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‘IN SEARCH OF LAWRENCE OF ARABIA’ (continued) The upstairs living room of Clouds Hill; the exterior of the property which Lawrence bought in 1925 as a holiday retreat and which is now owned by the National Trust; the site of Lawrence’s fatal accident. NATIONAL TRUST It is certainly possible that he was disenchanted with what he described as “the shallow grave of public duty” when he was unable, both as a delegate to the peace conference and later as an adviser on Arab affairs to the Colonial Office, to achieve all that he had espoused for the Arab cause. Lawrence’s family cousins, the Frampton family, owned Moreton Estate. Lawrence had rented and later bought Clouds Hill from the Framptons. He had been a frequent visitor to their home, Okers Wood House, and had for years corresponded with Louisa Frampton. On Lawrence’s death, his mother arranged with the Framptons for him to be buried in their family plot at Moreton. Lawrence died as he lived, in a blaze of publicity, just two months after he’d finally left the Services. His death was caused by his love of fast motorbikes. While travelling at great speed along the straight road to Moreton to send a telegram a dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later. The evidence at the inquest revealed a curious contradiction. Corporal Catchpole of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps was standing about 100 yards from the road, near Clouds Hill, when he saw Lawrence on his motorcycle, travelling at about 50 or 60 miles an hour. Just before he heard the crash he witnessed Lawrence pass a black private car going in the opposite direction. The two boys, whose evidence about times was confused, had no memory of a car passing them. There is a small memorial at the side of the road about 150 yards from Clouds Hill, overlooking a small car park, which marks the approximate spot. The stone bears a weathered inscription declaring that, “Near this spot Lawrence of Arabia crashed on his motorcycle and was fatally injured 13th May 1935”. There is also a small metal plaque towards the base of the stone stating that the tree here was planted on 13th May 1983 (the 48th anniversary) by Mr. Tom Beaumont, who served with Lawrence in Arabia as his number one Vickers machine gunner. 58 THIS ENGLAND, Winter, 2017
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” — T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom If you follow the track out of the corner of the car park back towards Clouds Hill you come to a further memorial after about 50 yards on the left, just under a tree at the base of a ditch. This one was erected later and is reputed to mark the exact spot where the motorbike came to rest, although the words on the stone (again weathered) record that, “T. E. Lawrence was fatally injured near this place 13 May 1935”. On the evening that we were there the last rays of the sun were poignantly finding their way through to the stone and illuminating it. At different times Lawrence had owned seven Brough Superior motorcycles and his seventh motorcycle is now on display at the Imperial War Museum. Part of the mystery is how such an experienced biker could have come to grief in such a way. The opening sequence of Lawrence of Arabia is set in Purbeck, with Lawrence shown refuelling the motorbike himself before setting off on his last cataclysmic journey. His love of speed is certainly portrayed in this brief but shattering start to the film. The circumstances of Lawrence’s death had far-reaching consequences. One of the doctors attending him was the neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns. He was profoundly affected by the incident, and consequently began a long study of what he saw as the unnecessary loss of life suffered by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries. His research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists. Due to the nature of his work less is known about Lawrence than other great heroes of these islands and he refused all honours or distinctions, feeling that he had merely performed his appointed task. However, in defiance of his own reticence, a bust of Lawrence was placed in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral alongside the tombs of Britain’s greatest military leaders including the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson, Lawrence in 1919, a poster advertising the Oscar-winning film and (below) the view over Godlingston Heath towards Poole Harbour. CHRISTOPHER NICHOLSON such was the esteem in which he was held. Lawrence continues to mystify even today. Since his death, it is said that local farmers and people have often heard the haunting roar of his Brough Superior motorcycle just before sunrise. Reports, however, say the noise abruptly ceases before anything is seen. Then there is also the story of the white roses. On every anniversary of Lawrence’s death, a single white rose is delivered to Clouds Hill with the enigmatic message, “The secret remains safe”. What secret? My wife and I love nothing better than to lose ourselves in the beautiful Isle of Purbeck, in any season and in any weather, but on this particular Friday afternoon in spring our Purbeck idyll was only enhanced by following in the footsteps of one of our nation’s most inspirational, yet enigmatic and mysterious heroes. STEVE ROBERTS Further Information Clouds Hill, King George V Road, Bovington, near Wareham, Dorset BH20 7NQ Tel: 01929 405616 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clouds-hill The Membership Secretary, T. E. Lawrence Society, PO Box 728, Oxford OX2 9ZJ www.telsociety.org.uk THIS ENGLAND, Winter, 2017 59
For all who love our green and plea
Winter 2017 . . . is a quarterly jo
Narrow lanes, with leafy trees, A g