Flight Lieutenant Roberts Christian (Robert) Dunstan, DSO

Roberts Christian (Robert) Dunstan. SUK12067 Roberts Christian (Robert) Dunstan.
SUK12067

Date of birth: 05 November 1922
Place of birth: Bendigo, VIC
Date of death: 11 October 1989
Place of death: Melbourne, VIC

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.

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