Interview with Lawrie Lawrence


Interview with Lawrie Lawrence


Jack ‘Lawrie’ Lawrence planned on making a career in the RAF and joined in 1938. He enjoyed those early days when it felt like he belonged to a flying club. This was interrupted by the start of war and operational flying. He flew in Blenheims and notes they ‘filled the graveyard’ because of the accident rate with the aircraft. He volunteered for a second tour after a spell as an instructor. He was shot down and became a prisoner of war. He swapped identity with a New Zealand soldier so he would be able to volunteer for working parties which would give him the opportunity to escape. He made two attempts but was caught and delivered into the hands of the gestapo. On his last recapture he was held in a cellar before being called out into a garden where he was told he would be executed. He was unexpectedly reprieved and returned to prison. During the Long March he made his last escape and met with Canadians. He and his friends drove a Mercedes to a bridge and they then swapped the car for a camera and continued their journey on foot until they reached freedom.




Temporal Coverage




01:01:26 audio recording


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ALawrenceJ170510, PLawrenceJ1701


DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell. The interviewee is Lawrie Lawrence. The interview is taking place at Mr Lawrence’s home in Sevenoaks in Kent on the 10th of May 2017. So, Lawrie if you could perhaps tell me a little bit about where and where you were born and your early life.
LL: Well, I was born in this little town, Ossett. I just did the normal schooling. Grammar School. Worked for a year and then joined the Air Force.
DM: What did you do when you worked for the first time around?
LL: Oh well, I did a little, an electrician. And when I was seventeen and a quarter that August, joined. I could join the RAF.
DM: And why did you want to join the RAF?
LL: I wanted to fly. When I joined they said, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘A pilot.’ He said, ‘Well, do you want to make a career of the Air Force?’ I said, ‘Yes, of course. He said, ‘Well, don’t be a pilot. Go to Cranwell. Be a wireless operator or something.’ Which I did.
DM: And that was ok with you was it? You —
LL: Yeah. Yeah.
DM: You weren’t too disappointed?
LL: No. Well, I was a bit disappointed but he said there was no career. A pilot was four years on, six years off. That was it. So I had no choice actually.
DM: So how long was the training at Cranwell? Can you remember?
LL: A year.
DM: And then what happened?
LL: Then I was posted to Hemswell. They had old biplanes. Just getting rid of them, and we got Ansons which were just coming into service. It was just like flying in a flying club. Weekends we’d give displays everywhere. It was very nice indeed.
DM: How many crew in an Anson?
LL: Well, we flew with three but you could fly with two. But that was it. It was like being in a flying club. I used to go up, take one out on weekends. Go out and see friends. It was, it was very nice. But then we got Blenheims and that was the start of the trouble. We filled the graveyard at Hemswell Cemetery. Crashing. Crashing. Crashing. I’ve got photographs somewhere. This is a book. My daughter made me write it.
DM: Is that your memoir basically.
LL: Yes. What I could remember. They were not bad to fly in but they were very dangerous because they were the first Blenheims produced. That was about it.
DM: So this was a Mark 1 Blenheim obviously.
LL: Yeah. Yeah.
DM: Yes. Were you based at Hemswell the whole time with, with —
LL: I was at Hemswell. Yes. We got the Blenheims. We didn’t have them very long and we got the Hampdens of course. And I was suddenly posted from Hemswell to Waddington. I went to the, formed the what we called the little high speed flight at Waddington. We went and collected a new Blenheim and we were briefed to fly to Africa. And we were detailed for September the 4th.
DM: What year was this?
LL: ’39.
DM: Right.
LL: But of course the war broke out on September the 3rd so we suddenly flew back to Hemswell and we were operational. And we took off and made our first flight in February.
DM: Can you remember how you felt when war was declared? You know. What? Was it an exciting time? A frightening time?
LL: Just a normal time quite truthfully. Until February because we didn’t do, we didn’t go into, we never made a bombing flight until February.
DM: So, what were you doing between September and February?
LL: Just training.
DM: And that was still at Hemswell.
LL: Yes. Yes.
DM: Ok. So, if we go forward to February 1940 then.
LL: Right.
DM: What was your first sortie? You first mission.
LL: Oh. I can’t, can’t remember.
DM: It was a bombing mission.
LL: Oh yes. It was a bombing mission. And I’d been with this crew for three years. We had no trouble bombing aerodromes and things like that. We didn’t see, didn’t see much action. But getting, getting there at night was a bit of a trouble [laughs] Frightening the place.
DM: So how many of you in the crew?
LL: Four. And we never saw anybody from take-off to landing. We were all separated. Yeah.
DM: And how many missions did you fly on that first?
LL: Pardon?
DM: How many missions did you fly on your first?
LL: I flew thirty seven. I should have stopped at thirty but something happened. I went on to thirty seven. By which time we were, the crew had been together all that time and we were doing quite well finding targets, dropping our bombs. One morning we thought we’d got to Blackpool but it was the tower in Paris.
Other: Arc de Triomphe. .
LL: Pardon?
Other: Arc de Triomphe.
LL: Yeah. Arc de Triomphe.
DM: Yeah.
LL: Yeah. We were flying around it before — we thought we were in Blackpool. Things like that happened.
DM: Right. Yeah. That was, that would have been a bit worrying wouldn’t it? So when you came to the end of those thirty seven.
LL: My tour. Yes.
DM: Yeah. That tour. Yes. You obviously had some leave.
LL: I went to Upper Heyford as an instructor.
DM: Right. Ok. And instructing on wireless or gunning or — ?
LL: On everything to do with flying. Yeah.
DM: What did you think of that?
LL: A bit fed up actually. A bit dangerous too because sometimes you met a pilot who had never flown one before. And so after three months I volunteered to go back on flying and I was sent to Scampton. 83 Squadron. And I went with my pilot and we had to form C Flight. We ‘d got brand new crews coming in. We had to train them. It was a pretty dangerous sort of job.
DM: So that was just as dangerous as the job before.
LL: It was [laughs] Yes.
DM: But you had the same pilot as you had the first time around.
LL: I had the same pilot. We, we started, we formed the flight. C Flight. 83. And on our sixth flight we were attacked by a Messerschmitt. Messerschmitt. We never saw him. He opened fire and the port wing was completely on fire. The engine was hanging down and I was on the floor of the cockpit. A bullet had taken off my left part of my ear.
DM: But it didn’t take your ear off obviously.
LL: It didn’t. No. But it deafened it. Yeah.
DM: Was that the first time in all your missions you’d been attacked by another aircraft?
LL: No. We were attacked by a Dutch fighter before Holland came into the war.
DM: That was more of a warning was it?
LL: Fired back at him and he just waved to us and went off. Yeah. And we had [pause] we landed all over the place. We’d done, we’d done six.
DM: So this was your forty third trip.
LL: I’m trying to remember. Yes. Before I left [pause] before I left Hemswell I had a bad attack of pleurisy.
DM: Oh right.
LL: They took me off a flight and as I went to [pause] my crew flew. And then they gave me another crew but when I, when I was sick for a fortnight my crew was shot down. And the chap who took my place lost his left arm on his first trip.
DM: Did your crew survive?
LL: The pilot. The pilot was, yeah but on my second tour when we were shot down the pilot was killed.
DM: What about your old crew when the chap who replaced you lost his arm? So he obviously survived.
LL: They were prisoners of war.
DM: They were all prisoners of war.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Right.
LL: Yeah.
LL: So, ok so if we come forward now again to when you were shot down.
DM: Yeah.
LL: You were attacked by a Messerschmitt.
DM: Yes.
LL: The plane was badly damaged.
DM: [unclear]
LL: You were on the floor with your ear piece missing.
DM: Yeah.
LL: What happened next?
DM: Well, I shouted. There was nobody answering me so I just assumed everybody had baled out except, you know. So I baled out. I got out at about thirteen thousand feet so I was alright.
Other: And the rest of them?
LL: Pardon? Well, I didn’t, I didn’t, I never saw them again.
DM: Right. So, at that moment you didn’t know whether they’d survived or whether they hadn’t. Obviously later on you found out.
LL: Not at that moment. I didn’t know. I knew they’d gone.
DM: Yes.
LL: But I didn’t know what had, what had happened to them.
DM: Right. Ok.
LL: I landed in a field in Holland and I was in a hell of a mess. My right ankle was [pause] wasn’t broken but it was —
DM: That was from the parachute landing was it?
LL: Yes. Yeah. Parachute landing. So I went to the nearest house, knocked at the door and a chap came and [noise] so I told him who I was and he invited me in. And I don’t know what happened but I was busy stuffing all my gear into their fire and the Germans arrived. I don’t know where. They’d come from the guardroom, they said which was about fifty yards away.
DM: Oh right. So, you were in a, were you in, actually in a camp?
LL: Yes. But I was on the borders of it. Yeah.
DM: And what sort of a camp was it?
LL: I don’t know.
DM: A labour camp I suppose, was it?
LL: I have no idea.
DM: Right. So they arrived and arrested you obviously.
LL: They arrested me. Yes. They were charming.
DM: Really.
LL: Absolutely charming. Yes. And they took me to their guardroom and I met a young man there who had been to college in England.
DM: A German.
LL: A German. He gave me a tin of Woodbines. I’ll never forget that. I was talking to him. Suddenly the door flung open. In come the Luftwaffe. They started to knock me around. They took me in a car. They took me to their headquarters and I was just in solitary.
DM: So, how, were you sort of put in solitary confinement?
LL: Yes. Yes. And then I was interrogated by, I call him a gentleman. He said he was the Red Cross representative and he seemed to know more about my squadron then I did. I kept my mouth shut and I stayed there for about a week.
DM: Before you, before you were captured had you had training back in England about what the interrogation process would be?
LL: Nothing.
DM: Nothing at all.
LL: Nothing. It was going but I’d never had one. No. No.
DM: So you didn’t know what to expect.
LL: I didn’t. Absolutely not. I didn’t. I was quite raw. Yeah. And [pause] that’s right, then they sent me to Dulag Luft by train.
DM: Where? Do you know whereabouts? Is that in Germany or what?
LL: Germany.
DM: Yeah.
LL: Yeah. It was the camp where all, all prisoners went through.
DM: Right.
LL: [unclear] When I got to Dulag Luft I thought I was going to be interviewed by an officer and they showed me into this room and the officer was this bloke who told me he was the Red Cross representative.
DM: Same man.
LL: So I wasn’t very good mannered and I was given a fortnights solitary confinement [laughs]
DM: And were you in Dulag Luft for very long?
LL: I was there about a month I think.
DM: What was life like there? Was —apart from the solitary confinement of course.
LL: Well, it was up and down. For instance when I came through, or rather when I left Holland they sent me to Amsterdam. I beg your pardon. I’d forgotten that. I went to Amsterdam. I was in a prison there and this young Rhodesian chap came and he was in Stalag 3 and we were quite friendly. A nice chap. He said he’d baled out of a Manchester. And when we got to, he travelled to Dulag Luft. When we got to Dulag Luft there was another crew of a Manchester there and they told him after he’d baled out the pilot changed his mind and just flew back. So, he was a different person altogether then. And when I was in the Amsterdam prison in solitary I met a chap called Peter Thomas. And we could talk through the wire. I’ll never forget. He said he would never escape. He’d just passed his intermediate solicitor and when he was going, when he was in the camp he was going to study and when he got back to England he could become and full time solicitor. Then he was going to get into parliament. And he said, ‘I’ve got to get a very safe seat. And when I’m in parliament the Prime Minister will [unclear] for me. And I met him again long, long after the war and it had all come true. He was walking down the street with Neville Heath and he was the deputy. He was Deputy Prime Minister and became Foreign Secretary for a while. Peter Thomas.
DM: Amazing.
LL: He was an amazing chap. Yeah. I just saw him then but he’d made his mind up. This was ’41. August ’41. Yeah. He was an interesting chap. Yeah.
DM: So, Amsterdam. You were there for a little while.
LL: About a month I think, you see, yes.
DM: And was that an Air Force camp or was it a —
LL: It was. It was an Air Force. They called it an interview camp. Everybody was interviewed by a representative supposedly of the Red Cross. Things like that. Who knew more about what was happening than he did. And we were all very raw. Who did I meet? I met one or two well-known people. Bader.
DM: Oh, he was in there.
LL: He was there. Just went through. Yeah. And then we were separated one morning and said we were going to the, to an Air Force camp and as I was a senior and I was a flight sergeant, everybody else were sergeants we were put on a train and we went to a place. Stalag 357. It was an Army camp and we got moved into a room full of Air Force who had been naughty boys at a camp in Barth. Stalag Luft 1. And we were not treated very well.
DM: But you weren’t naughty boys.
LL: Pardon?
DM: You hadn’t been naughty boys there had you?
LL: No. But they had you see.
DM: Yeah.
LL: And they was held there.
DM: And you were treated the same as they were.
LL: Yes. Yes. And I met one chap coming down and he was interested in escaping. So we talked about it and talked about it. Anyway, we decided we’d change identities with a private soldier. And we were very lucky. A gang of New Zealanders had just arrived from Crete and they were in a hell of a mess. They just wanted to sit down. So I found a man who wanted to change identities. And a football match was arranged. A fight broke out and while that was, while the Germans were dealing with that I was changing my beautiful blue into his flea ridden khaki and I went back to the Army compound. He went back to the Air Force compound. And Jock, he also changed over. He became Army. So there were two of us.
DM: And why did you decide you wanted to be in that barracks.
LL: Because if you were a private soldier you could volunteer to go out to work. And if you get a working party of less than fifteen you only had one guard. Which made escaping pretty simple, I must admit.
DM: Right.
LL: Yeah.
DM: So obviously nobody gave you away. None of, none of the people in the camp.
LL: The only thing that happened was I’d been there about a month and they got me out one morning and sent me down to the hospital. I didn’t know what was going on and daren’t say anything. Anyway, a doctor came in and said, ‘Shave.’ ‘Oh, thank you sir.’ So I shaved my beard off. And he gave me, he shouted a load at me. He said, ‘Shave down there.’ They were going to circumcise me. This bloke had gone sick in Crete. His papers had just caught up with him. They were posted. I’d had it done many many years ago. Anyway, the Germans wouldn’t believe their papers were incorrect. Never would. So it took a bit of talking out of.
DM: But you managed to talk them out of it.
LL: I managed it. Yes. Yes. Yeah.
DM: So did you go out on a few working parties before you tried to escape?
LL: Well, I started. We started looking around for a working party and then we came into our first difficulty. We were with the Army now and the people in charge of all this stuff had been caught in Dunkirk, the early part of the war. And they were living like kings. They had their own beds and everything. They were in the same hut as all the food was stored. So if they were hungry they just went and helped themselves. And when they heard we were there to try to escape which would cause trouble they were non-cooperative. I’ll come to this a bit later on. Saved my life this, but they were uncooperative. We just found one sergeant. He’d been caught early and he fixed us up with a working party. And off we went [unclear]
[recording paused]
DM: You went on a working party. You went out on a working party.
LL: We went on this working party at the house.
DM: Can you remember what you went to do? What the work was?
LL: Oh, my God [laughs] I’m trying. I’m sorry about this.
DM: Oh, don’t worry. Don’t worry.
LL: Oh yes. Yes. This was a working party in a small village. A very small village. And they had been formed of privates caught in the beginning of the war and they were having a hell of a time. A good time. And one bloke who was there couldn’t read and couldn’t write. That was the type they were. And on a Saturday two of them were allowed to go to the local and have a beer. I was astounded at all this. And I was working on a quarry. I had to push for these things. Anyway, we decided we’d get away and one night, in those days you all slept together and your clothes were in a room with bars.
DM: So they locked your clothes away.
LL: Yeah. So we get [Maximal?] managed to hide them. Anyway, we were, we sawed through the window in the afternoon, half way through, steel things. And that night our one guard was asleep you see. We tried, I tried to get through the bars and all the wall came down [laughs] Anyway, we got away and we were walking more or less due east. We, we were heading for Yugoslavia and we, on the map we had a lake marked out where the Sunderlands were flying. Landing arms for Tito. And we wanted to get there by Czechoslovakia. Anyway, we walked as the crow flies. If we came to a river we swam it. If we came to a bridge we had to go underneath it and we never saw a soul. We used to start walking at 10 o’clock. Finish at five. Find a place to hide for the day. And then go on the next day.
DM: What did you do for food?
LL: We carried it. We carried quite a bit of food with us that we’d found in this working party. And one day we were going along and because we’d left the train and everything so we reckoned we were very near [unclear] and the border in to Czechoslovakia. And we were resting during the day as usual and a chap came up and smiled at me. So I smiled back and he went away. And we had a little natter the two of us. We said, ‘Has he gone for help? Has he gone to tell the Germans? Is he not going to bother doing anything?’ So we decided we would wait and see. And we were wrong. We were surrounded by Germans. They thought we were Russian parachutists. Anyway, the policeman they brought with them, he was, he was a nice gentleman. He said he’d lock us up but before he took us to his police station he took me around the back and shook hands with me. He was [pause] And then went to the police station and then we were interviewed by the Gestapo for the next, oh ten days. Knocked around a bit of course and then they decided we were what we said we were. Two private soldiers. And we were sent back to the camp. And on the way we were on a train, we had a the guard and we got off the train and there was a man sat there with his luggage and he said, ‘Hey, you blokes, come and carry my luggage.’ He spoke English. We said, ‘Oh, get lost.’ Anyway. when we got to the camp he was the war officer. I finished up with a month solitary [laughs] So I did solitary and then went back into the camp again.
DM: And you were still a New Zealand private.
LL: Yes. Oh yes.
DM: As far as the Germans were concerned.
LL: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And then after we put our names down for a working party again and they said, ‘You’re not worth it. It’s not worth it.’ Anyway, one night this sergeant came to see us. He said, ‘I’ve got two vacancies in a party made up by fourteen privates.’ But they were all commandoes. They’d been caught on the raid to St Nazaire so, you know, they were wonderful to be with.
DM: Yes.
LL: People of the same mind. And we were posted. We were sent to Görlitz. It was an Elementary Flying School. So of course we told them who we were and everything. And the idea was we would try and steal an aircraft because they were all over the place. But we found out that they always stored their aircraft with empty tanks. Now, in the Air Force you always left your aircraft with full tanks. They stored them empty. So it was a no go. And we worked there for two or three months I think it was.
DM: What sort of work was that?
LL: Oh, anything they could find. My job was every day I had to get these two oxon, we named them Spit and Cough and then had to collect a German guard and we’d to go down to the nearest town, collect the rations, drive them back. That was my day’s work. I was very lucky. And one of them, one of the chaps there was an ex-cook from Savoy. So we really, we did live well. We’d no [unclear] We did very well there. And then we decided we would escape. So one night —
DM: Was this just the two of you again or —
LL: No. Two commandoes were coming with us. So, one night we got out, a simple sort of through, you know barbed wire and everything. And we were told that we were on top of a mountain and there were three ranges so the idea was to walk down and up and rest the next day. But when we got to the first range we could see eleven more [laughs] So we were doing that. Walking. What happened to us then? [pause] During, during the day we covered ourselves up with foliage. At night —
DM: Had you taken food with you again?
LL: Oh yes. The Savoy.
DM: He’d made meals for you?
LL: Because I was driving the rations back. So harmless I could slip a few into this thing or hide it in the cart or give the rest to the Germans.
DM: What direction were you heading this time?
LL: Czechoslovakia.
DM: Right.
LL: Yeah.
[recording paused]
LL: We came to the River Oder where we had a shave and a clean up and swam across it.
DM: What were you, what were you wearing? Because obviously you weren’t in a uniform.
LL: Oh, these khaki shorts and —
DM: So you were sort of —
LL: That’s all I had. Yeah.
DM: Right.
LL: Yeah. Yeah.
DM: Which is I suppose one of the reasons you had to travel by night.
LL: Pardon?
DM: That’s one of the reasons you had to travel by night.
LL: Yes. Yes.
DM: Yes.
LL: Caught near [unclear] on the border.
DM: How did that come about this time?
LL: It was the local gendarmerie caught us again. And then we were, we were taken to a place called Ollmuth and was delivered into the hands of the Gestapo.
DM: Again.
LL: Again. Yeah. And then after a few days we went back to the thing.
DM: So, I mean you said the first time when you were being interviewed by the Gestapo —
LL: Yeah.
DM: They knocked you around a bit. Was it the same the second time? Similar techniques or —
LL: Similar techniques. Just the same more or less. Yes.
DM: They didn’t think you were paratroopers this time. Or did they?
LL: Pardon?
DM: Did they think you were, you were paratroopers again or did they think you were just escaped prisoners?
LL: Just escaped privates.
DM: Yes.
LL: And I was a New Zealander with a Yorkshire accent.
DM: Which I suppose they didn’t know.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Yeah.
LL: Yeah. I missed quite a lot out quite truthfully.
DM: Well, you can go back.
LL: Far more detail in there than I can remember [pause] When we were, when we were taken, being taken back to Landsdorf on the train. We got off the train and they took two of us to a house. They took us downstairs, put us in a cellar, there was no bed. Nothing. And we were there and we had one meal a day. And then on the Sunday they called me out. Took me to the bottom of the garden and said, ‘Stand there.’ That was 8 o’clock. At 9 o’clock six Army, six Army arrived with rifles and this bloke said I’d been looked at, investigated and I was going to be shot. This was 10 o’clock. And at 12 o’clock —
Other: Morning or night?
LL: Pardon?
Other: Morning or night? Morning or night?
LL: Morning.
Other: Morning.
LL: And at 12 o’clock I was stood there. The Army was stood there. A Luftwaffe officer arrived and said, ‘Come with me.’ Took me, and they took me back to the cellar. And I never knew why I wasn’t shot until three weeks —
DM: Three weeks ago.
LL: Yeah. There was a programme on TV. It was called shot soldiers or something. It appears that Hitler had, after the Great Escape from the thing he said anybody who escaped and was shot was to be, anybody that escaped and caught was to be shot. And the Gestapo was to carry out the shooting. Anyway, the Gestapo refused to do the shooting and that’s why I wasn’t shot.
DM: Right. So the fact that the Luftwaffe officer, it wasn’t because they’d discovered you were an airman.
LL: Pardon? No. that was —
DM: That was just coincidence.
LL: Just coincidence. He had an idea I think. And it appears that according to the dates that Hitler made this order, the Gestapo refused on the Saturday and I was on this to be shot on the Sunday. And they took me back to the cellar. Threw me in the cellar and that was it. He said, he said I’d been court martialled.
DM: In your absence obviously.
LL: In my absence. Yeah. And that was it.
DM: So, eventually they took you from that house back on the train, did they?
LL: Back on the train. And when I got on the train it was a truck and it had a barbed wire roof. So they put my hands through the barbed wire and handcuffed me. I travelled like that for twelve hours. Yeah. By which time I couldn’t care less they’d knocked me about so much. Anyway, I got back to Landsdorf. Yeah.
DM: So, you’ve escaped twice.
LL: Yes.
DM: Been caught twice.
LL: Yes.
DM: And you’re still a private in the New Zealand —
LL: I was still a private. And, oh then I was, that’s right they found out I was Air Force. I never found out who, how but they said who I was. I was, by this time I was so fed up. I’d been knocked about. I’d been, and I went into solitary confinement and Bader was in the next cell. So I had a natter with him and he tried to change identities.
DM: With you?
LL: No. With a private —
DM: With a private.
LL: Gave the game away. He was a big mouth. A good flyer and everything but one to stay very clear of. And they stuck me in Stalag Luft 3. And I was in the bed by the next door, hut rather and I was a bit brassed off. You know. So I started studying economics and then out of the blue one day they said, ‘You’re going on the train tomorrow to Hedwigenkoog.’ Which was, which was north. And I went to Hedwigenkoog . And this instructor came too so he formed a school. And I studied. Anyway, when I got back, it’s in the book. One day he says, ‘The Germans allowed me to take the exams from Oxford University. But the Germans will be there. You know. Make sure you don’t talk to anybody,’ because there was about eight of us. And we took, we took the exam. I took eight papers and after I’d been home for six months I had a letter from Oxford University to say I’d got honours in six. Yeah. Anyway, we stayed at this Hedwigenkoog, and suddenly we heard the guns. The Russian guns. So the Germans got us out quickly and marched off the road. And we were in a column and there was a column in front of us of people who had been prisoners a year more than me. And there was, and so Spitfires arrived and shot up the column with the oldest in and killed about a hundred. Yeah. We were only about a hundred yards behind. Very lucky. Anyway, we decided that we’d, we’d had enough so one night we deserted the column.
DM: And when you say we, who was —
LL: Two of us.
DM: Right.
LL: Two of us. And we walked on. That’s right. We kept going and we got to the German lines and up ahead we heard a bit of a battle going on. And it was a small village and there was a tank. A battle between Canadian tanks and German tanks. So then we waited for that to finish and then we walked down and met the Canadians and told them who we were. They said, ‘Well, look what are you going to do now?’ I said, ‘We’re going to walk to the Rhine and get across.’ They said, ‘Look, there’s a brand new Mercedes in that garage. Go get it and we’ll fill it full of petrol.’ So we got this new Merc out of this garage. The owner was shaking his fist at us. And they filled it full of petrol and we got to the Rhine but we couldn’t go across. There was only traffic in one direction. So we swapped it for a camera and walked across. I got to the nearest aerodrome and got a lift back and landed at a little place called Wing. And we were jolly and the WAAF were there to kiss you and everything. And then I was asked to go to the Endsleigh Hotel in London. I said, ‘Well, what’s, what’s wrong?’ ‘Oh, we want to interview you.’ Anyhow, I got to the Endsleigh Hotel. Nothing happened for about a week. And suddenly one morning I was taken to this office of a genera and he was asking me all about when I was a private. You know, a private soldier and what I did and everything. And he started picking. Picking holes. So, I said, ‘Look, you know your blokes were the least, you know the biggest worry in Germany were your blokes. They were having such a good time there wasn’t one of them fit to go. None of them would help us. Only the people caught in Dunkirk I think.’ Anyway, one bloke turned out to be warrant officer Sheriff. And he’d just been given the OBE. So my temper really let go. And it appears I was seeing this general, they were thinking of giving me medal. I don’t know what. Conspicuous Gallantry medal. Something like, like that. But the general told me to get out. [unclear]
DM: So do you think someone had given bad reports about you? Somebody —
LL: No. The general. I shouted my head off.
DM: Right.
LL: I was a fool. I was there. I was so [pause] this bloke was building the Army up to me and I’d had no help from the Army whatsoever. In fact just the opposite apart from one sergeant. And I told the general. He wouldn’t believe me. I lost my temper because I’d just been home for a short time. I wasn’t really myself. And he said, ‘Get out.’ So I got out. Never heard any more.
DM: So where did you go? Went back to —
LL: I went home and then a posting came through. I forget where it was.
DM: Had you found out by then what had happened —
LL: Pardon?
DM: Had you found out by then what had happened to the rest of your crew?
LL: Yes. I got the address of my pilot. He was buried in —
DM: Oh right. So you —
LL: Yeah.
DM: You had a letter that told you —
LL: Only the pilot. The other two I never, never —
DM: But the other two survived did they?
LL: I presume so.
DM: You didn’t run across them before or after.
LL: No. No. I never saw them again because I was in this Army camp for and attached to it for two years. So, I don’t know where they got to. But I’ve been to my pilot’s grave.
DM: And where’s that?
LL: There you are.
DM: What does it say? [pause] Holland. Jonkerbos War Cemetery in Nijmegen.
LL: Yeah. Yeah.
DM: So you have visited him.
LL: Yes. Yes. I have. Yeah.
DM: So where were you posted after you came home?
LL: Oh.
LL: Oh, I was posted to a place called Bromley.
DM: Right.
LL: Which was a, one of these plotting stations. Plotting. It was a big house which had been taken over and it was a plotter and I was, I was duty officer for eight hours.
DM: Were you still a flight sergeant?
LL: I was warrant officer.
DM: A warrant officer.
LL: A warrant officer. Yeah. And I was there some time. I think from down there I went down to [pause] I can’t remember now [rustling papers] From Oxford you see. That’s the post I actually got [unclear] in.
DM: Was examined at Stalag Luft 6. 357.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Under the Authority of the University. Amazing.
LL: That came through, is it March ’64.
DM: It took a while.
LL: Yeah. I was a prisoner. Seven stone seven when I came home. That was me after three weeks, after three months at home.
DM: Fattened up.
LL: Yeah. I went to Biggin Hill, and then North Weald, and then Padgate. And then I was posted to Vienna.
DM: So what date are we?
LL: Pardon?
DM: What date are we now? What year are we in that you went to Vienna? Still 1945?
LL: Yes. And then in Vienna I collapsed. Oh, I got married and we went and I was posted to headquarters in Vienna and I collapsed one day. My lungs were bleeding so they flew me back to Wroughton Hospital. And then they decided I had six months rest. Then they decided that my right shoulder, there was a little, the [scab] was too bad. They had to cut it out. So I went up to, I went to another I can’t remember what hospital it was but it was a civilian hospital. Bader was in next door.
DM: You kept coming across him.
LL: Yeah [laughs] Cheshire, the bloke who had the homes.
DM: Oh, Cheshire.
LL: Cheshire. He was in the next. They treated it like a college but they, it was a wonderful place to be to be quite truthfully. One morning the doctor came around and he was a well-known surgeon of course that specialised in lungs. And he was telling me my budgie’s died, ‘I bet he died from bloody TB.’ And do you know he did a post mortem on my budgie and it was a heart attack. And he was, he was the biggest surgeon in England just about. Oh, and then I was posted to Hendon. At Hendon, I was commissioned now, I was posted to Cyprus. Headquarters Cyprus. And I retired from there.
DM: And what —
LL: As a squadron leader.
DM: And what year did you leave the Air Force?
LL: [unclear] yes.
Other: Oh, a bit later.
DM: So about 1964.
Other: What year did the, what year did Turkey get invaded?
LL: Pardon?
Other: ’71. So —
LL: What year were you born?
Other: ’55.
LL: It was after ’55 then.
Other: Yeah. Yeah. Because I was, you were in Wroughton when I was born.
LL: Yeah.
Other: And then you went to Germany. You are in Wildenrath in Germany. Dusseldorf.
LL: Dusseldorf. Yes.
Other: Then we were in, you were at the Ministry of Defence. We lived in —
LL: Pardon?
Other: Then you were at the Ministry of Defence at [unclear] Aerodrome.
LL: Yes. That’s where I met Peter Thompson. The navigator. That’s right.
Other: Then Hendon.
LL: Then from there I was posted to Cyprus.
Other: From Hendon to Cyprus. Yes. Yeah.
LL: Out there.
Other: Yeah.
LL: Yeah. And I did a tour as squadron leader in charge of all flights in the Near East. Nice posting.
Other: ’67 I think he might have —
LL: Pardon?
Other: Sixty — I think it’s ’64 you must have come out.
DM: So, if I take you back to —
Other: No. It’s later than that. Because I came back to, well you came out of the RAF. I went to Churston and I was —
LL: I came out in ’59.
Other: Yeah. No. No. It was later than ’59.
DM: ’69 probably. ’69.
Other: ’69.
LL: Yeah.
Other: Yeah.
DM: So, take you back to 1945.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Why did you decide to stay in the Air Force?
LL: Well, I was, I was a career. I always —
DM: Oh yes. of course you, yes because you joined as a career person when you were seventeen years old. Of course. Yes. Yes.
LL: Yeah. That’s why I became —
DM: So that was always the plan.
LL: That’s why I didn’t go on the pilot’s course, I thought.
DM: Yeah.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Yeah.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Earlier on when we were speaking before we started recording you said that when you, before you joined the Air Force you played Rugby League.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Did you carry on playing rugby through your Air Force career?
LL: Yes. Yes. I played for Cranwell. Yeah. Cranwell Command.
DM: That was Rugby Union.
LL: Rugby Union. Oh, of course.
DM: What position did you play?
LL: Centre.
Other: Eddie Waring was your manager at one time.
LL: That was Dewsbury.
Other: Oh that’s —
LL: That was Rugby League.
DM: That was when you were young man. Yeah.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Yeah.
LL: Yeah. And I wasn’t happy in Cyprus. I didn’t feel as though I was getting anywhere. And I wrote to somebody. Anyway, they put me in touch with Barclays Bank and when, when they realised I’d got six honours from Oxford they offered me an immediate job as a first cashier. They said, ‘Where do you want to go?’ And I was mad on sailing because in Cyprus you worked in the mornings and sailed in the afternoon and I was mad on sailing. So I said, ‘I want to go to the seaside.’ So they gave me a choice of three. Anyway, that morning we had to, we were testing our Comet and we flew over Torquay and Paignton and the other one was up on the north coast. Anyway, there was three. But where did we go?
Other: Brixham.
LL: Brixham. Brixham seemed the best to I put in for Brixham. Came down to Brixham and that, moved in to a house and I did ten years.
DM: Always in Brixham.
LL: Pardon?
DM: Always in Brixham.
LL: In Brixham. Yeah. Oh, yes. I was in charge of the bank and that was it. Six years. Until we’d had enough and one day my wife and I were talking and she said, ‘Why don’t we go abroad?’ Anyway, we finished up I retired. We came to Spain and we saw a house half built on the, we arrived on the Sunday, saw the house on the Monday, bought it on the Wednesday [laughs] And in a pub we met a chap who did furnishings and we gave him a cheque. Just gave him a cheque in a pub. Five hundred pounds. And that was June. And we came in September and it was finished, furnished and we were there for ten years. No. Twenty five years.
DM: Whereabouts in Spain was it?
LL: [unclear] which is five or six miles from Malaga. And nothing went wrong with us the whole time. We trusted them, they trusted us and we had a marvellous time until my wife died of heart trouble. And then talked me into coming back out. I was five years by myself but that wasn’t very nice.
DM: In Spain.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Yeah.
LL: Sold it with no trouble. Came back. And that’s it.
DM: Have you kept in touch with the RAF?
LL: Only through the POW. And I got friendly with Charles Clarke, a bloke called Anderson. But there’s not many of us left now. The next reunion is in September I think at Henlow. I shan’t bother. It’s too far to mess around.
Other: We got invited to —
LL: Pardon?
Other: We went to Number 10 though, didn’t we?
LL: Oh, that was that was, yeah. Got especially picked for that. But for the old POW they go to Henlow every year now. They want to stay the weekends. Go in the mess. Too much trouble.
DM: If I can take you right back.
LL: Yes.
DM: To when you were a young.
LL: Please.
DM: Whippersnapper.
LL: Yeah.
DM: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
LL: Sister. Yeah.
DM: And did your dad fight in the First World War do you know?
LL: No.
DM: Serve in the First World War?
LL: No.
DM: He didn’t.
LL: No
DM: So he was the wrong age I guess.
LL: Yes.
DM: So he was one of the lucky ones really.
LL: Yeah. Just worked in a mill.
DM: Yeah.
LL: Yeah. Yeah.
DM: What became of your sister?
Other: Your sister was older wasn’t she?
LL: She was a few years older than me. Yeah. When did she die?
Other: She died. Oh, quite a few years ago. She got dementia. Yeah. Very badly.
LL: Yeah.
Other: And was in a home for quite a long time.
LL: Yeah. Yeah.
DM: So, looking back. Do you think, this is probably an unfair question what part of the Air Force was your, was your happiest time?
LL: Oh. Bomber Command before the war. Marvellous.
DM: The flying club era, so to speak. Yeah.
LL: Wonderful. Yeah. Yes. It was wonderful. We were happy all the time but there was no bullshit or anything like that. And it was, it was grand. Yes.
Other: So you used to test the planes then, didn’t you?
LL: Pardon?
Other: You used to test the planes.
LL: Yes. Yes. On my, when I was shot down I was already on my sixth trip and when we formed C Flight, 83 our job was to meet new crews straight from training and take a navigator and a rear gunner, take them up with us for their first trip. So every time I went with my pilot the other two crew were on their first trip. Every time. It was a bit of —
DM: Yeah.
LL: You know. Because we usually, we had so many crashes. We crashed on, the navigator was lost half the time. And after [unclear] one day we crashed on Blackpool Racecourse. We crashed on Shoreham front. We had two bad landings where we wrote the aircraft off. Ran out of petrol. That was the six.
DM: So none of them were pilot error. They were all navigational error and things like that.
LL: Navigation.
DM: Yeah.
LL: Yeah. I used to try and home on places but there were so many other aircraft homing, you know and because as I say when that [unclear] and the tower came up the navigator said, ‘Oh, Blackpool.’
DM: But it was the Eiffel Tower. Yeah.
LL: Yeah. Which I’d flown around in 1938. Below the thing. The celebration of the Bastille.
Other: You flew, you flew through the arch didn’t you?
LL: Pardon?
Other: You flew through the arch.
LL: Oh, that first time. Yeah.
Other: Yeah.
LL: We went around below the tower. Yeah. The three of us.
DM: So to be clear when you were shot down which was on your second tour but the —
LL: Yes.
DM: That Was with a raw crew as well? Was it?
LL: Yeah.
DM: Just you and the pilot —
LL: That’s right.
DM: Were the only two experienced members of the crew.
LL: That’s right.
DM: You were the only experienced member of the crew who survived
LL: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. Six trips. We did six trips and each time we had to take a brand new navigator, a brand new air gunner and keep telling them all the way how to climb around, keep looking around out there. It wasn’t very nice but it was a job to be done and we did it. Yeah.
DM: But you must have wondered, why you?
LL: Because we formed the flight, you see.
DM: Yeah.
LL: And with the crew Danny and I, Danny Wilcox, his, his best man when he was married was [pause] I’ve forgotten his name. The bloke who lost his arm in the air force.
Other: There will be a few of those, dad.
LL: Pardon?
Other: There will be a few of those.
LL: Yeah. He was very well known. I can’t remember his name now. But we were together. That was it. Yeah. Because we were all [unclear] captains you see, six months if that.
DM: Did you meet your wife during the war?
LL: No.
DM: After.
LL: No. When I was at Padgate. I’d just, I’d just been commissioned. I was posted to Padgate as officer in charge of closing it for recruits going through Padgate. Which was [unclear] yes. Yes. I left the Air Force ’69. March ’69. That’s the letter from them saying goodbye to me.
DM: So you were in the Air Force for thirty three years.
LL: Thirty seven.
DM: Thirty seven years.
LL: Til ’69. Yeah.
[recording paused]
LL: I always remember when I went, came from Amsterdam to Dulag Luft they were marching me through Amsterdam and a lady came and gave me a medal. The Germans knocked the hell out of her. Yeah. [unclear] concentration camp. Ollmuth Civil Prison. Görlitz. Nixdorf punishment camp. Sagan. [unclear] A bloke called Grimshaw who spoke perfect German and he got out and he fixed something up in the dams, I think. Anyway, the Gestapo got him. Shot him.



David Meanwell, “Interview with Lawrie Lawrence,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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