b. 03/08/1913 Knightsbridge, London. d. 20/02/1977 Paris, France.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 11/03/1940 Manston, Kent.
Anthony Henry Hamilton Tollemache (1913-1977) was born on 3rd August 1913 in London. He was the son of Henry and Ethel Tollemache (nee Irwin) who married in 1912. He was also a distant relative of Lord Tollemache. Tony, as he was commonly known, attended Mr Lang’s School at Rottingdean before going to Eton from 1927-1930. From there he went up to New College, Oxford, where he achieved a degree in Modern History.
In August 1937, he was granted a commission as a Pilot Officer in No 600 City of London fighter squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force. In January 1939 he was promoted to Flying Officer.
On the 11th March 1940 at Manston in Kent, he was involved in the incident that led to the award of the Empire Gallantry Medal. Tollemache of 600 Squadron was Pilot Officer of an aircraft when it hit a tree and crashed into a field, bursting into flames. Tollemache was thrown clear, and his gunner LAC Smith was able to escape. However, realising that his passenger, Second Lieutenant Phillip Sperling, was still in the wreck. Tollemache, with complete disregard for the exploding ammunition, endeavoured to break into the forward hatch and rescue him. He persisted in this gallant attempt until driven off with his clothes blazing. His efforts were in vain however as sadly Sperling died.
Tollemache suffered horrendous burns in the incident and was saved by the pioneering work of Sir Archibald McIndoe and the “Guinea Pig Club”. He recovered from his injuries was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal which was converted to a George Cross only a few months later. He was promoted three times during the Second World War, with a final rank of Squadron Leader. In 1945, he became Aide-de-Camp to Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis, Governor General of Canada. It was while he was in Canada, that he met, and in 1947, married Francoise de Hautcloquein. She was the daughter of the French Ambassador. They went on to have four children, Catherine, Richard, Gregory and Juliette. Sadly, the marriage ended in divorce in 1960, and Tony married Cecilia Cochrane, and they had a son, Alexander.
Tollemache was tragically killed in an accident in Paris, France when he was struck as a pedestrian by a car, on 20th February 1977 aged 63. He was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Helmingham, Suffolk and the VC and GC Association was represented at his funeral by Vivian Hollowday GC and Peter Wright VC.
On December 5th 1988, his George Cross was one of five medals that were stolen from his widow Celia’s house in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Celia Tollemache was in hospital at the time having an operation. The family believed that his medal collection was lost forever, until in February 2005, they were found on a beach in Maroochydore, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in Australia. The medals were handed into the local police, who then handed it to the British Consulate, and were returned to Richard Tollemache, one of Anthony’s sons from his first marriage in early 2006. The medal is currently held within the family though when interviewed later in 2006, Richard Tollemache was considering the medal going to the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: WITH RECIPIENT’S FAMILY.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MARY’S CHURCH, HELMINGHAM, SUFFOLK.
Kevin Brazier – Image of the Tollemache GC Grave at St Mary’s Churchyard, Helmingham, Suffolk.