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The Airmen's Stories - P/O A Lammer


Alfred Lammer was born in Linz, Austria on November 28th 1909. In his youth he was a keen and accomplished climber and skier, practising mainly around Zell am See near Salzburg. In 1934 he went to London to work for the Austrian Travel Service. When Germany invaded Austria in 1938, he was offered German citizenship but, being bitterly anti-Nazi, he declined and was declared stateless as a consequence.

Lammer lost his job and for a year he lived on his savings and studied photography.

Lammer - or the Ritter von Lammer as he then was - had already experienced the effect of Nazi policies long before the outbreak of war. In 1935 Hitler's imposition of an enormous tax on any German visiting Austria destroyed the latter country's tourism industry and led to the collapse of the successful travel company founded by Lammer's mother. The thriving bank she had also set up was then hit by bad debts, and Lammer toured the salerooms of London trying in vain to sell a Leonardo painting deposited as security by one customer of the bank, an art historian and noted forger.


A postwar photograph.


Another casualty of the bank was the von Trapp family, who were friends of the Lammers (Alfred Lammer took his driving test in Captain von Trapp's car). The loss of much of their savings helped to decide the von Trapps to leave Austria for America, where their singing talent and adventures inspired 'The Sound of Music'.

Lammer's mother's debts led to her being sent to prison, where she died of pneumonia. His elderly father died soon afterwards, and when Germany annexed Austria in 1938 Lammer decided to stay in London. He stopped using his title of 'Ritter' and soon dropped the 'von' as well.

When war came, Lammer offered his services to the Air Ministry. Having been vouched for by the banker Sam Guinness, he was classified a 'friendly enemy alien' and restricted to travel within a five-mile radius of his lodgings. He was granted an Emergency Commission in March 1940, for training as an Air Gunner. He did not become a British citizen until 22nd May 1941.

After initial ground training at Loughborough, Lammer went on a gunnery course at 9 BGS Penrhos on 8th April 1940. He joined 254 Squadron at Bircham Newton on 4th May and was immediately attached to 206 Squadron, flying in Hudsons on convoy escorts. In early July Lammer was posted to 5 OTU Aston Down where he converted to Defiants before joining 141 Squadron at Prestwick.

On 10th August he was sent to Warmwell for a Gunnery Leaders course and then rejoined 141. Lammer retrained on Beaufighters and was posted to 409 (RCAF) Squadron at Coleby Grange on 1st November 1941.

He went to 255 Squadron at Coltishall on 5th February 1942 as Navigation Leader. The squadron flew to Gibraltar on 14th November and landed at Maison Blanche, Algiers the next day. Lammer went with a detachment to Souk-el-Arba on 5th December.

He assisted in the destruction of a He111 and two Cant 1007s on the 6th, flying with Squadron Leader JH Player.

On 15th and 17th December two Ju88s were destroyed, with Wing Commander DPDG Kelly. Lammer was awarded the DFC (gazetted 16th February 1943).

Night-time combat brought its own risks. On one occasion, Lammer's fighter flew straight through the exploding debris of an enemy aircraft it had just destroyed. Lammer and his pilot were unharmed but one of their engines was damaged and they limped home in the dark. Making a difficult approach on one engine, they overshot the runway and ploughed at speed through the middle of a parked Hurricane. Both men emerged unhurt from the wreckage, but the joke went round that they had scored 'three confirmed' in a single flight.

On 25th June, flying again with Player, Lammer assisted in destroying a Cant 1007. The detachment at Souk-el-Arba ended on 31st July. With his tour completed, Lammer returned to the UK and was posted as Squadron Leader i/c Radar and Navigation at 62 OTU Ouston on 21st September 1943. He was awarded a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 29th October 1943).

Lammer went to 54 OTU Charter Hall as Senior Navigation Radar Instructor on 5th June 1945. He received a Mention in Despatches (gazetted 14th June 1945) and was released on 7th November 1945 as a Squadron Leader.

All four wartime assessments of his abilities graded him 'Exceptional''.

After being demobilised in 1945 he pursued his interest in photography. He combined freelance work with teaching, both at the Central School of Art and at Guildford School of Art, where in 1952 he set up the first school of colour photography in Britain. Those he taught included Jane Bown and John Hedgecoe.

Lammer himself specialised in close-up photography of plants. He used only natural light and always photographed flowers or trees in situ, often waiting for an hour or more before the conditions were right for a single shot. The delicate, subtly composed results revealed the beauty inherent in even the humblest leaf, and in 1987 his meticulous artistry reached a wider audience when his pictures were used for a special edition of postage stamps.

In 1960 Lammer took the photographs for Thames & Hudson's English Stained Glass, a project which made full use of his skill as a climber. Shod in boots hand-made for him by the alpine outfitters Robert Lawrie, Lammer improvised ways of manoeuvring himself, his camera and his tripod into perilous positions high above church floors in order to photograph (often for the first time) the details of medieval windows.

For seven years Lammer was the photographer at the Council of Industrial Design and after retiring from Guildford School of Art in 1976 he taught photography part-time to graduate students at the Royal College of Art for another decade. He was an honorary Fellow of the RCA and was decorated by Austria for services to art.

A modest, kind man with unshakeable integrity, Lammer kept himself fit into old age, retaining the sturdy, tanned build of the mountaineer. At the age of 90 he still did press-ups every day and had a full head of hair.

He married first, in 1941 (dissolved 1946), the Canadian violinist Kathleen Tierney. She died in 1956 and in 1958 he married secondly Countess Benedicta Wengersky. She survives him together with their son and three daughters.

Lammer died in 2000 aged 90.

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