He wrote a letter which he took to the German consulate in Melbourne and asked if they could give him the names of the mayors of each of the nine German cities he had bombed and if they could recommend a translator. The consul-general immediately contacted the German ambassador in Canberra and, after vetting Laurie’s story, they translated the letters and sent each to the appropriate mayor with an accompanying letter from Dr Christoph Muller, the German ambassador to Australia. The embassy also contacted the Australian embassy in Berlin and the Australian War Memorial. Colonel Carsten Knorr, German air force and German defence attaché to Australia, was the liaison between Laurie and the embassy and he and his family were to become new and treasured friends.
In part Laurie’s letter said: “I cannot recall the military reason for the raid, and I make no apologies for it. But I deeply and truly regret that we were responsible for the deaths and injuries of so many innocent civilians.”
He was surprised by the responses he received, the lord mayor of Dortmund, Ulrich Sierau, wrote: “From today’s perspective we celebrate the end of WWII 70 years ago as the liberation of Germany from the Nazi dictatorship, even though it was undoubtedly associated with huge losses and sacrifices among the civilian population.” And from Harald Jaschke, the mayor of Boizenburg: “I would not like to live in a world that is not free, in a world where millions of people are pursued and killed because of their race, religion, colour, political opinion or sexual preference.”
In 2018 at the age of 95, Laurie visited three of these cities, the mayors showed him their new prosperous cities and arranged for him to address student and community groups, his letters were used extensively in school events in these towns. The local papers carried the story of his letters and his visits.
These responses and seeing how well these cities had been rebuilt helped to put Laurie’s mind at ease.
But he was more than a returned serviceman. He believed strongly in giving back and recently received an OAM for services to the community.
His interest in thoroughbred racing lasted his entire life and for many years he held membership of all the Victorian racing clubs, he was also a member of the Thoroughbred Club. He had many friends in the industry and shared ownership of a few horses in recent years. There was a time when he wouldn’t consider missing a midweek or weekend race meeting. Age did slow him, but it was only last year he was still attending Flemington meetings.
His other great passion was the Australian Labor Party. He had a keen interest in politics and was a proud life member of the ALP, he regularly attended branch meetings until 2022 and, it would be fair to say, always had an opinion to offer!
His memory rarely faltered, and he remained actively engaged in the news and current affairs and doing the daily Wordle until the end. He was 99 years and seven months when he died and, as a staunch republican, he was clear he wasn’t waiting for a letter from the king if he had made the century.
His friend Colonel Knorr represented the German ambassador at Laurie’s funeral in April and acted as a pallbearer, the German consul-general Michael Pearce (Melbourne) and his deputy were also in attendance.
Laurie never wanted to be thought a hero as he had done what he was ordered to do during the war. He was so grateful for the understanding of the German people he met and wanted this to be recognised. His most fervent wish was that the futility of war would always be remembered.
Laurie is survived by his three daughters, Anne, Bernadette and Margaret, son-in-law Peter, great-grandson James and sister, Valda. Pauline died in 2017.
Anne, Bernadette and Margaret wrote this tribute.
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