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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers
People in story: 
George Robert Dixon, Margaret Irvine, JOHN IRVINE (Gallantry Certificate)
Location of story: 
Kirklinton N. Cumbria
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 September 2005

John Irvine

submitted by Dr Mike Taylor, WW2 volunteer story gatherer, on behalf of George Robert Dixon for Margaret Irvine. This is Emily Roberts' story about her Grandad JOHN IRVINE (Gallantry Certificate).

The Second World War had been claiming innocent lives for three and a half years. John Irving my Grandad was the son of a farmer who had previously been the local miller. He was the twenty-one years old with three younger sisters and two younger brothers. As he was the eldest son he was not allowed to join the army as he wanted, but was needed to stay at home and
farm the land, whilst his youngest brother joined the forces. When one spring day in March 1943, Grandad was ploughing the fields with an old Fordson tractor in preparation for planting the crop (oats or barley).
He heard an engine and looked up observing a plane flying low towards him. It was a Fighter plane with two big engines and a snub nose. But this plane was only running on one engine! Then that engine failed too. The plane had to land…..
As the pilot, maneuvered the engine—less plane, in for a crash landing, the wing tip hit a tree. The plane spun over and hit another tree, then crashed and burst into flames. Grandad saw all this and by the time the plane crashed was running as fast as his legs could carry him across four fields and scaled five dykes (hedges) to get to the burning plane. He jumped up on to the plane. The pilot was still conscious, despite the intense heat. Grandad tried to pull him out but his legs were trapped and his boots on fire, his clothes were burning too. He was strapped into his parachute that was on fire as well. Grandad tried to bash out the flames with his cap and tried to cut the parachute harness webbing with his knife, but his knife was blunt. The burning aviation fuel made the heat so intense, that the ammunition the plane was carrying was going off all around him. Bang Bang Bang!
A roadman came along on his bicycle and ran over to help Grandad. By this time the pilot was unconscious due to the terrible pain from his burns and the intense heat. Together they pulled the pilot out by his parachute webbing. His boots were completely burnt off and he was badly burned.
The local schoolmaster, Mr Warwick had seen the flames from his house and called the ambulance service and fire brigade. He ran through a wood to get to the scene. The pilot was a flight instructor on a training flight from Hallburn Military Base, two others where in the plane with him. One was a trainee pilot and the other just came for the ride and should not really have been in the plane. They had both been thrown out of the plane as it turned over. Grandad observed one pilot sitting against a dyke dazed and the other was lying in the dyke back (back of hedge) flat on his back. He had severe back injuries.
Grandad sustained a singed face and hands, which the local G.P. Dr Forester treated for him. Ten months later on the 12th January 1944 Grandad received a Gallantry Certificate from Western Command of the Home Guard. It was the only Gallantry Certificate awarded in the Western Command that year. Grandad was invited to attend a big parade and was presented in the drill hut with the Gallantry Certificate by Sir Fergus Graham, from Netherby Hall.
Sadly the pilot whom Grandad rescued later died in hospital from severe burns.

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