Lawson-Tancred, Andrew Thomas
He was the eldest son of Major Sir Thomas Selby Lawson-Tancred, 9th Baronet, of Aldborough Manor, Boroughbridge, Yorkshire and of Margery Elinor Lawson-Tancred, daughter of Andrew Sherlock Lawson DL. He came to Southgate Hill (now Du Boulay’s) from Aysgarth School in September 1928. He was a gymnast and a cross-country runner.
In December 1932 he went to America to further his education, going for two terms to Kent School, Connecticut, after which he travelled by car 8,000 around America with a friend. Among other exploits, he crossed five hundred miles of Lapland on skis in winter without a guide; motorists up the Great North Road could see four “hotel cottages” built by him near Aldborough, as a result of his American travels.
From 1933 to 1934 he was at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and there began to study agriculture as a farm pupil, and at the same time began to write. In the winter of 1936-37 he was working in Geneva for the Manchester Guardian. In 1937 he acquired a farm at Bindale, in Yorkshire.
In 1939 he was refused for air crew because of poor eyesight, but was accepted in 1940, and gained his commission and his wings within a year. He had a bad crash, breaking his leg, near Gibraltar. He later went on to night bombers as a Flight Lieutenant. In his crew’s tenth raid over Germany, flying a Lancaster, he was reported missing on the night of January 14/15th 1944, aged twenty-nine, having taken off in Lancaster JB295 (EA-R) at 1624 that Friday evening, from RAF Fiskerton near Lincoln.
Nearly five hundred aircraft set out on this, the first major raid on Brunswick. However, Brunswick was smaller than Bomber Command’s usual targets, and the raid was not a success. The city reports described this only as a ‘light’ raid. Back in England, it became clear from German radio that they had followed the progress of the bomber force from a position only forty miles off the English coast. Many German fighters entered the bomber stream soon after the German frontier was crossed near Bremen, and the German fighters scored steadily until the Dutch coast was crossed on the return flight. Thirty-eight Lancasters were lost, eleven of them Pathfinders – only one of the lost Lancasters, Lawson-Tancred’s, was from 49 Squadron and had been shot down by a night-fighter, crashing at 1915 at Reppner, north of Lebenstedt.
Lawson-Tancred, and four others, all Sergeants, were killed. An RAF investigation in 1948 uncovered their fates:
“From their interview with the local policemen, who had been on duty at the time of the crash, and from their examination of the exhumed bodies, they established that the aircraft had crashed at about 2100 hours one kilometre north of Reppner and exploded on impact. Three bodies had been found near the wreckage, and two some distance away with parachutes nearby, suggesting an attempt to bale out. These latter two had not been identified by the Germans in 1944, but the MRES Team now ascertained that one of them was wearing Flight Lieutenant braid on his battledress blouse, and that on his shirt was a name-tag marked “Lawson-Tancred”.(D/AHB(RAF)/P412651/44/135, January 1983)
Following the standard notification to next of kin, an official Air Ministry letter was sent to Lawson-Tancred’s parents on 22nd January 1944. However, Lawson-Tancred’s mother was unable to accept that her son was dead, and even when the RAF confirmed it she refused to believe that they had found and buried the correct body.
In a letter to one of the survivors, Flight Sergeant William Branigan, the navigator, Lawson-Tancred’s brother, Sir Henry Lawson-Tancred, wrote in November 1987 that “she was quite positive Andrew had survived the night of January 14th 1944 and had been killed by the bombing of the house in which he was being given refuge, this being about January 1945. She would never accept the grave was his, and simply didn’t want to know about it.”
His mother’s doubts appear to have stemmed from the fact that the Red Cross had not initially reported her son’s body as having been found. The RAF wrote to the family as follows:
“A telegram from the International Red Cross, received on February 25th 1944, stated that two members of his crew – Flight Sergeant Branigan and Sergeant Jerrard – were prisoners of war, and that Sergeants Shaw, Phipps and Smith had been killed. There was no mention, however, of your brother or of the seventh crew member, Sergeant Sullivan. Further letters were sent to your father on May 23rd and September 15th… (D/AHB(RAF)/P412651/44/135, January 1983)
Lawson-Tancred’s father died in December 1945, and when on December 9th 1946 the RAF wrote to inform Mrs. Lawson-Tancred that her son was presumed dead and probably buried in the local cemetery at Lebenstedt, she replied that she did not accept their decision. The Air Ministry therefore decided to conduct an investigation as to whether or not they had, indeed, got their facts right.
“Soon afterwards, the Missing Research and Enquiry Team visited Lebenstedt, where the bodies of the crew members were reported to have been buried in the local cemetery (Lebenstedt is near Hallendorf)… All five bodies were subsequently re-buried in the British Military Cemetery, Hanover… Your mother was told of the re-burial on February 23rd 1948… and this sparked off a lengthy correspondence concerning her refusal to accept the identification. She wanted the body exhumed for further examination, and when that request had to be refused, she asked that the grave should not be marked with her son’s name. Eventually, with reluctance, she accepted that it would be marked but as far as our records go she never really came to terms with it.
May I say, in conclusion, that having studied the file I am entirely satisfied that your brother’s body was correctly identified, and I hope what I have written will serve to remove any possible doubts in the minds of you and the rest of your family. (D/AHB(RAF)/P412651/44/135, January 1983)
Lawson-Tancred is buried in grave 2.G.2 of the Hanover War Cemetery. With him lie the four other dead from the crew of ‘R-Roger’.
There is also a family memorial in St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Aldborough.
On the same raid, a fellow Wykehamist, Pilot Officer John Nigel Richards (K 1921-1926), of 7 Squadron, was also shot down: he too lies in Hanover War Cemetery (see individual entry).
- Surname: Lawson-Tancred
- Forenames or initials: Andrew Thomas
- House: C
- Years in School: 1928-1932
- Rank: Flight Lieutenant
- Regiment: RAF Volunteer Reserve
- Date of Birth: 10th August 1914
- Date of Death: 14th January 1944
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner F2
- Decoration: DSO
- Burial Site: Hanover War Cemetery: Grave 2.G.2