Interview with Lawrence Larmer

Title

Interview with Lawrence Larmer

Description

Lawrence Larmer was born in Australia in 1920. After completing school he went to work on the Beaufort aircraft in the Department of Aircraft Production. He was called up in 1942 and volunteered for the Royal Australian Air Force to avoid the army. His initial training on Tiger Moth aircraft was followed by further training in Manitoba, Canada. He graduated as a sergeant pilot in 1943 and was posted to Great Britain. He describes conditions at 11 Personnel Dispatch and Reception Centre, Brighton. At 27 Operational Training Unit, RAF Lichfield, he crewed up before posting to 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Riccall. His first operational posting was to 51 Squadron at RAF Snaith. Lawrence Larmer discusses in detail the process of crewing up, of relations between personnel on the station, officers’ living conditions, and a case of desertion. He also discusses his views on Sir Arthur Harris and recounts his experience of applying for the Bomber Command clasp.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-11-12

Contributor

Hugh Donnelly
Mal Prissick

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:09:51 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ALarmerLO151112

Conforms To

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

AP: This interview is for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive is with Laurie Larmer 51 Squadron, Halifax bomber during World War II. Interview taking place at Laurie’s house in Strathmore in Melbourne. My name is Adam Purcell it is the 12th of November 2005, 2015 in fact. Laurie we might start with an easy one, can you tell us something about your story before the war growing up what you did, before you enlisted?
LL: I was born in Moody Ponds eh in 1920, September 1923 and eh in 1931 or ’32 an old uncle of my father’s, my father was a painter and paper hanger by trade, during the depression there was obviously not that much work about but eh he managed and in 1931 or ’32 an old uncle by marriage of his died and he owned a hotel in South Yarrow and he left in his will that dad was to be given the lease of this hotel at a certain rental for as long as he wanted. So eh dad without any experience in the hotel business eh we moved into South Yarrow on the corner of Tourag Road and Punt Road and eh he ran this hotel until the old aunty the widow eh realised that the rental had been set in her husband’s will and she couldn’t do anything about it. So she did the next best thing as far as she was concerned, she sold the hotel. My father then moved to another hotel in Prahran and eventually in 1935 he went to a hotel in Ballarat and I went to school, St Patrick’s College Ballarat and I stayed there until I finished my schooling in 1940 eh in 1940 eh I got a job in the Department of Aircraft Production at Fishermans Bend where they were building the Beaufort bomber. Not on technical side, eh in the pay office actually I saw a lot about aeroplanes and what have you and eh in September 1941 I got called up for, I turned eighteen and got called up for a medical examination and eh it was for the army but to avoid going into the army you could volunteer for the navy or the air force. I volunteered for aircrew in the air force and was accepted. Did another medical exam, much stricter medical exam for the air force, aircrew actually, naturally and eh I then went back to work at Fishermans Bend until I got my call up sometime in 1942 and I went into the air force. So that is my pre-service history.
AP: Actually I might close that door if we can ‘cause it is noisy outside [pause] still there but it is not as loud. Okay where were you and how old were you when you heard war was declared and what were your thoughts at the time?
LL: I was, we were at Ballarat on the 3rd of September 1939 I was not quite eh not quite sixteen. I turned sixteen I turned sixteen a couple of weeks after the war was declared like most people I thought or hoped that the war wouldn’t last long and that I wouldn’t be affected. We were so far away that eh it all seemed a bit remote as far as we were concerned. And I certainly didn’t anticipate at that stage. I knew the talk was that kids of eighteen would be called up and I knew then or I thought then, the war would be finished before eh I got eh called up, but it was not to be.
AP: I guess you covered why you joined the air force based on some sort of experience with aeroplanes em why did you move in that direction in some sort of with aircraft. Was there some sort of inspiration that this was going to happen ?
LL: No I think that, I didn’t want to go into the army, the army just seemed to walk everywhere eh the eh hand to hand fighting didn’t sort of attract me. The navy didn’t attract me, I think there is a sort of glamorous feeling about the air force at that time. The Battle of Britain had just been fought and won and the eh airmen were eh I don’t know just a little bit different, and they seemed to just attract me a bit more than the other services.
AP: Can you tell me something about the enlistment process, were there interviews or tests or how did that all happen?
LL: The tests for the army of course was fairly simple, as long as you could stand up and breathe they accepted you for the A
army and that was only for home service. The fellows who wanted to go overseas volunteered for the AIF the call-up was actually for the militia because we didn’t have compulsory service for overseas, eh compulsory callout for overseas service. Eh the air force medical was much stricter, I always remember it was done in eh a place in Russell Street on the corner of Little Column Street were where Preston Motors were for many years after the war [cough] and eh we had eye tests which were particularly hard, they tested your heart and your blood pressure and all that sort of business which seemed a bit unusual for young fellows of eighteen, sixteen, eighteen we were at the time. I passed that and there was a delay of course of some months till they caught up. We were then to be trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme. That was sometime before I was called up, and I actually didn’t go into the air force until December 1942 so it was about twelve months after I volunteered for the air force I got my call-up to report to the service.
AP: Was there anything the air force gave you to do to sort of maintain the interest.
LL: We had to do school, night school, I went to the Essenham High School for two nights a week for about eight or ten weeks eh and we did maths and a few things like that. I can’t recall all the subjects we did, it wasn’t a matter of doing exams or anything. It was just to refresh us from our school days. Did a bit of geometry and angles and things like that, probably preparing us for navigation.
AP: Did you find that sort of training useful, did it help you when you got to your initial training school?
LL: It must have helped at initial training school. I was pretty good at maths even although I say so myself. This always confused me, I was never able to explain it. Two months, after two months at Summers which was the initial training school eh they came out one day, we were all there, they said ‘The following will train as pilots’ and they read a list of names. ‘The following will train as navigators’ they read a list of names and eh ‘the following will train as wireless operators’. And the balance for gunners. How they picked us I don’t know. I can only assume I must have done very, excellently, excellent at maths and those sort of things. Those picked to train as pilots and navigators stayed at Summers for another month. We did a bit of navigation and meteorology and a few things like that. But I, so I think that going back to school, the night school probably helped to refresh an interest in these subjects and it obviously paid dividends as far as I was concerned.
LL: What memories do you have of Summers, of ITS what was a typical day, what things did you do?
AP: Eh a lot of it seemed a waste of time we both knew an aircraft, they didn’t talk about an aircraft, they talked about Morse code and that was terribly important, I couldn’t take a word of Morse code couldn’t take a letter, I couldn’t understand it. Then a couple of nights later, the Aldis lamp I couldn’t even see that, it didn’t register at all. There was no way I was ever going to be a wireless operator and it wasn’t because I wasn’t trying, I just could not, couldn’t get the dots from the dashes in the Morse code. We seemed to do a lot of marching and eh, it was probably very necessary teaching us air force rules and regulations and all that sort of business. After a while you would say, ‘when am I going to see some action, when am I going to do something, when am I going to learn something about flying?’ Particularly once you had been charged to be a pilot you wanted to get on with it. Instead of that we did an extra month eh and then after that extra month I was posted to Benellah.
AR: Benellah was the– ?
LL: Elementary Flying Training School.
AR: What happened there apart from elementary flying training?
LL: Elementary flying training field, the first month we were there. Obviously the weather or something had held up the courses before and we were dragging the chain a bit. For a month we were known as tarmac terriers. We used to hold the wing of the aircraft because of the strong winds and of course Benellah which was a very open aerodrome no runways or anything it was just big one big huge enormous paddock eh and we’d hold, one fellow on either wing, the wing of the aircraft and we’d hold it till it got round there cause the wind would get under it, the aircraft was such a light aircraft, the Tiger Moth and then we would wait till they took off. You turned your back and you would get splattered with little stones and pebbles and that eh. And there would be fellows waiting down the other end when they landed to wait and hold them there and take them round. It was quite an interesting process, we had for half a day and the other half day we did, school, eh lectures on gunnery and eh basic flying without getting in an aircraft eh and navigation and a few things like that, meteorology particularly which was good. That was interesting even although we weren’t flying we saw these aircraft and we knew only in another couple of weeks and we would be there, then we started. We were allotted to an instructor, Jim Pope was my instructor, he was a sergeant a lovely bloke eh we then continued our lectures for half a day and fly for the other half. The next day it would be alternative, you know, flying and then lectures. It was good, I suppose after about eh it’s still sharp in my log book there, must have been twelve or fourteen hours or something went over to Winton one day which was a satellite ‘drome a bit further up the highway with another instructor. After we did one or two circuits and landings he said, ‘take me over there, pull up over there.’ Pointed to a spot where he wanted to go, he said, ‘now’, he said, ‘you are on your own, do three circuits and bumps and then come and pick me up’. I thought ‘goodness gracious me, here I am on my own’, you know, I was ready to go solo. And eh I wasn’t nervous it was just the excitement of it and you know you were concentrating on remembering all the things he told you to do and all that sort of business. I did three circuits and landings and went and picked him up and he said ‘that was good, alright son.’ Then we did eh, I don’t know whether we went back to Benellah, we stayed there, that’s right and he put me out of the aircraft and took another student and eh that was, that was. Then I went back to the normal side of the pad. The next day we done a bit further advanced flying eh cross country, and a few things like that. We were there altogether three months. Normally it would just have been two months, two months flying, but we did three months actually.
AP: What did you think of the Tiger Moth?
LL: Lovely, they were a breeze now you look back on it, in those days it was a pretty big aircraft, here you were sitting in the back seat. There were two seats, one in front, the pilot sat in front there, two little cockpits. Very basic, they had a control column it was just a stick that stuck up, a throttle which you pushed here, it was very, very basic. But we were told nobody had ever been killed in a Tiger Moth, whether that was true or not I don’t know that was, that was and it was good. I remember one day we had to do a cross country, this was sort of a bit scary I thought anyway. A mate of mine we had to go from Benellah to Ochuga [?], Ochuga [?] to Aubrey then from Aubrey back to Benellah. A mate of mine came up to me Tommy Richards he used to live at Clairbourne [?] and he said, ‘you doing this cross country this afternoon?’ I said ‘yes’. He said ‘so am I’ he said, ‘stick with me I know the road.’ He knew the way and then we flew back along the river and then down the highway you weren’t supposed to do that, you were supposed to go that way and the river might have gone down here but we had no problem. Before we left we had the whole thing planned out, had a little map on our knee and had it all. We got full marks for our navigation but it was only that Tommy had lived at eh, where did he, Clairbourne.
AP: You were talking while they were about no one had crashed a Tiger Moth. Did you encounter any accidents or high jinks or near misses or things, did you know- ?
LL: No, not while I was there, no, no. The biggest problem I reckon and they warned us about it was low flying, we used to [unclear] go down low and then we will frighten this farmer down there. There might have been electric wires going across you know. And we had hanging down the wheels, they weren’t retractable wheels on a, on a eh Tiger Moth. We did a bit of low flying everybody did but eh no I didn’t go as low as some of the blokes did you know. They used to try and be real smart and fly at ground level almost but nobody while I was there.
AP: You go from FTS, next step is a service Flying Training School?
LL: Service Flying Training School we got some leave and got a telegram to report to the RTR expenses troop and eh the smarties knew where we were going. There is always a smarty in every crowd all lined up they call and he’s here and he’s there and we are going to Sydney that means we are going overseas. ‘How do you know we are going to Sydney? That’s where the bloody train’s going.’ ‘Oh right oh we are going to Sydney’, and we went to Sydney. We went to Barfield Park and eh there they kitted us out and eh ‘Don’t think because you are here that you are going overseas, you could be going to Queensland.’ Somebody said, ‘well that’s strange what did they give us Australia badges to put on there’ and then they said, ‘you have got these Australia badges but don’t put them on until you get overseas.’ That’s in case we are going overseas, I don’t know. Well we were there about three or four weeks I think eh and we did nothing and that was pretty awful. And what they do, they were waiting for a ship eh [cough] and eventually they got us all lined up one day with the kit bags we put on a train and we went to Brisbane and put on this ship there the Metsonia and eh [cough] we sailed out down the Brisbane River and out we just got outside the harbour and looking over the side we could see a submarine. ‘Goodness me I hope it is one of ours’ or was one of the Americans ‘cause we didn’t have any submarines at the time and eh we headed, they didn’t tell us where we were going. We had a fair idea it was Canada. We went to New Zealand first and picked up some New Zealanders and then went up the west coast of South America and eh North America and landed at San Francisco. At San Francisco they put us on a train, we went to Vancouver eh got off the train there and put us on one of the Canadian Pacific Railway trains. We went to a place called Edmonton in Alberta. Eh that was quite strange because we didn’t know exactly what was going to happen from there on in. There was a big heap of us there and after three or four or five days I suppose eh we got another posting. I was posted to a place called Dauphin which was in Manitoba which didn’t mean much to me at that stage. Manitoba is actually the central province of the whole of Canada. Dauphin was about ah, suppose it would be about a hundred and fifty mile north west of Winnipeg which was the capital. Then the train went through, there was nothing in Dauphin apart from the air force base and the little village really [cough]. And so when we got there eh we found that we were going to fly Cessna Cranes which was a twin-engine, little twin-engine aircraft, lovely aircraft to fly, lovely and eh that was where eh he made the point there before in crashes in Tiger Moths. I had an Australian instructor, there were a couple of Australian Instructors on the station the rest of them were Canadians. The Canadians were lovely people. The officers were friendly, they didn’t muck around with formalities and that, it was real good. Eh this Australian instructor I had was a Sergeant Lawley, Lawla, Lawley I have got it down, there we are. He didn’t want to be an instructor he wanted to get at the overseas and he was a most unfriendly fellow, but you know I was coping with him and eh one morning we got up and he and another trainee pilot had been killed night flying. It could have been me and eh and that was about the first experience I’d had with anybody sort of eh death, you know. I was nineteen years of age and you were not used to it. Anyway they gave them a full military funeral eh which was good. Then I got a Canadian instructor and then it was real great after that it was wonderful and eh I sailed through the rest of the course. And I graduated in September ’43 as a sergeant pilot, I reckon we were pretty good.
AP: So then comes a boat across to the UK presumably.
LL: Yeah, we got a bit of liberty and went down to New York and Washington which we could ill afford and eh we went to Halifax in Nova Scotia and caught a, and got a boat to, I can’t remember the name of the ship we got to England we went to England in [loud background noise].
AP: We might just wait for a moment I think [laughs].
AP: So we were talking about a boat across to UK, you were just about to embark at Halifax.
LL: The interesting part about that trip was the ship that we went on, I think it might have been the Aquitania. It was a big ship, a lot of Americans on board [doorbell interruption; laugh].
AP: Anyway let’s get back to the boat [laugh] the Aquitania.
LL: And eh there were a lot of Americans from the mid-west not only had they not been on a ship, they never even seen the ocean. A lot of those kids, they were sick all over, oh! it was awful and what we did because we were too fast for a convoy we went on our own. But they zig-zagged all day, that way and then that way all during the daylight hours eh because it takes a certain time for a submarine to line them up to fire a torpedo at them and that’s what. That didn’t worry us but it was most unusual and when it got dark we went whoosh straight ahead. And eh we lived in pretty awful conditions, it was wartime we had hammocks and had a long table that came out from the deck, from the side of the ship and if there were six blokes at the table, three either side you had to find your accommodation so one bloke would sleep on this bench there another back there. Two blokes one would sleep on the table and the other three would be in hammocks above. That’s how, and we couldn’t have showers, we couldn’t shave properly it was pretty awful. We landed at Liverpool and eh went eh got on a train, went to Brighton. We got off the train at Brighton and there was a fellow there, he was a Wing Commander Andy Swan, he was a Scotchman in the RAAF. He had apparently been in the Black Watch for many years before the war done his time, retired, came out to Australia to live and the war started. He applied for a commission and got a commission, they sent him back to England, he was ground staff what we call a shiny bummer ISD interested in special duties. He was a wing commander and he was a dreadful man, dreadful fellow. He saw us, we had been five days on the ship, unshaven, unwashed and feeling very, very lousy and he berated us on the Brighton railway station, platform. Eh he had us smartened up within no time at all, we were going to do this and what a disgrace we were. Anyway the following morning eh, no two mornings later we had a general parade in the hall and there was the padre there, the Church of England padre a fellow called Dave Bear, you might have heard the blokes talk about Dave Bear he was a marvellous fellow he put everybody at ease you know. He said ‘there are three religions in the services, RC’s odds and sods and the other buggers’, he says ‘I am one of the other buggers, if you want anything just come and see me.’ He had a sign above his shop, his store ‘abandon rank all ye who enter here’. And that is what he was like. He used to give advice on a charge or anything like that or help you to write letters home or whatever you wanted. He was a great bloke, didn’t make any difference what you were he was just a wonderful fellow. He virtually did sort of a lot, undid a lot of the evil things this Andy Swan had done. They tell a story of the fellow who finished his tour and is on his way back home and Brighton is what they called 11 PDRC, Personnel Dispatch and Reception Centre. So any Australian airmen who went into England went through Brighton and when they were going home they went through Brighton and they knew and this fellow had taken the stiffening out of his cap which we all used to do, made us look a bit racy. Swan pulled him up in the street one day and said, ‘where is the stiffening in your cap?’ ‘I lost it over fucking Berlin’ whoops and kept walking. And then after we had been there for a while I got posted. I think the first posting was to a place called Fairoaks which was just near Windsor Castle, pre-war it would have been the King’s private aerodrome. This was just a way of sort of getting us back into flying again and there we flew Tiger Moths for a while. Eh back to Brighton then went off and done a PT course and then we went off and did some more flying eventually I had been up to Scotland, I was flying up there at a place called Banff eh BANFF [spelt out] was out from Aberdeen, from Inverness, out from Inverness the Scotch people were lovely eh and eh got a posting then to eh Lichfield which was 27 Operational Training Unit. The OTU was where you formed a crew. Lichfield was an Australian OTU in that all the aircrew were Australian so we got I got an Australian crew. It was an interesting thing we had the pilots in the centre, the navigators in one corner and the wireless operators and the bomb aimers and the, and the gunners in another corner [cough]. They said, ‘alright, pilots you have got to go and pick a crew.’ It was as simple as that, I didn’t know anybody who was a navigator but a bloke came up to me, ‘you don’t look a bad sort of a bloke’, and he was a wireless op, he was a bomb aimer, a fellow named Bill Hudson and eh Bill had been a used car salesman in Sydney before the war. Eh he had all the fun in the world and he said ‘stay here’, he said, ‘I will get you a navigator, I know a bloke who is a good navigator.’ He didn’t of course, he went off and he brought back a bloke and he introduced him ‘This is Ron Harmes, so wait there,’ he said. ‘I’ll get you a couple of gunners’ so he went off and got a couple of gunners. I said to him, ‘I am supposed to be picking this crew.’ And he said ‘I got it for you skipper don’t worry about it’. Then he got a eh, he got a wireless operator so eh, here we were we had a crew and I had nothing to do with it, we turned out to be good mates, we all got on very well together. A couple of them were different they eh, but we all sort of mixed in and did our job and eh. And eh there we flew Wellingtons, they were a big, heavy lumbering aircraft they really were. They had been used as a bomber during the early stages of the war but they couldn’t carry enough bombs and eh they couldn’t carry great distances, like a lot of the British aircraft the Whitleys and those sort of aircraft, eh Hampdens, twin-engined aircraft and that eh, just hopeless and the Germans had stole the marks on them because the Germans before the war, once the Nazis got in control they said, ‘who cares about the Geneva Convention, we will build the type of aircraft we need to win a war.’ The British they didn’t, they kept, the wing span couldn’t be more than a hundred feet. That is why when they eventually got the Lancasters and the Halifaxes and wing spans more than a hundred feet they couldn’t fit in the hangers because they had built the hangers to take aircraft with wing span of less than a hundred feet. The Germans it didn’t worry them they had aircraft with wing spans greater than a hundred feet. It was a silly situation but that was the way they operated eh and eh we flew these Wellingtons for a while and we were lucky and Bill was a good bomb aimer and we got highly commended for our bombing activities at training. Then eh I don’t know how many hours we did there, it’s in the log book there, we were posted to a place called Riccall eh, which was a Heavy Conversion Unit. I had been flying Tiger Moths and Cessna Cranes, and Ansons and Oxfords and what have you, you know. Then on the Wellington then boom, four-engined aircraft, it was like eh, like riding a bike and then getting driving train or something it was just sort of an enormous thing really. There we picked up our flight engineer. There weren’t any Australian engineers so we got an Englishman he was the only Englishman in the crew, good bloke too. I don’t know how many hours we did there but that is all in the log book. Then one day they said ‘right Larmer, your crew is posted to a squadron.’ ‘Oops, yeah okay, when do we go?’ ‘This afternoon’ [laugh]. So there we were on a train and eh they met us with a truck. We thought, by this time I got commission and eh they picked us up in a truck. Another crew arrived at the same time as us, this was an English crew. It was an English squadron but this other crew was an English crew, I only had the one Englishman and I, we were the only Australian crew on 51 Squadron at the time. There had been some there before and eh, we went to the orderly room, they told us where we were billeted told me what time dinner was in the officers’ mess and all that sort of business and report to the, you are in B Flight report to B Flight Office at nine o’ clock tomorrow morning. That I did and eh the squadron leader what was his name, Lodge he had nothing doing today. He introduced me to the other blokes, other pilots that were there. The bomb aimers had reported to the bombing leader and the navs to the nav leader and what have you eh, and then he called me back and said I will get you an air test, eleven o’clock. I got the crew and we done and air test at eleven o’clock. I don’t know what the point of it was, they had just done some repairs to an aircraft. Anyway we just hung around then for a couple of days. They said if you are wanted for flying, for an operation your name will be on a list in the officers’ mess. That was up at five o’clock at night you know, a couple of, we had been there about three days, and I got the list five o’clock you know. The following crews will report to the briefing room at 0600 hours tomorrow and my name was there. I went down to the officers’ mess and they said, ‘yes we’ve seen it’, so they knew, all the crew knew. And that was it were there, ready for our first operation which was a bit strange. Nobody took any notice of you, we were just another crew there and nobody sort of put their arm on your shoulder and said ‘you will be right son.’ Just eh, you were briefed, you had a meal and boom, off you go. They said, ‘you go and get dressed, you go and do this, you go and pick up your parachute, you do this, there will be a truck will take you out to your aircraft which was at your dispersal point.’ And that was it. Then eh we did another daylight and then a couple of nights later, a couple of nights later there was a list up eh one morning that there was a briefing at two o’clock and I was flying second pilot with an experienced crew. My crew weren’t going on it, just me and this other pilot went with another crew and he was in C Flight, I was in B Flight. That was a bit strange I had nothing to do except sit next to the pilot and you saw everything that was going on, the rest of the time when you were flying you were doing something, you were busy, you didn’t have time to be worried or frightened or anything like that. I don’t think I was frightened actually on this particular night. But you could see all the anti-aircraft shells exploding all around you and what have you. We got back and we were just taxiing around to a dispersal and we heard this other aircraft calling to eh traffic control V-Victor or J-Johnnie or whatever it was. ‘V-Victor overshoot.’ They had come in a bit high and they were overshooting, the second pilot, the other bloke that had arrived the same time as me, he was still a sergeant. The bomb aimer used to sit next to the pilot on take-off and landing and eh the pilot would open the throttles but then he would have to control, take the control column. So the second dickie used to hold the, hold the throttles open, apparently this bloke didn’t . He’d opened, the pilot had opened it, got onto the thing, the throttles came back, they only got, anyway it crashed, they were all killed, eight of them it was. Nothing was mentioned at debriefing, and the next day at lunch time I said ‘did somebody, what are the funeral arrangements.’ He said ‘what?’ I said, ‘the funeral arrangements for those blokes that were killed.’ He said, ‘there is no funeral, there is a war on son.’ Stone me you know these blokes that were killed in our back yard just across the road from the end of the runway. They buried them, slight, you know quickly eh but they didn’t get any military funeral or what have you it was just ‘there is a war on son.’ And that was it.
AP: Living conditions at Snaith, how, how and where did you live?
LL: Well we were billeted away from the station, of course everybody had a bike eh we were somewhere down near the local village and [cough] just had living accommodation there and as an officer and aircrew we got eh sheets which normally you didn’t get in the air force. Eh in the mess we got, we could get fresh milk and eh before and after a raid we got a meal of bacon and eggs which were luxuries in wartime England. The rest of the time eh the billets were pretty ordinary but you know you got used to them. I could never front breakfast, on one station we were on, this was just after the war we were at Leconfield and one morning for breakfast they’d have kippered herrings and the next morning would be baked beans on toast, they were, I could cop the baked beans on toast but not the kippered herrings, they were. We used to have to wait for the NAAFI which was the restaurant or café opened about eh half past ten or something to get some breakfast [cough] but basically the living conditions were pretty crude eh but that was wartime England you know, they, they couldn’t produce their own food, it all had to be imported and there were much more important things to eh to bring in to the country. But you know we survived, we complained about it mainly because we were eh used to Australian food and Australian conditions. But basically it was pretty good.
AP: Just sort of routing of that for a bit, what were your first impressions of war time England, what did you think, presumably this was the first time you were overseas?
LL: Well eh it was quite a shock, it took a bit of getting used to. When we got there in the November eh it was eh they had two hours daylight saving. Naturally you know that was to eh, you couldn’t have a shower, in Brighton the Australian Air Force had taken over two hotels, the Grand and the Metropole eh and they were eh big, real big hotels. They had stopped the lifts working, if you were on the third floor you walked up and down to the [cough] you could have a bath but the water could only ever come to a certain level. There were all those sort of restrictions you ah you put up with really. You got used to them I suppose after a while mainly because you saw the English and eh they were, they were probably worse off than we were, you know they were on rations and we didn’t have, when we used to go on leave, they used to give us the ration to give to the people we were staying with or wherever we were staying would want ration tickets. But eh you know you couldn’t drive a car, there was no petrol available for private, well there was for doctors and things like that but basically there were all those sort of restrictions. There were blackouts and we had a pretty miserable sort of an existence we found but you got used to it after, well a couple of years I was there, just over two years, just on two years, it was you got used to these sort of things. We were pretty well received the Australians they liked us, they thought we were colonials still but I think some of them still do probably. But eh we went, we were well received on the squadron eh mainly because they didn’t know how to take us. They were eh, we didn’t salute officers, we’d salute wing commanders and above but eh you were supposed to salute squadron leaders and you were supposed to salute flight lieutenants. If you were acting as a flight commander something like that, those sort of thing you know used to rile us. We used to go out of our way [emphasis] not to and that really used to get them going. They didn’t like us at all, and they didn’t know how to discipline us really, they were frightened, and we used to tell them we were subject to RAAF control from and they had headquarters in London and they would have to go through them, but they didn’t know really [cough]. But we survived I suppose.
AP: What sort of things did you do to relax if you weren’t on operations. Where did you go on leave, even not on leave, just when not on duty?
LL: Eh, not much at all, you used to hang around. When we were on the squadron and eh you see that there was nothing going today or nothing going tomorrow day, tomorrow eh you’d go to the pub in the village or you would stay in the mess. They might have a few drinks in the mess eh but eh basically we didn’t do anything with, we didn’t play tennis or cricket or any of those sort of things. I don’t know how we kept fit but we did [laugh].
AP: What sort of things happened in the officers’ mess, what did it look like first of all? What went on there?
LL: Eh very sort of strict, you didn’t sit at this table because this was where the senior officers sat and eh you as a new bloke could sit at that table up there you know. A couple of nights after I had been there a couple of days after I had been there I sat at the wrong table and they told me you know. I couldn’t say that it made any difference where you were sitting but that was what the sort of thing. This is where the senior officers sit. Not you know, when I got on the Squadron I was a pilot officer you know I hadn’t even graduated up to flying officer eh and that sort of thing sort of got to you a bit. I, I went into the flight office one morning, used to go in there, the flight commander you know, used to give him a sort of half salute. He was pretty good Colin Lodge, Plug Lodge they used to call him and eh he was on leave. I had been having a drink in the mess with this fellow I can’t think of his name now, eh he was a flight lieutenant and I had been drinking with him in the mess having a couple of beers with him. Eh I went to the flight office the next morning, I walked in and he is sitting behind the desk and eh I said ‘hello.’ And he said ‘you haven’t saluted.’ I said ‘I don’t have to salute flight lieutenants.’ And he said ‘I am acting squadron leader.’ I said ‘well you haven’t got the bloody rank, not showing it.’ Stupid stubborn you know, he said ‘I am acting flight commander and you are supposed to salute me.’ Oh I probably was supposed to salute the acting flight commander but I, as I say I had been having a drink with him the night before. And he said ‘go outside and come in again and salute me.’ I said ‘right ho.’ I went outside and went down the mess and had a shower. He never spoke to me again, never spoke to me again. Just unbelievable you know, that was the sort of thing. Eh we had one, this Bill Hudson I was telling you about the bomb aimer, we came back from a raid one day eh and after when you came back you dumped all your gear and what have you and you go up for a debriefing and you sit around the table, the intelligence officer sits opposite eh while you are waiting to go in, other crews that are there before you there had been a bit of a hold up and eh on our squadron the padres would give you either eh you could have a cocoa, or a tea, a coffee or something like that and eh an over proof rum. Well I had only one over proof rum, it nearly blew my bloody head off that was all. On this particular day, the eh two gunners didn’t drink and the wireless operator didn’t drink so Bill had two or three over proof rums. And we get in there and he was always a bit of a yapper our Bill eh there was a very attractive WAAF intelligence officer she was a flight lieutenant or a flight officer as they call them eh and eh she spoke to me first and how did we find it over the target area and did we this and that, one thing and another you know [cough] eh and then she said to the navigator and what about, did you have any trouble with your Gee box various [unclear] so and so. And then Bill he was looking at her sort of making a play for her, he had no hope and she didn’t wake up you know. He started to tell her about over the target area. Now there was flak coming up and eh and then the fighters and then the anti, the search lights and he was wondering how he was able to do it. He was telling her this terrible bloody story and we were just about killing ourselves laughing you know and all of a sudden she woke up. It was a daylight raid and Bill had search lights coming into his eyes you know. She didn’t think it was funny at all, I said, ‘don’t take any notice of him you know, just write down that we dropped our bombs and we got good photos of the target we reckon and so and so’. No. She wanted to put him on a charge eh for misleading and all that sort of business. Anyway I, I talked to her for some considerable time to try and break her down and I thought I had got, anyway I got to the flight office the next morning and the eh Squadron Leader Lodge said ‘what was this with your bomb aimer last night?’ [emphasis] I said, ‘oh no.’ she had reported it, he she demanded he put him on a charge. I had great difficulty restraining him from putting Bill on a charge and eh that gave us a much worse reputation than we deserved, you know. We were a good crew and we were doing a good job but eh just Bill had, had two over proof rums gone to his ruddy head. I will tell you one story it didn’t happen on our squadron eh but we heard about it in York or one of the local pubs or something. Eh after briefing and the mail all that sort of business, and you got out of the aircraft and had about quarter of an hour, twenty minutes and waited around, you put your stuff in the aircraft and the blokes would have a smoke, had a smoke. Just stand around and sort of relax waiting for time as I say, better get ready and so I can get out there, you know what time you had to take off. This wireless operator went up and eh and he said eh to the pilot, ‘I am not going skip.’ He said, ‘what do you mean you are not going?’ He said ‘I am not going’ he said. ‘You’ve got to go.’ He said, ‘I am not going.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I am not going.’ That’s all he said, so they sent for the flight commander and the flight commander sent one of the ground staff blokes off on a bike to get the -. He arrived out in his car and ‘you’ve got to go.’ ‘I’m not going.’ And that’s all he said, he wouldn’t give him any explanation or reason or anything you know, ‘I am just not going.’ Eh so they said, ‘you will be charged with desertion.’ ‘I am not going’, he said. They charged him with desertion, they locked him up eh they got a relief wireless operator and they were shot down and all killed. Eh he was court martialled and he got ten years in a military prison. I understand that he got out eh shortly after the war finished and they gave them an amnesty those blokes [cough]. But apparently from what I heard, what I subsequently found out later on eh that was all he ever said, ‘I am not going.’ He didn’t tell them why or, or that he wasn’t. He’d been, it wasn’t his first flight, he’d been before, eh two or three times before eh he just said he wasn’t going. Now I don’t know if he had a premonition or what but eh he survived and the other blokes didn’t and that was it. There is not much more I can tell you Adam, I think.
AP: There is one other thing, well there is two questions in particular that I have for you but one I have find out is, on your wings here is a little Guinness pin.
LL: [laugh]
AP: I am guessing there is a story behind that.
LL: On one leave we went to, went to Ireland eh and eh and one day there was a tour of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. We had to go over in civvies but they knew we were airmen because we had our air force trousers and open neck shirt, blue shirt and sports coat which the army, air force store had provided for us. That was the only way we could get into, get into eh Southern Ireland because it was a neutral country. Eh this fellow said ‘you want to, give you this you know, Guinness badge, it will bring you luck, wear it for luck.’ I used to wear it on my battle dress, I just pinned it onto the eh onto the wing after I got rid of the battle dress at the end of the war, that was all.
AP: Been there ever since.
LL: [laugh]
AP: Okay there is another question that I want to ask as well. Was there any superstitions or [? voodoos] on 51 Squadron, rituals that people would do that you were aware of, for luck I suppose?
LL: No one thing they did eh they did, we had to do thirty flights, thirty trips for a, for a, for a tour eh and anybody that was doing their thirtieth trip, you knew but you would never say to the bloke ‘is this your last trip?’ I said it to one bloke ‘is this your last trip?’ [emphasis] He very near hit me. That was a very bad sign, no I don’t think there was, don’t think there was anything like that eh, not that I can recall, no.
AP: Okay. Final question and probably the most important em, how in your view is Bomber Command remembered, what sort of legacy?
LL: We fellows in Bomber Command eh [pause] during the war you didn’t sort of think much about how good you were and all that sort of business but when you saw the figures at the end of the war of the casualties and eh this is a classic example. The casualties there, just the Australian casualties that is eh when you saw you realised they had a loss rate of something round about forty per cent. It was a bit higher for the English, forty two or three per cent you know it was pretty awful and eh Harris was treated very shabbily by the British Government at the end of the war. Harris apparently, not apparently actually he was a brilliant organiser absolutely brilliant but apparently he was a dreadful bastard he used to argue eh and he would refuse. They would tell him a target say on Monday, they would have to get a couple of days in advance obviously to plan up and how many aircraft they would need, which way they would go and all that sort of business. Eh and he would tell them he wouldn’t go, that ‘we are not going to that place.’ You know. Just refused to, he would argue with Churchill, he would argue with the Air Board, he would argue with the Air Ministry eh he was one of those sort of fellows but he was always right. They wouldn’t admit it of course but eh ‘we are not going there, you want us to go there because this suits you after the war you know, so we are not going there, but we will go there.’ They said ‘no we don’t want to go there till next week.’ ‘Well we are going this week.’ You know, and he would plan it and that would be a very successful raid and it would have done the job you know eh. And at the end of the war all the chiefs of all the commands like Fighter Command, Coastal Command and Training Command were all made Marshals of the Royal Air Force, Harris wasn’t they left his as an air chief marshal. He resigned his commission immediately got on an aeroplane and went, took his wife and daughter to South America, to eh South Africa eh I don’t know whether he ever went back. Somebody told me once that he thought years afterwards that they eh had relented and made him a marshal of the Royal Air Force. I am not sure about that I never heard anything about that. Eh and eh that without any publicity the fact that these three blokes got, or four blokes got air, or marshals of the Royal Air Force which was equivalent of a field marshal eh and Harris didn’t. We all felt a bit, ‘is that what they think of us, is that really?’ We had the idea that we won the war, Harris gave us this impression. We are doing this as opposed to the American Eighth Air Force eh, and they were sort of a bit at loggerheads, they didn’t do any daylight, eh night time flights they only did daylights the eh Americans and we did daylights and nights you know, whatever it didn’t make any difference. We went out over the North Sea and fly for hours over the North Sea without any landmarks eh to check your position eh. We reckoned that Bomber Command had done an enormous job and they had, there was no two ways about it eh and a lot of us sort of felt well, the bulk of Bomber Command felt let down, eh really. Fighter Command got a lot of publicity early in the war Churchill went on with this ‘never was so much owed by so much, many to so few’. Eh but their work finished in September ’41. And they didn’t really do anything further until eh the invasion. They went over with, a bit of protective force for the invasion forces but basically they didn’t do anything. Eh we never had any fighter escort, never, the Americans had fighter escorts they used to take them over there and then meet them on the way back but we never had any. So as far as Fighter Command was concerned they did nothing [emphasis] for three years during the war. Bomber Command flew in operational flights from the day the war started or the day after the war started until the day after the war finished, really. So that was a bit of a let-down, really. And then eh persevered it took seventy odd, sixty, seventy years before we got a little clasp that said Bomber Command, the Bomber Command Association like the old boys of Bomber Command like their association in England, they tried for years to eh get some recognition and they eh tried to get us awarded the eh congress, eh the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, CGM, eh they eventually knocked it back completely to ‘no’, said logistically couldn’t be done and all this sort of business and they went on and had a million reasons for it. And then they said well eh ‘we’ve got these ribbons.’ But no what does that show eh I’ve got a ribbon France, Germany Star which shows that I was in operations, but doesn’t show that I was in Bomber Command. So they said ‘we will give you a Bomber Command [doorbell interruption]. That’s typical.
LL: I rang our honours and awards section in Canberra week after week after week and I’ve given up. ‘Well’ they said, ‘your application is on hold.’ And I said, ‘why would it be on hold?’ ‘I don’t know why Mr Larmer but it is on hold.’ I said, ‘well get it bloody off hold.’ Eventually she then came back a couple of days later, ‘no, no it’s ok.’ I said ‘there couldn’t have been any bloody doubt about it, you know. You have got the exact figures and you have a copy of my log book’ and all that sort of business. ‘We are sorry about that Mr Larmer.’ ‘Now’, I said, ‘now how long is it going to take?’ ‘Oh it shouldn’t be very long now.’ Anyway eh I’d been waiting, oh, from the time I applied it was seventeen months and a mate of mine said, ‘why don’t you get onto John Find?’ I said, ‘no, no John Find couldn’t do anything.’ Anyway the next thing I know I get a ring from John Find’s producer. And eh I said ‘who told you?’ ‘Mr Bill Burke a friend of mine’. I said ‘Oh no, I said I told him I wasn’t, didn’t want to.’ And she said, ‘John would like to speak to you about it.’ Anyway he spoke to me and he sort of eh said, ‘are you serious, you know you have been waiting seventeen months?’ and I said, ‘yeah’ I said, ‘it doesn’t have to be fairly long, because I am ninety years of age, if it don’t get it soon it doesn’t matter.’ And he said, ‘no we’ll get it.’ And eh anyway he rang me back the next day, she rang me back the next day she said ‘John wants to speak to you again.’ He said ‘I have been speaking to the assistant minister eh, and eh he said within six weeks.’ And I said ‘ I don’t know what you drink in that place, but if you believe him, you know.’ I said ‘they won’t have it in six weeks.’ Two weeks later I got it, we got it you know. He rang me and said ‘Oh Mr Larmer your clasp for your Bomber Command clasp is coming through, you know it will be sent it down to you in the next week.’ Two weeks it took and I spoke to John Find afterwards to thank him and I said ‘I, I can’t understand it you know’. He said ‘Laurie they are frightened of us, we can give them bad publicity’, he said, ‘they don’t want any.’ He said, ‘we could have made them look very foolish.’ He said ‘and that is what we were prepared to do’, he said, ‘and they know it’, he said, ‘it is an awful way to exist.’ He said, ‘you couldn’t embarrass them but we could.’ Isn’t that terrible really and that was the thing. I wasn’t so much the fault of the people here in Australia, the people in England hadn’t done anything about it. It took an assistant minister here to get onto somebody in England to get them. They only had to put a fifty or sixty or a hundred of them in a box you know, it wouldn’t be as big as that, to get them out here and that’s what happened. So you know that’s what happened. Overall eh we reckon that Bomber Command and probably we are a bit unreasonable but I reckon we got a bit of a, you know rough end of the pineapple. Because eh towards the end of the war all the operations in the last two years of the war all the operations with Bomber Command all the news on the, on the BBC was six hundred of their aircraft went to Nuremburg last night, ten of our aircraft are missing. That was another thing, ten of our aircraft, but it was seventy men. Even meant you know you go on a raid and say three out of their aircraft went to Dortmund and they did bomb the railway yards and whatever they might have done you know. Five of their aircraft are missing that was thirty five men and that, that sort of eh took a bit of getting used to. Eh I could see their point from a psychological point of view everything was done to protect the morale, or build up the morale of the British people eh but eh it gave you the impression that aeroplanes were more important than blokes [ironic laugh] probably in war time they had plenty of blokes but were short of aircraft you know. There you are, alright you have heard all of that?
AP: I think we have heard all of that. Thank you very much it has been a pleasure for the last couple of hours.
LL: [laugh]

Collection

Citation

Adam Purcell, “Interview with Lawrence Larmer,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 20, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3444.

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