Plymouth, October 1932 - June 1935
Monsell - 1st Viscount Monsell,First Lord of the Admiralty 1931-5.

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Source: GR 299 237-40
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 4 July 2006


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