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Leonard Lawrence and Eric Lorentzen – mystery brothers

By JOL Admin | 10 September 2015

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The Telegraph 24 June, 1916, p.13.

The Telegraph 24 June, 1916, p.13.

Researching a First World War serviceman or servicewoman can be as simple as searching the National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial websites and finding service records, embarkation details, and other available information that tells the story of their war service. But it can also be a frustratingly difficult task, fraught with dead ends, no results, and information that doesn’t seem to quite add up.

Such was the experience of finding information about Eric and Leonard Lawrence, soldiers and brothers who were photographed in The Australasian Traveller, a journal of the Commercial Travellers Association, which published photographs of their members and sons of members, who were serving in the armed forces during the First World War.

State Library is working on digitising and connecting portraits of soldiers in our collection with information about them held in the records of the National Archives of Australia and sharing these portraits on the Discovering Anzacs website. Leonard was easy to find; a search in the National Archives records revealed his service record. But there was nothing to be found for Eric Lawrence.

Although there was also a photograph of the brothers in the Telegraph newspaper, there were no records for Eric in the National Archives, or at the Australian War Memorial. Here was a mystery worth investigating!

What the photograph of the brothers in The Australasian Traveller told us was that Eric was serving with the 2nd Reinforcements, 20th Battalion, 5th Brigade. We also knew from the photo caption that he had been reported wounded and that he was a son of Mr. N. Lawrence, a Club Member of the Commercial Travellers Association Queensland.

The Telegraph 18 September, 1919, p. 2.

The Telegraph 18 September, 1919, p. 2.


Then a search of digitised newspapers on Trove provided another clue and another mystery. There were three brothers in the Lawrence family who served in the First World War, and although E.J. Lawrence was to be found in the Telegraph newspaper, and in the Australasian Traveller, there were no official records for him, nor for his brother N. Lawrence. Perhaps they were one of the many soldiers who changed their name when enlisting.

An investigation of the digitised Embarkation Roll of the 20th Battalion uncovered only one Eric – Eric James Lorentzen, a carpet layer from Erskinville, New South Wales. Could this be the Eric Lawrence we were searching for?

Embarkation Roll (Australian War Memorial)

Embarkation Roll (Australian War Memorial)

On a hunch we searched for an N. Lorentzen also, and here the mystery began to unravel. The service record of a Nicholay Lorenzs Lorentzen, from Hill End, in Queensland, was found.

Another clue was found in the naturalisation papers of a Nicholas Lorentzen, a Norwegian, with five sons and two daughters, who had been living in Australia for forty three years. His address matched that of Leonard Lawrence - Lock Street, West End.

Naturalisation Papers (National Archives of Australia)

Naturalisation Papers (National Archives of Australia)

The mystery was almost solved. A check of the electoral rolls of Brisbane for 1913 revealed Nicholas and Helen Ann Lawrence living at Lock Street, West End, along with Charles de Beriot and William Stewart Lawrence. The 1917 roll also showed Leonard Lawrence, a saddler, at that address. By 1919 however, the family address had changed to Drury Street, Hill End, matching the address from the 1919 newspaper article.

Queensland Electoral Roll 1919

Queensland Electoral Roll 1919

The historic Births, Deaths and Marriages records also showed us the birth record of Leonard Lorentzen, as well as his brothers Erick and Nicolay, and two more brothers, Charles and William – the five sons mentioned by their father in his naturalisation papers.

1893    Leonard  Lorentzen     Parents:   Nicholas  Lorentzen and Helen Ann Stuart

1888    Charles de Beriot Lorentzen   Parents:   Nicholas  Lorentzen and Helen Ann Stuart

1886    William Stuart Lorentzen   Parents:   Nicholas  Lorentzen and Helen Ann Stuart

1881    Erick James  Lorentzen       Parents: Nicholas  Lorentzen and Helen Ann Stuart

1884    Nicolay Lorentz Lorentzen       Parents: Nicholas  Lorentzen and Helen Ann Stuart

1891    Helene Sophie Lorentzen        Parents: Nicholas  Lorentzen and Helen Ann Stuart

Now we knew the answers. Leonard, Eric and Nicholay Lorentzen were brothers who all served in the First World War. Leonard enlisted using the anglicised form of his name, as Leonard Lawrence. His two brothers kept their Norwegian name and enlisted as Eric and Nicholay Lorentzen.

You can view their service records at the National Archives of Australia.

Eric James Lorentzen

Leonard Lawrence

Nicholay Lorenzs Lorentzen

Mysteries like this one are all too common when searching for family members who served in the First World War. State Library wants to help you find your family’s soldier stories, as part a series of hands-on sessions to be held on Saturday 19th September. More information.

Perhaps you have a family mystery to share with us – one that you have solved, or one that is still a puzzle. We’d love to hear your story and help out if we can!


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