Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jim Lawson

Wing Commander James Franklin Lawson, O.B.E. (1913–2003) was born at Warracknabeal in Victoria on February 8, 1913.

His father was commissioned in the Army in 1912, and fought in World War I in the 4th Light Horse Regiment of the A.I.F. Major Lawson led the famous cavalry charge at Beersheba in October 1918, was mentioned in despatches and awarded the D.S.O., although he was in fact recommended for the Victoria Cross.

Jim went to Ballarat Grammar School, where he did very well and was primed to metriculate and study law at university. However, the onset of the Great Depression made it necessary for him to abandon that plan and leave school early.
Instead, with characteristic determination he studied accountancy by correspondence and, not surprisingly, came top of the state. Jim then worked as an accountant for various local councils in country Victoria, and for the City of Hawthorn in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

In 1935, the Royal Australian Air Force advertised for officer recruits. Jim was one of only five successful applicants, something that must have made his mother and father very proud. He rose rapidly in the R.A.A.F., in due course attaining the rank of Group Captain.

During World War II, Jim was involved in the Empire Air Training Scheme, which made such a crucial contribution to allied victory, and in 1943 served on the staff of the R.A.A.F. Allied Air Liaison Office in Ottawa, where he played tennis with Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, among other distinguished V.I.P.s temporarily sheltering at Rideau Hall.

The journey by ship to Canada was dangerous, and the risk of encountering enemy ships and submarines in the Pacific Ocean was high. In June 1944, with the rank of Wing Commander (N.W. area H.Q.), he was made an officer in the military division of the Order of the British Empire.

In November 1958, Jim left the Department of Air and the R.A.A.F., and joined Hawker Siddeley, the large British firm of aeronautical engineersand defence contractors. He worked for Hawker in Australia, and in England.

Earlier in the same year, Jim met John Borthwick in Melbourne. In about 1963, Jim and John travelled extensively in England, Ireland, France, and Greece.

Settling in England in the 1960s and 1970s, towards the end of which time John was working for the Wend End antique dealer Roy Barling, Jim and John lived variously in a sixteenth-century thatched cottage at Welford-on-Avon, at a partly restored fortified castle in Hunsdon, a flat in Porchester Place, Mayfair, a cottage near Cirencester in the Cotswolds, and, later on, above another antique business (called Grace and Favour) which John ran for Lady Joseph in Bute Street, South Kensington. At times, Jim assisted Barling with his considerable accounting skills.
In the 1980s, when semi-retired, they spent the northern winter months in Cannes, in the south of France, where after several years Jim’s appalling French showed no signs of improvement.

They returned to Australia in 1969, purchased and ran a motel and restaurant in Coffs harbor, aiming to bring French Provencal cookery to the northern coast of New South Wales.

When in England or France, Jim and John entertained many visiting Australians with supreme generosity, including many members of both their families. We remember those visits, which were frequently hilarious, with immense gratitude.
John’s nephew, my brother Simon, recalls Jim enthusiastically suggesting to him and Mary Ann, on the occasion of their first visit to London in 1984, that they attend a soccer friendly between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane. John was somewhat less enthusiastic.

In any event, during the game a riot took place, and Simon and Mary Ann barely escaped with their lives. Jim was unapologetic, observing cheerfully that this would for them be an unforgettable experience of daily life in the capital.

Jim was naturally gregarious and, at other times, to the mortification of young or merely shy companions, he did not hesitate to strike up conversations with complete strangers at the next table, wave his handkerchief to people in the theater, stop London traffic by holding out his walking stick, and sing songs.
Jim and John finally returned to Australia in 1988, and lived for some years in Sydney and Melbourne.

In 1996, Jim entered the War Veterans’ Home at Myrtle Bank (in Adelaide) as a patient and, though frail, remained mentally alert. No-one who knew them in happier times can easily forget the great care and devotion with which John looked after Jim in those last years, and with which Jims niece, Ann Pietsch, looked after both of them in Adelaide.

Jim Lawson died peacefully on Saturday morning, March 29, 2003. John died in Melbourne three years later.

No comments:

Post a Comment