Heroics of first woman awarded George Cross for saving RAF pilot from burning bomber


Daphne Pearson pulled David Bond from his Avro Anson bomber after it crashed into a Kent field and King George VI was so impressed by her bravery he awarded her the Empire Gallantry Medal

Corporal Daphne Pearson in the Women's Auxillary Air Force
Corporal Daphne Pearson in the Women’s Auxillary Air Force

The heroics of the first woman awarded the George Cross after ­saving an RAF pilot trapped in the wreckage of his ­burning bomber have been retold in a book.

Daphne Pearson pulled “bomber boy” David Bond from the Avro Anson after it crashed into a Kent field in May 1940.

His plane was part of an RAF squadron sent to bomb enemy-held harbours in France.

But its four-man crew turned back home when it failed to release its bombs after crossing the Channel.

David had to crash land near RAF Detling when one of the two engines burst into flames.

Author Robin Brooks
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Image:

Robin Brooks / SWNS)

Two of the crew climbed from the wreckage but the co-pilot was killed and David was trapped in the cockpit, as the fire began to rip through the fuselage towards the unexploded bombs.

Daphne, then a 29-year-old corporal in the Women’s ­Auxiliary Air Force, heard the crash while lying on her bunk in a nearby quarters.

She raced to the scene and dragged David from his seat and away from the flames. He opened his eyes just in time to warn her there were bombs still on board and the plane would soon explode.

An Avro Anson bomber
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Image:

Robin Brooks / SWNS)

Daphne summoned all her strength to drag the injured airman into a ridge.

She covered his face with her tin helmet and flung herself on top of him to shield him from shrapnel as the aircraft blew up.

King George VI was so impressed by her bravery that night he awarded Daphne the Empire Gallantry Medal for her actions.

The medal was replaced with the George Cross a year later.

The memorial at Detling
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Image:

Robin Brooks / SWNS)

Daphne became the first woman to receive the highest decoration for gallantry, not in the face of an enemy

Local historian Robin Brooks has recounted her courage in a book called The County of Kent Squadrons.

The 82-year-old, of Sevenoaks, said: “I ­interviewed Daphne two or three times, her story was incredible.”

Daphne emigrated to Australia in 1959 and was reunited with David’s son years later. She died in 2000, aged 89.

WW1 truces common

The 1914 Christmas Day football game truce in the First World War was not a one-off, letters from the trenches reveal.

German historian Prof Thomas Weber, from the University of Aberdeen, found the no-man’s-land game was part of a wider pattern of friendly encounters.

He says that in fact tens of thousands of enemy soldiers mingled on the western and eastern fronts, Gallipoli and in East Africa. There was another Christmas kickabout between the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and a Bavarian unit in 1915 near Laventie, France.

Recalling the event in one letter, Pte Bertie Felstead recalled: “A few of the Germans came out first. A whole mass of us went out to meet them…

“We weren’t afraid. Nobody would shoot at us when we were all mixed up.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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