A daring wing walk by an amazing man

SIXTY-seven years ago this month, one member of an RAF Wellington bomber that crash-landed in Newmarket was rewarded for his bravery with the ultimate honour.

Sergeant Jimmy Ward, a New Zealander, was awarded the Victoria Cross after his plane was savaged by enemy aircraft fire.

The gunfire had severed the fuel line and caused the fabric on the wing to ignite.

As the cockpit filled with smoke, Canadian pilot Capt R P Widdowson asked his men to deal with the fire while he battled to keep the Wellington airborne.

The crew were unable to extinguish the flames from the aircraft's 100mph slipstream so Sgt Ward climbed out on the wing after hacking a hole in the fabric of the aircraft fuselage.

Secured by a rope from the plane's life raft, he crawled to the engine but realised the fight against the slipsteam was becoming extremely tiring.

Wearing a chest parachute and held by a fellow crew member, Sgt Ward battled against the air current and smothered the raging flames.

But his daring wing-walking only delayed the inevitable.

As the Wellington turned for home, the crew realised the plane had suffered serious damage.

The hydraulics started to fail and the landing gear was unresponsive.

Capt Widdowson was forced to land the bomber at RAF Newmarket airfield on the Rowley Mile.

With no way of stopping the speeding plane, the Wellington rushed the full length of the airfield, crashing into the boundary hedge, which was fortunately reinforced with a wire fence, and eventually coming to a stop.

The crew escaped uninjured, but the Wellington never flew again.

Incredibly, straight after the crew escaped the wreckage, they were summoned to a debriefing before finally being allowed to rest.

As they slept, Wing Commander C E Kay wrote a report on Ward's actions.

"At this critical stage, when the fire was spreading and threatening to take complete charge, his efforts checking and subduing it, undoubtedly saved the aircraft and the lives of his companions ... For this utterly selfless and inspiring deed, he is submitted for the highest honour."

When he woke up, Sgt Ward learned he had been recommended for the Victoria Cross – he was the first New Zealander during the war to be honoured with the medal.

Two months later, Sgt Ward was killed when his plane burst into flames over Germany.

He is buried at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg.