OLIVER JOHN LAWRENCE

2nd Lieutenant, 1/8th City of London Post Office Rifles
Killed in Action, Festubert, France, 26 May 1915, aged c. 22
Buried in the Post Office Rifles Cemetery, Festubert, France.
Grave Reference: Row B, Grave 9
 

The badge of the Post Office Rifles

Oliver John Lawrence was born in 1893 at Wildernesse, Sevenoaks, Kent (photograph below). This stately pile was the home of his grandparents, Charles Mills, Baron Hillingdon, and his wife Isabel, daughter of the Earl of Harewood. Oliver was the son of General the Honourable Sir Herbert Alexander Lawrence and his wife Isabel Mary Mills. In 1901 Oliver was enumerated at Wildernesse along with his widowed grandmother, his uncle the 2nd Baron, his mother, his father — listed as a cavalry officer — his brother, Michael, who was also to die in the Great War, and some 26 servants. His father, himself the son of a Viceroy of India, resigned his commission in 1903 and went into banking, although he returned to military life at the outbreak of war and rose to be General Haig's Chief of Staff. It was he who unveiled the Forest Row war memorial.

Wildernesse House, Sevenoaks

In 1911, Oliver was a scholar at Eton College. He joined up at the outset of war, when he would have been 21, receiving his commission shortly after. The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser ran an item on 30 April 1915 headed:

Sevenoaks and District Roll of Honour

Underneath this is written:

Under this heading we propose to keep permanently before the public of Sevenoaks and District, the names of all officers, non-commissioned officers and men who have answered the call to the Army, Navy and Auxiliary Services

Readers were invited to send in postcards updating information about their loved ones. In the column headed 'Territorial Army and National Reserve', Oliver John is listed along with his father and brother.

The Post Office Rifles were sent to France in March 1915. (Lawrence's medal card pinpoints his entry into the theatre of war as 17 March.) By the end of the war, 1,800 of their men had been killed. The Battle of Festubert, in which Oliver was killed, was fought between 15 and 25 May 1915 and was the first, and disastrous, British Army attempt at attrition. The British forces sustained over 11,000 casualties.

Post Office Rifles Cemetery, Festubert

After Oliver's death, a memorial service was held. The Kent and Sussex Courier (4.6.1915) recorded that:

For Second-Lieutenant Oliver Lawrence a Memorial Service will be held at St. Peter's Church, Seal, Sevenoaks on Saturday next, at four o'clock.

 

O.J. Lawrence's memorial at St. Peter's Church, Seal, Kent

Because of the family's Irish connections, Oliver Lawrence's death was reported in The Londonderry Sentinal on 5 June:

The casualty list also gives the name of Second-Lieutenant Oliver John Lawrence, of the Post Office Rifles, who was killed in action on 25th May. He was the eldest son of Colonel the Honourable Herbert and Mrs Lawrence, and grandson of the first Lord Lawrence and the first Lord Hillingdon. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and joined the Post Office Rifles at the outbreak of war. Lieutenant Lawrence is the third of the first Lord Lawrence's grandsons who have been killed in action since the outbreak of the war. The first Lord Lawrence was one of several distinguished brothers belonging to an old county Derry family...To his able assistance was mainly attributed the suppression of the Indian Mutiny.

The National Probate index noted:

Oliver John Lawrence of Ashdown-place Forest Row Sussex lieutenant 8th battalion London Regiment died 26th May 1915 on active service. Administration London 25 October to the honourable Herbert Alexander Lawrence lieutenant-general H.M. Army. Effects £224 13s. 4d.

Oliver John Lawrence's entry on the Graves Registration Report Form, second from bottom.

Herbert Lawrence put Ashdown Place up for auction in November 1918.

After the war, in 1921, his mother applied for his medals; these were eventually sent to his father, then living at 32 Rutland Gate, S.W.7.

As well as at Seal, Lawrence's name appears on the memorial at Hillingdon, where he had family connections through his mother.

Pam Griffiths