Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. Conclusion and reflections

Shaw arrives back in England from India, 1928
Blogging historical research has been an interesting experiment. There had to be a preliminary delay in order to gather up the literature that I needed and to make myself familiar with it. This was a slow process and there was no point in starting the series until it was mostly done. Once, the wrong book was sent to me and had to be replaced; another book took three attempts and about three months to get here.  I did have a lot of help along the way, though, First and foremost from  Kyriacos Kyriacos in London, who not only suggest the project in the first place, but also generously provided me the B. V. Jones documents and one of the biographies. I also got a much help and encouragement from John Howland in England complete with photos he took of Shaw's crash site. I must also thank Mrs Jenny Bartlett, librarian at the North London Collegiate School for all her research on the identity of recipient of the inscribed envelope and its enclosed receipt which was part of the Jones archive, and to everyone who helped with their comments.

This series has ended up having the word length of an average novella and in writing it I found my opinions about T. E, Shaw and his life were always in a state of flux. It was difficult, indeed, to come up with an approach that stood any chance  of containing any originality because more that a hundred biographies have been written about T. E. Lawrence (as that is the only name that appears on biographical works apart from collections of his later letters). So one approach was to try to grant him the identity he chose for himself. T. E. Lawrence is not buried in the grave with that name on its stone, T. E. Shaw is buried there. T. E, Lawrence died long before the body he inhabited died, and T. E. Shaw was officially born into that same body in India. although he had personally inhabited it for some time. After India, the only existence of T. E. Lawrence was the personal mental projections of others. This was the T. E. Lawrence myth.

My other attempt at originality was to do a study of an Introverted Intuitive for the perspective of an Introverted Intuitive. We are notoriously difficult to understand by "outsiders". T. E. Shaw and the earlier persona T. E. Lawrence were INFJ's just like me, but as all human beings are different, so too are all people who share the same personality type. The type only tells you the nature of one's thinking and acting processes, nothing more: this is the way we think; this is the way we act upon those thoughts. We can be good and bad; have vastly different interests and importances and tastes, just like anyone else and the same is true for all personality types.

The mythic content was important because the archetypal hero quest, for Shaw, took an unusual twist at its return; it was rejected by him and he set out on a different quest: one that saw little support from the public, but did have the support of some of his friends, especially those aircraftmen that he joined and with whom he had shared his day to day life. He became more like them then different from them and they liked and respected him for that.

His psychology, apart from his personality, was undoubtedly very similar to the puer aeternus, but that neurosis is identified as stemming from a mother-complex that Lawrence/Shaw did not actually have. He came about it through an actual physical cause and thus we might even question the validity of that term in his case: It only shared a few features with the neurosis: a tendency toward heroics, spartanism and a premature death (the latter being "happenstance" from multiple possible causes and something we cannot yet really understand). Where it differed, dramatically from the classic puer aeternus was that Shaw/Lawrence was neither homosexual nor a Don Juan. He was as close to asexual as it seems possible to be. It was with women, however, that he seemed to be the most personal in his communications.

There is a single mystery that I have been saving for last. It was reported in T. E Lawrence: Tormented Hero as coming from  Lyall Chapman, the cousin of Joyce Knowles, and first appeared (as by "anonymous" and only later was the identity was admitted by her) in Patrick and Joyce Knowles, A Handful with Quietness, p. 46.:
"...He was employed as a lorry driver at the time and with his ‘mate’ was working about a hundred yards east of the road where the accident took place. They were loading gear and equipment which had been used for a weekend territorial camp. 
"From where he was standing he saw the motorcycle come down the road into the camp, although at the time he was not aware that it was Shaw. Much later he heard the motorcycle again but didn’t turn away from his task. 
"Then suddenly, when he heard the engine race, the wheels spinning uselessly, he turned and saw the motorcycle on its side and a figure lying nearby. With his companion he ran across quickly, and although the injured man’s face was covered with blood, he realised from the Brough and the overalls that the man was wearing that it must be Lawrence. In surprise, he said ‘Why it’s Lawrence,’ whereupon Shaw opened his eyes and smiled and raised his hand with one finger extended— a gesture which has caused much speculation. Shaw then went into a coma without saying a word, a coma from which he never regained consciousness."
Andrew Norman, T.E.Lawrence - Tormented Hero (Kindle Locations 3282-3290). Fonthill Media. Kindle Edition.
In my opinion, Shaw knew he was about to die and was at peace with it, and this is the meaning behind the smile and the gesture. It reminds me of the the last statements of Timothy Leary I remember from visiting the website where he had decided "to die online": "yeah"and  "why not?"
I believe that the crash was an accident; that there was little room to navigate between the water tanks and the boys. I don't know what went through Shaw's mind at that moment, but I can remember driving Carrie's truck and hitting black ice on one night many years ago; We flew off the side of a hill and it could easily have been a fatal crash. Time slowed down and I was even able to lean and stop the truck from starting to roll over  by shifting my weight; I was calm and lucid and must have been thinking in microseconds. The highway was split lanes: we were on the higher level going east, and below us was the lower level going west; we were doing about 100 kmh on what I thought was a dry road. but at that hill, water running down it had changed to black ice. As we flew off into the inky blackness, I could see the lights of the cars approaching from the east. Suddenly, there was gap we were skidding through and then we were flying off another hill where we finally caught in deep snow by a barbed wire fence below. Neither of us had so much as a bruise.

Did Shaw, in those last few seconds, find the solution to the crash and chose to ignore it? We can never know. Did it solve the problems he had been having to live with at the mercy of an uncaring press; a government which saw him as only a problem; and an adoring public? Yes, it did. It was the only solution.

John's Coydog Community page


  1. Hello John:

    "...there was little room to navigate between the water tanks and the boys." Water tanks? What have I missed here?

    Excellent series and most enlightening. Many thanks.


    John Howland

    1. Thanks, John, and my apologies for giving that detail a far too brief a mention in episode 21. It is in T. E. Lawrence - Tormented Hero:

      "Joan Hughes was interviewed on 10 February 1986 by author and former RAF officer Roland A. Hammersley:

      'On the day of the accident… she was riding/ pushing her bicycle from her home at Clouds Hill, towards Bovington village. (Her sisters were bathing in one of the tanks of the three water towers on the west side of the road opposite Clouds Hill summer camp.) She had to get off the bicycle several times as one tyre had punctured. She tried to maintain the air pressure by using the hand pump without success. As she walked she came in sight of the three water towers on her right (west) with the bell tents, etc, on her left (east) at Wool Camp. Just before the water towers were a number of soldiers in the road. There was a lorry and an Army ambulance which looked like the one that usually stood by the medical tent at Wool Camp. A motorcycle was lying in the road and two cycles, one of which was a delivery cycle from Bovington village. She stood by the crowd of soldiers as the ambulance door was closed. It was driven off followed by the lorry. A soldier by her said, ‘The poor sod, if it hadn’t been for those water butts he would have missed that tree.’

      "The inference here is that the presence of the water tower nearest to the road prevented Lawrence from swerving onto the verge to avoid the boys. The soldier added that he saw it happen. Hughes said that at no time from leaving her home at Clouds Hill did any vehicle, car or otherwise, pass her in either direction."

      Norman, Andrew. T.E.Lawrence - Tormented Hero (Kindle Locations 3247-3259). Fonthill Media. Kindle Edition.