3 March 2006

( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Sergeant James Ward,
75 Squadron, Royal Air Force ( RNZAF )

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1939-45 Star
  • Air Crew Europe Star
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • New Zealand War Service Medal ( 1939-45 )

The Victoria Cross and other medals awarded to Sergeant James Ward, which had been in the care and on loan to the Royal New Zealand Air Force since 1988, were handed back to the Ward family by Air Vice Marshal John Hamilton at a ceremony held on Friday, 3rd March 2006, at the RNZAF Base Ohakea.

However, later this month the VC medal group will have a new home in the Auckland War Memorial Museum. James Ward's great great nephew, the guardian of the group, made the decision to display the medals in the Auckland Museum to allow family members better access to them and to allow New Zealanders to become more familiar with James Ward's heroic VC action in 1941.

[ London Gazette, 5 August 1941 ], Over the Netherlands, 7 July 1941, Sergeant James Allen Ward, 75 Squadron ( RAF ), Royal New Zealand Air Force.

On the night of 7th July 1941, Sergeant Ward was second pilot of a Wellington returning from an attack on Munster. When flying over the Zuider Zee at 13,000feet, the aircraft was attacked from beneath by a Messerschmitt which secured hits with cannon shell and incendiary bullets. The rear gunner was wounded in the foot but delivered a burst of fire which sent the enemy fighter down, apparently out of control. Fire then broke out near the starboard engine and, fed by petrol from a split pipe, quickly gained an alarming hold and threatened to spread to the entire wing. The crew forced a hole in the fuselage and made strenuous efforts to reduce the fire with extinguishers and even the coffee in their vacuum flasks, but without success. They were then warned to be ready to abandon the aircraft.

As a last resort, Sergeant Ward volunteered to make an attempt to smother the fire with an engine cover which happended to be in use as a cushion. At first he proposed to discard his parachute to reduce wind resistance, but was finally persuaded to take it. A rope from the dinghy was tied to him, though this was of little help and might have become a danger had he been blown off the aircraft. With the help of the navigator, he then climbed through the narrow astro-hatch and put on his parachute.

The bomber was flying at a reduced speed but the wind pressure must have been sufficient to render the operation one of extreme difficulty. Breaking the fabric to make hand and foot holds where necessary, and also taking advantage of existing holes in the fabric, Sergeant Ward succeeded in descending three feet to the wing and proceeding another three feet to a position behind the engine, despite the slipstream from the airscrew, which nearly blew him off the wing. Lying in this precarious position, he smothered the fire in the wing fabric and tried to push the cover into the hole in the wing and on to the leaking pipe from which the fire came. As soon as he removed his hand, however, the terrific wind blew the cover out and when he tried again it was lost. Tired as he was, he was able with the navigator's assistance, to make successfully the perilous journey back into the aircraft. There was now no danger of the fire spreading from the petrol pipe as there was no fabric left nearby, and in due course burnt itself out.

When the aircraft was nearly home some petrol which had collected in the wing blazed up furiously but died down quite suddenly. A safe landing was then made despite the damage sustained by the aircraft. The flight home had been made possisble by the gallant action of Sergeant Ward in extinguishing the fire on the wing, in circumstances of the greatest difficulty and at the risk of his life.

James Ward died on 15th September 1941, only ten weeks after his VC action, after his Wellington bomber was hit by flak over the target and caught fire. Only two of the five crew survived, Ward was not of them. It was his 11th sortie, 5th as captain. He is buried in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery Ohlsdorf, Hamburg, Germany.

James Ward's Victoria Cross was presented to his brother by the Governer General of New Zealand, at Government House, Wellington, on the 16th October 1942.


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Iain Stewart, 3 March 2006