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The Airmen's Stories - P/O R C Lawson


Richard Chester Lawson was born on 29th October 1919 in Petersfield, the son of Rear Admiral Robert Neale Lawson CB (1873-1945) and Malvina Nathalia Lawson (nee Felton 1881-1945).

Malvina Felton was a second generation Falkland Islander, they met when Robert Lawson was serving on the South American Station in the late 1890s.

Richard had three older sisters, an older brother and a sister born in 1926.

Lawson, as a Captain, commanded the cruiser HMS Chester at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. The ship fought as part of the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron and came under withering fire from German forces.

She was hit by seventeen 150mm shells and suffered 29 men killed and 49 wounded, many of the wounded lost legs because the open backed gun-shields did not reach the deck and give adequate protection.

Amongst the gun crew fatalities was 16-year-old John 'Jack' Cornwell who received the Victoria Cross for his dedication to duty though mortally injured. It was Lawson's testimony that led to the award as he could see the gun position from the bridge.



Rear Admiral Lawson was asked to come out of retirement and take part in a government programme to resettle retired servicemen throughout the Empire. He relocated his own family to New Zealand and Richard was educated at Hereworth Prep School in Hawkes Bay on the North Island.

The parents and two younger children returned to England in 1934 and Richard was enrolled in Bedales School in Hampshire.

(His greatest friend there was John Harman, whose father Martin Coles Harman had purchased Lundy Island in 1925. He allowed the two boys to cull deer there when necessary.

John Harman, aged 29, was serving as a lance-corporal in the 4th Battalion, Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment at the Battle of Kohima. Over two days in April 1944 he single-handedly destroyed a Japanese machine gun post and a working party but returning to his own lines he was hit by a burst of enemy machine-gun fire and died soon after. He was awarded a posthumous VC and lies in Kohima War Cemetery.).

RC Lawson was awarded Aero Certificate 15709 at the Bristol & Wessex Aeroplane Club on 8th March 1938 (his ID card below).



He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Supplementary Reserve of Officers of the Royal Tank Corps on 25th May 1938. He was then seconded to the RAF and granted a temporary commission as a Pilot Officer on 7th March 1940, going immmediately to 6 EFTS Sywell.

Lawson was sent to No. 19 Course at 8 FTS Montrose in Scotland from 6th May to 12th August 1940. With the course completed, he went to No. 1 School of Army Co-operation, Old Sarum for No. 14 Course.

It was intended that Army officers seconded to the RAF would be trained for army co-operation duties. However eight of the officers on No. 14 Course were posted to Fighter Command before the course ended, Lawson among them.

He went to 7 OTU Hawarden on 22nd August. After converting to Hurricanes he was posted to 601 Squadron at Exeter on 9th September, making his first flight on the 12th, circuits and landings.



Above: at Exeter, Lawson sixth from right and below, holding the material with his left hand.


Below: a letter to his father in October 1940, transcript further below.


Rougemont Hotel



My Dearest Daddy,

Thank you so much for your letter. I'm afraid that it is ages since I wrote to you, but I have been pretty busy. I have received the parcels of army uniform. Thank you so much for sending them on. I enclose a cheque to Jim for 15/- so the change can pay for the postage. I think that I shall want the British warm as I can't wear R.A.F. coat with khaki. So please could you send it on ? I hope that it is not too much trouble. I might want the other tunic and slacks later.

I have been up several times after Germans, but no luck yet. I was at 25000 feet over Weymouth after more than 70 with two other people the other day, but unfortunately the Spitfires got there first and although we pursued them we could not catch them, though we saw what were probably ME 109's being engaged by Spitfires in the distance. I was very low on petrol when I landed. But I suppose I'm not an entire waste to the country now, as at least I help chase them about a bit.

I may get four days leave sooner than I expected as everyone in our flight is getting it in turns now. They will almost certainly let me have the (M)magister to come in and I may land at Old Sarum but more probably in the field by the House, I think, as they land very short. If not there perhaps the one on the left of the entrance to the lane. My flight commander might fly it down, so the responsibility would be his !

Four days leave sounds simply wizard !

I am now Squadron Armament Officer which will entail quite a lot of extra work I'm afraid, but I hope to do it decently. It seems I'm in charge of all the armourers, even to signing their leave passes and so on.



Above: Lawson painted this watercolour of his Hurricane, it is dated 6th December 1940, and he presented it to his nephew Neale.

Although he flew other Hurricanes, he considered this to be his favourite. A previous 'H' was the mount of Billy Fiske, shot down and killed in it at Tangmere on 16th August 1940.




Lawson was killed on 10th February 1941, still serving with 601 Squadron, aged 21. His Hurricane I V6630 was seen to go down in the sea on a Roadstead sortie.

Additional research and images courtesy of Neale Lawson (nephew).

Lawson is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 33.



Above image courtesy of Dean Sumner.




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