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Pvt. Lawrence William O'Neill
Lawrence William O’Neill, Private
102nd Squadron, based at Pocklington, England
Royal Canadian Air Force
Lawrence William O’Neill was a brave and glorious soldier who fought for his country and kept fighting until his tragic and sudden death in 1944. Lawrence died young but still had many successes. He was very educated and even proceeded to get a secondary education involving aerial engineering. This led him later on to become an air bomber for the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force). He did an extensive amount of training and eventually went overseas to engage in war. As a part of the 102nd squadron, he fought hard for our freedom and made his friends and family in Rainy River, Ontario very proud.
Lawrence played a small, but significant role, in WWII and will always be honoured by his country for his great contribution to Canada and other allied countries.
Lawrence was born on January 29, 1919, in Rainy River, Ontario. He was a middle child of four siblings: Frank John O’Neill, Roy William O’Neill, Agnes Lindgren O’Neill, and Myrtle Rivol O’Neill. Currently, the only living sibling today is Myrtle Rivol O’Neill (married name, Rivard) and she lives in Baudette, Minnesota. His parents were Maurice Lyle O’Neill and Ida V. O’Neill. His father was born in Bancroft, Ontario and lived in Rainy River, Ontario before his death. He worked as a car inspector on CN railways. His mother was born in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota and lived in Rainy River, Ontario most of her life
In his spare time, Lawrence enjoyed photography and baseball. He went to Alexandra School (Grade 1-Grade 12 school) in Rainy River, Ontario and had a very impressive educational background. This included a post-secondary education at the Chicago Institute of Diesel Engineering from December 1937-May 1938. He also went to the Greer College in Chicago, Illinois from May 1938-July 1938.
Lawrence was very hard-working and worked in Sleeman, Ontario from September 1937-December 1937 doing government work. He then did municipality work in Rainy River, Ontario from August 1938-November 1938. He was also a B&B labourer at the B&B Department in Port Arthur, Ontario from May 1939-January 1940 then from March 1940-October1940. He lived in Rainy River, Ontario before he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force on July 10, 1941 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Once entering the RCAF, Lawrence trained to go overseas. After leaving overseas, Lawrence managed to come back home for a two weeks leave to see his parents on March 11, 1943.
Lawrence O’Neill was involved with the RCAF as an air bomber overseas in Germany. Lawrence was a member of the 102nd squadron, with its base located in Pocklington, England. Before he left overseas, he did some training in various locations including: Winnipeg (Manitoba), Sydney (Nova Scotia), Quebec (Quebec), Paulson (Manitoba), Sheabrae (Germany), and Halifax (Nova Scotia). He trained in: the Bombing and Gunning School, the Air Observer School, and the Technical Training School.
From Halifax, Lawrence William O’Neill landed in the U.K. on April 18, 1943 then landed in Sheabrae, Germany on June 7, 1943. He then went to Lakenheath, England on January 7, 1944 and soon after Magdeburg, Germany, his place of death.
The 102nd squadron was founded in August 1917. It was first based in Hingham, England but soon moved to France during September and then back to England again in March 1919. The 102nd squadron dispersed on July 3, 1919. The 102nd squadron was then brought back together in October 1935 and was based in Finningley, England in September 1936. It did not have the right to function as the 102nd squadron until March 1935 however. They moved to Honington, England in July, 1937, Driffield, England in July, 1938, and to Leeming, England in August, 1940. Then, they moved to Linton-on-Ouse, England in October, 1940 and soon after Topcliffe, England November, 1940.
The 102nd squadron began using the Halifax model of plane in December, 1941. They then moved to Topcliffe, England again in June 1942 then to Pocklington, England on August 7, 1942. This is where Lawrence was based when he joined the 102nd squadron.
On January 22, 1943, Lawrence was awarded with the Air Bomber Badge. Air bombers loaded and dropped bombs. They had to know the precise timing for when the bombs were to be dropped and initiated the process by pressing a button. Once the bomb was dropped, they were also responsible for photographing the scene for records.
The Air Bomber badge was created in April, 1942. This badge was awarded after soldiers were considered qualified pilots in the Air Force. These badges were to be worn on the soldier’s uniform.
Lawrence died in battle on January 22, 1944. The battle was located in Magdeburg, Germany. The day of his death was the first major raid in Magdeburg, Germany. The commander of the 102nd squadron at this time was Leonard Cheshire.
The battle Lawrence fought in was part of the Battle of Berlin. The Battle of Berlin involved the bombing of Berlin and various other cities in Germany. It began in November, 1943 and ended in March 1944. Bomber Commander Arthur Harris thought that this battle would weaken the German force.
In the duration of this battle, there were 16 large attacks made on Berlin alone. Unfortunately, the Battle of Berlin was not much of a success and there were many casualties. There were 1 047 bombers lost and 1 682 bombers damaged. There were over 7 000 people involved in the aircrew.
Lawrence was reported to be M.I.A. (missing in action) on the day of his death. It was presumed that his plane went down but his body or the whereabouts of his plane were never found. His plane went down during battle.
On the day of his death, 224 Halifaxes were sent out and 35 were lost, mostly because of German night fighters. There were a very high number of casualties because of the Halifax model and strong winds.
His plane model was the Halifax II. There was a defect in this model which may have been the cause for Lawrence’s death and other air bombers as well. The defect was in its design of the tail units. This defect made the plane go in an uncontrollable spiraling motion if there was not enough engine power (the two engines were on one side of the plane). This unbalance is what caused the spiraling motion.
Lawrence had no known medical records, no known illness/disease/disability, and had good health. This was very rare in those days but Lawrence had no ailments.
Lawrence O’Neill, service number J22703, did not have insurance but left what he had to his mother and to the army. He had $642 Canadian left in his bank account at the Bank of Commerce in Rainy River, ON. He also had War Savings Certificates. He had 32-$5 certificates and $160 in Army possessions. He also owned a subdivision of section 31, registered in Fort Frances which was left in his name. He had no history of debt and was very efficient with his money.
Lawrence had his funeral expenses paid by the army. He died at age 24 and his grave reference is Panel 247. His memorial site is located at Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, U.K. This is a place for soldiers’ names to be commemorated since they do not have actual known graves because their bodies were never found.
Lawrence O’Neill lived a very short life. However, he made the best of it and was privileged enough to contribute to a very important time in history. It is because of soldiers like Lawrence that Canadians and, several other countries today, enjoy freedom. It is because of our trained and well-educated soldiers, like Lawrence, that North America, and other countries, won WWII. He sacrificed his life for others and for his country. He made the RCAF proud.
Lawrence will always be a part of history and for that he should always hold a place in the hearts of people who are free today. Lawrence William O’Neill will always be remembered by his country, and his friends and family.
Military service files of Private Lawrence William O’Neill obtained from Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario.
Clements, Steve. “Sqn Histories 101-105_P.” rafweb. 06 December 2007. RAF Organization. 12 Dec 2007
Rainy River Record 11 March 1943
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“RAF History-Bomber Command 60th Anniversary.” raf.mod.uk. 06 April 2005. Crown Copyright and Deltaweb International. 12 Dec 2007
“Battle of Berlin (air).” Wikipedia. 2007. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.. 12 Dec 2007
“Handley Page Halifax.” Wikipedia. 2007. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.. 12 Dec 2007
“Search Details-Veterans Affairs Canada.” vac-acc.gc. 24 February 2003. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 12 Dec 2007
Written by Danielle Abraham