New Zealand Bomber Command Association



James Allen Ward VC

Jimmy Ward
(Credit: Alexander Turnbull Library)

James Allen Ward VC

Three New Zealand airmen were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for valour “in the presence of the enemy” to members of the British and Commonwealth Armed Forces. James (Jimmy) Ward was the first so decorated.

The Whanganui schoolteacher was an early volunteer for the Royal New Zealand Air Force and was called up in 1940. After completing flight training in Levin and then Wigram, Ward travelled to England in 1941.

From there he was chosen for Bomber Command and undertook operational training at Lossiemouth in Scotland before being posted to No. 75 Squadron in mid-1941 which, at the time, was based at Feltwell in Norfolk.

His first operational flight was made on 14 June, as a second pilot to Squadron Leader Reuben Widdowson, a Canadian, on a bombing mission to Düsseldorf in a Wellington. Over the next few weeks, he flew six more bombing missions accompanying Widdowson and it was during the last of the operations as second pilot that he earned the VC.

The raid was to Münster on the north Rhine. On the return flight, while over the Zuider Zee on the Dutch coast, their aircraft was attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 night fighter. The attack opened a fuel tank in the starboard wing and caused a fire around the rear of the starboard engine.

After initial attempts to put out the flames using fire extinguishers directed through a hole made in the fuselage of the Wellington failed, Widdowson ordered the crew to bail out. However, Ward proposed that he climb out and try and smother the fire using an engine cover. He crawled out through the Wellington’s astrodome secured by a rope.

Making his way down the side and along the wing of the aircraft, he kicked or tore holes in the fuselage’s covering fabric with a fire axe to give himself hand-and foot-holes. Ward was able to reach the engine and attempted to smother the flames with a canvas cover. With the fire out, he stuffed the cover into the hole from which the leaked fuel had exacerbated the fire.

Now exhausted, Ward gingerly made his way back to the astrodome with navigator, Sergeant Joe Lawson, another Kiwi, keeping tension on the rope tethered to Ward and assisting him back into the aircraft.

Although the cover shortly blew away in the Wellington’s slipstream, the remnants of the fire had burnt itself out and the plane was now safe and the crew were able to make an emergency landing, albeit without flaps or brakes, at Newmarket.

Ward was the first of three New Zealand airmen to be awarded the VC during the Second World War. Sadly, he was killed just two months later while commanding his own Wellington on a bombing mission to Germany.

Sergeant James Allen Ward standing in the cockpit of his Vickers Wellington at Feltwell, Norfolk, July 1941
(Credit: Imperial War Museum)

From L to R where identified: (3) Gwyn Martin, (4) Ray Curlewis, (5) Jimmy Ward, (6) Joe Lawton, (7) Charlie Black, (8) W/C Cyril Kay, (9) Allan Box possibly, (10) G/C John ‘Speedy’ Powell possibly, (12) John Breckell.
(Credit: David Martin)

Close-up of the damage caused to Vickers Wellington Mark IC, L7818 ‘AA-R’, of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF, at Feltwell, Norfolk, after returning from an attack on Munster, Germany, on the night of 7/8 July 1941.

While over the Zuider Zee, cannon shells from an attacking Messerschmitt Me 110 struck the starboard wing (A), causing a fire from a fractured fuel line which threatened to spread to the whole wing. Efforts by the crew to douse the flames failed, and Sergeant James Allen Ward, the second pilot, volunteered to tackle the fire by climbing out onto the wing via the astro-hatch (B). With a dinghy-rope tied around his waist, he made hand and footholds in the fuselage and wings (1, 2 and 3) and moved out across the wing from where he was eventually able to extinguish the burning wing-fabric. His courageous actions earned him the Victoria Cross.

(Credit: AIR MINISTRY SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION Royal Air Force official photographer)

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