Bravery honour is given to Australian pilot 71 years after he saved March during WW2
- Credit: Archant
A young Australian pilot who went down with his plane so he could steer it away from March town centre is one of 55 Australians being recognised for their selfless acts of bravery.
Pilot Officer Jim Hocking was flying a notoriously unreliable Stirling Bomber called the Flying Coffin during a training exercise in World War II when the engine of his aircraft caught fire.
The rest of the crew parachuted out, but the 21-year-old pilot refused to leave after realising the plane was heading straight for March.
He saved the town but lost his life when the bomber crashed in a field in July 1944.
Pilot Officer Hocking was the only Queenslander to receive the Star of Courage, the second highest bravery honour in Australia, and it was all because of a former schoolmate.
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Joyce Milligan, 93, was a founding student at Nambour High School with Pilot Officer Hocking and heard the story of his heroic death at a school reunion more than a decade ago.
Ms Milligan campaigned for him to be recognised and wrote dozens of letters, including one to the Queen.
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“I just kept writing and writing and writing, I just don’t know how many letters I wrote,” she said.
“Absolutely marvellous, after all that time.”
Pilot Officer Hocking’s younger brother Alan Hocking said the family was “very proud”.
“My biggest regret is my parents, brother and sister weren’t here to see it,” he said.
“It was a very courageous act.
“The citizens of March in the UK have taken him under their wing and as far as they are concerned he is basically a saint.”
There is a memorial to him at St Wendreda’s Church, a permanent display about his life in March Museum and his Australian Royal Air Force uniform is occasionally on show there, having been donated to the museum by his family.
There is also a housing complex named after him near Sainsbury’s.
The story was hushed up at the time and Hocking’s heroism only came to light after an investigation by the Cambs Times in the 1980s.
It led to the establishment in 1997 of a twinning arrangement between Fenland District Council and Maroochyshire, in Queensland.
He is buried in Cambridge Cemetery, where the inscription on his headstone reads: “Nobly he lived. Nobly he died. Ever remembered.”