Thursday, 9 June 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 2. Perceptions of India

Sunset in North Waziristan
Photo: Muhammad uwais khan
The perceptions of T. E. Shaw in India are quite different as expressed by B. V. Jones and Shaw, himself. Jones' accounts are very personal as one might expect being written as a memorial to Shaw, but they also omit much about the landscape and climate. Shaw's own accounts says much about the place but he speaks of the people he served with in generalities. It would be easy to interpret that by saying that Shaw did not build any personal relationships with the men he served with, but most people do not understand the Introverted Intuitive. We do build close personal relationships quite slowly, but more importantly, we compartmentalize our lives so that one group of friends might have little or no contact with other groups of friends. These groups are constructed around shared interests as cultural frames and we become a typical part of the dynamic of the group "one of the guys" you might say. However, our interests are so numerous and varied that we would seem to be an entirely different sort of person by each group. Only at the outset of each relationship would we express our true selves, and then, it would be limited and guarded until some mutual trust was achieved.

This same process happens with individuals as well as groups and it would be very rare for any individual to know us completely, even our own family members. Very close relationships usually take years to develop. Since the death of my wife, people have asked me if I thought that I might marry again. My answer is always "No". Sometimes I give a brief and "clever" answer as to why, but the complete reason is that I was with my wife for about twenty years and it took almost that whole time for us to build a very close relationship. Part of the problem was the "opposites attract" phenomenon: my wife was an extravert.

In the play starring Max Adrian"An Evening with GBS", sometimes given as "By George" and based on the words of George Bernard Shaw, GBS explains that on discovering some letters between his wife Charlotte and T. E. Lawrence after her death that there were things about her that he never knew "for she poured out her heart to Lawrence". This demonstrates the depth of communication that, rarely, can occur with an Introverted Intuitive. Yet some people who have studied T. E. have thought of him as duplicitous. The word gives a very wrong impression of the person.

What follows is a set of photographs I took this morning of B. V. Jones published account of T. E. Shaw in India from the first edition of T. E. Lawrence by his Friends, 1937, which was omitted in the subsequent abridgments. Click on them to enlarge or right click for other options (depending on your browser):


Next, I have selected excerpts from what T. E. Shaw had said about India in some of his letters:

In a letter to his mother of June 16th, 1927:

"...What else? Nothing to speak of. I came out here to avoid the publicity which would inevitably be fanned up by the sale of Revolt in the Desert . In this I have succeeded excellently. There is not enough local press to bother me: and the local people who might try to see me are not allowed into camp, and I never go out. So only the airmen know of my existence, and they are too used to me, as a daily object, to be interested in a reputation which comes to them as a faint echo from the London papers. Very few of them read books: fewer still read any but the English provincial papers which their parents send them. Consequently I am not bothered by anybody at all. The officers steer clear of me, because I make them uncomfortable. It is very good to be left so much alone."

To Robert Graves, June 28th, 1927, He ends the long letter:

"...Will you, finally, make clear that I like the R.A.F.? The being cared for, the rails of conduct, the impossibility of doing irregular things, are easements. The companionship, the interesting labour, the occasional leisures are actively pleasant. While my health lasts I'll keep in it. I did not like the Army: but the RAF is as different from the Army as the air is from the earth. In the Army the person is at a discount: the combined movement, the body of men, is the ideal. In the RAF there are no combined movements: its drill is a joke, except when some selected squad is specially trained for a tattoo or ceremony. Our ideal is the skilled individual mechanic at his bench or machine. We grudge every routine duty, and perform our parades deliberately ill, lest we lose our edges, and become degraded into parts of a machine. In the Army the men belong to the machine. In the RAF the machines (upon earth) belong to the men, and in the air to the officers. So the men have the more of them. Whenever the public see a detachment of airmen on a ceremonial (bull-shit) parade, they should realise that these their very expensive servants are being temporarily misemployed:- as though Cabinet Ministers should hump coal in Office hours.

"Some of this last page might make a good quote.


To E. M. Forster, July 14th, 1927:

"...I haven't been outside the camp bounds yet, and haven't seen an Indian house, nor any Indians except the degraded denationalised ones who work as servants in the camp. I mean not to go out while I am here. Most of my time passes in reading and thinking, while I wander or sit upon the huge aerodrome, a flat clean stretch of sand, nearly a mile square. At night I lie down on my back in the middle of it, and speculate on the chances that some of you will perhaps see these same stars a few hours later over England."

To Edward Garnett, September 27th, 1927:

"...Penance, promise, obstinacy, a vow, self-hypnotism... you catalogue my motives. Isn't it possible that I like being in the R.A.F.? Agreed that exile to India is an unmixed misfortune, for a person whose fit years are nearly run out. But I brought the exile deliberately upon myself, by selling Revolt to just have met them, without Cape's help: but it would have meant my leaving the R.A.F. and three lost years in India were a lesser price to pay."

To Ralph Isham November 22nd, 1927:

"...I chose Shaw at random. The recruiting Staff Officer in the War Office said I must take a fresh name. I said 'What's yours?'. He said 'No you don't'. So I seized the Army List, and snapped it open at the Index, and said "It'll be the first one-syllabled name in this".

"Please do not let anything I may have carelessly written to you about the R.A.F. give you the wrong impression that I am miserable or uncomfortable in it. It has been a real refuge to me, and I am grateful to the Air People for taking me in. The airmen are not in the least like soldiers, except in their standard of living. I like many of them, and Service life makes up for its roughness in many ways:- for instance one is never lonely - far from it... and it is soothing to know that one's bread and margarine is safe for the term of one's engagement, and that the standard of work expected of one is so reasonably low that one can be positively sure of meeting it. If I were working for any ordinary employer I would be always worrying if I were doing as well as he expected, and I desired. Cheap labour is let off easily."

To R. D. Blumenfeld, February 2nd 1928 I have given the quoted passage in italics to differentiate it from Shaw's own words and the notes within brackets are Shaw's own and can be found at the end:


There is a glamour attached to the name of Colonel T. E. Lawrence, 'the uncrowned King of Arabia', which many ambitious men must envy.(1) There was glamour long before he became Aircraftsman Shaw, and it has been multiplied a thousand-fold (2) since his disappearance from the world of his intellectual equals. (3) 


A correspondent (4) sends me some interesting details concerning the existence of this boyish looking blue eyed dreamer. (5) He has been at the air depot near Karachi for the last twelve months and seems perfectly happy.(6)  The other men like him because he has no 'side' (7) and do not resent his and do not resent his refusal to accompany them on occasional jaunts to Karachi


Karachi he never visits. Instead, he goes, when off duty, to the edge of the desert (8) with a pocket full of cigarettes purchased out of his daily pay of a few shillings. 9

There he chats with the villagers, (10) and joins in their profound Eastern meditations. Punk, that is. Villagers in all countries have their thoughts centering on those parts of their bodies which lie, as the Arabs say, between the navel and the knee. Food and sex: and I don't meditate, not even profoundly, about either.

                                    - - -

Dear Blumenfeld,

Tell your bright young thing that it's a rotten effort. I could do better than that in my sleep. I hope he'll be content, however, to forget it. I'll promise, in return, not to write fancies about him. India, or Karachi at any rate, is a dust-heap. For Karachi read 'Drigh Road' seven miles outside the town, where our aerodrome lies. I have not been outside the camp since I got here, so the dimensions of the dust heap, to which (by which, and at which) I swear, are one mile by one mile and a quarter. If it's a fair sample of India, then so much the better is England. The climate is astonishing. Never hot enough for a sun-helmet, never cool enough for an overcoat. If it is ever brought near England by an air service, the poor old Riviera will pack up. Twelve months of an Italianate spring!

Not being very fond of Italy I'll relish my life sentence to England, when the good gods give it me in 1931. Indeed, it will be very good. I don't care if it snows and rains and floods and freezes.

If anybody else writes a book about me I'll kill him, painlessly and naturally, but very quickly. Nor will I ever write another book about myself. That Revolt made £17,000 by the way, for the royalty owner. who wasn't me! Good going. It's dead now.

Please remind your wolves, on the 1st of each year, that 'Colonel Lawrence' is on the Daily Express Black List, and never to be mentioned: and then you may believe me.

Your very sincere

T. E. Shaw

1 Let 'em have it.
2 Only 1000 fold? Dear me. Rotten effort.
3 If I have a world of intellectual equals? What a gang we'd look.
4 !
5 I don't think.
6 A 'profound meditation,' that.
7 If I had any side, they would knock off what they call my 'block'. Sides are very expensive and dangerous parts, for lightweights
8 'edge of the desert'. Man we're in the middle of it, anyway!
9 Only unluckily I have never smoked! 3 shillings is a few, perhaps: too few, if so.
10 Knowing not one word of any Indian language; but I suppose they talk English: if there is a village. I haven't seen one.

To A. W. Lawrence, May 2nd, 1928:

"Dear A.,

I am leaving Karachi soon, for some squadron up-country: and shall not regret going, on the whole. Will let you have my new address, when I have it. ..."

To Edward Garnett, May 17th, 1928:

"...I leave for Peshawar (20 Squadron, R.A.F.) on Wednesday 23rd May."

To David Garnett, June 14th, 1928:

"Miranshah Fort

You see, I have changed dust-holes. This is all ringed by mountains, and on the edge of Afghanistan. There are only 25 of us. We live behind barbed wire. The life contemplative. The peaks around us are sharp, like bottle-glass, and our Fort is in a pit.

To H. S. Eade, June 30th, 1928:

"Well, I've moved from Karachi, and come to the most remote R.A.F. station in India:- and the smallest. We are only 26, all told, with 5 officers, and we sit with 700 India Scouts (half regulars) in a brick and earth fort behind barbed wire complete with searchlights and machine guns. Round us, a few miles off, in a ring are low bare porcelain-coloured hills, with chipped edges and a broken bottle skyline. Afghanistan is 10 miles off. The quietness of the place is uncanny - ominous, I was nearly saying: for the Scouts and ourselves live in different compartments of the fort, and never meet: and so there's no noise of men: and no birds or beasts - except a jackal concert for five minutes about 10 p.m. each night, when the searchlights start. The India sentries flicker the beams across the plain, hoping to make them flash in the animals' eyes. So sometimes we see them.

"We are not allowed beyond the barbed wire, by day, or outside the fort walls by night. So the only temptations of Miranshah are boredom and idleness. I hope to escape the first and enjoy the second: for, between ourselves, I did a lot of work at Karachi and am dead tired.

"Here they employ me mainly in the office. I am the only airman who can work a typewriter, so I do D.R.Os. and correspondence: and act postman, and pay-clerk, and bottle washer in ordinary. Normally flights do two months here, and get relieved: but I will try and get left on. It's the station of a dream: as though one had fallen right over the world, and had lost one's memory of its troubles. And the quietness is so intense that I rub my ears, wondering if I am going deaf...."

Tomorrow, what else T. E. Shaw was doing while in India.

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