ARTHUR LOUIS AARON VC, DFM (born 5-3-1922, died 13-8-1943)
Royal Air Force Flight Sergeant (Pilot) Arthur Louis Aaron was the only serviceman from Leeds to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War Two (1939 – 1945).
He was also the first person who had been a Cadet in the Air Training Corps to receive the VC which is the country’s highest military medal and is inscribed “For Valour”.
Arthur was born in Leeds, lived on Thorn Lane in Gledhow and attended Roundhay School on Old Park Road. He went on to study for a Diploma at the Leeds School of Architecture.
With a long interest in flying he joined the newly formed Leeds University Air Training Squadron and when in 1941 at age 19 he was called up into military service he became a member of the RAF Volunteer Reserve.
Many RAF pilots were trained in North America and Arthur’s flying course was in the USA at abase near the small town of Terrell, about 30 miles east of Dallas, Texas. On successful completion of the training in Spring 1942 he returned to England. Although he requested to be posted to a fighter aircraft squadron the greater need at the time was for bomber pilots and in 1943 he was assigned to RAF No. 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron at Downham Market as a Flight Sergeant (Pilot) on ShortStirling heavy bombers.
His operational flying began in April 1943 and he completed 19 operational flights as captainof the aircraft. On the 12th August 1943 while on a raid over Turin, Italy, his aircraft was attacked and suffered extensive damage when raked by machine gun fire from another aircraft. Arthur was shot several times and severely wounded as were other members of the 7 man crew, including one immediate fatality.
Despite his major injuries and although unable to speak and with his right arm out of use, after being given morphine Arthur insisted on being helped back into the pilot’s seat from where he directed flight operations bymeans of instructions written with his left hand to enable the crew to navigate the stricken aircraft across the Mediterranean to safety at the nearest RAF base which was in North Africa.
Remarkably although damaged, with multiple engines out of action and the under-carriage not workingand a bomb still wedged in the bomb bay, through the efforts of Arthur the aircraft successfully crash landed in Algeria saving the lives of the remaining members of the crew. Sadly Arthur died the following day.
On 5thNovember 1943 it was announced that King George VI had approved the posthumousaward to Arthur of the Victoria Cross. Arthur was also posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in recognition of his noteworthy successes flying missions into Europe.
In 2001 a statue was unveiled in Leeds on the roundabout at the bottom of Eastgate next to the disused petrol station building. The sculpture depicts Arthur in his wartime flying kit while alongside him and climbing the symbolic tree of life are four children representing the successive generations whose freedom was secured by Arthur and those who served in the War and who paid the ultimateprice.
In the ensuing years there have been a number of proposals put forward to relocate the statue from the roundabout to a more suitable place. In late 2017
Dr Stewart Manning, (age 69) a retired Leeds GP launched the “Bring Him Home Campaign” in which it was proposed siting the sculpture in a place where it would be the focal point for a new legacy that would benefit young people of Leeds. It would also recognize Arthur’s place in the physical centre of the remarkable and little known significant aviation history of Leeds.
This include the Blackburn aircraft factory in Gipton and the test flights of early aircraft from Soldiers’ Field and the Roundhay Aerodrome from where in the 1920’s passengers could fly to London, Amsterdam and even to Bradford. This latest proposal to relocate the statue is part of a wider plan to create a Legacy for Arthur Louis Aaron based on Education, History and Art.
The presentation by Dr Manning in March 2018 was well received at the meeting of the full Leeds City Council and was referred to Committee to permit interested parties and objectors to put their case against. After two meetings a definitive decision by the council representatives on whether to allow the proposal to go forward to a planning application and further evaluation has not yet been made. The proposal does not entail any expenditure by the Council. Stewart has been assisted by a group of former pupils of Roundhay School and has attracted interest and support from the Oakwood Traders & Residents’ Association, the Roundhay RAF ATC and the local school.
Thousands of students who have attended the school over the last 70 years remember the memorial to Arthur Louis Aaron in the Main Hall where the concluding sentence of the citation for his award of the Victoria Cross has caused many to consider the inspirational words about “devotion to duty” and “never giving up” and which became ingrained in their youthful minds.
“In appalling conditions he showed the greatest qualities of courage, determination and leadership and though wounded and dying, he set an example of devotion to duty which has seldom been equaled and never surpassed”
In the Leeds City Museum is the handwritten letter from Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur T. Harris to Mr & Mrs Aaron inwhich he made the following observations;
“In my opinion never, even in the annals of the Royal Air Force, has the Victoria Cross been awarded for skill determination and courage in the face of the enemy of a higher order than that displayed by your son on his last flight. Following so closely upon the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal for outstanding achievement as a Bomber Captain this last award marks also the close of anoutstanding career, a standard of achievement the memory of which will not only alleviate your loss but provide also an example for emulation of which the Service will indeed be proud.”
Arthur Louis Aaron is still held in the highest regard by the Royal Air Force and especially by the Cadets of the RAF Air Training Corps.
Arthur Louis Aaron was a class mate and friend of one Cyril Zermansky.
Cyril in adulthood was to become father of Stewart Manning and his brother Michael both of whom who subsequently also went to the very same school as their father and Arthur. Dr Manning well recalls his father speaking fondly of his memories of Arthur. David Rattee who also was in the same class as Stewart back in the1960’s has extensively researched the Aaron family history in Leeds and environs as far back as 1802. Interestingly although born in Leeds, Arthur was baptised in Knaresborough at St Mary’s Church. After his death a Requiem Mass washeld in Leeds Roman Catholic Cathedral.
The campaign has already had some success and Martin Wainwright, whose Charity paid for the statue, donated the maquette – the small scale version of the sculpture – so that it could go on display in Leeds City Museum along with Arthur’s medals. In theNew Year the Campaign will be donating an Arthur Louis Aaron Trophy to beawarded each year to the “top” cadet in the Roundhay RAF ATC at Oakwood.