Brothers remember the fallen

Countryman

"Some of the raids we went on, we destroyed a whole city ... but our losses were also severe. You get such terrible shocks that you can never forget. We remember it every day."

Those are the words of Murray Maxton, who at the age of 21 signed up to join the Reserves.

Having never seen a plane before, Murray started his 12 months of flight training in Albany before moving to Geraldton to learn how to fly Tiger Moths.

About the same time as Murray was awarded his wings, his younger brother, Eric, aged 18, signed up for the Reserves.

Eric, who had tried three times to join the Navy, instead followed in his elder brother's footsteps.

Their father, Eric Archibald Murray Maxton, had fought in World War I on the Somme where he faced mustard gas. He told his sons not to sign up for the Army if gas was being used, warning them of how terrible its effects were.

The brothers completed their training separately but fate and a guiding hand brought them together, halfway across the world, to fly in the same crew.

Murray was just about to go off with a squadron in Bomber Command but fell ill with measles.

On his recovery, he went to London where, in a small pub on The Strand, he walked in only to find his baby brother.

When they got to Binbrook airfield, Lincolnshire, Murray picked Eric to join his crew and it was three weeks before their commander realised they were brothers - and by that time it was too late to change crews.

For each raid, they flew in an Avro Lancaster, designed to bomb Germany from England.

They flew over Holland where German anti-aircraft were positioned to bomb targets.

They would fly through the night at an attitude of 18,000 to 25,000 feet carrying 2000 gallons of fuel and 10 tonnes of fused incendiary and high explosive bombs.

Group Captain Hughie Edwards VC, who was sworn in as Governor of WA in 1974, was worried about the brothers flying together, so he took them on their first raid on July 7, 1944 - a daylight raid on Caen, the capital of Normandy.

Their last raid was over Wanne-Eickel oil refinery on November 8, 1944, three days after Murray's 24th birthday. In the raid, they dropped one 4000-pound bomb and 16 500-pound bombs.

Eric, a wireless operator, had celebrated his 21st birthday only months before on a raid over Frankfurt where they dropped 4000 tonnes of bombs, also known as a 'Maxton special'.

It was Murray's job as captain to get them to the target and home again in one piece.

Their navigator had the hardest job - with primitive navigation equipment he calculated wind speed and direction and location in the pitch black using the Polaris star.

There were seven crew in each Lancaster - the pilot, wireless operator, navigator, engineer, mid-upper gunner, bomb aimer and tail gunner.

The only piece of armoured guard in the Lancaster was behind the pilot's head.

The Maxtons' Lancaster had the insignia 'D for Dog', Squadron 460.

While they returned from their raids, some crews never came back.

"In 30 missions, you never had much of a chance and how many times we went within a second of death no one knows," Murray said.

On their 27th raid, on the city of Dusseldorf, the side of their plane was blown out by a German night fighter, who aimed for the plane's fuel, which was carried in the wings.

They were nearly all ready to bail out but the tail gunner got trapped in his turret.

While Eric put out the fire and fired single shots towards the enemy, Murray flew the plane into a cloud.

"I still had to call for a bit of help on the hotline to heaven because there was no-one else to give me a hand," Murray said.

They were shot at, locked on and limped home on many occasions.

Even when trying to land, the Germans would try to shoot them down.

And when that wasn't happening, they had to land in heavy fog with no lights.

After surviving 30 bombing missions, the brothers continued to fly together in transport command, carrying prisoners of war and others before returning home.

Murray then worked for a fish factory and purchased a war service farm in 1950 next to the family farm, while Eric joined their father on the family farm before buying a conditional purchase close by.

It's only been in the last decade that the brothers, who are the best of friends, have been able to share their war stories with their family.

They now look back at what was an adventure for two young men and a world away from their childhood of playing cowboys and Indians and milking cows and feeding pigs.

"I never thought about dying but it was hair-raising stuff," Eric said.

The key now, they say, is to teach young people about Anzac Day.

"It's their heritage to carry on," said Murray. "Lest we forget."

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