Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

 

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Airmen awarded the BEM for gallantry 1938-1941


"J. GUEST, of No. 7 (Bomber) Squadron, Finningley, has been awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire (Military Division) for an act of gallantry on March 29. He was wireless operator in a Heyford which was engaged in a night flight.  When about to land the Heyford hit a tree and crashed in flames. Guest was thrown clear, but he pulled the two other occupants, Sqn Ldr J N Jaques and P/O B F Burbridge, out of the flames. He was assisted by a farmer, Mr. G. Linley, in rescuing the second officer, and the latter has received a letter from the Air Council expressing high appreciation of his action."

(Flight - 1938)


This section contains the citations that appeared in the London Gazette in 1941, although some of the actions for the awards were  made took place earlier: -

547794 Sergeant Francis John BLACK WOOD.

This airman has displayed courage of a high order in ten successive enemy raids and has energetically assisted in raising the morale of the station by his example.

(London Gazette 21 January 1941)


567944 Corporal Joseph Graham Michael JAV1S.

619213 Aircraftman 1st Class Thomas McCANN.

During September, 1940, these airmen approached a burning aircraft and succeeded in detaching Vickers guns and magazines of ammunition and removing them to a place of safety. Both displayed conspicuous gallantry in disregarding imminent personal danger from exploding ammunition and the likelihood that the petrol tanks might explode.

(London Gazette 21 January 1941)


335107 Corporal Harry SPENCER.

1001638 Aircraftman 2nd Class Stanley WARD.

During a night in September, 1940, these airmen were members of the fire tender crew on duty when an aircraft crashed on taking off and burst into flames. Though fully aware that the aircraft was carrying a full load of bombs and ammunition, Corporal Spencer rushed into the fire and endeavoured to extricate the injured observer who was lying under the port wing. Aircraftman Ward, also knowing the aircraft was loaded, went to his assistance and they were able to carry the injured man to safety. Corporal Spencer then returned to the fire in an attempt to rescue other members of the crew. One of the two 250 Ib. bombs exploded and threw him to the ground ten yards away but without causing him serious injury. Both these airmen displayed a complete disregard for their personal safety, and the injured observer undoubtedly owes his life to their gallantry.

(London Gazette 21 January 1941)


941439 Sergeant Geoffrey William Brazier. Royal Air Force.

Pilot Officer Davison was the pilot and Sergeant Brazier the wireless operator/air observer of an aircraft which took part in a bombing attack on two heavily armed merchant vessels. Pilot Officer Davison was wounded in the foot and thigh but succeeded in flying his aircraft back to base. Owing to severe damage sustained to the hydraulic gear, he was compelled to make a crash landing, not knowing that a bomb remained hung up on the rack. The bomb exploded on landing, severely wounding the rear gunner and setting the aircraft on fire. Pilot Officer Davison and Sergeant Brazier jumped clear but then discovered that the rear gunner was still in the aircraft. Regardless of the fire and the likelihood that the petrol tanks might explode, they succeeded in extricating the wounded rear gunner from the rear cockpit  and dragging him to safety. By their courage and gallantry they undoubtedly saved the life of the rear gunner.

Pilot Officer John Tregonwell Davison. Royal New Zealand Air Force was also awarded the George Medal for his part in this action.

(London Gazette 11 March 1941)


740518 Sergeant Alfred William Wood. Royal Air Force.

One night in November, 1940, an aircraft developed engine trouble and was compelled to come down on to the sea about 500 yards from the shore. Heavy seas were running at the time but dinghies were launched and finally manned with the exception of the captain of the aircraft and a member of the crew who were swept into the sea, the captain being lost. One dinghy drifted on to the rocks and, with great difficulty, the occupants, amongst whom was Sergeant Wood, bruised in the attempt. The second dinghy was now in considerable difficulty, having been swept over the rocks in a partially deflated condition. Sergeant Wood, observing the danger to the occupants, stripped off his clothing, donned a flotation jacket and swam for the shore with the intention of securing aid. The sea carried him on to a rock on which he obtained a hand hold, and he afterwards succeeded in climbing the cliffs. To obtain help he ran for about a mile partly through a railway tunnel, on his bare feet, and returned with a sergeant and two infantrymen, who improvised a rope of blankets and rescued a number of the crew of the aircraft. During the process, however, the rope broke and an R.A.F. officer fell back into the sea, but Sergeant Wood dived into the water and supported him until he was joined by another member of the rescue party, when they succeeded in bringing this officer ashore. Six hours later an officer succeeded in swimming out with a rope which enabled those left on the rocks to be rescued by means of a breeches buoy.

(London Gazette 11 March 1941)


14505 Corporal William Gazeley, Royal Air Force.

In spite of lack of special training and experience, this airman assisted in locating and dealing with three unexploded bombs one night in October, 1940. Corporal Gazeley showed outstanding courage and disregard of danger.

(London Gazette 8 April 1941)


907748 Aircraftman 1st Class Arthur Leslie Watkins, Royal Air Force.

In December, 1940, an aircraft crashed on an aerodrome and immediately burst into flames. Without hesitation Aircraftman Watkins jumped on to the blazing aircraft, assisted the pilot clear of the wreckage and put out his burning clothing. The presence of mind and courage of this airman undoubtedly saved the pilot from being severely burned and possibly from being killed. The aircraft contained ammunition, which started to explode shortly after the pilot was clear of the wreckage.

(London Gazette 8 April 1941)


507022 Flight Sergeant Alfred Sydney Joseph Curtis, Royal Air Force.

747046 Corporal Walter Hogg, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Flight Sergeant Curtis was engaged in supervising the unloading of live bombs from a lorry, unaware that they had previously formed part of the bomb load of a damaged aircraft. During the process a bomb exploded, immediately killing a number of airmen and setting fire to the vehicle. Flight Sergeant Curtis and Corporal Hogg unhesitatingly approached the blazing vehicle, and, with great personal courage, removed the bodies of the dead airmen.

(London Gazette 5 May 1941)


575382 Leading Aircraftman Charles James Kiss, Royal Air Force.

521482 Aircraftman 1st Class George Gill, Royal Air Force.

535669 Aircraftman 1st Class Frank Hindley, Royal Air Force.

One day in December, 1940, a training aircraft crashed, burst into flames and was burnt out in a few minutes. The passenger was thrown clear but died from his injuries. The pilot, who was badly injured, was pinned in the burning wreckage but was extricated by the gallant efforts of these three airmen who in so doing undoubtedly saved his life.

(London Gazette 5 May 1941)


525199 Sergeant Percy Evans Pacey, Royal Air Force.

One day in April, 1941, this airman was despatcher in an aircraft which crashed on landing and immediately burst into flames. He saw the six passengers, who were in his charge, to safety and, in spite of severe leg injuries, unhesitatingly re-entered the aircraft and crawled up the fuselage to rescue the wireless operator whose clothes were on fire. The fuselage tanks exploded and set fire to Sergeant Pacey's clothing just as he succeeded in dragging the wireless operator clear of the aircraft. Sergeant Pacey took a considerable risk in re-entering the blazing aircraft and set a splendid example of courage and self-sacrifice.

(London Gazette 11 July 1941)


968365 Sergeant Dudley Farquhar Allen, G.M., Royal Air Force.

One evening in April an enemy aircraft dropped incendiary bombs on an aerodrome. One bomb fell into the cockpit of an aircraft on the ground and lodged beneath the seat and under the front of the fuselage petrol tank in a position which prevented its removal. Sergeant Allen attempted to extinguish the incendiary but his efforts were unavailing owing to its position. He therefore climbed into the cockpit and, although fully aware that the fuel tank was likely to explode at any moment, he plied fire extinguishers against the side of the tank and put soil on the incendiary until it was finally extinguished. At the time a large number of men were engaged in putting out other incendiaries near the aircraft. There is no doubt that Sergeant Allen, by his initiative and gallant conduct in the face of extremely dangerous conditions, prevented many casualties which would certainly have occurred had the tank exploded.

(London Gazette 11 July 1941)


852019 Leading Aircraftman William Aitkin Osborne, Auxiliary Air Force.

This airman was in charge of a balloon site one night in November, 1940. Several high explosive bombs had exploded on and around the site and he had ordered his crew to shelters. He observed his balloon dropping, due to shell splintered punctures, and led his crew to haul it in. This was successfully carried out during the attack. He later led three of his crew to the assistance of civilians who were trapped in a neighbouring demolished house, but on his way he was rendered unconscious by a bomb explosion which killed two of his companions. Leading Aircraftman Osborne had, during a previous raid, led a relief party from his crew to trapped civilians. He has displayed gallantry and devotion to duty in keeping with the high tradition of the service.

(London Gazette 5 August 1941)


799700 Acting Sergeant Norman Edward Lanning, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

This airman was on duty at a railway station in a town which was heavily attacked by enemy aircraft on two successive nights in December, 1940. Sergeant Lanning worked unremittingly to minimize damage by incendiaries and to find arid rescue injured persons, bringing them to the station first aid post for attention. He was conspicuous for his efficiency in all directions and showed an immediate grasp of quickly changing events. His gallantry, calm demeanour, good humour and tireless energy contributed greatly towards the maintenance of good spirits and order amongst the other Railway Transport Office staff and the public generally.

(London Gazette 26 August 1941)


535643 Sergeant Arthiir Gwynne Francis.

In June, 1941, Sergeant Francis in company with another airman, observed an aircraft flying in from the sea with black smoke coming from the starboard engine. The aircraft crashed on the sand dunes about 100 yards away. Sergeant Francis ordered his companion to bring men and crash kit from a nearby unit and himself ran towards the   aircraft. As he approached, the defective engine burst into flames and a dazed member of the crew, who was outside the aircraft, could give no information concerning the rest of the crew. Sergeant Francis looked in the door and the rear gun turret for possible survivors, afterwards climbing over the port mainplane on to the nose of the aircraft. Flames were entering the cockpit and he seized a fire extinguisher but could not put out the fire. He then jumped into the wrecked nose of the aircraft where he found an airman on the floor apparently dead and the pilot unconscious in his seat with his feet trapped. Sergeant Francis managed to extricate the pilot and lifted him out to others who had now arrived on the scene. The first airman then seemed to show signs of life and was dragged to a position where others could pull him from the aircraft with a salvage hook. Sergeant Francis then satisfied himself that no other person was in the wreckage before returning to a safe distance. In spite of an injured hand, he continued to assist in salvage operations for some time. He displayed, courage and resource of a high order throughout.

(London Gazette 9 September 1941)


644978 Corporal William John Balls.

In May, 1941, this airman was a member of a party completing the loading of a tender with parts from a disabled aircraft at a Royal Air Force Station, when a parachute flare exploded inside the tender and burst into flames. Although fully aware that the lorry contained ammunition in addition to valuable equipment, Corporal Balls, in spite of the blaze and fumes from extinguishers which were being used, sprang into the lorry and commenced to throw out drums of ammunition. When forced back by fumes he jumped out of the tender and put on his respirator, and then succeeded in removing the ammunition from the tender. By his courageous act, this airman undoubtedly saved the vehicle and contents from becoming a total loss and it may well be that his promptitude prevented residents in houses in the immediate vicinity of the aerodrome from becoming casualties.

(London Gazette 9 September 1941)


1018111 Aircraftman 1st Class David Idris Howells.

One night in May, 1941, an aircraft, in which were an instructor and pupil, turned over on the flare path and burst into flames. Aircraftman Howells, who was on duty with the fire piquet, with complete disregard for his own safety, immediately dashed into the flames and succeeded in extricating both the occupants of the aircraft. In doing so, Aircraftman Howells received severe burns to his hands. Nevertheless, by his promptness and gallant devotion to duty, he saved the lives of both the instructor and his pupil.

(London Gazette 9 September 1941)


904071 Sergeant Douglas Clarence Arthur Wilkinson, Royal Air Force.

One night in June, 1941, this airman was the wireless operator of an aircraft which, in the course of an operation, was compelled to descend on to the sea off the Dutch coast. Although Sergeant Wilkinson had had trouble with his wireless set he had managed to maintain wireless contact with a home station until the aircraft crashed, thus enabling an accurate fix to be obtained of the aircraft's position. After the crash he released his captain who was strapped in and assisted him through the front top hatch. Sergeant Wilkinson was about to leave the aircraft, which by this time was half full of water, when he observed the navigator lying unconscious in the tunnel. Sergeant Wilkinson immediately went to the navigator's assistance, and dragging him into the cockpit, managed to revive him and then assisted him to climb out through the top hatch. Following him through the hatch, Sergeant Wilkinson saw the dinghy had not yet been launched so, dropping down on to the port wing, he jumped into the sea, swam round to the door and, opening it fully, enabled the rear gunner to throw out the dinghy. It failed to open but Sergeant Wilkinson pulled on the cord until it eventually opened but upside down. Eventually, however, the dinghy was righted and all the -crew were able to jump into it except the navigator who fell in the water. Sergeant Wilkinson grasped him and with the assistance of the rear gunner was able to pull the navigator into the dinghy. Within the next few minutes the aircraft sank. Sergeant Wilkinson showed great presence of mind and devotion to duty and undoubtedly was instrumental in saving the life of the navigator besides contributing largely to the successful launching of the dinghy which led to the eventual rescue of the entire crew.

(London Gazette 31 October 1941)


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