Monday, 2 November 2009


My four years' Chairmanship of the T.E.Lawrence Society 1986-1990 was a heady time. It had only been formed in 1985, in Dorset, by a Wareham school teacher - Ingrid Keith. Most of its founding members were naturally from Dorset, and events tended at first to be local. I was not a founding member, and not at the inaugural meeting when the Society was set-up. At that time though I was in the process of publishing my first book concerning Lawrence - T.E.Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) Visits Mr & Mrs Thomas Hardy. The photograph below was taken by my youngest daughter outside the entrance to Thomas Hardy's home Max Gate which was used on the book's back cover. Having become a member, I attended the second Society meeting at Bovington, when a Constitution was drafted. I also introduced my book.
On becoming Chairman in 1986, this Constitution immediately became the basis for the Committee to apply for charity status, which it eventually obtained.
In the meantime I had started to collect examples of those medals, etc. for which Lawrence was gazetted, and those of WW1 which he would also have been entitled to wear had he so chosen! On his own evidence he also jokingly suggested others he thought apt. With the exception of a Jordanian Order of Nahda which I had been unable to obtain, on the occasion c.1990 of the birthday of the first Chairman, Roland Hammersley, I wore them all when attending his informal birthday party at his home at Bovington. The photograph below was taken as I was about to set off.
Society meetings soon began to take place at Lawrence associated venues around the country. One such was on 15th August 1987 at Bridlington, at the Blue Lobster Restaurant immediately adjacent to the site of the RAF Marine Craft works and slipway. One of those attending was the then Society Secretary, George Williams, who kindly provided copies of the printed momento below. All those present signed each others' copies on the back, as can be seen below on my copy.

As part of the 1988 centenary celebration of Lawrence's birth, Dorset County Council organised a T.E.Lawrence Trail Cycle-Ride, to take place on 16th August. I was invited to participate, and it was decided that I would motor ahead to strategic Lawrence locations along the way, and explain their significance. Unfortunately not many cyclists participated, but it being a glorious sunny day the event was still enjoyable. The first photograph was taken outside the entrance to Clouds Hill, which unfortunately was not open at the time.

The second photograph was taken at the site of the garage at Bovington, from which he left for his final fatal journey back to Clouds Hill in May 1935. The garage pictured was not the 1935 one, and even this later one has now disappeared to make way for housing. Similarly missing in 1988 was the Post Office on the other side of the road which Lawrence had also just visited, having been demolished shortly beforehand, though the cyclists were shown photographs of both.

Quite a number of other important Lawrence locations which were still in existence in those early days luckily visited by Society members have since passed away, as have sadly some of those early members. Included is RAF Mount Batten at Plymouth, the Scott-Paine Boatyard at Hythe in Hampshire, and the nearby early Lawrence family home at Langley Lodge. It was fortunate that the Society was formed when it was, when so many Lawrence locations were still in existence, and photographically recorded for posterity.
Again, as part of the 1988 celebrations, the Society Committee approved the initiative of a member who wished to produce commemorative envelopes as below, and stickers bearing the same design.
The big event of 1989 was the Society tour of Jordan in the May. Among the places visited were Amman, Petra, Aqaba, and Jerash. There was even a trip out into the desert on the Jordan/Saudia Arabia border, in a temperature of 45 Celsius, to see the purported results of one of Lawrence's train demolitions. We had an excellent Jordanian tour guide, who proved to have very sharp eyes. One day whilst the coach was having some repair made, we were standing on what to we English looked the usual uninteresting stone and gravel road surface, but the guide began picking up small pieces of coloured Roman glass he had noticed. One highlight was a trip along the Hejaz railway. The photograph below was taken of me having a welcome drink at one of the water stops along the way. During this trip the group was asked who would like to come for a ride up on the footplate for a short while. One lady volunteered. When she later returned her face was a picture, being covered in black diesel smoke. Being diesel-driven almost 'did' for some members, for when going through a long tunnel the diesel fumes came through the open windows and almost asphyxiated us. The same lady later tried to ride a camel and promptly fell off, but thankfully without sustaining any injury beyond bruising.
As is known, Lawrence spent a holiday with a couple of friends in Scotland in September 1930. This was at the small fishing village of Collieston, a few miles north of Aberdeen. I learned that although the original primitive fisherman's cottage had been demolished, the bungalow built in its place in 1937 was a holiday-let. So in September 1989, at the same period as Lawrence, my wife and I spent a pleasant week there. Although there had been some inevitable changes to the village, we were still able to see and experience most of what Lawrence was to write about in Garnett letter 421 dated 18th September 1930 to F.D.Doubleday. I was also fortunate to be able to locate and visit the gentleman who as a young boy had delivered milk (or whatever) to the cottage at that time. Internet search engines throw up several illustrated sites of Collieston.
My four years as Society Chairman were very busy, but rewarding and enjoyable. It enabled me to meet several people who had met Lawrence, as well as to visit Lawrence sites that I might never have otherwise have done. There have also been unique experiences. There was the time when my wife and I undertook a reconnaissance visit to RAF Mount Batten, and whilst travelling around the Station with the commanding Squadron Leader in his be-flagged car to receive by association the salutes of all personnel. Then whilst at work, to have my supervisor come running to me to say that there was a person-to-person telephone call from New Zealand, who turned out to be a new member who just wanted to speak with the Society Chairman!
There were one or two episodes that were not the usual pleasurable ones. One in particular was when a meeeting was arranged at the public library in Bromley, Kent, to hear a speaker give an Arabic viewpoint on Lawrence. My wife and I drove up to London the day before, and parked the car in an underground car-park somewhere near Victoria Station. It had been raining, and whilst walking round to our 'hotel' in Eccleston Square, a car drove through a large puddle in the road and sprayed my poor wife. Then we found that the 'hotel' was really a town house that had been converted into hotel-type accommodation, without the now obligatory en suite facilities. For an evening meal we found a nearby Indian restaurant. Next morning I wished to go to a postcard and militaria fair then in the arches under Charing Cross Station, whilst my wife went round the shops. Arriving at the fair I did not feel well enough to go inside, and returned to the hotel. Whilst driving to Bromley in the afternoon I just managed to pull into a public house car park, where I was violently sick. We managed to reach Bromley without further incident, and found several Society members waiting in the library. When the appointed time came, the speaker had not arrived. This was when a member of the library staff came in to say that the speaker had phoned to say that he had gone by mistake to Bromley-by Bow in east London, but was now on his way to Bromley. So for the next hour I had to waffle on about Society and Lawrence matters, interrupted by an occasional quick trip to the 'loo'. The speaker eventually arrived, when the meeting proper passed without further incident.
Although I was proud and privileged to have been Chairman, after 'only' four years I felt that it was time to retire from that position, and make way for fresh blood and ideas. It is somewhat gratifying to note that succeeding Chairmen have elected to create and follow that now unwritten convention.

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