Sunday, 19 July 2009

In Respect for Lawrence

When I was a child, one of our family treats was going to the drive-in theatre and one of the first films I can remember seeing in the 1960’s was David Leane’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. It was an epic film that conjured up visions on the big screen of a culture and landscape that I had never seen before. It certainly made a huge impression on me and later it would add to a wider appreciation of history that continued to stay with me into adulthood. As far as T.E. Lawrence was concerned, I wanted to learn more about the man and his legend and over the years I read several books and watched documentaries about his life. So when we were in Bournemouth (UK) to visit Jules’ aunty and uncle, I was well aware that this was close to the county were Lawrence had spent his final days. Just a short drive into Dorset would allow us an opportunity to visit his home called ‘Cloud Hill’, a remote cottage not too far from Bovington Camp, the army base where he served his final commission. When you approach ‘Cloud Hill’ you immediately learn something about the man. Firstly, judging by the amount of people visiting his home on any given day, he is clearly still held in high esteem by the people of England. Secondly, looking at the size of the house as you walk toward it, you sense that he lived a humble existence despite the fame and adulation he received during his lifetime. This is re-affirmed when you enter his tiny house, which he purchased in 1925 and where he lived without power and limited water supply for ten years. The interior is left almost exactly as it was on the day of his motorbike accident, that eventually took his life. His personal library and gramophone records remain in tact, as does the sleeping bag that was reserved for his guests and which was stolen shortly after the release of the movie, only to be returned again in 2001. It was certainly an austere existence, which in many ways reflected his complex personality. Later Jules and I visited his grave in the tiny town of Morton, which was as expected, a very understated monument to his life. The size of the grave gave an indication of his small stature, which was around 5’5” and somehow belied the larger than life status he had held in life as a result of his fame. Although he had sought obscurity after his desert adventures, it was evident that he still carried some political weight, with Winston Churchill attending his funeral in 1935. As we stood alone in the tiny graveyard paying our respects, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the path that had led us all the way there from Australia. For a moment my mind flitted back to that drive-in movie all those years ago.

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