A campaign of handwritten letters by a now 93-year-old Queensland woman has resulted in the overdue awarding of a Star of Courage to an Air Force pilot killed in a fiery crash over England on July 28, 1944.
Seventy one years after he was killed during the Second World War, Pilot Officer Jim Hocking will be awarded a Star of Courage. His legend lives on in the Navy through his great nephew, Lieutenant Aaron Hocking.
Pilot Officer Hocking, of No. 12 Operational Training Unit, was flying a Stirling bomber out of RAF Base Wratting Common in Cambridgeshire when the inner starboard engine caught fire.
As the aircraft began to lose power on all engines, he ordered the six-man crew to abandon the aircraft.
When Pilot Officer Hocking realised the bomber was about to crash into the township of March, he struggled with the controls and managed to fly it a mile further on, where it crashed into a paddock, killing him instantly.
“By his actions, Pilot Officer Hocking displayed conspicuous courage,” the citation reads.
According to Pilot Officer Hocking’s brother, Alan, a former school friend felt Pilot Officer Hocking had been overlooked for an award for his actions.
Mr Hocking said Joyce Milligan campaigned for recognition for his brother for seven or eight years after talking about the incident at a school reunion.
“She stayed with it and wrote to everyone from the Queen down, including Prince Charles and the Prime Minister,” Mr Hocking said.
“The announcement of the award is an unexpected surprise because they tried to get him an award in the UK years ago, but the authorities said no after the King declared there’d be no more awards for the 39/45 war.”
Mr Hocking said he was only seven when his brother went off to join the Air Force.
“He was 10 years older than me and was my ‘hero big brother’ off flying planes,” he said.
Pilot Officer Hocking’s great-nephew Lieutenant Aaron Hocking, a weapons electrical engineering officer at Sydney’s Garden Island, said the award was a long time coming and he was “extremely proud” of his uncle.
“He looked after his team, which shows the quality of a true officer,” he said.
“I hope to be there next year when Uncle Alan receives the medal from the Queensland Governor.
“I also hope to go to the town of March in 2017 for the annual commemoration to Uncle Jim.”
Lieutenant Hocking said he had been in the Navy for about 10 years when his grandmother Maude Hocking told him about his uncle.
“I’m proud to be a Hocking with all that history behind me,” he said.
Mrs Milligan said she was campaigning for a George Medal for Pilot Officer Hocking because she wasn’t aware of the new honours and awards.
“But I think the Star of Courage is a wonderful medal,” she said.
“I think he deserves it. He was only 21 and he sat in that plane on his own and kept it from crashing into that town.
“There was a train full of ammunition at the town’s railway station and if that had gone up, the whole town would have disappeared.
“I think Jim made a courageous decision to save that town.”
Star of Courage Citation
The late Pilot Officer James Wallace HOCKING
In the early morning of 28 July 1944, Royal Australian Air Force Pilot Officer James Hocking, who was then 21 years of age and on attachment with the Royal Air Force, piloted a stricken bomber aircraft away from a village in Cambridgeshire, England.
Pilot Officer Hocking was captaining a Stirling Bomber aircraft during a night cross country training flight near March. As the bomber flew over East Anglia, flames were seen coming out of the inner starboard engine and Pilot Officer Hocking advised his crew that he was going to feather the engine and return to RAF Wratting Common air base.
The aircraft began to lose power on all engines and Pilot Officer Hocking ordered the crew to stand - by and don their parachutes. The aircraft subsequently began to shudder violently so he ordered the crew of six men to abandon the aircraft.
The Mid-Upper Gunner went to see if Pilot Officer Hocking was coming and observed that he was half way out of his seat.
Realising that the aircraft was about to crash into the populated township of March he ordered the Gunner to leave the aircraft whilst he struggled with the controls. With the crew safely out of the aircraft Pilot Officer Hocking managed to fly the bomber beyond the township before it crashed in a nearby field.
Sadly, Pilot Officer Hocking was killed on impact.
By his actions, Pilot Officer Hocking displayed conspicuous courage.