For Valour: Flight Sergeant George Thompson’s Victoria Cross

Photo of George Thompson

Credit: IWM

In the first of a new series of blogs, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the stories of the 29 RAF personnel whose valour earned them the Victoria Cross. Published on the day they won their medal, we’ll be revealing the circumstances the award was won, the aircraft they were flying in and much more. Our first post covers Flight Sergeant George Thompson who started 1945 by earning the Victoria Cross on 1 January.

Location: January 1st 1945, over Germany
Who: Flight Sergeant George Thompson (13707000) VC 23 October 1920 – 23 January 1945
Role: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

On 1 January 1945, Fl Sgt Thompson was a member of the crew of 9 Squadron Lancaster PD 377 (Captain Flying Officer Harry Denton RNZAF), based at RAF Bardney, Lincolnshire, and part of 5 Group, Bomber Command. At dawn that morning, his aircraft was one of 100 other bombers of 5 Group assigned to make a daylight attack on the Dortmund-Ems Canal.

A Lancaster Bomber like the one Thompson worked in as a wireless operator.

The LONDON GAZETTE reported on 20 February 1945:

‘The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned airman in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:— 1370700 Flight Sergeant George THOMPSON, R.A.F.V.R., 9 Squadron (deceased). This airman was the wireless operator in a Lancaster aircraft which attacked the Dortmund-Ems Canal in daylight on the 1st January, 1945. The bombs had just been released when a heavy shell hit the aircraft in front of the mid-upper turret. Fire broke out and dense smoke filled the fuselage. The nose of the aircraft was then hit and an inrush of air, clearing the smoke, revealed a scene of utter devastation. Most of the Perspex screen to the nose compartment had been shot away, gaping holes had been torn in the canopy above the pilot’s head, the inter-communication wiring was severed, and there was a large hole in the floor of the aircraft. Bedding and other equipment were badly damaged or alight; one engine was on fire. Flight Sergeant Thompson saw that the gunner was unconscious in the blazing mid-upper turret. Without hesitation he went down the fuselage into the fire and the exploding ammunition. He pulled the gunner from his turret and, edging his way round the hole in the floor, carried him away from the flames. With his bare hands, he extinguished the gunner’s burning clothing. He himself sustained serious burns on his face, hands and legs. Flight Sergeant Thompson then noticed that the rear gun turret was also on fire. Despite his own severe injuries he moved painfully to the rear of the fuselage where he found the rear gunner with his clothing alight, overcome by flames and fumes. A second time Flight Sergeant Thompson braved the flames. With great difficulty he extricated the helpless gunner and carried him clear. Again, he used his bare hands, already burnt, to beat out flames on a comrade’s clothing. Flight Sergeant Thompson, by now almost exhausted, felt that his duty was yet not done. He must report the fate of the crew to the captain. He made the perilous journey back through the burning fuselage, clinging to the sides with his burnt hands to get across the hole in the floor. The flow of cold air caused him intense pain and frostbite developed. So pitiful was his condition that his captain failed to recognise him. Still, his only concern was for the two gunners he had left in the rear of the aircraft. He was given such attention as was possible until a crash-landing was made some forty minutes later. When the aircraft was hit, Flight Sergeant Thompson might have devoted his efforts to quelling the fire and so have contributed to his own safety. He preferred to go through the fire to succour his comrades. He knew that he would then be in no position to hear or heed any order which might be given to abandon aircraft. He hazarded his own life in order to save the lives of others. Young in years and experience, his actions were those of a veteran. Three weeks later Flight Sergeant Thompson died of his injuries. One of the gunners unfortunately also died, but the other owes his life to the superb gallantry of Flight Sergeant Thompson, whose signal courage and self-sacrifice will ever be an inspiration to the Service.’

The VC medal

ADDITIONAL DETAILS

The aircraft crash-landed near Eindhoven inside Allied territory. Flight Sergeant Thompson, grievously wounded, was taken to No 50 Military Field Hospital, where he died of his wounds on 25 January 1945.

Grave of George Thompson

He is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery of Brussels Town.

Grave headstone: The War Graves Photographic Project www.twgpp.org

Credits:

Citation: London Gazette 20 February 1945

Additional biographical details: For Valour: The Air VCs Chaz Bowyer, Grub Street Publishing.

 

 

About the Author

Norman Brice: Volunteer

Volunteer Norman Brice

It all started very many years ago when, lying in my pram, I was awoken by what I later knew as Spitfires on their finals to RAF Biggin Hill, just a handful of miles away. As a schoolboy I was captivated by the annual September Battle of Britain Days at Biggin Hill with a vast range of visiting aircraft, including all three V-Bombers in gleaming anti-flash white.

Fast forward very many years past retirement I joined the RAF Museum London as a volunteer as a Vulcan and Cold War tour guide.