THE French Government has taken a bow to an Inverell resident who used to navigate by the stars.
Keith Anderson is among the latest recipients of the Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur, the highest decoration bestowed in France.
Keith received the medal in a special ceremony in Brisbane at the Coorparoo RSL on June 12 for his years spent as a RAAF Flying Officer.
He served as an astro-navigator with the 576 Bomber Squadron during World War II.
His Excellency French Ambassador to Australia, Christophe Lecourtier presented medals to Keith and 17 other veterans for their bravery and sacrifice that aided France’s effort in the War.
“It is always difficult to address men who did exceptional things. I am impressed by the way you faced your destinies, by your courage and your sense of sacrifice,” Ambassador Lecourtier said.
“I am impressed also by the capacity that you have demonstrated to remain stand-up men in spite of the sounds and fury that were surrounding you.”
Keith seemed pleased but also reticent about the honour stemming from conflict.
He flew with a crew of seven in 33 missions. The average for most bomber squadrons was about eight, with a cap at 30.
The crew developed a fierce loyalty to each other, became fast friends and remained so after the War.
Night, day, clouds or inclement weather, the crew of the jumbo Lancaster Bomber went out to find their targets like munitions factories, dams, or points to weaken the Axis offence.
“I flew on an all-weather squadron, so we flew when the others couldn’t fly,” Keith said.
Keith would relay position and direction to the rest of the crew via intercom, which sometimes went on the fritz.
“That stuff was pretty touchy, because it’s getting a belting around, every time we flew,” he said.
“It got a hammering, because, you know, if it was bad weather or something like that, or some of the manoeuvres we had to do was a bit hard on the machinery,” he said.
The plane had an astro-dome on the top, without which Keith said he could not have operated.
It wasn’t always smooth flying and they often encountered enemy aircraft. Keith recalled a time the plane turned over.
“It was pretty dicey because they were big planes, and they were pretty heavily loaded, too,” he said, adding recovery in the Lancaster was not that easy.
“Not as agile as a fighter plane. They had a load of eight tonnes of bombs for a start. And a full load of fuel.”
Their debriefing included the outcome of their mission, but also any visual intelligence observed during the flight.
“I didn’t see as much as some of the others because I was too busy, and I had to have an area there where I could plot, so most of the time I spent with my head down.”
Keith said he felt relieved when the War in Europe was over.
“We were sent on leave immediately. I went down to London and I really enjoyed myself. There were so many people in London, you could hardly walk.”
Like many veterans who saw several years of conflict,
Keith was philosophical about receiving the medal for his service during the War. He felt the past seemed best a subject put to rest.
“It’s so long ago, isn’t it?” he said.
“Things should be let drift off.”