Roderick Learoyd VC
Of the 32 VCs awarded during 1939-45, 19 went to air crew members of RAF Bomber Command, and the first of these to Flight Lieutenant (later Wing Commander) Roderick Alastair Brook Learoyd of 49 Squadron.
Brought up in New Romney, his parents lived in Littlestone, Roderick Learoyd was born in Folkestone in 1913. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1936 and was posted to 49 Squadron, Bomber Command equipped with Hawker Hind light bombers.
On 3 September six Hampdens from 83 Squadron and three from 49 Squadron (including Learoyd) were detailed to destroy the old aqueduct carrying the canal over the river Ems, north of Münster in Germany. Learoyd took his plane into the target at only 150 feet, in the full glare of the searchlights and flak barrage all round him. After commencing its bombing run Learoyd's aircraft was badly damaged, including a ruptured hydraulic system, resulting in inoperable wing flaps and a useless undercarriage.
Despite this damage, the bombs were duly dropped and Learoyd managed to get his crippled plane back to England where he decided that a night landing would be too dangerous for his crippled aircraft and so circled base until first light, finally safely landing without causing injury to his crew or further damage to his aircraft.
He was given the freedom of the ancient borough of New Romney in November 1940. After surviving the war Learoyd retired to civilian life, first as a VIP pilot and later as an export sales manager in the motor industry.
Wing Commander Roderick Learoyd VC
He died in 1994 at age 80. Learoyd Road, off of Mountfield Road in New Romney, was named in memory of him.
His VC is held in the Ashcroft Trust collection and his portrait hangs in the Imperial War Museum, London.
Wing Commander Roderick Learoyd VC - Victoria Cross Citation
The announcement and accompanying citation for the decoration was published in a supplement to the London Gazette on 20 August 1940, reading:
Learoyd's Medals - The VC is the first in the cluster
'Air Ministry, 20th August, 1940.
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery :-
Acting Flight Lieutenant Roderick Alastair Brook Learoyd 37860 :-
This officer, as first pilot of a Hampden aircraft, has repeatedly shown the highest conception of his duty and complete indifference to personal danger in making attacks at the lowest altitudes regardless of opposition. On the night of 12th August, 1940, he was detailed to attack a special objective on the Dortmund Ems Canal. He had attacked this objective on a previous occasion and was well aware of the risks entailed. To achieve success it was necessary to approach from a direction well known to the enemy, through a lane of especially disposed anti-aircraft defences, and in the face of the most intense point-blank fire from guns of all calibres. The reception of the preceding aircraft might well have deterred the stoutest heart, all being hit and two lost. Flight Lieutenant Learoyd nevertheless made his attack at 150 feet, his aircraft being repeatedly hit and large pieces of the main plane torn away. He was almost blinded by the glare of many searchlights at close range but pressed home this attack with the greatest resolution and skill. He subsequently brought his wrecked aircraft home and, as the landing flaps were inoperative and the undercarriage indicators out of action, waited for dawn in the vicinity of his aerodrome before landing, which he accomplished without causing injury to his crew or further damage to the aircraft. The high courage, skill and determination, that this officer has invariably displayed on many occasions in the face of the enemy sets an example which is unsurpassed.