D-Day beckons for Abbott

Bound for France: Prime Minister Tony Abbott meets D-Day airmen at Kirribilli House. Photo: James Brickwood
Bound for France: Prime Minister Tony Abbott meets D-Day airmen at Kirribilli House. Photo: James Brickwood

There were a few dozen medals between them, squeezed on lapels not quite wide enough.

Seven airmen of the D-Day landings chatted with Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the verandah of Kirribilli House, before they travel to France with him for the 70th anniversary of the invasion on Friday.

They were shot at, shot down and, on occasion, their aircraft limped back to England. Their efforts, on June 6, 1944, changed the course of the Second World War.

Looking forward to a break from sparring with the opposition, the PM joked: ''You guys are much more effective combatants, I am sure.''

But most of the men are now in their 90s and not as agile as they once were.

Bill Evans, a wireless operator from Sylvania in Sydney's south, who parachuted out of his Lancaster bomber after it was shot down, found a supporting hand from the PM when he found himself stuck in his seat.

Mr Abbott asked Bill Purdy from Mosman in north Sydney, a Lancaster pilot, to recall his memories of the invasion. ''The main memory is having finished the bombing of Pointe du Hoc, turning round to come home and seeing that mass of ships,'' he said.

''The greatest armada ever assembled,'' the PM said. ''There was, what, 1000 ships?''

The reply gave pause for thought, even 70 years later: 5000 small ships bringing in 130,000 troops guarded by 300 naval ships preceded by 300 minesweepers.

''This was a day that changed history and Australia was part of it. To visit the D-Day landing sites along with these extraordinary heroes of our country, these national treasures, will be a real honour for me,'' Mr Abbott said.

Ron Houghton, president of the Bomber Command Association of Australia, and wearing the Distinguished Flying Cross, summed it up well.

''On the day, it was just another day,'' Dr Houghton said. ''But when we looked at it afterwards we realised this was going to break Germany, which it did do, and that was the beginning of the end.

''When you are young, you don't think too much about the other people. Today I realise it was pretty tough but at that time you think: 'Hang on, I have got to get through this myself.'''

This story D-Day beckons for Abbott first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.