Laurie Larmer (SPC 1935-40) shares his stories
September 7, 2021
We recently reconnected with Laurie Larmer OAM (SPC 1935-40) who shared some of his stories in a book, which was put together earlier this year by members of the Class of 1970 who are celebrating their 50-year reunion milestone this year. Their Reunion Book recognises some of the College’s major identities, stories of the times and musing by some of their peers. We thank Laurie and the authors of the Class of 1970 Reunion Book for allowing us to share more of Laurie’s great story.
Years at SPC: 1935 to 1940
Status at SPC: Day Student
I married Pauline in 1949. She passed away in 2017. We had three girls Anne, Bernadette and Margaret. I continue to live at home with my daughter Bernadette.
Current Occupation: Retired
Post Secondary Education & Career:
After turning 18 in 1941 I joined the Australian Airforce. I was sent to Canada to train as a pilot as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme.
Laurie was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday honours list for his services to the community.
At the conclusion of my training I travelled to England and was stationed at Brighton, followed by Lichfield and finally at Snaith as part of 51 Bomber Squadron. I flew Halifax Bombers and myself and my crew were the only Australians flying with 51 Squadron.
During the war in the RAF Bomber Command 47,268 were killed in action or died as prisoners of war and 8195 died as a result of accidents. More than 3000 Australians who served in RAF Bomber Command died during the war.
During my time at Snaith I bombed nine German cities in April and May in 1945. The first raid was a daylight raid on Dortmund. The second was a daylight raid on Wuppertal. On my return from this mission, over Wuppertal, the Halifax bomber which was coming in after me crashed on landing and the seven crew members were killed. Pilots and crew adjourned to the mess after the crash and I recall asking a British officer what the funeral arrangements were. “There are none” , he said, “There is a war going on”. There was no acknowledgement of these deaths. There were no funerals and no lowered flag.
French Legion of Honour Award/D-Day/Les Coleman:
One evening, during the blackout, in the months leading up to D Day or the Invasion as we called it, I was in a bus queue in London. I was tapped on the shoulder and a fellow behind me asked if I was an Australian. I said “I was”. “Where do you come from?” he then asked me. I said I was from Melbourne. He then asked me where I went to school. I said “St Pat’s. Ballarat”. “So did I”, he said. His name was Les Coleman. He was regarded by the British Army as being an expert in beach landings.
He was brought to London to assist with the D Day landings. He was one of the first ashore on D Day and the French Government decorated him with the Legion of Honour award.
(The Legion of Honour is the highest order of merit for military and civil merits. It was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and then retained by later French Governments and regimes). In 2004, the 60th anniversary of the D Day landing was celebrated and a photo of Les featured on the front page of the Sun newspaper.
I was also decorated with the French Legion of Honour medal by the French Government for my part in the liberation of France.
I would be surprised if Napoleon ever considered the possibility that two of his medals could be presented to two school mates educated by the Christian Brothers in Ballarat.
I had not seen Les for many years and I tracked him down to a nursing home at Port Arlington. Myself and Mark Whitty, also an old St Pat’s boy, visited him at the nursing home. Unfortunately, Les was suffering from dementia.
We managed to get Les moved to Nazareth House in Camberwell and myself, Mark Whitty and Basil Tierney used to visit him every three weeks and take him out for lunch.
He passed away in 2008.
Return to Australia-Hotel Ownership:
After the war I returned to Australia in December, 1945 .
I had been trained during the war to pilot a four engine Halifax bomber with seven crew on bombing raids over enemy territory during daylight hours.
I found myself back in Australia where I not could drive a car as I did not have a driver’s license.
In 1978, I purchased the business of the Athletic Club Hotel in Ballarat. The freehold was owned by the Ballarat Brewery along with 149 other hotels. Byrne Jones & Torney, Solicitors, acted for the brewery, the outgoing tenant and myself.
Many St Pat’s Old Boys were involved in the process when Ballarat Brewery leases changed hands. Murray Byrne, Tim Byrne, Dick Devine and Geoff Torney all worked at Byrne Jones & Torney, Solicitors in Ballarat and they did all the brewery work. Most of the accounting work was done by Cooke & Foley who were also St Pat’s boys.
The Coughlan family sent their boys to St Pat’s and they were major shareholders in the Brewery.
After selling the Athletic Club. I then purchased the business of the Doutta Galla Hotel in Newmarket which I ran successfully for a number of years.
My next venture was the business and freehold of the Court House Hotel in Sydney Road Brunswick which I sold upon my retirement in 1997 at the age of 74 years.
I have had a long standing interest and affection for horse racing and this interest helped keep me occupied during my retirement.
I raced a number of horses with my good friend Ron Hutchinson who at his prime was one of Australia’s greatest jockeys. I have also raced horses with another good friend Terry Henderson who runs OTI. Myself and Terry had an interest in a French horse called Le Juge which we brought to Australia last year. He had a very successful first preparation winning four races.
I currently have an interest in Barade which was foaled in Switzerland, trained in France and raced in Norway before coming to Australia for this year’s Spring Carnival.
Barade won a race at Warracknabeal by five lengths, ran a very good second at Bendigo before winning in brilliant style at Murtoa.
David Bourke was a very well known Old Collegian who was also very passionate about horse racing. He became the Chairman of the VRC.
David was one of four brothers who came from Pakenham and boarded at St Pat’s. His family were the original owners of the Pakenham race course and were closely associated with the Pakenham Racing Club. They established and supported the W.T. O’Malley Handicap which was held at Pakenham in the first meeting in January each year.
Letters of Regret for Innocent War Deaths and Injuries:
For many years after the war I was aware and troubled by the fact that I had been personally responsible for the deaths of many innocent men, women and children.
In 2015 I wrote to the Mayors of the cities which I had bombed and advised them that “I deeply and truly regret that we were responsible for the deaths and injuries of so many innocent civilians, men women and children. Unfortunately, todays wars are not just between military personnel. Good people on both sides die and suffer.”
Some of the Mayors wrote back:
- The Mayor from Bolzenburg Elbe wrote “Bolzenburg and every German has to be happy that the allied forces defeated Hitler and freed the world from the horrible dictator”.
- The Lord Mayor of Dortmund wrote “We celebrate the end of World War II as the liberation of Germany from the Nazi dictatorship. The bombing of our city was part of this liberation even thou it was undoubtedly associated with huge losses and sacrifices among the civilization population”.
- Perhaps the effects of my letters are best illustrated by a letter I received from the German Embassy in Canberra which said “There is hardly anything better than your letters to show how far reconciliation really stretches. Enemies can become friends indeed and your letters and the reaction in Germany has clearly shown that”.
In recent years I have travelled back to Germany, where I made an impromptu visit on the Lord Mayor of Dortmund. “If only you had told us you were coming”. He said, “we could have organised a reception for you.” I apologised and told him that the last time I visited Dortmund I had not informed anybody prior to my arrival that I was coming.
Best Memories of St Pat’s:
Australia was a great place to be in the years following the Great Depression.
Nobody had any money and very few of us had any real prospects. Fortunately the Christian Brothers at St Pat’s gave us a great education and a great start in life.
‘Basil Tierney stories’:
Kevin Mooney was a good friend of mine at St Pat’s. He became a solicitor, a publican and an accomplished after dinner speaker.
Kevin loved telling people in his after dinner addresses ‘Basil Tierney stories’ in Basil’s presence. Basil Tierney, who was a day boy from a large family, could not afford a school cap. Wearing the school cap was mandatory when boys were out in public and particularly when coming to and from school.
Kevin used to say that Brother Purton, the Headmaster, stood at the front gate each morning to ensure that the boys were appropriately dressed when coming to school.
Kevin was a boarder from Melbourne and he had a cap.
According to Kevin, every morning Kevin would throw his school cap over the school fence to Basil who would put it on and wear it through the front gate past Brother Purton. Basil would then give the cap back to Kevin and everybody was happy.
For the record, the story is not completely accurate. Brother Purton never stood at the front gate and each morning I picked Basil Tierney up on my bike and gave him a dink to school.
We avoided the scrutiny of coming in the front gate by riding down the side street of the school beside Ballarat College and discreetly entering the school via the side entrance.
It is true that Basil never had a cap.
SPC – Brothers Purton, Mullen & O’Malley:
Brother Purton was an interesting character. He came from New Zealand, joined the brothers at the age of 19 and he was a Master of Arts. He was a great teacher who never needed to use the strap.
We used to call him Tuck as he was short and fat with a tonsure. (Tonsure is the practice of cutting or shaving some or all of the hair on the scalp as a sign of religious devotion or humility).
He built the brothers residence facing Sturt St and the Purton Oratory and a school racing four were named after him.
Brother Mullen taught us in sub intermediate.
One day there was a knock on the door of his class. A kid called Ted Halligan opened the door and took a package off someone and then closed the door.
Brother Mullen said “what was that Ted?” “John Carrucan’s lunch, Sir.”
John was absent that day as he was wagging school.
He had left home that morning without his lunch and his mother had given his lunch to one of John’s older brothers for delivery to school. The next day John returned to school, with his lunch as usual. He was not disciplined for wagging a day and the rest of us were left wondering where he had been the day before and why he had not been disciplined.
We are still wondering about it.
Brother Bill O’Malley taught me in Intermediate B which was for the day boys and the boarders were in Intermediate A.
Unlike Brother Purton, Bill applied the strap regularly.
I remember Bill coming into class after lunch one day to teach us maths. He arrived late and the unsupervised class had become rowdy and was out of control.
Bill picked out a kid and gave him two cuts. The kid protested and said that he had not done anything wrong.
Bill said “Offer it up for Lent”.
The kid said Lent has passed.
Bill said “Offer it up for Lent next year”.
That was the end of the matter.
Lakeview Hotel & Sixpence gained:
In Matric, Freddie Ladd, a schoolmate of Italian origin found out that my father owned the Lake View Hotel in Ballarat.
Freddie wanted to know if my father had an SP bookie at the pub.
My father did not have an SP bookie but told me to tell Freddie that he could arrange for a bet to be put on.
The following Friday, Freddie approached me and gave me sixpence tied in a handkerchief knot along with a note of instructions. Freddie wanted three pence each way on a horse in the first race on Saturday and from any money that was then available from that bet was to be applied three pence each way in the second race and so on throughout the program.
Freddie lost his sixpence but placed a bet each week using the same betting system and the same stake.
My father soon realised that Freddie could not win and he told me that I could keep the six pence each week.
The end result was that Freddie never won and I received six pence pocket money each week except during school holidays.
I am very grateful to St Pat’s for the education I received and the friends I made whilst I was at the school.
I am very optimistic about the future for myself and my family but also for Australia.
My one unfulfilled aspiration in life is to win the Melbourne Cup. ‘Barade’ might just do it for me this year.