Looking back on the heroics of Pilot Officer Rawdon Middleton

While Anzac Day services, marches and activities have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians and New Zealanders will reflect upon the sacrifices made by servicemen and women both past and present in their own way.

As you stand in your driveway at dawn or listen to private commemorations broadcast throughout the day, take a moment to reflect on the heroics of Victoria Cross (VC) recipient, Pilot Officer Rawdon Hume Middleton.

Pilot Officer Middleton, who in his early working life was a jackeroo on a property managed by his father at Yarrabandai, near Parkes, was posthumously awarded the Royal Australian Air Force's first VC in World War II.

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 Dusseldorf.

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.

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