Ron Middleton

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For the football player of the same name, see Ron Middleton (American football).
Rawdon Middleton
Middleton-vc.jpg
Rawdon Hume (Ron) Middleton
Born (1916-07-22)22 July 1916
Sydney, New South Wales
Died 29 November 1942(1942-11-29) (aged 26)
English Channel
Allegiance Australia
Service/branch Royal Australian Air Force
Years of service 1940–42
Rank Pilot Officer (posthumously)
Unit No. 149 Squadron RAF
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Victoria Cross
Relations Hamilton Hume (great-uncle)

Rawdon Hume "Ron" Middleton, VC (22 July 1916 – 29 November 1942) was a bomber pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force and a posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Early life[edit]

Middleton (far right) and classmates from No. 7 Empire Air Training Scheme course at No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School Narromine posing in front of a Tiger Moth in 1940.[1]

Middleton was born in Waverley, Sydney on 22 July 1916, and spent his early years in the Central Western district of New South Wales, where he attended Dubbo High School at which a memorial trust in his name has been operating for many years. He was a great-nephew of the colonial explorer, Hamilton Hume. He was an athletic young man, and excelled in cricket and Rugby football at school. After leaving school, he worked for a time as a jackaroo at Leewang station, the large grazing property his father managed.

He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 14 October 1940, and trained as a pilot in the Empire Air Training Scheme. He undertook initial flying training at No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School (5 EFTS) Narromine, and advanced training in Canada. In February 1942 he joined No. 149 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, flying as second pilot on Short Stirling bombers. By July of that year he was appointed as an aircraft captain, and flew his first raid as a pilot-in-command against Düsseldorf.[2]

Victoria Cross action[edit]

On 28 November 1942, Middleton was captain of Stirling BF372[3] detailed to bomb the Fiat aircraft works at Turin. It was his twenty-ninth combat sortie, one short of the thirty required for completion of a 'tour' and mandatory rotation off combat operations.

Middleton and his crew arrived above Turin after a difficult flight over the Alps, due to the low combat ceiling of the "bombed-up" and "fueled-up" Stirling (due to its short stubby wings, designed to keep all up weight down, but of little use at high altitudes). Over the target area Middleton had to make three low-level passes in order to positively identify the target; on the third, the aircraft was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire which wounded both pilots and the wireless operator. Middleton suffered numerous grievous wounds, including shrapnel wounds to the arms, legs and body, having his right eye torn from its socket and his jaw shattered.

Middleton's grave in Beck Row, Suffolk.

He passed out briefly, and his second pilot, Flight Sergeant L.A. Hyder, who was also seriously wounded, managed to regain control of the plunging plane at 800 feet and drop the bombs, before receiving first aid from the other crew. Middleton regained consciousness in time to help recover control of his stricken bomber. Middleton was in great pain, was barely able to see, was losing blood from wounds all over his body, and could breathe only with difficulty. He must have known that his own chances of survival were slim, but he nonetheless determined to fly his crippled aircraft home, and return his crew to safety. During the return flight he frequently said over the intercom "I'll make the English Coast. I'll get you home".[4] After four hours of agony and having been further damaged by flak over France, Middleton reached the coast of England with five minutes of fuel reserves. At this point he turned the aircraft parallel to the coast and ordered his crew to bail out. Five of his crew did so and landed safely, but his front gunner and flight engineer remained with him to try to talk him into a forced landing on the coast, something he must have known would have risked extensive civilian casualties. He steered the aircraft out over the sea, off Dymchurch, and ordered the last two crew to bail out. They then too bailed out, but did not survive the night in the English Channel. Middleton stayed with the aircraft, which crashed into the Channel. His body was washed ashore on 1 February 1943.

The last line of his Victoria Cross citation reads: "His devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds is unsurpassed in the annals of the Royal Air Force".[5]

Flight Sergeant Rawdon Hume Middleton VC was posthumously promoted to pilot officer, and is buried at Beck Row, [Mildenhall], Suffolk. His Victoria Cross and uniform are displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Pilot Officer G.R. Royde (observer) was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, while Flight Sergeant L.A. Hyder (2nd pilot), Flight Sergeant D. Cameron (upper gunner) and Sergeant H.W. Gough (rear gunner) all were awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. Coincidentally, Cameron (as a flying officer) would be a member of Flight Sergeant Ian Willoughby Bazalgette's crew when the Canadian would be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross as well.

Legacy[edit]

Middleton has been honoured by the naming of the "Middleton VC Club" at 1 RAAF Recruit Training Unit, RAAF Base Wagga. He was on one of 1995 Australia Remembers 45c stamps. The dining hall located at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk is named after Middleton.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Photograph given to Stuart Bill by Len Reid, third from the left during research on Middleton VC
  2. ^ Bill, Stuart, Middleton VC, Melbourne 1991
  3. ^ Record for Stirling Mk.I BF372 OJ-H on lostaircraft.com
  4. ^ Bill, Stuart, Middleton VC, Melbourne, 1991
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35864. pp. 329–330. 15 January 1943. Retrieved 28 April 2015.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bill, Stuart (1991). Middleton VC Melbourne, 1991 – Biography of Rawdon Middleton based on research, interviews with survivors and family members and personal accounts.
  • Firkins, Peter (1993). Heroes Have Wings – stories of Australian aviation heroism, written by a former Bomber Command tail gunner
  • Johnston, John and Nick Carter. Strong by Night: History and Memories of No. 149 (East India) Squadron Royal Air Force, 1918/19 – 1937/56. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 2002. ISBN 0-85130-313-7.
  • Moyes, Philip J.R. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1964 (new edition 1976). ISBN 0-354-01027-1.
  • Stephens, Alan. The Royal Australian Air Force: A History. London: Oxford University Press, 2001 (reprinted 2006). ISBN 0-19-555541-4.
  • Wigmore, Lionel (1986). They Dared Mightily – the definitive guide to Australian VC Winners