Controversial soldier Ben Roberts-Smith has flown commercial to The Queen’s funeral in London, rather than accompanying Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on his VIP jet.
The Victoria Cross recipient left Brisbane for London on Thursday morning after both he and the three other Australian recipients of the country’s highest honour were invited to The Queen’s funeral.
Mr Albanese separately extended invitations to 10 ‘everyday citizens’ who were invited by Buckingham Palace to attend the September 19 service – including horse trainers Gai Waterhouse and Chris Waller, and Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott.
That group will also be flying to the UK on Mr Albanese’s jet on Thursday.
Ben Roberts-Smith checked in to his commercial flight to attend The Queen’s funeral in London on Monday
Queen Elizabeth greets Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith in 2011
Mr Roberts-Smith, 43, and three other living Australian Victoria Cross recipients were invited separately by the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association
Mr Roberts-Smith, 43, and other Australian Victoria Cross recipients were invited separately by the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association.
The Queen was patron of the association since it began in 1956, and asked before her death that all living members be invited to her funeral.
Afghanistan veterans Mark Donaldson and Daniel Keighran and Vietnam veteran Keith Payne are the other three Australian war heroes invited.
As they were invited separately to Mr Albanese’s entourage they must make their own way to London, but the Defence Department said the government would cover the cost of their flights ‘upon request’.
Mr Donaldson will represent the quartet in an order of chivalry procession on the day of the funeral and sit in the knave of Westminster Abbey for the funeral.
The other three, including Mr Roberts-Smith, will sit elsewhere in the church farther away from proceedings. All are invited to see The Queen lying in state.
Mr Robert-Smith being invited, as a Victoria Cross recipient, was uncontroversial but some Australian diplomates were reportedly annoyed he accepted it.
This is despite him declining being possibly seen as failing to honour The Queen’s wishes in extending the invitation.
Australian High Commission officials in London expected he would decline to attend while dogged by accusations of war crimes and a high-profile trial, and are concerned that he will be there.
His invitation has also been met with outrage from some reporters at Nine, despite it being automatic due to his medal.
Mr Roberts-Smith is awaiting judgement on a defamation case against Nine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age after he sued them for a series of reports accusing him of murdering Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, which he strongly denies.
As they were invited separately to Mr Albanese’s entourage they must make their own way to London, but the government will cover the cost of their flights ‘upon request’
Dressed in brown boots, jeans and a grey jacket, the towering ex-corporal walked alone with several bags before checking in and proceeding through security
Australian war heroes at Queen’s funeral
Corporal Mark Donaldson, Special Air Service: Awarded VC in 2009 for heroism during the War in Afghanistan
Warrant Officer Class II Keith Payne, Australian Army: Awarded VC in 1969 for heroism in the Vietnam War
Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, SAS: Awarded VC in 2011 for heroism during the War in Afghanistan
Corporal Daniel Keighran, Australian Army: Awarded VC in 2012 for heroism during the War in Afghanistan
Dressed in brown boots, jeans and a grey jacket, the towering retired corporal walked alone with several bags before checking in and proceeding through security.
He described the late Monarch as ‘magnificent’, adding that she was ‘stoic leader’ and ‘a lovely lady’.
‘I had an immense respect for her and she was someone I admired greatly. In every interaction I had with The Queen she was warm, insightful and engaging,’ he said.
‘She was a magnificent monarch, a stoic leader, and importantly just a lovely lady. I feel extremely honoured to be fortunate enough to pay my respects to The Queen and humbled that she saw fit to include the Victoria Cross recipients in her funeral procession.’
The decorated digger said it was a ‘surreal’ experience and that he was ‘taken aback’ by her ‘kindness’ and ‘intelligence’ when he met Her Majesty in 2011 to be awarded his medal.
‘She sort of dropped her handbag on the double-seated couch and pointed for me to sit down, and I assumed that she would sit opposite me,’ he recalled to the West Australian.
‘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.’
Australian High Commission officials didn’t believe Mr Roberts-Smith was going to attend the funeral and are uneasy about his presence given his court battle
Mr Roberts-Smith is awaiting judgement on a defamation case against Nine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age after he sued them for a series of reports accusing him of murdering Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, which he strongly denies
The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes journalist Nick McKenzie marked the occasion by tweeting that Mr Roberts-Smith has been the ‘subject of multiple… alleged war crimes investigations by the Australian Federal Police.’
No charges have ever been laid against Roberts-Smith.
Proceedings in the Federal Court case ended on July 27 after more than 100 days of hearings.
Other Australians invited on Mr Albanese’s jet include 2022 and 2021 Senior Australian of the Year Valmai Dempsy and Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM, 2022 Australian of the Year Local Hero Shanna Whan, 2022 Queensland Local Hero Saba Abraham, and Tasmanian Local Hero Kim Smith APM.
Trudy Lin, Young Australian of the Year, from South Australia, and Western Australia’s 2021 Australian of the Year Professor Helen Milroy will also be part of the delegation.
Danny Abdallah – who stunned Australia by forgiving a drunk and drug-addled driver who fatally ploughed into his three children and their cousin them 2020 – will also fly with the group on the PM’s plane.
Mr Roberts-Smith casts a constroversial figure after a series of allegations following his rise to prominence after receiving the Victoria Cross
The towering ex-corporal walks through Brisbane International Airport on Thursday morning
Mr Albanese also offered a space on his flight to Gai and Robert Waterhouse, champion racing figures who had a personal relationship with The Queen.
Mr Waterhouse told the Sydney Morning Herald it was ‘very gracious’ of the PM to invite them aboard the VIP jet.
‘We have known the Queen and the Queen Mother for a long time, since Gai trained Clarence House for the Queen Mother, and we have had a long-standing relationship with them,’ he said.
‘Gai also trained Carlton House and Bold Sniper for the Queen, and we have had the privilege of taking afternoon tea with the Queen and her mother at Royal Ascot and others on a number of occasions. They were remarkable people.
‘It is a very sad occasion, but we were very pleased to be commanded by the Lord Chamberlain to her majesty’s committal. It was very gracious of the prime minister to invite us to travel on his plane.’
Also on Mr Albanese’s plane are leaders of Pacific Islands nations whom the PM said could hitch a ride with him to save their small countries the expense.