Sgt L W Nichols
Lancaster serial number: ED887/G
Call sign: AJ-A
First wave. Fourth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing small breach. Aircraft shot down on return flight.
Lawrence William Nichols was born in Northwood, Middlesex on 17 May 1910, and therefore died early in the morning of his 33rd birthday.
Nichols was the oldest of the four children of Edward and Florence Nichols. Edward Nichols was a coal merchant. Lawrence Nichols had married his wife Georgina in 1933, and they had two children. He had worked as a haberdasher in Oxford Street and then as manager of a branch of Currys in North Harrow before volunteering for the RAF in 1940.
After qualifying as a wireless operator/air gunner he then crewed up with Charles Roberts and John Beesley in 10 Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon in July 1942, in a crew skippered by Graham Bower. On 13 September, Nichols went on his first operation, flying with Bower on a raid on Bremen.
The crew moved on to 1660 Conversion Unit later that year. On 16 January 1943 , after Bower’s departure, he went on his second operation, to Berlin with Vincent Duxbury as pilot. Melvin Young joined the Conversion Unit later, in early March and took over this new crew there. The full crew were then transferred to 57 Squadron at Scampton on 13 March. On 25 March, they were all reposted to the new 617 Squadron.
Nichols was a horse racing enthusiast and had plans to set up as a bookmaker after the war, with financial help from his brother Horace, who was running the family coal business. On 5 May 1943, he wrote to his other brother Gerry, who was serving in the army in India, about their plans: ‘There is no opposition at all in Northwood and I think it would do very well … after all we are very well known and should get plenty of clients.’ He went on to describe to Gerry how he and Horace had cycled over to Windsor to the Easter Monday race meeting. They both backed five winners and also got a successful tip for a race at Pontefract, where they made yet more money.
His colleague, front gunner Gordon Yeo, knew well about his betting skills. He told his parents in a letter sent shortly before the crews took off on the raid that ‘Larry (Nichols) our Wireless Operator went to Windsor races last Saturday (1st May) [sic] and won about £12, but he was born lucky.’ Maybe he was, but sadly his luck ran out when he died along with the rest of the crew when they were shot down by a gun battery at Castricum-aan-Zee.
Lawrence Nichols’s body was washed ashore on 27 May 1943, along with those of Vincent MacCausland and Gordon Yeo. They were all buried in Bergen General Cemetery.
KIA 17 May 1943.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Arthur Thorning, The Dambuster who Cracked the Dam, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassel 2002
Further information about Lawrence Nichols and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.