Monday, 11 July 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 21. Mysteries

1932 Hillman four-door, similar to the one which
passed Shaw just before his fatal crash.
When Lionel Montague passed Shaw just seconds before Shaw's fatal crash, the two men waved at each other. So later, when Montague pulled into a garage not far away and learned that Shaw had been in a crash, he was incredulous and said that he had just waved to him on the road near Clouds Hill. This information, put together from two witness statements long after the incident was reported by Andrew Norman in T. E. Lawrence: Tormented Hero, 2014, Chapter 38. One of the witnesses was the wife of the driver who also gave the registration number of her husband's Hillman: COW 41. Yet the boys on the bicycle deny seeing any car at all. Eyewitness accounts, however, are notoriously unreliable and especially with regard to not seeing things that were present. One of the boys also claimed not to have remembered anything from some time before the crash until he woke up later.  Questions, answers, and their retelling can be very misleading: "Do you remember seeing a black car?"; "No, I don't" can very easily become "He denied seeing any black car".  Then there are the questions like "Why did the driver not come forward?" There are so many possible answers to that and Norman does not exhaust the possibilities.  Montague had no knowledge of the crash: the sound of his own car's engine; the wind direction; even thoughts on his mind at the time can easily explain that. Perhaps he worried that people might think that he distracted Shaw; perhaps he was worried that he might be blamed for not stopping, even suspected of some wrongdoing. "But you must have heard it!" Everything is speculation, but who has never not heard someone saying something to them when they were distracted by something? Such incidences are usually of little worry, but when an incident is about the death of a person, paranoia can soon dominate the thoughts.

Norman provides many more interesting details about how the road had changed; the possibility of the remains of a tree (the only large one nearby) being the very one that Shaw was thrown against; the fact of water tanks giving little room for Shaw to maneuver to avoid the bicycles and more.  We also learn that Shaw was no stranger to motorcycle accidents, and  that his bike had a potential problem with the front brake because of its specific configuration of parts. Speculations, theories, and explanations. This can go round and round but define nothing.

  The other book which focuses on a lot of the mysteries surrounding Shaw's death is Rodney Legg's Lawrence of Arabia in Dorset. I knew of Rodney Legg many years ago when I bought, from a Dorset antiquities dealer, a Celtic stone head that was said to be from his collection. Of all the data about an antiquity, provenance is the most unreliable unless there is photographic evidence to back it up, and that sort of evidence is very rare, indeed, usually only reserved for very expensive objects sold before digital photography and on-line sales lists. That antiquity dealer had no photographs at all in his postal catalogues. I mention this because the date of a publication can play a very important role in research. Legg's book of 1988 is harshly criticized in this anonymous review of 2000. Incredibly, it is also completely wrong in both points it makes. Legg identifies Lawrence as being a Colonel, not a general, and the other incident is cited to a reliable source who Legg reports as not believing it at the time. Did the reviewer intentionally smear Legg, or was he or she also a victim of misunderstood and changed gossip? Again, we can speculate; we can theorize, but minds have more to them than we can analyze with great certainty.

But what of the black paint that George Brough supposedly saw on the remains of Shaw's motorcycle? I have seen nothing written in any of the books I have about this, and on the web it is described in three sources, and all of exactly the same wording. If I could track it further, I might supply a few answers,

There is another way to approach the mysteries, though. and that will be the subject of tomorrow's episode.

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