Categories 1940

Blenheim Pilot wins Empire Gallantry Medal

Bristol Blenheim aircraft
Bristol Blenheim aircraft

Anthony Tollemache was with RAF No.600, City of London, Squadron based at Manston in Kent when his aircraft crashed following a night exercise.

Flying Officer Anthony Henry Hamilton TOLLEMACHE, Auxiliary Air Force.

On the night of 11th March, 1940, this officer was pilot of an aircraft which carried a passenger and an air gunner and was engaged in a searchlight co-operation exercise. When approaching the flare-path to land, at 2320 hours, after completing the exercise, the aircraft struck a tree and crashed into a field, where it immediately burst into flames.

Flying Officer Tollemache was thrown clear of the wreckage, and his air gunner was able to escape. Realising, however, that his passenger was still in the aircraft Flying Officer Tollemache, with complete disregard of the intense conflagration or the explosion of small arms ammunition, endeavoured to break through the forward hatch and effect a rescue. He persisted in this gallant attempt until driven off with his clothes blazing. His efforts, though in vain, resulted in injuries which nearly cost him his life. Had he not attempted the rescue it is considered he would have escaped almost unscathed.

London Gazette – 6 August 1940

Tollemache suffered terrible burns in the incident. He was to be one of the first RAF ‘guinea pigs’ – pilots who benefitted from experimental plastic surgery developed to deal with facial and hand burns. Such injuries were to be common amongst pilots injured in the Battle of Britain. Tollemache made a good recovery and later returned to duty. In 1944 he was an RAF ground liaison officer in Normandy when the tank he was in was hit and the man next to him beheaded. Tollemache escaped major injury and survived the war.

Tollemache was originally awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal but it was exchanged for the George Cross after the new decoration was introduced by King George VI later in 1940.