As Operation London Bridge swung into effect the moment Queen Elizabeth II passed away, Australian recipients of the prestigious Victoria Cross were automatically extended invites to attend her funeral and other official commemorations in London.

To that end, Victoria Cross holders Ben Roberts-Smith, Daniel Keighran, Keith Payne and Mark Donaldson were included on Her Majesty’s wishes.

What’s less commonly known is that Australia’s only living George Cross recipient – Michael Pratt – was also invited, and in fact has already left for London. But who is he?

The George Cross is the highest award civilians can receive in both the British and Australian Honours system, equal in stature to the British Victoria Cross and the Victoria Cross for Australia.

The gazetted award is given out to recognise “acts of the greatest heroism or for the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger” by British citizens and, previously, those living in Commonwealth countries.

Australians received the George Cross up until 1992, when Prime Minister Paul Keating announced Australia wouldn’t be making recommendations for British Honours.

Michael Pratt, who was the last Australian to receive the prestigious award, was just 21 and on his way to get a haircut on his day off.

When he spotted three armed and masked bandits entering a bank in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Clifton Hill, the young policeman drove his car into the front door.

“The only thing I had going for me was the element of surprise,” Pratt told the Herald Sun in 2020.

“I reckon the three crooks must have been well and truly surprised when my Mazda came through the intersection, up and over the gutter, crashed into the door of the bank and blocked the entrance.”

But, when he then went to the boot of his car to arm himself with the long-handled shovel he’d been using the previous day, all he had to hand was a jack handle to use against the trio – who turned out to be among the most prolific and dangerous bandits in the country.

“There was one bloke inside the door of the bank, and he’s waving his arms around, pointing a silver .22 pistol at me and telling me to move my car,” Pratt recalled.

Another bloke is up on the counter, fanning his revolver over the staff and customers in the bank, and the third one was in the tellers’ cages, yelling out to the bloke watching the front door ‘Shoot him!, Shoot him!, Get him out of the way!’

“Then the manager and a customer in his office ran towards the back of the bank, and the crook who’d stayed in the public area fired a shot that hit the door frame at head height.”

Meanwhile, notorious Sydney gunman Lance Chee was emptying the tills before jumping back over the counter and bolting out the back door.

The remaining two, a hitman-for-hire and his cousin, decided to leave the same way they arrived.

“They were pulling on the bank door, but couldn’t open it because of the damage my car had done to the frame. They soon solved that problem though by kicking the glass out of the door, which freed it up and let them pull it open,” Pratt continued.

“The guy who had been watching the doorway then came across the bonnet, so I grabbed hold of him and it was on. I got a few good ones in and so did he, but he’s gone down in front of me, semiconscious and on his hands and knees.

“When I next saw the other bloke he was standing about eight to ten feet away, with his gun pointed straight at me. The one hunched over on the ground started to get up, so I thought if I could get him in a bear hug and use him as a shield his mate wouldn’t shoot.

“But somehow I lost sight of the bloke with the gun and he got around behind me. Then he shot me in the back from about six feet, and down I went”.

The bullet hit Pratt in the back near his left shoulder blade, missing his heart and leaving a burn scar on his aorta before puncturing his left lung, leaving a hole in his spine, and stopping inside his right lung.

Pratt credited the doctors at St Vincent’s Hospital for saving his life, with one of his most vivid memories being of a priest giving him his Last Rites and a “tiny little nun” holding his hand.

After five hours of surgery, the bullet was removed and now lives in a specimen jar in his home.

Detectives from the Armed Robbery Squad were among the first to visit Pratt while he recovered, taking a dying deposition in case his condition declined.

Pratt was able to confirm their suspicions about who was involved in the robbery, after he identified the hitman from a photo board as the man who shot him.

All three of the culprits were eventually arrested.

In the many decades since, Pratt visited the Queen 16 times in the company of some of the world’s bravest people.

As the 67-year-old prepares to see the monarch one last time, we wish him godspeed for his final meeting with her.

Images: Supplied

This article first appeared on OverSixty.