WWII pilot’s heroism honoured 71 years on

Australian World War II pilot Jim Hocking was halfway out of his seat, scrambling for the exit of his stricken plane, when he made the final decision of his life.


The Stirling Bomber he was piloting was heavy with fuel when one of its four engines caught fire during a training run over the English countryside close to midnight on July 27, 1944.

A second engine cut out soon afterwards. Then a third failed.

Hocking, who’d ordered his crew to don their parachutes, calmly ordered everyone to jump.

It seems that was his plan, too, until he realised the bomber was hurtling towards the twinkling lights of a town in the darkness below.

Instead, the 21-year-old retook his seat at the controls, telling the last of his crew not to wait for him.

“I’m going to try to stop this thing hitting that town. I’ll see you in a minute.”

At two minutes past midnight, the bomber plunged into a field about a kilometre from the town of March, near Cambridge, it’s hero pilot giving his own life to save others on the ground.

For 40 long years, Hocking’s family knew nothing of the extraordinary courage he displayed in the final minutes of his life.

All they had were the scant details carried in a telegram of the kind so many families received during the war – that he’d died in a plane crash.

There was no hint in the brief document of his heroism.

Decades later, and only through the persistence of fellow Australian airman Len Shea, who’d trained with Hocking, his family finally learned the truth.

In 1987, more than 40 years after Hocking put the bomber down on the outskirts of March, the town held a service to commemorate his bravery.

On Wednesday, Australia formally recognised him too, awarding him the Star of Courage in the latest Australian Bravery Awards.

Hocking’s brother Alan was just 11 when his brother died.

He was there in 1987 when residents of March gathered to honour a man they never met and says it means a lot that so many years on, Australia is doing the same.

“It was something I’d given up on really,” Mr Hocking, who is 82, has told AAP.

The award announced on Wednesday is thanks in large part to the determination of Joyce Milligan, who went to school with Jim in the Queensland town of Nambour.

It was she who nominated the airman for the award, having spent years writing to every authority she could think of so her childhood friend’s story would be more widely known.

“She’s been writing to everybody to try and get some recognition for him, from the Duke of Edinburgh to the prime minister. And now she’s finally succeeded,” Mr Hocking says.

He says his brother’s actions are better known in England than they are in Australia but he hopes the award will change that.