Lawrence (Laurie) O’Hara Larmer OAM (SPC 1935-40)

May 10, 2023

Laurie Larmer.

The St Patrick’s College community is extremely saddened by the recent passing of our oldest living Old Collegian and Legend, Lawrence (Laurie) O’Hara Larmer OAM (SPC 1935-40).

Laurie, our oldest living Old Collegian and Legend of the College, sadly passed away on 14 April 2023, aged 99 years and eight months.

Laurie is remembered as one of St Patrick’s College’s greatest ever war heroes, who used the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II to embark upon a remarkable story of forgiveness and redemption.

Laurie was a day student at St Patrick’s College between 1935-40. In 1936 he was the recipient of special distinction for the Sub-Intermediate class and was the cox in one of the SPC House crews, which came third in the first heat. In 1938 he received an Honourable Mention in the SPC Elocution contests.

From one day, a school student, the next, Laurie became a bomber pilot for the RAAF.

Laurie, at war.

After leaving St Pat’s in 1940 and turning 18 in 1941, Laurie joined the airforce as he didn’t want to be called up into the army. He was sent to Canada to train as a pilot as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme.

He then travelled to England on the Aquitania and was first stationed at Brighton, then at Lichfield and finally at Snaith in Yorkshire, in early 1945, as part of 51 Bomber Squadron.

Laurie and his crew were the only Australians flying with 51 Squadron, RAF at this time.

In a book written by Judy Maddigan called “Laurie Larmer: Our Local Lad”, Laurie arrived at Snaith Airfield in early 1945 – “there was no welcome, no guided tour, no briefing. They were ignored by the rest of the Squadron”.

Laurie flew Halifax Bombers and took part in several missions over Germany in 1945.

In the space of four weeks in March and April of that year, Laurie piloted missions to bomb nine separate German cities including Dortmund, Hagen and Heligoland.

At the end of hostilities in Europe, he commenced training for the war in the Pacific. This conflict ended before he had the opportunity to fly against the Japanese.  Before returning to Australia he was seconded to assist with the processing (and transporting) of POWs. He returned to Australia in December 1945, and was discharged in early 1946.

After a short stint at Melbourne University studying law, Laurie then embarked on a career in the motoring industry working first in vehicle distribution for the Rootes Group in Fishermen’s Bend before transferring to work in dealer development for Chrysler in the 1950s.

After the collapse of Chrysler, Laurie joined a Ford dealership in Melbourne where he worked for eight years before entering the hotel business, working as the licensee at the former Athletics Club Hotel in Mair St, Ballarat (now known as the Foundry Hotel).

In 1985 Laurie purchased the freehold of the Courthouse Hotel in Sydney Rd, Brunswick which he maintained until retirement in 1997.

Laurie married Pauline Fitzgerald in 1949 and together they had three daughters – Anne, Bernadette and Margaret.

Laurie, pictured in the Leaving class photograph, as published in the 1939-40 College Annual.

In 2014 Laurie was guest speaker at our Old Collegians lunch on St Patrick’s Day, regaling the audience with many humorous stories and then, in 2015, Laurie was inducted as a Legend of St Patrick’s College.

Soon after that induction, Laurie was further thrilled when he was presented with the highly regarded French Legion of Honour Medal in recognition of his bravery flying bomber planes over enemy territory.

Of the 10,000 Australians who flew in Bomber Command during World War II, 3500 were killed in action.

Laurie was one of 106 Australian war veterans in 2015 to be presented with France’s highest military honour.

This acknowledgment, coming in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of Laurie’s sorties over Germany provoked a period of reflection for Laurie.

As he recounted to the College during a conversation several years ago – “I got to thinking, how would it be if while I was in England and the Japs had been over to bomb Melbourne – they probably would have killed my mother and father,” Laurie said.

“Well, I killed a lot of German people – innocent civilans, men, women and children.

“I thought I’d write to those cities that I bombed just to express my sympathies and I wrote the letter.”

They included places such as Dortmund, Wuppertal, Homburg, Hagen, Boizenburg, Heligoland, Wangerooge, Beyreuth and Travemunde.

Much to Laurie’s amazement, five of the leaders of these cities replied with moving letters of their own and importantly for Laurie, the letters were read out to school children, shared with local historians and passed on to German media.

This proved to be the start of a remarkable story of forgiveness and redemption. To read more, we invite you to click on this link here

Laurie was also interviewed for a book, which was put together by members of the Class of 1970 in 2021 celebrating their 50-Year Reunion milestone that year. You can read Laurie’s contribution to the book by clicking on this link here

Laurie, pictured in his sub-intermediate class, as published in the 1936-37 College Annual.

Laurie regularly attended SPC and OCA events and most notably, was guest speaker at the 2017 Anzac Day Assembly, where he recounted his experiences during the war to the crowd of 1200 boys and staff who listened in awe and respectful silence.

Laurie was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2021 for general services to community.

On his passing, Laurie’s story was also shared by the Victoria Racing Club, with Laurie recounting it in his own words in this video, which can be viewed here

In passing, Laurie has been remembered as a “true hero, compassionate, caring and above all a thorough gentleman … (who) served his country with great honour and dignity”.

A Funeral Mass was held for Laurie at St Therese’s Catholic Church in Essendon on 27 April 2023.

We extend our deepest condolences to Laurie’s extended family and friends. He will be missed and his story should not be forgotten.