75th anniversary of Pilot Officer Rawdon Middleton receiving a Victoria Cross

November 29 will mark 75 years since Pilot Officer Rawdon Hume Middleton was posthumously awarded the Royal Australian Air Force’s first Victoria Cross (VC) in World War II.

A service commemorating his extreme gallantry and devotion to duty that day in 1942 – which cost his life but earned him the highest honour – is being organised at the RAAF Base in Wagga. A tribute to him will also be unveiled.

Pilot Officer Middleton was educated at Dubbo High School and was well known as a keen cricketer and footballer.

Service organiser, Squadron Leader Wayne Donchi, has contacted about 15 of Pilot Officer Middleton’s family members but is still searching for any other relatives who may wish to attend the 75th anniversary service.

“You don’t receive a VC for not doing something extraordinary and that’s what Pilot Officer Middleton did,” Squadron Leader Donchi said.

Middleton was born in 1916 in Sydney, a great-nephew of the explorer Hamilton Hume.

He was working as a jackeroo at Yarrabandai, near Parkes, when World War II started. He enlisted in the RAAF in 1940 and learned to fly at Narromine. In February 1942 Middleton was posted to 149 Squadron, Royal Air Force, where he became a first pilot in Stirling bombers.

On November 28, 1942 on his 29th operation, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire over a target in Italy. A shell exploded in the cockpit wounding his body and face, and destroying his right eye. It also wounded the second pilot and wireless operator. 

Middleton lost consciousness and the plane dived to just 800 feet. The second pilot regained control. They were hit by more shells. When Middleton regained consciousness he began the long, gruelling flight back to England, knowing there was insufficient fuel. 

The crew discussed abandoning the plane or trying to land in France, but Middleton decided to head for England where his crew would have the chance to bail out. 

Near the French coast the Stirling was hit again. Over the English coast with only five minutes of fuel left Middleton ordered his crew to parachute. Five jumped. Two stayed to help him before trying to parachute to safety, but both drowned. The plane crashed into the sea, killing Middleton, 26.

Family or people wishing to attend the service, can contact Squadron Leader Donchi on 6127 6807 or at wayne.donchi@defence.gov.au. Source: Australian War Memorial