Book Chats on T E Lawrence.
'OY ΦΡΟΝΤΙΣ'...carved in the front door lintel at Clouds Hill.
OY ΦΡΟΝΤΙΣ in fact means, "I don't care", it is an Hippocleides expression, but reported by Herodotus. It became a common expression in the Greek language also in the latter years with the same meaning, that is "a complete indifference to a certain fact, person or life's event".
(I am grateful here to Ioannis Schinezos for this information).
Last updated in August 2020.
In 2014, at a West Bay boot fair, a £1 book was retrieved along with others; a book that was purchased to read. Like many such ambitions, life overtook intentions and it wasn't until well over a year or so later that it surfaced from our store room and was taken home. The book is in poor condition as shown below. The DW is in pieces. However, the front free endpaper is inscribed:
“ “Lawrence Fever” will continue, unabated in its fervour, for time immemorial!”.
The edition is dated 1964 and published by Spring Books. Above the inscription, the front free endpaper is signed “M C McGowan..65”.
Against that, T.E Lawrence material is something of an industry here in Dorset. In fact the fatal motorcycle accident of 13th May 1935, that led to his death six days later on May 19th, occurred but 37 miles from Lyme Regis. This was at Bovington Camp near Wareham and Weymouth. Consequently copies of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, together with biographical material in general, feed a never ending demand. Many customers call in, having just come from, or recently having visited Lawrence's retreat, Clouds Hill, and owned by The National Trust since 1937 (see Lawrence's Greek inscription above the front door, above).
His letters are fascinating, 873 pages of them. Here is a man of consummate intelligence, a classicist, and the letters continue to be a joy to read.
My routine, after a busy day, attending to the children's homework, watching the Ten O'clock News, is to retire, and catch up with half an hours reading till 11.00 pm, and then drop off! So it wasn't until getting on for a month later that I reached his final correspondence, turning over page 871 to reach the last two pages.
Now what's this? Someone has annotated the very last page of the volume..!
The relevant page is reproduced below and I ask the reader to take a most careful look. Here is someone apparently called Margaret Montague commenting on the circumstances of the death of Lawrence of Arabia and in some informed detail. The writing takes a while to get used to, but it reads as follows....
The annotation reads as follows:
“In response to my photo essay ”It Was Written” (First Word in Wessex). Poor Catchpole (who later committed hari-kari!). He was right in his assertion that indeed there was a BLACK CAR attendant at the accident at the crucial moment. “It was a black Hillman saloon. Licence number COW 41. Lionel Montague. An “Assurance Man” was the driver. He and Lawrence exchanged waves. I've called at Clouds Hill with my husband – Yes, Lionel Montague. I found it claustrophobic with all those rhododendrons. I never went into the Cottage....”
Margaret Montague (88). Wimborne Dorset”.
I ask the reader at this point to step back a little, and consider the following...
1. The writer, possibly aged 88...(or maybe in the year 1988..?) knows that Lawrence did indeed add to the existing rhododendrons on the hill around Clouds Hill, and with different varieties to produce different shapes and colours. He rejected any idea of a garden or plants, giving away plants that his mother put in – ‘Clouds Hill is no place for tame flowers.’
2. Corporal Ernest Catchpole of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, was the first to reach the site of the accident. He later claimed that Lawrence was passed by a black motor car just before the crash: "I saw the bike twisting and turning over and over along the road. I saw nothing of the driver (of the black car). I ran to the scene and found the motor-cyclist on the road. His face was covered with blood which I tried to wipe away with my hankerchief"
3. On the face of it, our writer is the wife of the driver of the black car. Her husband is “an assurance man”. He and Lawrence exchange waves.
4. The car Registration is COW 41.
5. There is a “photo essay” somewhere....presumably with the Title: ”It Was Written”...?
Now this is all well tilled soil with numerous publications covering the circumstances of Lawrence's death....however here we have a couple of tiny loose ends...namely
the Car..and its registration, and a reference to a mysterious “Photo Essay”...
Challenges such as this are irresistible, so my first port of call was a colleague, Gregor Murbach, of www.murbachresearch.com, a specialist in archival research.
What he found was intriguing...
...the Registration COW 41 was indeed a Hillman Saloon (a similar example shown below), U.W/Capacity: 10. Chassis/Frame Number: 1123127. Engine Number: 1124043.
BUT...Date of First Registration: 9/6/39..!
Licence Last Expired: 31/1/61.
This documentation is shown below.
The clue he found to the “Photo Essay”...was in an obscure journal “First Word in Wessex”. There, on pages 18 and 19, in the issue for August 1985, under “First Impressions”, we find a two page article titled: “It Was Written” The author is a Malcolm C McGowan. The article marks the fiftieth anniversary of Lawrence's death...and, to quote the subtitle: “..and herewith a questioning look at the circumstances of his death”.
We reproduce the full article above.
Perceptive readers will recall the ownership inscription “M C McGowan..65” at the front of the book. The handwriting is the same, something I had not noticed till very recently. Why? Because the overwhelming impression one has from the annotations, is that this was Margaret Montague speaking and signing her notes!
So, the chronology is this...
1. This edition of Lawrences' letters is published in 1964.
2. The volume is acquired by an M. C. McGowan in 1965.
3. It is he who writes the annotations on the last page, but after the publication date of his fiftieth anniversary article in August 1985.
4. Sometime after the article's publication, he talks to Margaret Montague, and then quotes her verbatim in his annotations, possibly in 1988.
5. Somehow his books are dispersed, ending up in a £1 box at a 2014 West Bay boot fair.
Is there anything left in this intriguing story...and of interest to T E Lawrence scholars?
Well...how did she know Lawrence and her husband waved to each other? Lawrence would have had to take his right hand off his Brough Superior motorcycle handlebars to do that, surely a dangerous move at speed.
And then there's the name Montague. Three people Lawrence would have known go by that Surname. Two of them are even indexed in the book of letters, on pages 584, 661, 669 & 704..!
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