October 23, 2016

Coe, Lawrence William Hamilton

Service number: 120942 | Rank: Flight Leftenant | Regiment: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

Died, September 16, 1944.
Remembered at RUNNYMEDE MEMORIAL, Surrey, UK. Panel 201.

Aged 32.  Son of Walter Percy and Annie Ortrude Coe.

WHAT I KNOW ABOUT LAWRENCE …

It appears Lawrence’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1912.  His parents were Annie Ortrude (nee Hoyle) and Walter Coe.  His father was the Brandon headmaster from August 1921 until his death in February 1935, and it seems Lawrence was influenced by his father’s teaching.  In July 1926, aged 14, Lawrence passed the Cambridge School Certificate Examination, meaning he could progress from the Brandon Foundation School to being a scholar at Thetford Grammar School.  He also sat for final exams to enter London University.

Lawrence’s father died from cancer in 1935 and Lawrence reacted to this by carrying out a door to door collection to raise funds for the British Empire Cancer Campaign (See image above).  Assisted by Brandon’s TocH, he raised almost £18 of charitable donations from the town’s residents.

During the war Lawrence was posted to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.  On 21st November 1942 he was promoted to Flight Sergeant.  During the evening of 16th September 1945 he piloted a Weillington bomber, flying out of R.A.F. Silloth, Cumbria.  The crew of the aircraft were:

  • Flight Lt Lawrence William Hamilton COE, pilot, RAFVR,
  • Pilot Officer Harry Chambers Waters, co-pilot, RAFVR,
  • Flight Officer Oswald John Lander, navigator, RAF,
  • Flight Officer George Edward Lumley, wireless operator, RAFVR,
  • Flight Officer Frederick Charles Jordan, wireless operator, RAF,
  • one other

The men were on an evening training mission over the Solway Firth, tasked with getting to grips with anti-submarine manoeuvres.  Their chief equipment was a powerful searchlight slung under the fuselage, which could be turned on to illuminate any submarines on the surface.  Subs were most vulnerable when charging their batteries, something they had to do while stationary and on the surface, so they often charged batteries under cover of darkness.  Lawrence would have had the tricky task of flying low and level toward a dummy target.  For some reason the aircraft crashed into the Irish Sea and the official R.A.F. report stated …

“Aircraft flew into sea during Leigh Light Exercises. Pilot homing on a ship burning full navigational lights was seen to fly into sea. Leigh Light not burning at time.”

Two men were rescued from the sea and survived, the rest died.  Two bodies were recovered, but two were never found, including the body of Lawrence Coe.  A subsequent inquiry into the crash pointed the blame at Lawrence …

” Error of judgement when carrying out a training dummy attack. Too low, hit the sea. Instructions given not to fly below 300 feet.”

So it seems Lawrence was still making his approach onto the dummy target, therefore he had not switched on his search light, and should not have been as low as he was.  He has miscalculated his altitude.

In September 1946 Lawrence’s mother, brother and sister-in-law put a remembrance in the Bury Free Press.