Celebrating Pilots Bravery

This article appeared in the Ely Ensign in November 2004 on page 4.

My interest in the two world wars meant this article was of obvious interest to me. The heroism of this Australian airman felt all the more poignant because he was just 21 years old. He gave his life to save the villagers in a country to which he was a relative stranger.

Relative of a young Australian airman, who sacrificed his life to avert an aviation disaster, travelled to the diocese to attend a special service to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the pilot’s heroic act.

Alan Hocking and his wife Helen flew in from Queensland to attend the service held at St Wendreda’s Church in March.

During the poignant service the couple laid a wreath at the memorial in the church which is dedicated to the memory of 21-year-old Pilot-Officer Jim Hocking, whose heroic act helped to save many lives.

Jim Hocking was one of several thousand Australians who joined the RAAF during World War II and went to a war far away from their home and loved ones.

The heroic RAAF pilot was stationed at 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit, Wratting Common, in Cambridgeshire. He was on his last training flight when a fire broke out in the starboard inner engine of his Stirling aircraft and the remaining three engines cut out

Jim ordered his crew to bail out. He realised that the plane was heading in the direction of March but stayed at the controls, safely guiding the stricken plan over the rooftops of the town.

However, he was unable to bail out himself before the plane finally crashed in a field, narrowly missing the spire of St Wendreda’s Church.

The story of how Jim Hocking saved the town from disaster was unknown, even in March, until about 17 years ago when a local historian found out about it.

When Jim’s heroic deed eventually came to light, local man John Springett instigated a fundraising campaign, and more than £3,000 was raised to pay for a memorial on a wall facing the main aisle in the church.

Jim Hocking’s brother Alan, now 71, said the service was very moving. Alan was 11 when the family was given the tragic news by telegram.

“Its such an honour to be here,” he said. “And to know that the people of March still remember Jim even after 60 years.”

The memorial for the pilot was unveiled by Bishop Gordon Roe in 1988 when Mr Hocking’s relatives came to March for a special service.

Also there were two surviving crew members from that fateful night.

They described how their commander’s last words were: “Go on, lads, hurry up, out you go.” They told how Jim Hocking could have got out, but the bomber would have plunged into a dive, putting many lives at risk.

An official sister City agreement twinning March with Maroochy, Queensland, was signed between Fenland District Council and Maroochy Shire in 1997. An ongoing relationship between the two towns has been developed in many areas.

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