A decorated World War II heavy bomber pilot has cleared his conscience 70 years after the war’s end, by penning an apology to the German towns he bombed.
Retired Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot Lawrence Larmer, 92, this year received France’s highest military decoration — the Legion of Honour — for his service in Bomber Command, but said he still had something niggling at him.
“I’m getting older, and for some time the thought kept coming back to me, ‘how would I have felt if the Japanese had bombed Melbourne and what if I’d been killed?'” Mr Larmer said.
Knowing I’d bombed German cities, I had been responsible for the deaths of a lot of innocent men, women and children … I felt sorry for what had happened.
“I thought ‘golly, what will I do? I’ll write to these people and tell them’.”
In a letter distributed via Germany’s ambassador to Australia, Mr Larmer addressed the citizens of several German cities he had bombed, including Wangerooge, Boizenburg, Hagen and Dortmund.
Mr Larmer said he had already received responses from six local mayors and was deeply relieved to receive forgiveness and gratitude from them.
“Some said their grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles and aunties had been killed. But none of them said ‘you dirty rotten so-and-so’,” Mr Larmer said.
In one letter, the mayor of Wangerooge wrote of Mr Larmer’s apology: “This raises hope that war must not happen again at any time. Your letter became a part of this hope in the minds of our young people.”
The letter was accompanied by photographs and a tourist brochure to demonstrate how well the city had rebuilt itself since the wartime bombings.
Another letter, from the mayor of Dortmund, spoke of how 93 per cent of the city had been bombed in WWII, but was now a thriving home to 600,000 people.
“After the war, we were given the opportunity to rebuild our city within a free and democratic country, which could not have happened if the Allied Forces had not defeated us,” the mayor wrote.
“So your mission with Bomber Command of the RAF served a good purpose.”
During the war, German cities were considered legitimate targets for bombing raids because Bomber Command had been tasked with destroying industrial districts as part of its military strategy.
The bombing of German cities killed between 305,000 and 600,000 civilians.
More than 3,000 Australians who served in RAF Bomber Command also died during the raids.
Mr Larmer said he despaired that the world had not learnt from the devastation of the bombings.
“Every day we are going to war still, aren’t we? I don’t know if we’ll ever learn.”