Monday, 2 March 2009
Visitors to Moreton in Dorset, to see Lawrence's grave in the cemetery, they will notice the bench seat alongside. Unfortunately is now in a somewhat sad condition, being covered in green mould, but it is still possible to see what is carved into the back-rest: FROM A.RUSSELL PATROCLUS
Russell was of course the young Arthur Russell who had enlisted into the Tank Corps and been posted to Bovington in Dorset at the same time as Lawrence, in March 1923. As they were in the same barrack-room, and Russell not as 'rough' as the others, the two struck up a friendship that was to last until Lawrence's death in 1935. Lawrence used to take Russell around the countryside as a pillion passenger on his Brough motorcycle, including to the Dorset author Thomas Hardy's home at Max Gate, Dorchester.
The poet Siegfried Sassoon sometimes met Lawrence at Max Gate during the Bovington period, when Lawrence would often be accompanied by Russell. Sassoon thus dubbed Russell as 'Patroclus', who in Greek mythology was the constant companion of Achilles. This nick-name Russell was proud to bear until his own death in 1997, at the age of 93. Hence the inscription on the bench at Moreton.
Despite several enquiries I have not yet been able to determine the exact date of the placement of the bench. It was certainly after Sunday, 18th May 1986, as it is absent from photographs taken on that day, the occasion of the T.E.Lawrence Society's graveside commemoration; and it still looks to be absent in a photograph taken for the May 1988 commemoration. It had appeared, however, in a photograph taken late in 1988.
According to one of the churchwardens of Moreton church, at a meeting of its Parochial Church Council on 18th October 1985, it was reported that "Mr A. Russell a friend of T. E. Lawrence had donated a teak seat which he would like placed in the cemetery." There is apparently no record of when it was installed. But on 15th May 1987, when another seat was being offered, it was mentioned that the church already had two seats. It was presumed by my correspondent that these were donated by Mr & Mrs (Tom) Beaumont and Mr Russell. (Beaumont had been with Lawrence in Arabia during WW1, being mentioned in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.)
Russell was to be honoured by being one of the six pall-bearers at Lawrence's funeral.
On visiting Moreton cemetery in 2005, there was a friendly furry tortoiseshell cat that seemed to lead/escort one to the grave, and then sit on the bench to be made a fuss of. I naturally called it 'Russell'. When I visited again in March 2006, 'Russell' was continuing to use the bench as a resting-place, and courting its accustomed adoring attention. I later learned that this stray cat had been named 'Elsa' by the local lady who looked after her, and still seemed to escort visitors directly to Lawrence's grave. When I visited Moreton on yesterday's sunny afternoon, 1st March 2009, there was alas no sign of 'Elsa'.