Saturday, December 17, 2011

Australia: WWII pilot's invite from Tendulkar

Reg Ellis, Lancaster bomber pilot and last surviving member of the post war Australian side, at the Sir Donald Bradman Oration. 
Picture: Gary Ramage

IT WAS a room full of some of the greatest cricket players, including "the Little Master", Sachin Tendulkar.

Yet the one cricketer everyone wanted to speak to never played an official Test match - and remains almost anonymous to Australian fans of the game.

At Wednesday's Sir Donald Bradman Oration in Canberra, Indian batsman Rahul Dravid enthralled the crowd at the Australian War Memorial as he spoke of the common links between Australia and India in cricket and in battle. In the audience was Adelaide's Reg Ellis, 94, the last survivor of the Victory Tests played by ex-servicemen immediately after the end of World War II.

Mr Ellis and his remarkable team, which included future Test stars Flying Officer Keith Miller and Warrant Officer Lindsay Hassett, were honoured at the function, which took place in the shadow of the Memorial's G for George Lancaster bomber.

It's the same type that Mr Ellis flew in 11 missions over occupied Europe - including two when he landed the heavily damaged plane wheels up.

But as always for Mr Ellis, he was happiest talking about the cricket, not war. "It was fantastic," the sprightly Mr Ellis said from his Noarlunga home on his return on Friday.

"The Indian team couldn't have been better.

"The chap who made 219 (Virender Sehwag, who recently set the one-day international record) - I spoke to him for quite a while.

"Tendulkar, he grasped my hand and was very friendly. He invited me to be the guest of the Indian team when they played in Canberra the next day but I had to come home."

Mr Ellis was interviewed on stage by MC and Channel 9 commentator Mark Nicholas, and delighted the audience with stories of a world tour that included unofficial Tests in England, as well as matches in India and Australia.

Mr Ellis's friend and chaperone, Bill Hart, 73, said the guest of honour - who can be humble to a fault - enjoyed his time in the spotlight.

"He practically ran up the front and leapt up on stage when Mark Nicholas introduced him," he said.

Mr Hart is also a former wartime flyer who served in the British Fleet Air Arm and survived two ejections from carrier aircraft.

He met Mr Ellis in his role as a volunteer at a Noarlunga nursing home. Every day Mr Ellis visits his wife, Verna, in the home. He was hesitant at first about leaving her for the trip to Canberra, but from the twinkle in his eye you could tell the evening had been one of the highlights of a life full of accomplishments.

"He was even rating the take-offs and landings on the flights to and from Canberra," Mr Hart said.

"And he kept on thanking me for helping him make the trip.

"I said, 'don't thank me, Reg. We should all thank you, for what you did in 1945'."

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