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Lawrenson, Frederick James (1921–1952)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published:

Frederick James Lawrenson (1921-1952), by unknown photographer, 1952

Frederick James Lawrenson (1921-1952), by unknown photographer, 1952

Australian War Memorial

Frederick James Lawrenson (1921-1952), air force officer, was born on 8 March 1921 at Carlton, Sydney, younger of twin sons of Harry Whalley Lawrenson, a labourer from England, and his native-born wife Jessie Robina, née Yeoman. Educated at Arncliffe and Camdenville public schools, Frederick began work as an insurance clerk. He surfed, played Rugby Union football and ice hockey, and enjoyed woodwork and reading.

On 19 July 1941 Lawrenson enlisted in the Citizen Air Force. He trained as a pilot in Australia and Rhodesia, and was commissioned in February 1943. Sent to the Middle East in April, he served (from July) with the Royal Air Force's No.6 Squadron, flying Hurricanes on 'tank-busting' and anti-shipping sorties. In May 1944 he transferred to No.450 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, which was operating in Italy. Lawrenson was promoted acting flight lieutenant in October and made a flight commander. On 29 December he was ordered to dive-bomb a target at Nervesa della Battáglia, near Venice. As he descended, an enemy shell hit his Kittyhawk, blowing away the cockpit's canopy, smashing part of the windscreen and wounding him in the face. Undeterred, he pressed home his attack and flew the aircraft back to base, talking and shouting to himself in order to stay conscious. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his conduct that day and later mentioned in dispatches.

In March 1945 Lawrenson was promoted acting (substantive 1952) squadron leader. He briefly commanded a forward fighter-bomber control post before returning to Australia in November. For most of 1946-47 he was stationed with units in Canberra. At St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 7 February 1948 he married Yvonne Jean Turner, a 19-year-old stenographer. He served with No.76 and No.77 squadrons in Japan in 1948-49 and during this period was appointed to the Permanent Air Force. Back home, he was posted as flight lieutenant to No.78 (Fighter) Wing, Williamtown, New South Wales, in June 1949. After Vampire fighters had been involved in two fatal crashes, he was one of four pilots who 'exhibited considerable courage' in 1951 by test-flying the wing's remaining aeroplanes to prove that they were airworthy.

No.2 Operational Training Unit was formed in April 1952. Lawrenson was appointed its chief flying instructor, responsible for the tactical training of all pilots proceeding to the Republic of (South) Korea for active service with No.77 Squadron. Because he had to teach complicated manoeuvres to inexperienced aviators, the job entailed substantial personal risk. He won the Air Force Cross for the 'exemplary manner' in which he performed his duties.

Lawrenson was posted to No.77 Squadron in August 1952. On Christmas Eve that year, while leading four Meteors on an armed reconnaissance over the Imjim River and Koksan Valley region of the Democratic People's Republic of (North) Korea, he was shot down by ground-fire and was presumed to have been killed. His wife and daughter survived him. Freddie's friends remembered his cheerfulness, sincerity and honesty. Yvonne wrote of their 'short but very happy time together'.

Select Bibliography

  • R. O'Neill, Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, vol 2 (Canb, 1985)
  • AWM 65 (Australian War Memorial)
  • A705/15, item 166/24/1043 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Lawrenson, Frederick James (1921–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 29 January 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Frederick James Lawrenson (1921-1952), by unknown photographer, 1952

Frederick James Lawrenson (1921-1952), by unknown photographer, 1952

Australian War Memorial