For Valour: Sergeant James Allen Ward (NZ/401793) VC Royal New Zealand Air Force

A black and white portrait of a young man in a military uniform, featuring a side cap with insignia and an aviation badge on his chest.

Location: 7 July 1941, over Germany and Holland

Who: Sergeant James Allen Ward (NZ/401793) VC Royal New Zealand Air Force 14 June 1919 – 13 September 1941

On Sunday 22 June 1941, the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union; the largest land offensive ever. Some 3.8 million military personnel were involved from Germany and their satellite countries (Bulgaria and Romania, with volunteers from occupied countries). The Red Army was forced to retreat in disorder. To ease the pressure on the USSR, Bomber and Fighter Commands launched raids on Germany and nearby occupied countries.

Sergeant Ward was a member of 75 (N.Z.) Squadron, Bomber Command, based at RAF Feltwell, operating Vickers Wellington bombers. For the night of 7/8 July 1941, 41 Wellingtons were tasked with a raid on Munster. Ward was second pilot of Wellington 1c, serial L7818, coded AA-R (captain and first pilot Squadron Leader R P Widdowson). Take-off was at 23.10 hrs.

The VC medal



“The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the under-mentioned airman in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: — NZ/401793 Sergeant James Allen WARD, Royal New Zealand Air Force, No. 75 (N.Z.) Squadron. On the night of 7th July, 1941, Sergeant Ward was second pilot of a Wellington re-turning from an attack on Munster. When flying over the Zuider Zee at 13,000 feet, the aircraft was attacked from beneath by a Messerschmitt which secured hits with cannon shell and incendiary bullets. The rear gunner was wounded in the foot but delivered a burst of fire which sent the enemy fighter down, apparently out of control. Fire then broke out near the starboard engine and, fed by petrol from a split pipe, quickly gained an alarming hold and threatened to spread to the entire wing. The crew forced a hole in the fuselage and made strenuous efforts to reduce the fire with extinguishers and even the coffee in their vacuum flasks, but without success. They were then warned to be ready to abandon the aircraft. As a last resort, Sergeant Ward volunteered to make an attempt to smother the fire with an engine cover which happened to be in use as a cushion. At first he proposed to discard his parachute, to reduce wind resistance, but was finally persuaded to take it. A rope from the dinghy was tied to him, though this was of little help and might have become a danger had he been blown off the aircraft. With the help of the navigator, he then climbed through the narrow astro-hatch and put on his parachute. The bomber was flying at a reduced speed but the wind pressure must have been sufficient to render the operation one of extreme difficulty. Breaking the fabric to make hand and foot holds where necessary, and also taking advantage of existing holes in the fabric, Sergeant Ward succeeded in descending three feet to the wing and proceeding another three feet to a position behind the engine, despite the slipstream from the airscrew, which nearly blew him off the wing. Lying in this precarious position, he smothered the fire in the wing fabric and tried to push the cover into the hole in the wing and on to the leaking pipe from which the fire came. As soon as he removed his hand, however, the terrific wind blew the cover out and when he tried again it was lost. Tired as he was, he was able with the navigator’s assistance, to make successfully the perilous journey back into the aircraft. There was now no danger of the fire spreading from the petrol pipe, as there was no fabric left nearby, and in due course it burnt itself out. When the aircraft was nearly home some petrol which had collected in the wing blazed up furiously but died down quite suddenly. A safe landing was then made despite the damage sustained by the aircraft. The flight home had been made possible by the gallant action of Sergeant Ward in extinguishing the fire on the wing, in circumstances of the greatest difficulty and at the risk of his life.”

This black and white photograph depicts a Vickers Wellington, a British twin-engine, long-range medium bomber used during World War II. The aircraft is shown in flight with its distinctive geodetic construction visible, particularly around the engine nacelles and fuselage. The registration markings and roundel on the side of the aircraft are typical of Royal Air Force (RAF) bombers of the era. The Wellington's high-wing design and twin propellers are also notable features in the image. The landscape below is obscured by clouds, adding to the dramatic composition of the scene.


A black and white photo showing the damaged fuselage of an aircraft, with multiple holes and structural damage labeled with numbers.

A shows fire-damaged wing fabric, B is astrodome from which Ward climbed out onto wing. 1, 2, 3 show holes Ward cut for hand-holds.

A gravestone in a cemetery with a cross on top. The inscription on the gravestone reads "AK MC -401793 SERGEANT J.A. WARD. VC. PILOT ROYAL N.Z. AIR FORCE 15TH SEPTEMBER 1941 - AGE 22 WEN ZEA OR VAL OUR". The inscription indicates that the grave is for Sergeant J.A. Ward, a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force who was awarded the Victoria Cross. He died on September 15, 1941 at the age of 22.


 Citation: The London Gazette 5 August, 1941.

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


Sergeant Ward: RAF Museum

Wellington: RAF Museum

Wellington damage: 75 (NZ) Sqn

Grave: The War Graves Photographic Project (

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.