MORE than 70 years after a young pilot gave his life to save a small English village, his act of courage has been recognised by his own government.
Nambour's James Wallace Hocking, or Jim to those who knew him, was awarded the Star of Courage in today's Australian Bravery Awards.
The RAAF Pilot Officer was training with the British Royal Air Force at Wratting Common airbase.
He was just 21 years old when he set out on his final late-night training flight on July 27, 1944. As he piloted the Stirling bomber over East Anglia flames were seen coming from the inner starboard engine.
The aircraft began to lose power on all engines and Jim ordered the crew to stand by and don their parachutes.
When the bomber began to shudder violently he ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft.
Mid-Upper Gunner Harry Brooker went to see if Jim was coming and observed that he was halfway out of his seat.
Realising that the bomber was about to crash into the village of March, Jim ordered Harry to leave the aircraft while he struggled with the controls. With the crew safely out of the aircraft, Jim managed to fly the bomber beyond the township before it crashed in a nearby field.
Jim was killed on impact.
Back home in Nambour, Jim's family received no details of his brave actions.
Jim's brother Alan Hocking, who was 11 at the time, recalls the impact Jim's death had on the family.
"They were quite devastated, of course, and in those days you didn't get any information - it was just a telegram delivered by the local minister," he said.
"My father wrote copious letters to try to find out more but he was never able to."
Jim's father died in 1949, never knowing what transpired. The story remained untold for 40 years, until a Cambridgeshire Times reporter uncovered it in 1986.
The village of March learnt for the first time how close it had come to disaster and embraced the young Australian pilot as a local hero. A memorial to Jim was built in St Wendreda's Church, which sat in the path of the stricken bomber.
Jim's remaining family flew to England for the opening and formed a close bond with the town of March.
Jim's actions have also created ties between Sunshine Coast local government and the Fenland council.
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