Vale Laurie Larmer: World War II hero
One of Victoria’s few remaining World War II heroes RAAF bomber pilot Laurie Larmer OAM, 99, has passed away. A passionate racing fan, Laurie enjoyed many visits to Flemington, from when his father worked in the jockey’s room in Phar Lap’s time, to being a guest of honour at last year’s ANZAC Day meeting where he had a horse racing in The Les Carlyon. The VRC spoke to him prior to that visit and heard his remarkable story, which we recount here.
Born in Moonee Ponds, Lawrence (Laurie) Larmer and his family moved to Ballarat when he was 12, where his father managed a pub. Upon completing his schooling at St Patrick’s College in Ballarat in 1940, he got a job at the Department of Aircraft Production at Fisherman’s Bend where they were building the Beaufort bomber. Although he worked in the pay office and not in the technical area, he was exposed to aircraft. A year later in 1941 at the age of 18 he was called up to the army. “To avoid going into the army you could volunteer for the navy or the air force. I didn’t fancy the army, I didn’t fancy the navy, so I volunteered for the air force crew.”
After passing a strict medical, and continuing to work at Fishermans Bend until he was called up in 1942, he completed basic training in Victoria, learning how to fly light aircraft, navigation and meteorology. Mr Larmer was sent to Manitoba in Canada to continue training in flying different sizes of aeroplanes, including the Cessna Crane. He graduated as a sergeant-pilot, and was transferred to England. “We went all around England and Scotland flying all different types of airfcraft, and getting used to the conditions.”
Mr Larmer was sent to a ‘heavy conversion unit’ to prepare for operations flying either Lancaster or Halifax bombers. He was just 20 and did not even have a motor vehicle licence by the time he was responsible for a crew of six other men and the heavy four-engine aircraft filled with high explosive. “The silly part of it was, in 1945, I turned 22 after the war finished, I’d flown six different types of aircraft, but I had never driven a motor car.”
Attached to an English squadron, Mr Larmer was with Bomber Command and completed nine missions over Germany in the final three months of the war.
Mr Larmer admits there were many “dicey” moments during his time in the war, including night raids. “You couldn’t see the other aircraft until you got over the target, where they had the searchlights. That was scary because there were a couple of hundred aircraft in the air at the one time. You did see a few accidents, like two aircraft colliding which was a bit frightening. But you had something to do. You were concentrating on the job at hand and didn’t have time to worry about what was happening outside.”
This courageous attitude is a trademark of the diggers, who were young and inexperienced. “We were only boys. When we came home at the end of the war I was only 21.”
Mr Larmer said that he always used ANZAC Day as a way to remember his mates and colleagues.
His bravery was awarded in 2015 on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe when France awarded the French Legion of Honour to those surviving members of the Bomber Command. “We were told, ‘You helped liberate France, we’ll never forget you. Never.’ I thought that was a lovely gesture.”
Mr Larmer also received an OAM in 2021 for general services to community, including being a life member of the DOXA Youth Foundation. “For ten years I did prison visitation work at Pentridge. I visited various prisoners to see how I could help them. I think that counted a fair bit.”
Mr Larmer said that he always used ANZAC Day as a way to remember his mates and colleagues, especially his friend, Bob Young. “We started school and finished school together. We went into the airforce on the same day. He trained as a navigator, I trained as a pilot. We met again in England. He went to a Lancaster squadron, I went off to a Halifax. And his aircraft was shot down over Germany. The hardest thing I have ever done was go and see his mother when I came home. I think of those sorts of people on ANZAC Day.”