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Middleton, Rawdon Hume (1916–1942)

by Leigh Edmonds

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Rawdon Hume Middleton (1916-1942), by unknown photographer, 1943

Rawdon Hume Middleton (1916-1942), by unknown photographer, 1943

Australian War Memorial, 014416

Rawdon Hume Middleton (1916-1942), airman, was born on 22 July 1916 at Waverley, Sydney, son of native-born parents Francis Rawdon Hamilton Middleton, station-manager, and his wife Faith Lillian, née Millar. Rawdon was educated at Dubbo High School and worked as a jackeroo on Leewong, a station at Yarrabandi, near Parkes, managed by his father. Nicknamed 'Ron', he was a keen cricketer and footballer, despite being slightly built. He was a good-looking young man, very quiet and a little moody, with a strong 'streak of honest determination'.

On 14 October 1940 Middleton enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force under the Empire Air Training Scheme. He learned to fly at Narromine and received further instruction in Canada. Arriving in Britain in September 1941, he was promoted flight sergeant in December and posted to No.149 Squadron, Royal Air Force, in February 1942. After gaining experience as second pilot in Stirling bombers, he became first pilot and captain in July. Next month he was posted to No.7 Squadron, R.A.F. He returned to No.149 in September.

By 28 November 1942 Middleton had completed twenty-eight operational flights. Three of his crew had already flown their quota of thirty and could have left, but decided to stay through loyalty to Middleton. Their sortie that night was to Turin, Italy. Over the target they were hit by flak. One shell exploded in the cockpit wounding Middleton. His right eye was destroyed and the bone above it exposed; he was probably also wounded in the body and legs.

With his aeroplane severely damaged, Middleton rejected the options of flying to Africa or bailing out over German-occupied France and insisted on returning to England for the sake of the crew. The flight lasted more than four hours, during which he was in constant agony. He could barely see and suffered further pain when he spoke. On reaching the English coast, he flew over land so that his comrades could parachute safely. Five of them reached the ground and survived. He then turned back towards the English Channel to avoid crashing in a populated area. Two of the crew remained with their captain, parachuted into the sea and drowned. Middleton was too weak to leave the Stirling which crashed into the sea on the morning of 29 November 1942, killing him. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and promoted pilot officer (with effect from 15 November).

Middleton's body was washed ashore at Shakespeare Beach, Dover, in February 1943 and buried in St John's churchyard, Beck Row, Suffolk, with full air force honours. He was 26 and unmarried. He had won the first V.C. awarded to a member of the R.A.A.F. in World War II. His father said, 'My son did his duty'. In 1978 Middleton's V.C. was presented to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, which holds his portraits, painted by Harold Freedman and Norman Carter after his death.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943 (Canb, 1954)
  • J. F. Turner, V.C.'s of the Air (Lond, 1960)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • S. Bill, Middleton VC (Melb, 1991).

Citation details

Leigh Edmonds, 'Middleton, Rawdon Hume (1916–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/middleton-rawdon-hume-11118/text19797, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 25 March 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019

Rawdon Hume Middleton (1916-1942), by unknown photographer, 1943

Rawdon Hume Middleton (1916-1942), by unknown photographer, 1943

Australian War Memorial, 014416