Strange likeness to TE Lawrence

Solo sailing legend Mike Richey’s funeral took place just over a week ago in Brighton, West Sussex. After the requiem mass held by Father Raymond Blake at St Mary Magdalen Church his friends and admirers took a coach to the Ship Hotel on Brighton’s sea-front to toast his memory.

This enigmatic, quietly brave and deep-thinking yachtsman had, for a long time, put me in mind of a Boy’s Own hero from yesteryear: T.E. Lawrence. They were both existential adventurers – by that I mean men who live their lives as pioneers, even over already-trodden ground – and certainly both shared a mystical love of the great open spaces, albeit for Richey on a desert of water.

But at Richey’s wake I discovered the two men’s lives had other, perhaps superficial, but nevertheless compelling parallels. Both had tried to hide their natural status and leadership by serving in the ranks instead of taking a commission: Richey in the Royal Navy,  Lawrence in the RAF. Both had led ascetic lives, eating sparingly and simply and living without luxuries – in one strange detail both slept even at home in sleeping bags instead of made up beds. And both men enjoyed speeding along country roads on motorcycles or scooters.

Both could count top literary figures among their friends: Lawrence befriended Thomas Hardy, Richey was a lifelong friend of Graham Greene.

They even looked alike: slightly built, short and with long narrow faces.

Perhaps the most striking of their similarities, though, was their war experience even though it appears on the surface to be contradictory. For Lawrence it was the belief that unity, and peaceful co-existence could be achieved by rallying the various Bedouin tribes against the Turk during the Great War. Once he found out that the British and French were going to stitch up the Arab and colonise the Middle East, Lawrence almost became a pacifist. Richey on the other hand, the son of a World War 1 colonel who was recommended for a VC, started out a pacifist in World War II, but changed his mind once he realised that Nazism was an ideology against which even war was justified.