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 actions of extreme gallantry and devotion to duty that day in 1942 – that earned him his life and the highest honour – is being organised at the RAAF Base in Wagga.

There will also be the unveiling of a tribute to Pilot Officer Middleton.

Middleton Public School is named after Pilot Officer Middleton, who in his early working life was a jackeroo on a property managed by his father at Yarrabandai, near Parkes.

At the time of his death, his mother and next of kin Mrs Faith Lillian Middleton was living in Parkes.

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

It’s expected 200 people will be attending the November 29 event.

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

“We’ve done 200 anniversaries this year for air force personnel – we usually highlight their 25th, 50th, 75th and 100th anniversaries.”

Middleton was born on July 22, 1916 at Waverly in Sydney, a great-nephew of the explorer Hamilton Hume.

He was educated at Dubbo High School and was well known as a keen cricketer and footballer.

He was working at Yarrabandai when World War II broke out, enlisting in the RAAF on October 14, 1940 under the Empire Air Training Scheme.

Having learnt to fly at Narromine, Middleton was sent to Canada to continue his instruction, reaching Britain in September 1941 and was promoted to Flight Sergeant in December that year.

In February 1942 Middleton was posted to 149 Squadron, Royal Air Force, and began his operational career.

His first operational flights, to the Ruhr, were as second pilot in Stirling bombers but by July he had become first pilot. His first operation as captain of an aircraft was to Düsseldorf. 

On November 28, 1942 he took off on his 29th operation, to bomb a target in Turin, Italy.

Middleton's aircraft was struck by anti-aircraft fire over the target, one shell exploding in the cockpit wounding Middleton’s body and face, and destroying his right eye. The same shell also wounded the second pilot and wireless operator.

Middleton lost consciousness and the aircraft dived to just 800 feet before the second pilot brought it under control. They were hit by more anti-aircraft fire as they tried to escape the target. 

When Middleton regained consciousness he began the long and gruelling flight back over the Alps towards England, knowing that his damaged aircraft had insufficient fuel to complete the journey.

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

As they approached the French coast the Stirling was hit again but flew on. Now over the English coast with only five minutes of fuel left Middleton ordered his crew to abandon the aircraft.

Five men left the stricken plane, and two remained on board to help Middleton before attempting to parachute to safety, although unfortunately both were drowned.

The Stirling crashed into the English Channel, killing Middleton. He was 26 years old.

His body washed ashore at Dover on February 1, 1943 and he was buried in the churchyard of St. John's, Beck's Row, Suffolk, with full military honours.

Any family members or Parkes 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