Hero James Allen Ward VC
7th July 1941, 49 Wellingtons were dispatched on a raid to Munster. On the return journey, aircraft L7818 of 75 New Zealand Squadron from Feltwell was attacked from below by a Messerschmitt BF 110 nightfighter. The attack damaged the starboard wing, setting it on fire. The crew were unable to put out the fire from the fuselage. Still over Germany the crew had two equally undesirable options: to fly as long as they could and ditch the craft on the occupied continent or the North Sea, or to bail from the plane there and then.
Second pilot James Ward, of Whanganui, New Zealand, volunteered for a third option. A death-defying, unenviable job of crawling out of the fuselage to smother the flames with an engine cover found onboard. He made his way to the astro-hatch, (a hatch used to navigate by stars), where a rope from the onboard dinghy was tied to him and a parachute, which he originally refused to wear, was secured to his back. He made his way out and on to the wing. Punching hand and foot holds into the side of the craft, he fought the slipstream to control the flapping engine cover and bring it down upon the fire. Ward battled to push the cover into the hole made by the fire to help stabilise the plane, but it failed to stay there. However, with the fire out and Ward back on board the plane, she safely landed at Newmarket. Despite making it home, Wellington L7818 was too damaged to fly again.
James Ward was recommended for a VC for his actions. He met Winston Churchill and was promoted to his own Command. Sadly only 5 flights later, on the 15th September 1941, his Wellington was hit by flak and caught fire. Only 2 of the crew survived. Tragically James Ward, aged just 22, was not one of them.
James Ward’s VC was presented to his brother by the Governor General of New Zealand, on the 16th October 1942. He was the only person awarded a VC for action in a Wellington bomber. He is buried in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery, Ohlsdorf, Hamburg.