In the midst of World War II, Albany local Murray Maxton would have never expected to bump into his brother Eric Maxton in a cafe in the middle of London.
After celebrating their unlikely reunion and getting into trouble for not reporting back to base, the Maxton brothers ended up flying together with the RAAF Bomber Command and completed 30 bombing operations against Nazi Germany.
They are believed to be the only two Australian brothers to fly in combat together during WWII.
Eric’s eldest son, David Maxton, describes the pair as “inextricably connected”, but with very different personalities. Finding each other helped them get through the war, according to David.
“In their post-war years, they were never far apart physically and spiritually,” he said.
“Real bonded spirits.
“Both of them didn’t know where the other was in England and they were delighted to catch up with each other…it was just before their posting to the Australian 460 squadron.
“They weren’t allowed to write back home to tell their parents they were together.”
From working the land with horse and cart and attending a ‘bush school’ of only 12 children in Kalgan, the Maxton brothers followed in their dad and uncles’ footsteps and signed up for the RAAF.
“All of a sudden they were thrown completely out of that lifestyle, going across to England and realising ‘gosh this is war here’,” David said.
“In those days, signing up was the thing to be done.
“They were very young, the whole crew were.
“My dad used to tell me lots of war stories and my uncle was quite a character and he told tales, they got up to a bit of mischief.”
The brothers ended up flying together because of a bit of luck and a shortage of skilled air crew.
David said the pair were aged 20 and 23 when they signed up and felt the consequences of war for years after it finished.
“In later years I know it affected dad,” he said.
“He would go and see some guys he knew, and they were burnt quite badly and things like that.
“About them bombing civilians, that affected him a lot, but at that time they were just doing their job and when they were 20,000 ft up at night-time they’ve got no idea what’s below them.
“They thought they were bombing industrial targets.
“I think they were also a bit concerned that they were over in England fighting for England and yet Australia was getting into trouble with Japan.”
The pair were part of the aircraft team who flew one of the heavy bombers, ‘D for Dog’, based at RAAF Binbrook in England.
For their role in liberating France from the occupying German forces, the brothers were awarded the Legion of Honour in 2014.
“One of the most endearing things I think I saw was at the presentation of the Legion of Honour where these two guys were on the lectern telling a few stories and they were just like two kids,” David said.
“It was lovely, and in the end everyone stood up and gave them a standing ovation.
“For them it meant a hell of a lot because they’d gone through many years of being despised.”
A family of soldiers, David says “flying is in [his] blood” and also spent many years serving his country.
A heart-warming moment he said he will always treasure is flying his dad and uncle around Albany in 2014.
The two brothers have both been laid to rest, Eric in April 2015 and Murray in December 2017.
Murray was the last surviving airman in the crew of Australians who flew the bomber, ‘D for Dog’.