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|Born||Joan Daphne Mary Pearson
25 May 1911
Christchurch, Dorset, England, UK
|Died||25 July 2000
|Occupation||Women's Auxiliary Air Force NCO; George Cross awardee|
Daphne Pearson GC (25 May 1911, Bournemouth – 25 July 2000, Melbourne) was an English Women's Auxiliary Air Force NCO and later officer during World War II and one of only thirteen women recipients of the George Cross to date, the highest medal for gallantry not in the face of an enemy that can be awarded to a citizen of the United Kingdom.
Joan Daphne Mary Pearson was born at Christchurch, Dorset, near Bournemouth. When her father was appointed as vicar of a parish in St Helens, Isle of Wight, her family moved there, to a house facing France across the English Channel.She later said that was the first time in her life she considered joining the Navy. She boarded at St Brandon's School, Bristol, away from her parents who lived in the parishes her father looked after. After leaving school, she working as a photographer and photographic assistant, with her own studio, before giving it up because of ill health. She then did a variety of jobs while learning to fly in her spare time.
In the early hours of the morning on 31 May 1940, a bomber of No. 500 Squadron RAF undershot on approach to an airstrip near the WAAF quarters in Detling, Kent, crashing into a field. Upon landing, a bomb exploded, killing the navigator instantly, and leaving the pilot seriously injured. Corporal Pearson entered the burning fuselage, released the pilot from his harness and removed him from the immediate area around the aircraft. After she was 27 metres (30 yards) from the aircraft, a bomb exploded. She flung herself on top of the pilot to protect him. After medical staff had removed the pilot, she went back to the plane to look for the fourth crew member, the radio operator. She found him dead. Several weeks after the incident, she was commissioned as an officer in the WAAF and served in RAF Bomber Command until the end of the war. After the revocation of the Empire Gallantry Medal, King George VI invested her on 31 January 1941 with its replacement, the George Cross. She was the first woman to receive the new award.
A portrait of Pearson at the time of the incident was commissioned and painted by the artist, Laura Knight.
Pearson was a corporal at the time of her courageous action. A month later, she was commissioned as a section officer. For the remainder of the war, she served mainly as a recruiter. After demobilisation in 1946, she became the assistant governor of a women's Borstal. She later worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and owned a shop in Kew, selling gardening equipment, produce and flowers.
Pearson visited Australia in November 1969, on the first flight of the Comet IV on the Heathrow to Darwin route. She decided to emigrate there, working in the Victoria region as a horticulturist, first at the Department of Agriculture and later at the Commonwealth Department of Civil Aviation. She attended reunions of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association until her late eighties.
Her attendance of a meeting of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association led to a report about her in a Sunday newspaper in 1995, and eventually to her meeting the pilot whose life she had saved, after his son recognised the circumstances surrounding his rescue.
Pearson was a member of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association (London), Australian Red Cross Society (Victorian Division), Women's Royal Air Force Officers Association (UK), she was a Life Member of the Royal Air Force Association (UK) and Honorary Life Member of the Returned Services League (RSL), Royal Air Force Club (UK) and the British Legion (UK).
|“||CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD - St. James's Palace, S.W.1. 19th July 1940.
880538 Corporal (now Assistant Section Officer) Joan Daphne Mary Pearson, Women's Auxiliary Air Force
On 31 May 1940, an hour after midnight, an aircraft crashed near the Women's Auxiliary Air Force quarters at Detling in Kent, the pilot being seriously injured, another officer killed outright and two airmen slightly injured. Upon hearing the crash Corporal Pearson rushed out and, although she knew there were bombs on board, she stood on the wreckage, roused the pilot who was stunned, released his parachute harness and helped him to get clear. When she got him about 30 yards from the wreckage, a 120 lb bomb went off and Corporal Pearson threw herself on top of the pilot to protect him from the blast and splinters. She remained with him until a stretcher party arrived and then returned to the burning aircraft to look for the fourth member of the crew. She found him - the wireless operator - dead in the bomber. Her prompt and courageous action undoubtedly helped to save the pilot's life.
- "Daphne Pearson GC". The Daily Telegraph. 26 July 2000. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
- Australian Women Archival/Heritage Resources profile of Daphne Pearson
- The Times obituary notice for Daphne Pearson, GC, 26 July 2000. Accessed 9 January 2007.
- "No. 34900". The London Gazette. 19 July 1940. p. 4434.
- Australian Women Archival/Heritage Resources - Pearson's papers
- One Step Further and www.gc-database.co.uk - Pearson profile at www.gc-database.co.uk
- In War and Peace: the Life and Times of Daphne Pearson ISBN 978-1-85418-211-1
- Imperial War Museum. "Collections Search for '"daphne pearson"". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 11 March 2013.