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Heritage: The Wimbledon Journalist who became the voice of Hong Kong
Forty years ago, one of the BBC’s most respected foreign correspondents, Wimbledon-born Anthony Lawrence, retired from his post in Hong Kong after a prestigious career reporting on upheavals in China under Mao Tse Tung and America’s disastrous Vietnam War.
But he stayed there to write books, run a charity for refugees, and campaign for free expression. He was still there at the end of his life as one of the most respected figures in the local community.
Lawrence, who died last month aged 101, was born 12 August 1912, the second son of a clerk at Freemasons Hall.
He started life at 34 Effra Road and went to elementary school in South Wimbledon where the headmaster made periodic public appeals for boots to avoid dozens of the pupils coming to school barefoot.
Lawrence’s family clearly had higher hopes for their own five children as he went on to attend King’s College School and acquired the clipped tones expected of all broadcasters in his day.
Both his grandfather and uncle were journalists – for the Manchester Guardian and Daily Mail respectively - and Lawrence decided to follow in their footsteps, joining the Wimbledon Advertiser as a reporter in 1930 and going on to work for several London weeklies in the mid-1930s when his parents moved to 33 Thornton Road.
When World War 2 broke out he enlisted in the Royal Artillery, reached the rank of captain, married his first wife, Sylvia, and led his men in battle across France and Germany after D-Day in 1944.
His press experience came in useful in the war’s immediate aftermath as he was assigned to the Army’s Information Control Unit and he played an important role in founding the new post-war German newspaper, Die Zeit.
Tragically, Sylvia had been killed by German bombing while in a shelter for expectant mothers but, in Germany, Lawrence met his second wife, Irmgard. They were married in 1946. Returning to London, he joined the BBC World Service and soon became a supervising editor.
He and Irmgard were living at 19 Camp Road, Wimbledon, in 1947 when he stood unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate for a council seat in South Park ward. Their son Alex was born the following year.
Eight years later in 1956 he decided to switch from editing to reporting the news and was posted with his family to Singapore as BBC correspondent there. The office was moved in 1960 to Hong Kong where he headed the Far East bureau for the next 13 years, covering wars, riots and rebellions throughout the region as well as the every day lives of the Hong Kong people.
In September 1972, the year before he retired, he was himself interviewed by fellow Wimbledonian and BBC stalwart Roy Plomley for the classic radio programme Desert Island Discs, then 30 years old.
Over the next 40 years, Lawrence was doyen of the Foreign Correspondents Club, wrote several books, lectured, and from 1988 chaired the Hong Kong branch of the charity International Social Service which assisted refugees fleeing to the colony from other parts of Asia.
When Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997 he came out of retirement to report the handover. He later marched with others protesting against attempts by the new regime to restrict the freedom of expression enjoyed under British rule.
He outlived both Irmgard and their son Alex and at the age of 100 was awarded an OBE in the 2013 New Year Honours List for services to the Hong Kong community. He died on 24 September 2013.
The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.
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