Friday, 15 July 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 24. B. V. Jones as critic (ii)

"It was not until our first visit to Salisbury that I discovered his identity. We had been discussing life in the R.A.F. and comparing it favourably with our parade-ground antics at Bovington. I went on to say something about 'that fellow Lawrence' who had enlisted in the ranks of the R.A.F. and speculated as to his reasons for 'de-moting' himself.  I asked T.E. whether he thought it had been some kind of 'stunt' on the part of the AirMinistry to stimulate recruiting. this idea struck him as being amusing: he smiled thoughtfully and said that he didn't think it could have been that kind of 'stunt'. After a brief pause he looked me in the eye and said: 'That was a difficult question. You see . . . I am Lawrence.'

"After that confession, conversation fell rather flat for a  few minutes. At last he said that, although he knew the truth must come out sooner or later, he hoped he would be allowed to remain T. E. Shaw. And there, for the time being, the matter ended."

Alec L. Dixon, T. E. Lawrence by his friends, 1937, p.371.

Jones references Tinned Soldier... in his notes and includes a 1941 citation to The Times: the year it was published and probably refers to a review. The above quote is from an earlier draft of what was published in the book. While Dixon elaborated on descriptions in the final version, the quote was given exactly that same as it is here. Dixon first met Shaw when they had both served in the Tank Corps but they remained friends and Shaw gave him much advice and constructive criticism with his writing. Dixon became a  Detective Inspector in the Straits Settlements Police where he worked from 1926 -31. He was one of the 100  recipients of tickets to Shaw's funeral which he attended. Jones make no comments other than the citation, and I believe this was due the reliability of Dixon's account. In reading all of the accounts in the first edition of ...friends, I could find nothing in Dixon's  that contradicted, or gave a different impression from the other, more reliable, reports. Dixon does not mention the contact they had, by letter, after he left England (Dixon had money troubles in Straits Settlements and wrote to Shaw  for help. Shaw sent him £40, a tidy sum in those days) and Dixon ends his reminiscences with their last meeting. Most of their discussions were about literature, art and music, and Dixon was one of his friends who helped him tidy up the Clouds Hill cottage in preparation for a visit from E. M. Forster. It seemed to me, a very genuine friendship. There is a very telling passage Dixon gives about Shaw's personality:

"as a soldier in the ranks he was,possibly, unique: he neither drank, smoked, gambled, nor took any interest in women; he played no games, backed no horses, and filled in no football coupons. Yet no one could accuse him of priggishness. T. E.'s unworldliness gave him a tremendous influence over his comrades; they had no time for 'good' men and knew nothing of saints, but they knew a  man when they saw one, and Shaw was the most popular man in the camp. Certainly those who professed to dislike him were regarded with suspicion by their comrades 
"After telling me of his enlistment in the R.A. F. Shaw went on to say how much he enjoyed his life with the airmen. He had great affection for the R.A.F. and hoped that if the War office was satisfied with his conduct in the Tank Corps he would be permitted to re-enlist at Uxbridge. He had enlisted, he said, because he felt that the barrack-room was very much like a medieval monastery. And, as he explained with a grin, the medieval monastery provided a convenient refuge for disillusioned warriors."

Because of other things I want to attend to right away, and because this seems like such a great point to end this post, the remaining notes (and perhaps the mysterious envelope) will be covered on Monday. Have a notable weekend.

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