Text Box: October  2016


I am anxious that this month’s ’ Brumration’ does not appear to be a travelogue, but two journeys that I made this summer have inspired me in different ways.

The first, following an excellent visit to the Tank Museum at Bovington, was a short distance away. A road through the forest leads to the home, Clouds Hill that T.E.Lawrence created from 1923. Here apparently he sought to escape from the intense scrutiny of celebrity and the exhaustion that his exploits in the desert and his work to secure Arab self-determination had engendered.

Before writing about Lawrence’s time at Clouds Hill some reflection on his early life may be helpful.  He was born on 16th August 1888 at Tremadoc in Wales. His father Sir Thomas Chapman had an estate in Ireland but had fallen in love with his children’s governess.  When she gave birth to a son, Chapman left his estate and his family to live with Sarah Junner.  They called themselves, Mr and Mrs Lawrence, and moved several times before settling in Oxford where they brought up and educated their five sons.

Lawrence gained First Class Honours in modern history at Jesus College Oxford in 1910. He undertook a challenging 1,000 mile journey through Syria and Palestine to complete the research for his degree.  He was shot at, robbed and badly beaten, but still returned in 1910 having received a scholarship to work with distinguished archaeologists from the British Museum at Carchemish in Syria. These visits deepened his knowledge of the region and his empathy for the Arab cause.

In early 1914 the British Army employed Lawrence with his friend Leonard Wooley, supposedly to conduct an archaeological survey of the Sinai Peninsula and the Negev.  A report was published, but the true motive was to survey and map an area which was crucial for the Turks if they were to attack Egypt.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 he was appointed as an intelligence officer in Cairo and remained there until 1916 when, with no military training he was sent to Arabia to support the Arab revolt against the Turks. A number of writers suggest Lawrence felt  a sense of guilt as he remained in his desk job in Cairo while two of his younger brothers, Frank and Will, had been killed on the Western Front.

His part in the Arab revolt could be the subject of a future edition, but the British public knew little of the events until 1919. He had returned a full Colonel and worked at the Foreign Office preparing for the Paris Peace Conference.  In 1920 an American war correspondent, Lowell Thomas, launched a lecture tour with photographs and film entitled, ‘With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence of Arabia’.  The sight of this British Colonel in full Arab dress captured the public’s imagination, and Lawrence overnight became a war hero and celebrity.

Despite his celebrity status he spent 1921working as an advisor on Arab affairs to the Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill. They became lifelong friends. It was at the completion of this appointment and his publication of the ‘Oxford Text’ of his book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, that he adopted the name John Hume Ross and enlisted in the Royal Air Force.  When his identity was revealed by the press he was discharged, and enlisted in the Royal Tank Corps at Bovington this time under the name Thomas Edward Shaw.

It was in 1923 that Lawrence first rented Clouds Hill. He had been encouraged to produce a special edition of about 100 copies of Seven Pillars and recognised that trying to do this at Bovington would be impossible. Clouds Hill was a dilapidated labourer’s cottage built in 1808. It had been unoccupied for many years but

Lawrence sold a gold dagger purchased in Mecca to pay for some essential repairs and alterations. These included the installation of a large widow in the roof and the creation of a room where he could write. There was no bedroom or kitchen at this time, and it appears Lawrence slept and ate most meals at the Camp. He never had cooking facilities at the cottage and guests would be provided with tinned snacks.

In 1923 he was readmitted to the RAF, but following the successful publication of ‘Revolt in the Desert’ and a further outbreak of publicity he was transferred to India. While he was away, he decided to purchase Clouds Hill which he sometimes let or loaned to friends and family. He was to return from India in 1928 amongst rumours that he had been involved in espionage.  A posting to Bridlington followed, which was a base for the development of high powered speed boats.  It remained so during World War 2.

Lawrence’s twelve year term in the RAF was to end in 1935, and with the profits from the translation of Homer’s Odyssey he set about making further changes at Clouds Hill.  He completed the Music Room, and had the downstairs damp proofed.  He created his book room where he was not only able to display the collection of books obtained while a Fellow of All Souls but the works of the many writers and poets he had associated with. These included Edmund Blunden, Winston Churchill, E.M.Forster, C.Day Lewis, Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon and Bernard Shaw.

As attending concerts from Dorset was a challenge, he owned the finest gramophones of the day.  The last he owned is still at Clouds Hill. Shortly before his death he built a bunk bed with storage underneath.  He damp proofed the wall with tin foil. He created a bathroom and installed a water supply and water heater. He also created a ‘water tank’ in a neighbour’s garden. This served not only as a water supply in case of forest fires but also provided him with a swimming pool.  He covered the pool and used magnificent carved doors he brought from a merchant’s house in Jeddah. These can now be seen in the Ashmolean in Oxford.  One of Lawrence’s Arab robes is also on display there.  On my last visit his sandals and a dagger were also on display, loaned by All Souls, Oxford.

For a man who sought to escape celebrity his actions at times appear rather contradictory, his portrait was painted on a number of occasions by Augustus John, sometimes in his Arab dress.  Eric Kennington also produced sculptures of Lawrence. Shaw, Hardy and E.M.Forster helped him with his writing, and his books often appeared at times when he was seeking to establish a new identity.

He loved his Brough Superior motorcycles, and it was while riding one of these he was seriously injured on the road between Clouds Hill and Bovington.  He died on May 19th 1935, and he was buried at St Nicholas Church, in nearby Moreton.

He was certainly a complex character, clever, artistic brave and loyal.  Winston Churchill wrote; ‘In Col. Lawrence we have lost one of the greatest beings of our time.  I knew him well. I hoped to see him quit his retirement and take a commanding part in facing the dangers that now threaten this country.  No such blow has befallen the Empire for many years as his untimely death…..’

Clouds Hill is now a National Trust Property.


In a country that honours its veterans I hoped to see some evidence of those Americans who were our allies in World War 1. It was never intended to be a comprehensive search but I was moved to see that in small communities across New England, evidence of the great sacrifice they had made.

In Vermont, the town of Barre is a community of around 10,000 people, but despite its size it has a number of significant sculptures.  It seemed strange to see a statue of Robert Burns in the town, but as a centre of the granite industry it attracted many Scots from the Aberdeen area.  It was these skilled workers in granite who created the town’s magnificent World War 1 memorial.  It was designed by Carl Paul Jennewein, a naturalised American who joined the U S Army in 1915. He was granted an honourable discharge in 1916 having won the prestigious ‘Rome Prize’.  His work is normally seen in the larger American cities which makes this memorial in a small town in Vermont rather special. Called’ Youth Triumphant ‘it was unveiled in 1924, and the base is inscribed with a verse from Laurence Binyon’s ‘Ode to the Fallen’.

Bath is an even smaller community in Vermont but its war memorial commemorates many local men who enlisted. The centre panel includes the names of31 men who fought in World War 1. There are the names of over 100 who enlisted in World War 2, three were killed in action. Twenty nine men went to Korea, 23 to Vietnam.

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Text Box: The Bulletin of the Birmingham Branch of the WFA
October 2016
Compiled by Richard Lloyd