Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

20 September 2009

A Day in the Death of T.E.Lawrence

It was all a bit breathless but I had to visit three T.E.Lawrence destinations before leaving Dorset and England for New Zealand. Lawrence has fascinated me since I was a small boy and read bits of Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the reference library in Norbury. Latterly I amassed a large collection of Lawrenciana including some quite valuable Golden Cockerel editions and a copy of Seven Pillars with four of the 1925 subscriber’s edition colour plates in it. 

Over many years I developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with T.E. because although he was undoubtedly heroic, he was also a liar and a bit of a prat!

With time running out fast I wanted to see: 1. Cloud’s Hill, 2. T.E’s gravestone, 3. His effigy.

Cloud’s Hill, Lawrence’s cottage that he bought in 1925 having rented it from 1923 when he was grudgingly serving in the Tank Regiment at Bovington is delightful, peaceful, well preserved and redolent of the man and his solitary, simple milieu. We were the only visitors that day. I picked up a flint from the garden and some fresh oak leaves and brought them back to New Zealand as non-politically-correct keepsakes.

The grave in nearby Moreton churchyard is impressively ordinary and T.E. now finds himself in more company than he would have liked in life. Its headstone bears an inscription that he wouldn’t have cared for (dictated by his mother) and the motto of Oxford University which he would. There were floral tributes some fresh, some wilting.

A few miles east is Wareham where in St. Martin’s church is a reclining sandstone effigy of T.E.L as Lawrence of Arabia carved by Eric Kennington, the illustrator of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It’s very, very good. Apparently the vicar of Moreton church wouldn’t have the effigy because he didn’t want his church over-run by tourists but St. Martins needed funds for restoration so gladly allowed Lawrence’s effigy an alcove to itself. I had it to myself for a brief, silent moment.

Those three pilgrimages completed we departed with indecent haste but with actual been-there memories of Lawrence’s last days.

A strange man. An enigma. Born 1888 died 1935. Still alive in myth and mystery.


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By Don Donovan