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Thread: Climbing outside an aircraft at 13,000ft over enemy territory to put out a fire.

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    Team Fusion Cybermat47's Avatar
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    Climbing outside an aircraft at 13,000ft over enemy territory to put out a fire.

    The 25th of April is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. It is a day of mourning and commemoration for the servicemen and women who have served and sacrificed for those two nations.

    This year, I would like to commemorate one of the most remarkable men to ever take to the air: the New Zealander Sergeant James Allen Ward VC.



    Ward was born on the 14th of June 1919 in Whanganui, a city on New Zealand's North Island, to English immigrants Percy and Ada. He was educated at the Wanganui Technical College and went on to learn teaching. However, just after he'd secured his first teaching job at Castlecliff School, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Britain, and New Zealand, promptly declared war on the aggressors. Ward immediately volunteered for the RNZAF, but was not called upon until July 1940. He trained as a pilot, and was judged to have somewhat above average skill. Earning his wings on the 18th of January 1941, Ward was sent to England. Once there, he was selected for bomber duty and sent to 20 OTU. Upon completing his training there, he was sent to fly Vickers Wellington bombers with No. 75 SQN RNZAF. According to one of his comrades, Hugh Kimpton, Ward had to win a coin toss to secure the one vacant position in the squadron.

    Ward's first operational flight came on the 14th of June, where he flew as Canadian Squadron Leader Reuben Widdowson's copilot on a bombing raid against Dusseldorf, Germany. The pair would fly together several more times over the next three weeks. On their last mission together, Ward would perform one of the most remarkable feats in aviation history.

    Only the 7th of July, Ward and Widdowson flew their Wellington in a raid against the city of Munster. They made it to the target and out of Germany safely enough, but were attacked by a nightfighter at 13,000ft over the Dutch Zuider Zee on their return leg. The German rounds tore through one of the Wellington's starboard fuel tanks and ignited the engine. The aircraft's rear gunner, New Zealander Sergeant Allan Box, was hit in the foot, but managed to shoot the German down with return fire. While they were no longer under attack, the crew was still in grave danger; the wing fabric was on fire, and this fire was being exacerbated by the damaged fuel tank. Bailing out would risk captivity or a slow death from exposure or drowning in the North Sea. The fire had to be extinguished.

    The crew punched a hole through the Wellington's fuselage and attempted to subdue the fire with extinguishers and even coffee, but it was impossible. They would have had no choice but to take to their parachutes if not for Ward, who proposed that he smother the fire with an engine cover that had been repurposed as a cushion. To do this, he would have to climb out of the aircraft and make his way to the burning engine, all while the Wellington flew at over ten thousand feet in the air. After being persuaded to at least keep his parachute on (Ward believed that it would cause too much drag), he climbed through the aircraft's astrodome (B) and onto the exterior. All he had was his parachute, the engine cover, an axe, and a rope securing him to the aircraft. He created foot and hand holds (1, 2, and 3) in the aircraft's fabric skin with the axe and his feet, allowing him to make the 6 foot journey through a 'terrific gale' and propwash. He smothered the flames, jammed the cover into the hole in the fuel tank (A), and returned to the safety of the Wellington's interior with help from New Zealander Sergeant Joe Lawton, the aircraft's navigator. The cover eventually blew away, but it had done its job: the Wellington was able to make a crash landing in England. It was written off, but the crew had survived.



    Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross - the highest award for gallantry that a subject of the British Crown can receive - at the recommendation of No. 75 SQN's commanding officer, New Zealander Wing Commander Cyrus Kay. Widdowson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, while Box received the Distinguished Flying Medal. One anecdote states that Ward was also invited to meet Winston Churchill. Seeing that the pilot was visibly nervous, Churchill confessed to him that he felt far more humbled and awkward in the presence of such a brave man.

    Ward was not left unscarred by his experience, however. According to fellow New Zealander airman Hector Bolitho, a doctor declared him unfit to fly after a minor burn from a cigarette lighter triggered memories of that night. This declaration was allegedly in a note that the doctor gave to Ward, but he never passed it on to his CO if it did exist. Regardless, Ward's war was nearing its end. On the 15th of September, it was decided that he would pulled from combat duties to promote the war effort in New Zealand.

    But this decision came too late. On September 15th, on his second mission commanding an aircraft, Sergeant James Allen Ward VC was shot down and killed over Hamburg. Only two of his crew survived - Ward had managed to hold the crippled aircraft steady long enough for them to escape. Ward is buried in the Hamburg Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Germany.

    Last edited by Cybermat47; Apr-24-2022 at 07:12.
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    ATAG Member ATAG_TCP's Avatar
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    Re: Climbing outside an aircraft at 13,000ft over enemy territory to put out a fire.

    An absolutely amasing story, thanks for sharing Cyber!
    Its remarkable the things that one can do when the situation calls for it.
    I don't think I personally could have come up with the idea that he did!
    Also, were the engine covers fire resistant?
    If they were then that makes sense as to why he came up with the idea.

    It is sad that it left him with mental trouble, but also amasing and awesome that he pushed through it, and carried on with his work.
    Not so great when it is expected to push through, but remarkable when it is done due to that mental dissision to do so.
    Not saying it is always the right course of action, however it appears, from what I have heard, that often it can actually be the best course of action. The important distinction being not to emphasise the point of pushing through, but rather providing the motivation/encouragement, and, where possible, the things that aid the ability of one to push through.

    Bit of a random side-slip lol. Just some of my thoughts #NotAMentalHealthCareProffessional

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    Public Relations ATAG_Marlow's Avatar
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    Re: Climbing outside an aircraft at 13,000ft over enemy territory to put out a fire.

    Yes, truly an amazing story!

    I remember first coming across this story when I was about 7 years old. It might have been an 'extra' inside 'The Victor' comic that I frequently read back then! Real 'Boy's Own' stuff!

    However, this is not boy's own stuff! It's the truth and, as Padre has already alluded to, it is quite amazing how brave some of these young lads were, when facing their biggest test. I always wonder if I could have done something similar, if in the same circumstances. I doubt it but then you just don't know......until it happens to you.


    Whenever I visit a cemetery I always check to see if there is a Commonwealth War Graves section where ex servicemen are buried. We owe these young people so much and I always like to 'pop in' and say 'hello,' if I can. Least we can do, really!

    Like Ward, it's so unfair that a great many men survived a terrible ordeal only to be killed a few weeks later. Never fails to upset. Salute!

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    Re: Climbing outside an aircraft at 13,000ft over enemy territory to put out a fire.

    Last edited by Mysticpuma; Apr-27-2022 at 16:19.
    "The needs of the Flight Sim Community outweigh the needs of the one or the few"

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    Public Relations ATAG_Marlow's Avatar
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    Re: Climbing outside an aircraft at 13,000ft over enemy territory to put out a fire.

    Brilliant links, Mystic!

    I'll spend a bit of time browsing these! Thanks for sharing! Salute!

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