Rawdon Hume “Ron” Middleton, VC (22 July 1916 – 29 November 1942) was a bomber pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force and a posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
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On 28 November 1942, Middleton was captain of Stirling BF372 detailed to bomb the Fiat aircraft works at Turin. It was his twenty-ninth combat sortie, one short of the thirty required for completion of a ‘tour’ and mandatory rotation off combat operations.
Middleton and his crew arrived above Turin after a difficult flight over the Alps, due to the low combat ceiling of the “bombed-up” and “fueled-up” Stirling (due to its short stubby wings, designed to keep all up weight down, but of little use at high altitudes). Over the target area Middleton had to make three low-level passes in order to positively identify the target; on the third, the aircraft was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire which wounded both pilots and the wireless operator. Middleton suffered numerous grievous wounds, including shrapnel wounds to the arms, legs and body, having his right eye torn from its socket and his jaw shattered.
Middleton’s grave in Beck Row, Suffolk.
He passed out briefly, and his second pilot, Flight Sergeant L.A. Hyder, who was also seriously wounded, managed to regain control of the plunging plane at 800 feet and drop the bombs, before receiving first aid from the other crew. Middleton regained consciousness in time to help recover control of his stricken bomber. Middleton was in great pain, was barely able to see, was losing blood from wounds all over his body, and could breathe only with difficulty. He must have known that his own chances of survival were slim, but he nonetheless determined to fly his crippled aircraft home, and return his crew to safety. During the return flight he frequently said over the intercom “I’ll make the English Coast. I’ll get you home”. After four hours of agony and having been further damaged by flak over France, Middleton reached the coast of England with five minutes of fuel reserves. At this point he turned the aircraft parallel to the coast and ordered his crew to bail out. Five of his crew did so and landed safely, but his front gunner and flight engineer remained with him to try to talk him into a forced landing on the coast, something he must have known would have risked extensive civilian casualties. He steered the aircraft out over the sea, off Dymchurch, and ordered the last two crew to bail out. They then too bailed out, but did not survive the night in the English Channel. Middleton stayed with the aircraft, which crashed into the Channel. His body was washed ashore on 1 February 1943.
The last line of his Victoria Cross citation reads: “His devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds is unsurpassed in the annals of the Royal Air Force”.
Middleton was posthumously promoted to pilot officer, and is buried at Beck Row, [Mildenhall], Suffolk. His Victoria Cross and uniform are displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Pilot Officers George Royde (navigator) and Norman Skinner (wireless operator) were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, while Flight Sergeant Leslie Hyder (2nd pilot), Flight Sergeant Douglas Cameron (mid-upper gunner) and Sergeant H.W. Gough (rear gunner) each received the Distinguished Flying Medal. Coincidentally, Cameron (as a flying officer) would be a member of Squadron Leader Ian Willoughby Bazalgette’s crew when the Canadian would be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross in 1944. Middleton, Rawdon Hume. | Fighter pilots — Australia — Biography. | Fighter pilots — Great Britain — Biography. | World War, 1939-1945 — Aerial operations, British.