Vale Laurie Larmer

Late last year I dropped in to visit Laurie Larmer at his home in Melbourne’s north-western suburbs. Though we’d had the occasional phone call, it was the first time I’d actually seen him since the pandemic started. It was a lovely visit, we had a chat and a cup of coffee, and then Laurie graciously kicked me out so he could have an afternoon nap. As I left, he wagged a finger at me:

“Don’t leave it so long next time!”

Sadly, I now can’t comply with his instruction. On 14 April, five months before his one hundredth birthday, my friend, 51 Squadron skipper Lawrence O’Hara Larmer, OAM Ld’H, departed on his final flight.

I have written about Laurie before, of course. He was one of 28 veterans who I interviewed for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive – you can listen to his interview here – and I wrote up details of his wartime story in a blog post shortly afterwards.

Up until we recorded the interview, I’d known of Laurie but beyond a few short conversations at lunches or other Bomber Command events we hadn’t really got to know each other. But once I’d spent several hours in his company, listening to his story, we became friends. After that, if there was a Bomber Command or aircrew-related event, I’d ring Laurie to see if he was planning to come, and then on the day I’d drive him there and back. And it was on those car trips that we got to talk about all sorts of things: about his service, sure, but also about life after the war, or the chances of one of his horses in its latest race meeting, or about politics and current affairs. I’m a bit sad I was born to late to experience Laurie’s hospitality in one of the pubs he ran after the war.

Laurie had a great friendship with Jim Cahir, another veteran who lived close by, and my partner Rachel and I will always remember a hilarious car trip home from the Bomber Command commemoration ceremony at the Shrine one year, with Laurie comfortably riding shotgun and Jim’s long legs squeezed into the back seat of my little Golf.   

Laurie in 2018

Laurie flew nine trips with 51 Squadron out of Snaith in the UK in the last weeks of the Second World War. He was, thus, proudly a Halifax man. At his funeral last week, they played the video clip for Grant Luhrs’ 2013 song ‘Full Moon Tonight.’ You might recognise a lot of the footage from the wartime colour film ‘Night Bombers’ which was filmed in 1943 on the airfield of a 1 Group Lancaster squadron. I could almost hear Laurie making indignant comments about the lack of Halifaxes in the film.

As the film played though, I realised something. Over the last couple of decades I’ve been privileged to know several dozen Bomber Command veterans. I’ve had in my address book many of their names and phone numbers, and I’ve always been able to pick up the phone to one of them for a chat or to arrange to drive them to a luncheon, or just a visit for a cup of coffee.

With Laurie goes the last of those men that I knew in Melbourne. No more can I ring a phone number and hear a familiar old voice on the other end. No more can I go and visit someone to hear about life in Bomber Command, from someone who was there.

That makes Laurie’s passing all the more poignant.

A page from Laurie’s logbook, with his pilot’s wings and lucky-charm Guinness pin

© 2023 Adam Purcell