Lawrence of Arabia
I have just read the article about Lawrence of Arabia in the Winter 2017 edition of “This England” which I enjoyed very much.
There is, however, a very interesting and perhaps not so well known period of his life which was only briefly mentioned in the article. It was his time in the Royal Air Force, and his contribution to and involvement with the design of highspeed water craft for rescue purposes.
This was brought about by his witnessing the crash of a seaplane; the rescue craft sent out was so slow to reach the scene that all the crew of the aircraft were lost. Lawrence, then known as Aircraftsman T. E. Shaw, was stationed at RAF Mount Batten, Plymouth. The failed rescue prompted him to seek the permission of the Commanding Officer to do something about it.
With assistance of Hubert Scott-paine, who had set up The British Power Boat Company, Shaw and Scott-paine set about testing and refining a motor boat which Scott-paine had built for the RAF.
The end result was that the RAF went on to use hard chine launches for the Air Sea Rescue Service, which had units established around the coast of the United Kingdom. Many thousands of lives were saved during the war by RAF “sailors in little boats”. The motto of the ASR was “The Sea Shall Not Have Them”, and a film of the same name was made about 1961.
I joined the Air Sea Rescue branch of the RAF from 1955-1958, serving on high-speed launches, mainly in the north of Scotland. The last vessel on which I served was HMAFV 2575, then brand new, and which is now on public display in the RAF Hendon Museum, together with other types of RAF craft.
I subsequently wrote a book, “Waves Of Nostalgia”, about my service and the various launches used by the RAF and those on display at the museum.
Coincidentally I had the opportunity to meet David Lean, who made the film “Lawrence Of Arabia”. He was on holiday in Cornwall and he asked me to drive him around on a sightseeing tour.
Perhaps you could include an article about the marine branch of the RAF? It was disbanded in 1986, but played an important role during its lifetime.
I now live in Queensland, Australia, but was born and brought up in Looe, Cornwall. Thank you for the magazine, it makes me nostalgic for the old country!
Dear Brian, thank you very much for your letter and fascinating insight into T.E. Lawrence. We think the Marine Branch of the RAF would make a superb article for a future issue of This England!