Robert Laumans: Belgian Fighter Pilot
4 December 1920 - 21 April 2014
Robert Laumans was a Belgian fighter pilot who became a leading lady in Stalag Luft III’s theatre
Robert Laumans, who has died aged 93, was a Second World War Belgian fighter pilot; after being shot down he was imprisoned in Stalag Luft III, where he established a reputation as a “leading lady” in the camp’s theatre productions.
On June 1 1942 Laumans was flying in support of a bomber force when German fighters attacked his Spitfire formation. In the ensuing dogfight over Ostend his aircraft was badly damaged; he headed for the English Channel but was forced to bail out, spending the next three nights in his dinghy before being picked up by the German air-sea rescue service.
Within a few weeks, Laumans found himself in Stalag Luft III at Sagan, scene of the Great Escape. At the time of the lottery for a position on the escape, he drew a high number and the escape was discovered before his turn arrived.
To pass the time in captivity many activities blossomed in the camp, notably drama. A 350-seat theatre was constructed – used later to store excavated sand from the escape tunnels – and the company produced high quality, fortnightly performances. Laumans became a key member of the company, where his skills as an actor, set designer and artist were put to good use. He played many of the leading lady roles to a full house, which sometimes included members of the Luftwaffe camp staff. The cast often included renowned actors, among them Rupert Davies, Peter Butterworth and John Casson.
The flow of new prisoners meant that the latest West End productions could be staged. One prisoner even arrived in the camp with a London theatre ticket for Arsenic and Old Lace; heavy flak over Germany had obliged him to miss the performance and he saw it instead in Stalag Luft III.
After repatriation in mid-1945, the Theatre Society obtained permission from the RAF to put on a series of variety shows in aid of the Red Cross. They played to packed houses in the West End and on tour around the country. The shows proved very popular with press and public and when Laumans married Rosemary Titmus in August 1945, their wedding photograph was on the front page of the Daily Mail.
Newspaper clipping showing Robert Laumans with his new wife Rosemary in 1945
Robert Laumans, always known as Bobby, was born on December 4 1920 at Tervuren and was a pupil at the Air Force flying school at Wevelgem when war broke out.
As the Germans invaded Belgium the school was evacuated to Caen in France and later moved, via Marseille, to Oujda in Morocco. Laumans managed to escape and finally arrived in England in August 1940 to join the RAF. He was sent to the newly formed Franco-Belgian Flying School at Odiham in Hampshire. After completing his training he joined No 74 Squadron and in April 1942 transferred to the recently formed No 350 (Belgian) Squadron. He flew sweeps and escort sorties, probably shooting down a Focke Wulf 190, before he was himself shot down.
After the war he received a number of promising offers to take up an acting career but chose to join the Belgian national airline, Sabena. He rose to be a chief pilot and flew the Boeing 707 before retiring.
Laumans remembered his days with the RAF with great fondness and was committed to the RAF community around Brussels. A man of great charm, with a wicked sense of humour, he was a long-standing member of the Belgian branch of the RAF Association and remained active until shortly before his death. At his funeral, a serving air marshal represented the RAF.
For his wartime service he received the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm and the Croix des Evadés.
Robert Laumans’s wife predeceased him. He is survived by their three daughters.
Robert Laumans, born December 4 1920, died April 21 2014
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.