A Blenheim pilot whose Coastal Command squadron flew under the control of Fighter Command during the last stages of the Battle of Britain has died at the age of 99.
Air Vice-Marshal John Thornett Lawrence CB, CBE, AFC, who joined No 235 Squadron on 5 October 1940, towards the end of the Battle, died on 18 December.
Lawrence, the son of master baker Tom Lawrence and his wife Beatrice, was born on 16 April 1920 and attended the The Crypt School, Gloucester. He joined the RAFVR about October 1938, as an Airman u/t Pilot and was called up on 1 September 1939.
No 235 Squadron was mainly employed flying Belnheims on anti-shipping operations over the North Sea, but in the last stages of the Battle, Lawrence’s flight was detached to Thorney Island, near Portsmouth, under the control of Fighter Command, and was frequently scrambled. On 23 November he was wounded during an attack on two flak ships off the coast of Denmark.
Lawrence was commissioned in August 1941 and the following year he went to No 202 Squadron at Gibraltar operating Sunderlands and Catalinas. In 1943 he was posted to Nassau in the Bahamas, equipped with Liberators. In 1945 he returned to the UK and was posted to No 86 Squadron at Tain, again flying Liberators.
Lawrence was awarded the AFC in June 1945 and also received two Belgian awards, the Chevalier of the Order of Leopold and the Croix de Guerre. He was released from the RAF in July 1946, as a Flight Lieutenant, but after a short spell working for the family bakery business he rejoined with a permanent commission in April 1947.
He was personal assistant to the AOC in C, Germany from 1947 to 1948 and was on the staff at the RAF Flying College, Manby for the following three years. He then took command of No 14 Squadron at Fassberg, Germany, equipped with Venoms. In 1955 he became personal air secretary to the Secretary of State for Air and, in 1956, he was a staff officer at 6 ATAF, Izmir, Turkey.
From 1958 to 1961 Lawrence commanded the Radar Research Flying Unit. After a spell as Group Captain Ops at Air Forces Middle East, Aden, Lawrence became AOC, 3 Group, Bomber Command in 1967, the year in which he was made CBE. He attended the Imperial Defence College and went on to be Director of Admin Plans, Director General Personnel Management and Air Officer for Scotland and Northern Ireland. He retired as an Air Vice-Marshal on 16 April 1975 and was made a CB in the same year. Lawrence then worked for Rolls-Royce.
His wife Hilary died in 2011. He is survived by children Patrick, Christopher, Andrew and Tessa.