Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Donnellan, Flight Lieutenant Stan Louis

5:33 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the life of a great Australian hero and Central Coast local, Flight Lieutenant Stan Louis Donnellan. Stan had an incredible life. I particularly want to reflect on his service to this nation in World War II and the remarkable bond he made with the Bertelli family of Italy, which was rekindled 71 years after that relationship began.

Stan enlisted in the RAAF in 1941, and he served until 1946 in the RAAF 232 Squadron. He flew the legendary Spitfire against Axis forces in the European theatre. On 11 June 1944, while on a mission escorting light bombers over Italy, Stan's plane crashed on the second part of the mission, which was to attack targets of opportunity on the ground. Stan ran into difficulty when he suddenly saw high-tension lines and hit the throttle with no response, but he had enough speed to get himself out of harm's way. Stan had the decision to bail out or to crash-land, of which he took the second option and proceeded to find somewhere to crash-land.

Following the crash, Stan was found and taken in by Angiolino Bertelli and his family, who were affiliated with the anti-Nazi partisans. The Bertelli family hid him from German patrols on their Tuscan farm. I'm a little saddened, despite having the prestige of you hearing me give this speech, Mr President, that we don't have Senator Fierravanti-Wells in the chamber, because I know she's particularly familiar with that part of the world, and I'm sure she'd be very interested in this great affiliation between Australian and Italian partisans at the time. Stan stayed with the Bertellis for five weeks, who constantly risked their lives to keep him safe. As Stan himself described:

They were in grave danger all the time.

The Germans knew I was there somewhere.

They kept searching for me.

Once repatriated to England and then Australia, he married his English rose Peggy, whom he met while she was working at a RAF pay office and to whom he was engaged when he went missing.

Stan was actually able to rekindle his incredible bond with the Bertellis when a story from the local Central Coast Express Advocate about Bluey and Peggy's 70th anniversary was found by Angiolino's great grandson, Francesco Bertelli. Francesco said that his family had been searching for Stan for nearly seven decades and immediately they organised flights to see him. Francesco Bertelli and his father were able to visit Bluey on St Huberts Island in 2016 on the Central Coast, and they renewed their incredible bond born of compassion and grace in the terrible harshness of the Second World War. Francesco said of Stan, 'He taught me life is extraordinary.' Francesco also translated an account of their story found in Marzio Volpi's The Parchment and Other Stories for Stan from its original Italian. Stan was also awarded the Medaille de la Legion D'honneur by the French government for his services in World War II to France on board a visiting French naval vessel in Sydney just a few years ago.

Stan Donnellan passed away in early September this year at the incredible age of 98. Stan left behind a treasure trove of memories and a world that is better for his brave and selfless service. The Central Coast and, indeed, all Australia are honoured by his memory. I pass my deepest condolences on to the Donnellan family, who are very prominent on the Central Coast and make great social contributions to our community. I also thank the Bertellis for their hospitality and their kindness on that day. Seeing a fellow human in distress, they provided the care and support that built a friendship that lasted over the entire century.