In war-gripped London – then occupied by eight million people – Murray Maxton stumbled upon his brother in a small cafe in The Strand.
After overcoming a bout of the measles, the RAAF pilot was picking up the mail at Australia House in 1943 when he thought he would grab a coffee.
“You wouldn’t believe this but there was my brother sitting there,” he said.
“I didn’t even know he was in London.”
Murray and Eric, a wireless operator, realised they were both being sent to an airfield in Lincolnshire the next morning.
“We went and had too many beers – forgot about the coffee.”
That serendipitous meeting would begin a rare military association – they flew in the same Bomber Command crew over Germany.
“Wherever I went in the air there he was with me,” Murray said.
Their mother was kept in the dark until they had completed their 30 operations.
Both didn’t want to join the army because their father, who was gassed in the First World War, warned them against it.
Murray couldn’t join the navy as he didn’t have the education after leaving school at 14.
Now well into his 90s he recalls being none too happy about bombing German cities towards the end of the war.
“But when I heard what (Hitler) was doing to the German jews, gassing them then I thought everyday we could shorten the war, we’d just bomb the hell out of them.”
Murray was on the “hotline to heaven” one night – their 27th mission – when a German night fighter damaged their aircraft. While Eric fired shots at the enemy, Murray corkscrewed the plane into a cloud and to safety.
Visiting the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on Friday, Murray stepped into the cockpit of ‘G for George’ – the Lancaster bomber he flew once to the south of England.
He remembered the main spar being much lower – but then again he was only 20 back then – but the throttles and controls were all the same.
His visit to the memorial coincides with the 75th anniversary of RAAF squadrons joining combat operations with Bomber Command.
“These men were the brightest and the best,” memorial director Brendan Nelson told reporters.
“They volunteered knowing only 40 per cent would survive the 30 operations.”
After the war Murray moved to a farm outside Albany and agreed to a mate’s request to give a young German a job.
They worked alongside each other for years before he discovered he was one of Hitler’s bodyguards.
“He’d never take his shirt off because the SS were branded under the arm,” he remembered, even on a day that reached 100 degrees.
“We never mentioned the war.”
Murray said he married a good cook and the pair made apple pies every day for 30 years – nowadays they’re self-funded retirees.
“I’m proud to say I haven’t cost Australia one cent. I’ve paid my taxes, earnt enough money to retire on and we’re just going to live happily every after.”