An extraordinary photo has emerged of some of Australia, New Zealand and and the UK’s most decorated soldiers gathered together in London to farewell the Queen.
Seventeen Victoria Cross and George’s Cross recipients are seen posing outside the Union Jack Club in central London the day before the Queen’s funeral.
The Keith Payne VC Veterans Benefits Group — which is dedicated to Australia’s oldest Victoria Cross recipient — shared the picture, saying: ‘Thank you, your Majesty, for your long and selfless service.’
One commenter said the men in the picture are ‘the bravest of them all’.
Standing not far from Mr Payne, the country’s oldest living Victoria Cross winner, was Ben Roberts-Smith — the controversial Australian digger who is awaiting the outcome of a defamation trial against Nine Entertainment Co over war crimes allegations.
Afghan war veteran Ben Roberts-Smith VC (pictured on the extreme left) appeared in a photo with 16 other living George Cross and Victoria Cross winners. Others in the picture include British soldier Johnson Beharry VC (second left), New Zealander Willie Apiata VC (third left), Michael Pratt, Australia’s last living GC (fourth left), former British officer Peter Norton GC (in wheelchair), Keith Payne, Australia’s oldest living VC (with walking stick), Australian soldier Mark Donaldson VC (in blue suit) and Australian soldier Daniel Keighran VC (fourth from right)
Mr Roberts-Smith, 43, and the other VC recipients were invited to the Queen’s funeral by dint of their military virtue.
Mr Roberts-Smith got a Victoria Cross for storming a fortified enemy machine gun position in Afghanistan and killing three insurgents when his unit was pinned down.
They joined officials at the funeral — including Mr Albanese and the Governor-General David Hurley — along with celebrated civilians such as Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott.
Mr Roberts-Smith publicly welcomed his invitation to the service by speaking about the honour of meeting the Queen in 2011.
The decorated digger said it was a ‘surreal’ experience and that he was ‘taken aback’ by her ‘kindness’ and ‘intelligence’.
He told the West Australian ‘she sort of dropped her handbag on the double-seated couch and pointed for me to sit down…
Ben Roberts-Smith is pictured leaving the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney on Monday, July 18, 2022. He is suing two newspaper groups over reports linking him to alleged war crimes in Afghanistan
Ben Robert Smith (pictured centre), 43, is seen at the Queen’s funeral on Monday in London
Ben Roberts-Smith (left) opened up about his invitation to attend the Queen’s funeral (pictured together in 2011)
The difference between the Victoria Cross and George Cross
The Victoria Cross (VC) is awarded for valour ‘in the presence of the enemy’.
It is the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system.
The George Cross (GC) is the highest award bestowed by the British government for non-operational gallantry or gallantry not in the presence of an enemy.
Since its introduction in 1940, the GC has been equal in stature to the Victoria Cross.
The Australian Victoria Cross was established in 1991 as a replacement for, but equivalent to, Australians being able to receive the original VC.
‘I assumed that she would sit opposite me, but she sat right next to me and grabbed my arm and started talking to me about just having just flown back from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at that time.’
Mr Roberts-Smith described the late Monarch as ‘magnificent’, that she was ‘stoic leader’ and ‘a lovely lady’.
‘I have a very deep respect for Her Majesty and everything that she has sacrificed in her life and what she has achieved.’
Mr Roberts-Smith launched his defamation action against the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times newspapers for publishing accusations he committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald were published by Fairfax Media, which is now owned by Nine, while the Canberra Times is published by Australian Community Media.
The sensational case, which ran for months over the span of 100 days in court, concluded in late July but a verdict is not expected for months.
Though some were surprised at his invitation to the Queen’s funeral, he has a huge number of supporters.
One of those said the photo of him with 16 other veterans showed ‘Australia’s greatest hero’s, our country is a far better place for their service they provided! Pride and Honour.’
Another simply said ‘Well done to all of you fine men.’
A commenter on another picture in the same series said ‘Thank you for your service and respecting Ben Roberts-Smith. God bless you.’
Before flying from Brisbane to London for the funeral, Mr Roberts-Smith lost a tooth.
Ben Roberts-Smith appears to have had a tooth knocked out while on holiday after his epic defamation case ended
He was pictured missing one of his front teeth by Daily Mail Australia at Sydney International Airport after returning from New Zealand on August 31.
Mr Roberts-Smith had been on holiday in the ski and adventure sport resort of Queenstown with his girlfriend, Sarah Matulin.
It is not known what caused the mishap.
Meet Australia’s Victoria Cross recipients
Teddy Sheean: Awarded posthumously for his action in the Arafura Sea, East Timor in 1942
Daniel Keighran VC is pictured at St James Palace in London on October 27, 2014
Mark Donaldson: Awarded for his action in Urozgan Province, Afghanistan in 2008
Daniel Keighran: Awarded for his action in Urozgan Province, Afghanistan in 2010
Ben Roberts-Smith: Awarded for his action in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan in 2010
Cameron Baird: Awarded posthumously for his action in Khod Valley, Afghanistan in 2013
The Australian Victoria Cross was established in 1991 as a replacement for, but equivalent to, Australians being able to receive the original VC from the British government.
Keith Payne is the only living Australian recipient of the original VC.