b. 14/06/1919 Whanganui, New Zealand. d. 15/09/1941 Hamburg, Germany.
James Allen Ward (1919-1941) was born on 14th June 1919 at Wanganui, New Zealand, the son of English parents who had emigrated from Coventry. “Jimmy”, as he became known, quickly adapted to his homeland, and learnt the Maori language, and was a very sporty child, enjoying rugby, tennis and swimming, and he deeply religious from his parents’ Baptist beliefs.
Educated at Wanganui Technical College, he decided on an academic career and entered the Teachers’ Training College at Wellington, where a fellow pupil was Edgar Kain, later to achieve fame as “Cobber” Kain, the first RAF fighter “ace” of WWII. Completing his education at Victoria University College, he commenced his teaching career at Castle Cliff School, Wanganui in 1939, but the outbreak of war in Europe soon changed his mind and he volunteered to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) later that same year.
Accepted for training as a pilot, he enlisted on 1st July 1940, on which date he started at Levin Initial Training Wing; and on 29th July reported to No 1 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Taieri, then completed advanced instruction at Wigram. On 18th January 1941, he was awarded his pilot’s “wings” and promoted to Sergeant; given a brief spell of embarkation leave, and on 30th January boarded the “Aorangi” to sail to Canada.
Reaching England in early March, Ward was posted to 20 Operational Training Unit at Lossiemouth, Scotland, where he received his final training for operations and was “crewed” up, prior to joining his first operational unit, 75 Squadron, at Feltwell in Norfolk. Arriving on 13th June 1941, the following night – his 22nd birthday – saw him detailed as second pilot of a Wellington bomber crew raiding Dusseldorf as his “baptism” of operations.
During the next five weeks, Ward took part in five more operational sorties over Germany. In each case he flew as second pilot to Squadron Leader Widdowson, a Canadian veteran. Ward’s sixth sortie with Widdowson was on the night of 3rd July, a raid on Essen; but four days later, Ward and his crew were allotted a new Wellington. A brief 15-minute flying test in the new “Wimpy” was all the crew could manage, before the ground crews took it over again to prepare for the next mission.
On the night of 7th-8th July 1941 after an attack on Münster, Germany, the Wellington (AA-R) in which Sergeant Ward was second pilot was attacked by a German Bf 110 night-fighter. The attack opened a fuel tank in the starboard wing and caused a fire at the rear of the starboard engine. The skipper of the aircraft told him to try to put out the fire. Sergeant Ward crawled out through the narrow astro-hatch (used for celestial navigation) on the end of a rope taken from the aircraft’s emergency dinghy. He kicked or tore holes in the aircraft’s fabric to give himself hand- and foot-holes. By this means he got to the engine and smothered the flames with a canvas cover.
Although the fuel continued to leak with the fire out the plane was now safe. His crawl back over the wing, in which he had previously torn holes, was more dangerous than the outward journey but he managed with the help of the aircraft’s navigator. Instead of the crew having to bail-out, the aircraft made an emergency landing at Newmarket, United Kingdom. Such was the damage to the Wellington, it was classed as a write-off, and never flew again after one mission. Widdowson and his crew returned to Feltwell by road, and went to bed. As they slept, the squadron commander, Wing Commander Kay DFC, wrote up the official report of the night’s operation. In the column headed “Awards Recommended” Kay entered Widdowson DFC, Box for DFM, and under Jimmy Ward he wrote Victoria Cross.
Kay’s recommendations were fully approved and on 5th August 1941, the London Gazette announced Ward’s VC. At Feltwell, the news was received with huge enthusiasm, and there was a special dinner to celebrate in honour of the young “Kiwi”. Ward, now skipper of his own crew, flew three more operations oover Germany; his 10th sortie being over Brest on 13th September, when he was forced to land back at Honington due to flak damage. Returning to Feltwell, he was briefed for the raid on Hamburg on 15th September.
Tragically over Hamburg, his Wellington was repeatedly hit by flak and burst into flames. Only the observer and wireless operator managed to bail out, and Ward, and three others of the crew died in the flames. Only weeks later did the Intenational Red Cross report that the four men had been buried in Ohlsdorf Cemetery, Hamburg.
Ward’s medals are still held by the Ward family, though in 1988, were placed on loan to the Royal New Zealand Air Force at the RNZAF Base at Ohakea. They were returned to the family in March 2006, and only a few weeks later, James Ward’s great great nephew decided to place the medals on loan at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUCKLAND WAR MEMORIAL MUSEUM. AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND.
BURIAL PLACE: OHLSDORF CEMETERY, HAMBURG, GERMANY.
PLOT V-A, ROW A-1, GRAVE 9.
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.