POWER OF THE PEN
Joyce Milligan’s tenacious letterwriting campaign pays off on behalf of a friend and wartime hero
JOYCE MILLIGAN, 94 RETIRED SCHOOLTEACHER
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