A Tale of Romance and Tragedy: A Popular Actress and her RAF husband
Mary Lawson was a highly popular and sought-after stage and screen actress in the 1920s and 30s. From working class roots from County Durham, she made her first appearance singing for wounded soldiers during WWI at the age of five. She honed her acting and dancing abilities during her teenage years in Durham and beyond, eventually being talent spotted by Gracie Fields. Her career then went from strength to strength and she appeared in films with names such as Vivien Leigh and Bud Flanagan.
But she was to be remembered almost as much for her romantic affairs as for her acting ability. A series of high profile engagements ensued, including a spell as the fiancée of Fred Perry, at that time the world’s leading tennis player. Intense media attention and his desire to live in America made her call off the engagement.
She met her future husband, Francis William Lionel Collings Beaumont, on the set of the film Toilers of the Sea, set on the island of Sark. Francis, heir to the Seigneur of Sark, was already married with a son, but fell in love with Mary and divorce followed. Mary and Francis married in 1938 in London. It appears the marriage frowned upon by his mother, who spoke fondly of his first wife but failed to mention Mary at all in her memoirs.
After the outbreak of WWII, Sark was occupied by the Germans. Frances joined the Royal Air Force, rising to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Having been granted a week’s leave in 1941, he and Mary were reunited and travelled with friends and family to spend a week in Liverpool, apparently staying in Toxteth. Unfortunately, their stay coincided with some of the heaviest bombing Liverpool suffered by the Luftwaffe in May of that year. On 3rd May, the air raid sirens went off, prompting Mary’s sister and others from their party to take shelter. Mary and Francis remained in their room, perhaps seeking a few moments alone together before he returned to active service. The house they were staying in was hit and both were killed. Their friends and family, who had sought the safety of the air raid shelter, all survived.
Mary and Francis were buried in Kirkdale Cemetery, Liverpool, but only Francis has a headstone to remember him. Mary’s memorial is in the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour, located near St. George’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, London and in the films that survive her.
Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.