Flight Lieutenant Roberts Christian (Robert) Dunstan

Service number 419018
Ranks Held Flight Lieutenant, Pilot Officer
Birth Date 1922-11-05
Birth Place Australia: Victoria, Bendigo
Death Date 1989-10-11
Death Place Australia: Victoria, Melbourne
Final Rank Flight Lieutenant
Service Royal Australian Air Force
Unit No. 460 Squadron
Conflict/Operation Second World War, 1939-1945
Gazettes Published in London Gazette in 1943-12-07
Published in Commonwealth Gazette in 1943-12-16

Roberts Dunstan attained a degree of celebrity as a one-legged gunner who served with Bomber Command in the Second World War before going on to a political career. He was born in Bendigo, Victoria, on 5 November 1922.

Dunstan lied about his age to join the AIF when he was just 17 and was posted to the 2/8th Field Company as a reinforcement. He joined his unit in Egypt shortly before the battle for Bardia, in which he took no part. In January 1941, outside Tobruk, he was wounded in the knee by a shell splinter. At first appearing to be not especially serious, Dunstan's wound became infected and his leg was amputated.

After convalescing in Egypt, Dunstan returned to Melbourne in July 1941 and, the following February, was discharged from the AIF. Feeling frustrated at having served for such a short time, Dunstan - while studying law in Geelong - began a concerted attempt to join the RAAF as an air gunner. Exactly one year after returning to Australia he entered No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School at Port Pirie, South Australia.

Upon completion of the course he was promoted to sergeant air gunner and embarked for overseas service for a second time. After training, Dunstan was posted to 460 Squadron. His first operation was to Dusseldorf on 11 June 1943. Dunstan's crew flew together over a five month period. He later recalled the fear and nervous tension as his tally of completed operations grew, all the while wondering whether he would survive until the requisite 30 had been completed. On one raid to Berlin he flew as rear gunner in Group Captain Hughie Edwards's Lancaster, a source of particular pride for Dunstan as Edwards was a well-known and highly respected Victoria Cross winner.

In October 1943 Dunstan was commissioned as a pilot officer with just two operations left to fly. On their penultimate operation, to Kassel, Dunstan's aircraft was hit by incendiaries from another Lancaster and then by a night fighter, but crash-landed safely back in England. His last operation, to Dusseldorf, was less fraught and took place the day before Dunstan's 21st birthday. He returned to Australia in August 1944 and received a degree of press attention as a kind of curiosity - a one-legged air gunner who completed an operational tour and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

In 1946 Dunstan published a short book about his wartime experiences, The sand and the sky. After the war he worked as a journalist and then film critic for the Melbourne Herald. In 1953 he travelled to Italy to meet the artilleryman whom he believed had fired the shell that wounded him at Tobruk, and four years later sponsored the man's son as a migrant to Australia. In 1956 Dunstan was elected to the Victorian parliament as the Liberal member for Mornington. He went on to serve as a cabinet secretary, Minister of Water Supply and, later, Minister of Public Works. He died on 11 October 1989.


  • Honours and Awards:

    No. 460 Squadron
    Second World War, 1939-1945
    Pilot Officer
    London Gazette
    07 December 1943 on page 5337 at position 1
    Commonwealth Gazette
    16 December 1943 on page 2709 at position 14
  • Honours and Awards (Recommendation):

    Second World War, 1939-1945


Date of birth 05 November 1922 Bendigo, VIC.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 03 June 1940 Dunstan lied about his age, enlisted in the Army and was posted to 2/8th Field Company.
Date wounded 1941-01 Dunstan lost his leg in the first seige of Tobruk.
Date returned to Australia 1941-07 He was invalided home to Melbourne.
Date of discharge 07 February 1942 Discharged on medical grounds.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 23 June 1942 Dunstan managed to convince the RAAF to accept him for aircrew training and he entered No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School at Port Pirie, SA. He was later posted to No. 460 squadron as a tail gunner.
Other 11 June 1943 Completed his first operation at Dusseldorf.
Date commissioned 1943-10 Was commissioned as a pilot officer.
Date of honour or award 07 December 1943 Recieved the Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. He is the only Australian air gunner to receive the award during the Second World War.
Date returned to Australia 1944-08 Completed his 30 requisite tours of operation.
Date of discharge 02 October 1945
Other 1946 Published a short book about his wartime experiences, The sand and the sky.
Other 1956 Dunstan was elected to the Victorian parliament as the Liberal member for Mornington.
Date of death 11 October 1989