Queen’s funeral: Australian Victoria Cross medal recipients Ben Roberts-Smith and Keith Payne meet

Two of Australia’s most decorated soldiers unite for a rare photo and glass of red – after flying commercial to London for the Queen’s fuenral rather than on PM’s VIP jet

  • Ben Roberts-Smith met fellow Victoria Cross recipient Keith Payne in London
  • The pair shared a laugh and a wine before attending as guests at Queen’s funeral
  • A picture of the two war heroes together has gone viral on social media 
  • Australia’s most decorated soldier was not invited on the PM’s jet to London 

A picture of controversial war hero Ben Roberts-Smith catching up with fellow Aussie Victoria Cross recipient Keith Payne has gone viral on social media.

Each recipient of the award – Australia’s highest honour – were specially invited guests to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral at Westminster Abbey in London on Monday.

But none of them – most notably including Mr Roberts-Smith – were invited on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese‘s private jet, which whisked Governor General David Hurley and nine ‘everyday Australians’ to the UK.

Mr Roberts-Smith, the country’s most decorated soldier, is currently at the centre of a defamation trial over allegations levelled by Nine newspapers of war crimes in Afghanistan

Instead the towering two-metre tall former SAS corporal turned businessman flew in on a commercial flight – and went straight for a drink with Mr Payne, a Vietnam veteran from Queensland.

A snap of the moment the pair enjoyed a laugh and a glass of red wine in London was posted online and was immediately inundated with well-wishers hailing the pair.

Controversial war hero Ben Roberts-Smith met fellow Australian Victoria Cross recipient Keith Payne in a poignant moment before Queen Elizabeth's funeral in London on Monday

Controversial war hero Ben Roberts-Smith met fellow Australian Victoria Cross recipient Keith Payne in a poignant moment before Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in London on Monday

Ben Roberts-Smith  did not fly on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's jet to London, which carried Governor General David Hurley and the nine 'everyday Aussies' who were also invited

Ben Roberts-Smith  did not fly on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s jet to London, which carried Governor General David Hurley and the nine ‘everyday Aussies’ who were also invited

‘This photo is one for the history books,’ posted one, while others added: ‘Both of these men are true Australian heroes’ and ‘So much legendary in one photo’.

One joked: ‘The real question is who bought who a beer?’

Former Warrant Office Payne, now 89, was awarded his Victoria Cross after his unit came under attack and he was seriously injured by a grenade, with shrapnel wounds to his skull, arms and hands, at Ben Het Camp during the Vietnam War in May 1969.

Despite his injuries, he led the 212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion to safety and then spent hours returning to the battlefield to save another 40 of his men, many injured, back through enemy territory.

The Queen’s funeral coincided with the 53rd anniversary of his Victoria Cross being announced on September 19, 1969.

The photograph of Mr Payne with Roberts-Smith was posted on the military Instagram account Silent Dispatch Company, which describes itself as ‘a conglomerate of former soldiers’.

A snap of the moment the pair enjoyed a laugh and a glass of red wine in London was posted online and was immediately inundated with well-wishers hailing the pair

A snap of the moment the pair enjoyed a laugh and a glass of red wine in London was posted online and was immediately inundated with well-wishers hailing the pair

The photograph, apparently taken in a London restaurant, showed the pair bedecked with an impressive array of medals, enjoying a drink together. 

It was captioned: ‘Ben and Keith arguing over the best way to set up a Linear ambush.

‘These are the moments in life we cherish.’

It included intertwined purple hearts and sparked a string of admiring responses.

All those awarded a Victoria Cross were specially invited guests to the solemn Royal ceremony at Westminster Abbey - but had to fund their own way to the funeral

All those awarded a Victoria Cross were specially invited guests to the solemn Royal ceremony at Westminster Abbey – but had to fund their own way to the funeral

Rpberts-Smith, 43, won his Victoria Cross for storming a fortified enemy machine gun position in Afghanistan and killing three insurgents when his unit was pinned down in 2010.

He is currently awaiting the outcome of his epic defamation ‘trial of the century’ against two newspaper publishers over allegations of war crimes.

Mr Roberts-Smith launched his defamation action against the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times newspapers for publishing accusations he committed war crimes.

The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are published by Nine newspapers – which is controlled by Nine Entertainment Co – while the Canberra Times is published by Australian Community Media.

The sensational case, which ran for months over the span of 100 days in court, concluded in late July but a verdict is not expected for months.

Before he left Australia, he recalled meeting the Queen in 2011 and said he was ‘taken aback’ by her ‘kindness’ and ‘intelligence’. 

Queen Elizabeth met with Victoria Cross and George Cross recipients at Buckingham Palace in 2018, including Ben Roberts-Smith (back row, behind the Queen) and Keith Payne (front row, second from right)

Queen Elizabeth met with Victoria Cross and George Cross recipients at Buckingham Palace in 2018, including Ben Roberts-Smith (back row, behind the Queen) and Keith Payne (front row, second from right)

He said the moment was ‘surreal’ and revealed: ‘She sort of dropped her handbag on the double-seated couch and pointed for me to sit down.

‘I assumed that she would sit opposite me, 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.’

Mr Roberts-Smith described the late monarch as ‘magnificent’, adding that she was ‘stoic leader’ and ‘a lovely lady’.

He added: ‘I have a very deep respect for Her Majesty and everything that she has sacrificed in her life and what she has achieved.’

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