Lismore WW2 pilots had a shared life
LISMORE Second World War pilots Keith John Miller and Christian ‘Christie’ Samuel Balzer played sport together, studied together, enlisted in the RAAF together and were shot down and reported missing on the same day – October 15, 1941 – despite being in separate squadrons.
Pilot Officer Keith Miller, 23, and Sergt. Pilot Christie Balzer, 22, were both students at Lismore High School and shared a love of sport.
Miller, who had dark hair, tanned skin and brown eyes, was captain of ‘Lismore Old Students’ cricket team and considered a ‘year round’ sportsman, taking up rugby and later basketball in the winter.
Both were keen surf lifesavers and members of the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Lifesaving Club.
Balzer, who was a surf club founder, was considered one of the North Coast’s best surf swimmers as well as an “outstanding rescue and resuscitation member”, a member of the boat crew and beach patrol officer.
The young pilot was considered as good in the air as he was in the water, showing an “outstanding aptitude for flying” during early training at Saskatoon in Canada.
A son of Mr and Mrs Val Miller of Byron Bay, Pilot Officer Miller was an accountant employed at EJ Eggins Pty Ltd In Lismore when he enlisted. Previously he had been a trained accountant with AC Joubert and Co Lismore.
Pilot Officer Miller waited a long time for his call-up after enlisting early in 1940.
He and Sgt Pilot Balzer, who also had a long wait, left Lismore together, entered Bradfield Park initial training school and then went to the Narromine training school in Canada at the same time.
Pilot Officer Miller left Australia with Sgt Pilot Balzer at Christmas, and both men completed their training overseas, gaining good passes.
Pilot Officer Miller left Canada for England in June and was flying a Wellington bomber with an all Australian crew.
A month later he was joined by Sgt Pilot Balzer whose crew included Canadian and Englishmen of whom he told his mother in a letter he was particularly friendly.
A researcher, Bas Bruls, in Grevenbicht, Holland, would uncover the events that led up to the crash of the British bomber in his small home town which carried five British soldiers and one Keith John Miller from Lismore.
Although both Lismore pilots were shot down on October 15, 1941, it would be months, even years, until their families, and the community, received confirmation of their deaths.
It was January 12, 1942, when Keith Miller’s parents found out their son had been buried in the military cemetery at Venlo in Holland.
And it would be four and a half years after Mrs LM Balzer’s son, Sgt Christian Samuel Balzer, was posted missing in air operations over Germany that she would receive information concerning his fate.
Mr Bruls is looking to contact any of Pilot Officer Keith Miller’s family.
He says it was the heroic efforts of the crew that saved his village from civilian casualties when the plane crashed.
For more information go to www.vickerswellington.com
To contact Mr Bruls, email Bas.firstname.lastname@example.org