Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Lawrence and Broughs

Nothing political in this one, just a piece of motorcycling folk-lore.
(Notwithstanding that this guy knowingly sold the Arabs out for the creation of the Zionist state of Israel, he admitted so.)
Was he murdered because of what he knew?
what about the mysterious car?.

Lawrence's race with an aeroplane

This is a quote from T. E. Shaw (Lawrence) in his book, The Mint, about his years in the RAF after he returned from Arabia. He joined under another name and his fellow recruits did not know who he was.


The extravagance in which my surplus emotion expressed itself lay on the road. So long as roads were tarred blue and straight; not hedged; and empty and dry, so long I was rich.

Nightly I’d run up from the hangar, upon the last stroke of work, spurring my tired feet to be nimble. The very movement refreshed them, after the daylong restraint of service.

In five minutes my bed would be down, ready for the night: in four more I was in breeches and puttees, pulling on my gauntlets as I walked over to my bike, which lived in a garage hut, opposite. Its tyres never wanted air, its engine had a habit of starting at second kick: a good habit, for only by frantic plunges upon the starting pedal could my puny weight force the engine over the seven atmospheres of its compression.

Boanerges’ first glad roar at being alive again nightly jarred the huts of Cadet College into life. ‘There he goes, the noisy bugger,’ someone would say enviously in every flight. It is part of an airman’s profession to be knowing with engines: and a thoroughbred engine is our undying satisfaction. The camp wore the virtue of my Brough like a flower in its cap. Tonight Tug and Dusty came to the step of our but to see me off. ‘Running down to Smoke, perhaps?’ jeered Dusty; hitting at my regular game of London and back for tea on fine Wednesday afternoons.

Boa is a top-gear machine, as sweet in that as most single cylinders in middle. I chug lordly past the guardroom and through the speed limit at no more than sixteen. Round the bend, past the farm, and the way straightens. Now for it. The engine’s final development is fiftytwo horsepower. A miracle that all this docile strength waits behind one tiny lever for the pleasure of my hand.

Another bend: and I have the honour of one of England’s straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.

Like arrows the tiny flies pricked my cheeks: and sometimes a heavier body, some housefly or beetle, would crash into face or lips like a spent bullet. A glance at the speedometer: seventy eight. Boanerges is warming up. I pull the throttle right open, on the top of the slope, and we swoop flying across the dip, and updown updown the switchback beyond: the weighty machine launching itself like a projectile with a whirr of wheels into the air at the takeoff of each rise, to land lurchingly with such a snatch of the driving chain as jerks my spine like a rictus.

Once we so fled across the evening light, with the yellow sun on my left, when a huge shadow roared just overhead. A Bristol Fighter, from Whitewash Villas, our neighbour aerodrome, was banking sharply round. I checked speed an instant to wave: and the slipstream of my impetus snapped my arm and elbow astern, like a raised flail. The pilot pointed down the road towards Lincoln. I sat hard in the saddle, folded back my ears and went away after him, like a dog after a hare. Quickly we drew abreast, as the impulse of his dive to my level exhausted itself.

The next mile of road was rough. I braced my feet into the rests, thrust with my arms, and clenched my knees on the tank till its rubber grips goggled under my thighs. Over the first pot hole Boanerges screamed in surprise, its mudguard bottoming with a yawp upon the tyre. Through the plunges of the next ten seconds I clung on, wedging my gloved hand in the throttle lever so that no bump should close it and spoil our speed. Then the bicycle wrenched sideways into three long ruts: it swayed dizzily, wagging its tail for thirty awful yards. Out came the clutch, the engine raced freely: Boa checked and straightened his head with a shake, as a Brough should.

The bad ground was passed and on the new road our flight became birdlike. My head was blown out with air so that my ears had failed and we seemed to whirl soundlessly between the sungilt stubble fields. I dared, on a rise, to slow imperceptibly and glance sideways into the sky. There the Bif was, two hundred yards and more back. Play with the fellow? Why not? I slowed to ninety: signalled with my hand for him to overtake. Slowed ten more: sat up. Over he rattled. His passenger, a helmeted and goggled grin, hung out of the cockpit to pass me the ‘Up yer’ RAF randy greeting.

They were hoping I was a flash in the pan, giving them best. Open went my throttle again. Boa crept level, fifty feet below: held them: sailed ahead into the clean and lonely country. An approaching car pulled nearly into its ditch at the sight of our race. The Bif was zooming among the trees and telegraph poles, with my scurrying spot only eighty yards ahead. I gained though, gained steadily: was perhaps five miles an hour the faster. Down went my left hand to give the engine two extra dollops of oil, for fear that something was running hot: but an overhead Jap twin, supertuned like this one, would carry on to the moon and back, unfaltering.

We drew near the settlement. A long mile before the first houses I closed down and coasted to the crossroads by the hospital. Bif caught up, banked, climbed and turned for home, waving to me as long as he was in sight. Fourteen miles from camp, we are, here: and fifteen minutes since I left Tug and Dusty at the hut door.

I let in the clutch again, and eased Boanerges down the hill, along the tramlines through the dirty streets and uphill to the aloof cathedral, where it stood in frigid perfection above the cowering close. No message of mercy in Lincoln. Our God is a jealous God: and man’s very best offering will fall disdain fully short of worthiness, in the sight of Saint Hugh and his angels.

Remigius, earthy old Remigius, looks with more charity on me and Boanerges. I stabled the steel magnificence of strength and speed at his west door and went in: to find the organist practising something slow and rhythmical, like a multiplication table in notes, on the organ. The fretted, unsatisfying and unsatisfied lacework of choir screen and spandrels drank in the main sound. Its surplus spilled thoughtfully into my ears.

By then my belly had forgotten its lunch, my eyes smarted and streamed. Out again, to sluice my head under the White Hart’s yard pump. A cup of real chocolate and a muffin at the teashop: and Boa and I took the Newark road for the last hour of daylight. He ambles at forty-five and when roaring his utmost, surpasses the hundred. A skittish motorbike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness.

Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.
At Nottingham I added sausages from my wholesaler to the bacon which I’d bought at Lincoln: bacon so nicely sliced that each rasher meant a penny. The solid pannier bags behind the saddle took all this and at my next stop (a farm) took also a felt hammocked box of fifteen eggs. Home by Sleaford, our squalid, purse-proud, local village. Its butcher had six penn’orth of dripping ready for me. For months have I been making my evening round a marketing, twice a week, riding a hundred miles for the joy of it and picking up the best food cheapest, over half the country side.

Letters from Lawrence of Arabia


27.9.26 Cranwell

Dear Mr. Brough,

I'm very much in your debt for four years solid pleasure. Would the enclosed be any use to you? I don't want to sign it Ross, since that only makes the newspapers sit up & take notice: whereas they have already made beasts of themselves over the 'Lawrence' name, & can keep it, so far as I'm concerned.

I don't mind your showing it to people ( or sticking it up on your stand, if that is a practice at Olympia) but I'd rather you did not print it in a newspaper till after December 15, when I'll have gone abroad. This is supposing it's of use, as a chit. What I really meant it for is best thanks, for a hundred thousand very jolly miles.

Yours ever

J. H. Ross.
The letter above, number 288, is quoted from Letters of T. E. Lawrence, which notes:
"Lawrence no doubt signed as Ross so as to prevent any chance of the name T. E. Shaw appearing in the testimonial. But he continued to use the name Ross occasionally long after he had changed to Shaw by deed poll."

The following was enclosed with the letter above:



Dear Mr. Brough,

Yesterday I completed 100000 miles, since 1922, on five successive Brough Superiors, and I'm going abroad very soon, so that I think I must make an end, and thank you for the road-pleasure I have got out of them. In 1922, I found George I (your old Mark I) the best thing I'd ridden, but George V (the 1922 SS100) is incomparably better. In 1925 and 1926 (George IV & V) I have not had an involuntary stop, & so have not been able to test your spares service, on which I drew so heavily in 1922 and 1923. Your present machines are as fast and reliable as express trains, and the greatest fun in the world to drive: - and I say this after twenty years experience of cycles and cars.
They are very expensive to buy, but light in upkeep (50-65 m.p.g. of petrol, 4000 m.p.g. oil, 5000-6000 miles per outer cover, in my case) and in the four years I have made only one insurance claim (for less than £5) which is a testimony to the safety of your controls & designs. The S.S.100 holds the road extraordinarily. It's my great game on a really pot-holed road to open up to 70 m.p.h. or so and feel the machine gallop: and though only a touring machine it will do 90 m.p.h at full throttle.
I'm not a speed merchant, but ride fairly far in the day (occasionally 700 miles, often 500) and at a fair average, for the machine's speed in the open lets one crawl through the towns, & still average 40-42 miles in the hour. The riding position & the slow powerful turn-over of the engine at speeds of 50 odd give one a very restful feeling.
There, it is no good telling you all you knew before I did: they are the jolliest things on wheels. Yours very sincerely


New Years Eve 1930

I feel inclined to send a postcard to Sandwich [an address of Lady Astor's], explaining how much I enjoyed Cliveden and what an excellent ride back I had (including a race across the Plain with a sports Bentley: well, not so much a race as a procession for the Bent, which did only 88. I wished I had a peeress or two on my flapper bracket!)

Lady Astor, first British woman Member of Parliament, was a famous socialite of the day, extremely rich and influential. She frequently graced the flapper seat of his motorcycle.

Lawrence called all his Brough Superior motorcycles Boa - short for Boanerges, the sons of thunder.
They were numbered George I through George VII. George VIII was awaiting delivery, having already had the stainless steel petrol tank and other special parts from its predecessor fitted, when Lawrence shuffled off.

The novelist Henry Williamson, quoted in A Touch of Genius, says in a 1962 interview:
'Finally he turned up one Sunday, coming right across Dartmoor from Plymouth to North Devon, where I lived, on his ten horse power 100 mile an hour Brough Superior nickel-plated motor cycle ....'

One must really read the whole of the passage, quoted in part above, to get a sense of how impressed people were by the man. Lawrence turned down many laurels and appointments, among them an honorary Doctorate of Laws by St Andrew's University in 1930, and an offer of the Secretaryship of the Bank of England. On the 7th of May 1935, Lady Astor wrote to him: 'I believe when the Government reorganizes, you will be asked to reorganize the defence forces.' Again, he declined.

Seigried Sasoon says, also in a 1962 interview:
'He was almost like a too high powered motor bicycle, almost over-powered .... To call him a charlatan as some people have done is a wicked representation of the worst possible kind. Everything I know of his character belies it. He was absolutely true mettle all through.'

He was almost expelled from the Air Force in 1929 when as a lowly aircraftsman he was seen talking, apparently on equal terms, with the Italian Air Marshal, General Balbo.

"Put in a good word for Boanerges, my Brough bike. I had five of them in four years, and rode 100,000 miles on them, making only two insurance claims (for superficial damage to machine after skids), and hurting nobody. The greatest pleasure of my recent life has been speed on the road. The bike would do 100 m.p.h. but I'm not a racing man. It was my satisfaction to purr along gently between 60 and 70 m.p.h. and drink in the air and the general view. I lose detail at even moderate speeds, but gain comprehension. When I used to cross Salisbury Plain at 50 or so, I'd feel the earth moulding herself under me. It was me piling up this hill, hollowing this valley, stretching out this level place: almost the earth came alive, heaving and tossing on each side like a sea. That's a thing the slow coach will never feel. It is the reward of Speed. I could write for hours on the lustfulness of moving swiftly."

-T. E. Lawrence to his Biographers Robert Graves and Liddell Hart, (edited by Robert Graves and B. H. Liddell Hart), 1963, Casell, London

And he wrote of his recklessness on the road:


Easter Day [April 1] [1923] Tank-town

Yesterday fatigues for us ran short at 10 A.M. (usually their ingenuity keeps us at it till near noon): so I leaped for my bike, & raced her madly up the London road: Wimbourne, Ringwood, Romsey, Winchester, Basingstoke, Bagshot, Staines, Hounslow by 1.20 P.M. (three hours less five minutes). Good for 125 miles: return journey took 10 minutes less! *


I should have said that I bust the bike, just outside camp. Ran over a broken glass bottle at speed, burst front tyre, ran up a bank & turned over. Damage to self nil; to bike somewhat. There goes my power of breaking bounds!


* An average of 44.5 m.p.h. for the round trip of 250 miles.

Dem Bones

TO E. (Posh) Palmer

August 25th 1925

On Friday early they sent me to a doctor. He said 'Have you ever had... ... ....?' 'No sir' 'Have you ever had... ... ....?' 'No' (less confidently). 'Have you ever broken any bones?' This was my chance: I poured over him a heap of fractured fibulae, radii, metatarsals, phalanges, costes, clavicles, scapulae, till he yelled to me to stop. So I stopped, and he made clumsy efforts to write them all down

Letters No. 271

A Melancholy Joy


14.V.23 Tank-town


.... When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour. My nerves are jaded and gone near dead, so that nothing less than hours of voluntary danger will prick them into life: and the 'life' they reach then is a melancholy joy at risking something worth exactly 2/9 a day.



The Phantom Hacker


27.VI.22 (but actually 1923)


...... That's as irrational as what happened on our coming here, when I swerved Snowy Wallis and myself at 60 m.p.h. on to the grass by the roadside, trying vainly to save a bird which dashed out its life against my side-car. And yet had the world been mine I'd have left out animal life upon it.





20.xii.23 Clouds Hill


My noble cycle, the poor beast who allayed my 'shrinking nerves' was taken out secretly by a beast who left her broken, in a ditch: and she is too ruined to mend, even if I could like her again. So I'm not able to go abroad without public leave and a rail-ticket, now. Yours ever


The Thieving Beast Revealed


10.xii.25 Clouds Hill


Crashed off the Brough last monday: knee: ankle: elbow: being repaired. Tunic and breeches being replaced. Front mudguard, name-plate, handlebars, footrest, renewed. Skid on ice at 55 m.p.h. Dark: wet: most miserable. Hobble like a cripple now.


(post script omitted)

The Annual Step-off, 1926


3.xii.26 Uxbridge Depot


I managed to squeeze out 1/2 an hour in Clouds Hill: and 1/2 an hour at the Hardys. I had meant to come to you last Sunday, and started about 7.30 A.M. but Islington streets were greasy (I had to see G.B.S. on the way) & I got into a trough in the wood paving, and fell heavily, doing in the off footrest, kickstart, brake levers, 1/2 handlebar, & oil pump. Also my experienced knee-cap learnt another little trick. Alb Bennett took the wreck for £100. I limp rather picturesquely ...... Yours


The obvious

3rd May 1934
To George Brough
It looks as though I might yet break my neck on a BS.


Lawrence rode into Bovington Camp on his Brough motorcycle and sent off this telegram:


[Telegram; postmarked 13 May 35]

Lunch Tuesday wet fine cottage one mile north Bovington Camp


and was riding back to Clouds Hill when he came on two errand boys, riding pedal cycles in a dip in the road. He swerved violently to avoid them, lost control, was thrown over his handlebars and received severe injuries to the brain. His physical vitality was so great that he lay unconscious for nearly five days before he died of congestion of the lungs and heart failure.

The evidence at the inquest revealed a curious contradiction. Corporal Catchpole of the R.A.O.C. who was standing about 100 yards from the road, near Clouds Hill, saw Lawrence on his motor-cycle, travelling at about fifty or sixty miles an hour, pass a black private car, going in the opposite direction, just before he heard the crash. The two boys, whose evidence about times was confused, had no memory of a car passing them.

Mr. Cairns, the brain surgeon, stated that had Lawrence lived he would have lost his memory, been paralysed and unable to speak.

Lawrence was buried at Moreton Church on May 21st.

TEL effigy by Eric Kennington

His bust by Eric Kennington has been placed in the Crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral, a recumbent figure in Arab dress by Kennington has been placed in the ancient Saxon St Martin's church at Wareham, and his cottage at Clouds Hill now belongs to the National Trust and is shown to visitors.

T. E. Lawrence and George Brough October 1930
Photographer unknown.
Bodleian Library (MS. Res.c.54)

The last known photograph of Lawrence.
Clouds Hill 1935

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