Dorset Journals

Looking for Lawrence

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A March 2003 trip to Dorset by Idler

Looking for Lawrence Photo, Dorset, England More Photos
Quote: March, 2003: On holiday in Dorset, I find I can’t ignore pressing world events as the U.S. and Britain prepare to invade Iraq. In military museums and at sites of historic conflicts, the past foreshadows the present, especially when I go looking for T.E. Lawrence.

1. Maiden Castle: Wessex Heights

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They couldn't withstand Vespasian's Second Legion Photo, Dorset, England
Quote:
"I seem where I before my birth, and after death may be."- Thomas Hardy, "Wessex Heights" I’d come to rural Dorset to retreat from the grim present into the restful past. I’d planned to spend my days roaming the villages of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex and my nights sitting in some cozy pub, thumbing through my dog-eared copy of that loveliest of Hardy tales, Under the Greenwood Tree. Instead, in the pubs in the evening, the talk was all of war. Locals clustered at the bar, talking earnestly over their pints. Upon hearing my American accent, I’d often be asked, "Where are you from? " "Washington, D.C.," I’d reply, then let that fact age a bit before endin...Read More
The Keep - The Military Museum of Devon and Dorset Photo, Dorset, England
Quote:
During World War I, a major in the U.S. Army was visiting soldiers in a French hospital outside Paris. Stopping at one young man’s bedside, the major bent down and asked the wounded occupant if he was an American. "No Sir," came the hoarsely whispered reply, "I'm a Marine." A soldier’s overarching loyalty is to his corps, a trait that’s particularly strong within the British Army. Each regiment functions as a family, its honor carefully guarded and its traditions faithfully maintained. Although it might be argued the need for this system has passed, life in the British Army still revolves around the regiment. Regimental esprit de corps may seem an insubstantial thing in this a...Read More
Corfe Castle Photo, Dorset, England
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'Tis not, what once it was, the World; But a rude heap together hurl'd; All negligently overthrown, Gulfs, Deserts, Precipices, Stone. - Andrew Marvell, Upon Appleton House What is it about castles that so fascinates us? Ask your average American what he’d like to see in Britain, and chances are he’ll mention a castle. But it’s not just the castle-deprived Americans who are susceptible; our European cousins are equally smitten, it seems. One notable admirer of castles was T.E. Lawrence, who began his career in the Middle East studying crusader castles. Having been fascinated with all things medieval since boyhood, Lawrence visited 36 c...Read More

4. At Bovington Camp: The Tank Museum

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The Tank Museum Photo, Dorset, England
Quote:
The late, great Peter Ustinov used to tell an anecdote about his military career. When he was drafted into the army, he went before the officer selection board. One member of the board asked him which branch of the army he wished to serve in. "Tanks, replied Ustinov, without hesitation. "Why tanks?" asked the officer, seeming impressed with the young man’s apparent enthusiasm. "Because I prefer to go into battle sitting down."They assigned him to the infantry.I grew up in a household stuffed to the gills with books on World War II, particularly on tank warfare. My step-father is a tank enthusiast. As a teenager I had no interest in that (seemingly) ancient co...Read More

5. A Small Cloud of Dust on the Horizon

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T.E. Lawrence's grave at Moreton Photo, Dorset, England
Quote:
"All you will see of me is a small cloud of dust on the horizon." T.E. Lawrence, to Winston Churchill before resigning from the Colonial Office in 1922 In his biography of T.E. Lawrence, John Mack states that in each age, "the life and work of a figure like Lawrence will take on a new meaning." While Mack could not have foreseen current events in Iraq, it is indeed striking that Lawrence, a pivotal figure in his own time, is being called upon – exhumed, if you will – to help us understand events in that troubled region today. After World War I, the Arabs who had participated in the revolt against the Turks felt betrayed when they discovered the ...Read More