Joyce Mil­li­gan’s tena­cious let­ter­writ­ing cam­paign pays off on be­half of a friend and wartime hero

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - RELATIVE VALUES - GRANTLEE KIEZA


In 2009 I be­gan writ­ing let­ters to peo­ple such as Queen El­iz­a­beth, Prince Charles and (then op­po­si­tion leader) Tony Ab­bott to recog­nise the courage of my old school friend who saved thou­sands of lives by sac­ri­fic­ing his own.

Jim Hock­ing was a lovely chap. We were in the first class of the Nam­bour High School when it opened in 1936. I had won a schol­ar­ship at Woom­bye (also in the Sun­shine Coast hin­ter­land) while liv­ing on my fa­ther’s lit­tle farm. I be­came a school­teacher and taught home eco­nom­ics un­til 1982. My hus­band Bert, who fought in the Mid­dle East and New Guinea in the next world war, died in 1972 but I have a daugh­ter Yvonne, a son David, and eight grand­chil­dren, 17 great-grand­chil­dren and three great-great-grand­chil­dren.

When World War II broke out, Jim Hock­ing joined the army and trans­ferred to the RAAF. He did his flight train­ing at Kin­garoy and then in the US be­fore be­ing put on loan to the Royal Air Force in Eng­land. He was train­ing on these big Stir­ling bombers which most of the pi­lots called “fly­ing coffins” be­cause they were so dif­fi­cult to han­dle.

Just on mid­night on July 28, 1944, Jim was fly­ing a Stir­ling above Cam­bridgeshire, north of Lon­don, tak­ing a crew of six oth­ers on a train­ing flight. Sud­denly one of his en­gines caught fire.

The Stir­ling was loaded with six tonnes of fuel and be­fore long the whole side of his plane was blaz­ing and all the en­gines were dead. Jim could have parachuted to safety but if he had, the Stir­ling would have crashed straight into the town of March, where there were about 20,000 peo­ple and a huge stock­pile of mu­ni­tions. Thou­sands of peo­ple could have been killed.

Jim told his crew to para­chute out while he got the Stir­ling past the town to some empty fields. By then the plane was so low it was too late for him to use his para­chute and he was killed. We didn’t know the full de­tails about his sac­ri­fice un­til Queens­land jour­nal­ist Dorothy Whit­ting­ton in­ves­ti­gated his death about 60 years later and wrote a ter­rific book called March Hero.

I wanted Jim to re­ceive a brav­ery award. So I started writ­ing let­ters by hand and send­ing the book to any­one who could help. They were all very po­lite but the RAF said too many years had gone by for Jim to re­ceive a medal.

I saw red. Then the RAAF also said it was too late but I was tena­cious and wouldn’t let go. So I blasted Tony Ab­bott when he was prime min­is­ter. He said I should con­tact the Aus­tralian Brav­ery Dec­o­ra­tions Coun­cil.

Fi­nally, they came good. I was very proud when Jim’s younger brother Alan re­ceived the Star of Courage on Jim’s be­half from the Queens­land Gover­nor (Paul de Jersey) on May 4. I was also in­vited to Gov­ern­ment House with my son David for the cer­e­mony. Jim was a true hero and I’m glad his sac­ri­fice was recog­nised at last.

Joyce Mil­li­gan at home in Bris­bane’s north and ( left) with Alan Hock­ing (on be­half of brother Jim) and Queens­land Gover­nor Paul de Jersey ( right) at last month’s pre­sen­ta­tion of Jim’s Star of Courage. Main pic­ture: Rus­sell Shakespeare

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