Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 22. Clues

"No: wild mares would not at present take me away from Clouds Hill. It is an earthy paradise and I am staying here till I feel qualified for it. Also there is something broken in the works, as I told you: my will, I think. In this mood I would not take on any job at all. So do not commit yourself to advocating me, lest I prove a non-starter. 
"Am well, well-fed, full of company, laborious and innocent-customed." 
From a letter to Lady Astor, May 8th, 1935 (five days before his fatal crash)
The idea put forward in Rodney Legg's Lawrence of Arabia in Dorset, that Shaw was being investigated by MI5 through the services of a recruited reporter, Peter Page rests on rather flimsy evidence: a change of clothes hidden in a dustbin on the heath near Clouds Hill had been positively identified as belonging to Page, and the clothes subsequently disappeared. Legg noted a letter recommending Page to one of Beaverbrook's newspapers for his investigative skills and thinks that MI5 would likely have recruited him for the same reason. Legg also records that "Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen's Middle East Diary confirms that in May 1935 T. E. Lawrence was at the head of a review panel considering the entire restructuring of the British secret intelligence services" A reading of the Wikipedia entry for Richard Meinertzhagen will soon dispel any support for that view. Legg then goes on to talk about  German newspaper article labeling "Lawrence as England's master spy". Lawrence's main function in intelligence work during the First World War was map-making and later to keep his department informed about the Arab's attitudes and actions. His adventures were really of his own doing and were military in nature.  The press, everywhere, catered to the public's demand for the sensational and the German report is just another example of that. The thought of someone hero-worshiped by the public and under constant scrutiny and the victim of "creative reporting" by the press, being recruited as a "master spy" I find quite hilarious. I have had experience as a Canadian intelligence operative and the agents that I met at that time were the antithesis of the total "James Bond" image: They kept themselves away from anyone they were investigating as a matter of policy (hence the existence of my job); the best of them were innocuous people whom you would not even notice if you passed them on the street; their dress I would describe as somewhere between conservative and thrown together from bargain-basement sales. A lower status office-worker or a struggling accountant would best describe them. Now a "master spy" would be far less visible than they were. The whole notion is absurd.

"On Monday 13 May, Lawrence motorcycled from Clouds Hill down Tank Park Road to Bovington Post Office to send off a parcel of books and a telegram. The intended recipient was the author Henry Williamson (admirer of Adolf Hitler and disciple of British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley), about whose book Tarka the Otter, Lawrence had written a long and detailed critique which Williamson had much appreciated. The latter, who could see that ‘the world was dropping down into war’, hoped to enlist Lawrence’s support for a meeting with the German Führer. 
"The telegram, which read ‘Come tomorrow lunch cottage Bovington Camp wet fine,’ showed Lawrence to be in a positive frame of mind, and ruled out any notion— as has been suggested— that he was contemplating suicide at this time." 
Andrew Norman. T. E .Lawrence - Tormented Hero (Kindle Locations 3132-3138). Fonthill Media. Kindle Edition.
From his letters, Shaw's interest in Williamson was  mainly literary but he did also look at him, amusingly, as something of  an odd type as this letter of  February 2nd 1929 to Williamson (a Hawthornden Literary Prize winner) reveals:
"It will be comic, our meeting: I am icy cold, and very English, and correct. Sober as judges used to be. However, all the more reason for meeting a wild man. At least your reputation won't scare me off. A bas [down with] all the Hawthorndens. Hawthorn, forsooth! Den forsooth! 
"It will not be for a while. A new camp takes learning: especially for me, who am always uneasy with a new crowd."
You can see how a literary connection with Williamson transmogrifies into an intention to meet Hitler (via Moseley) in this blog: The Murder of Lawrence of Arabia 

Tomorrow: Why?

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