This year marks the eightieth anniversary of the death of Arthur Louis Aaron VC, who was killed while serving with the Royal Air Force in North Africa in August 1943.
Arthur Aaron was born on 6 March 1922. His father was Benjamin Aaron, whose ancestors came from Sherburn-in-Elmet; his mother was named Rosalie, and she had been born in Switzerland. They married in 1919 and Arthur had an elder brother, Emile. When Arthur was born the family lived at Hartley Grove in Woodhouse, Leeds. He was baptised on 15 October 1922 at St Mary’s Church, Knaresborough – then, as now, served by Benedictine clergy from Ampleforth Abbey. Later the family moved to the Gledhow area of north Leeds and from 1932-39 Arthur attended Roundhay High School. From there he entered the Leeds School of Architecture. With the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 he joined the Air Training Corps at Leeds University and enrolled in the RAF the following year.
Arthur trained as a pilot in the USA and in 1941 he joined No. 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron of the RAF, based at RAF Downham Market in Norfolk. On one subsequent bombing mission over Germany his aircraft was badly damaged, but he managed to complete the bombing run and return safely to England. His actions were rewarded with a Distinguished Flying Medal.
By August 1943 Arthur was a Flight Sergeant flying bombing missions over enemy targets in Italy from a base in North Africa. On the night of 12 August 1943, he was the captain and pilot of a Sterling bomber detailed to attack targets in Turin, one of the main centres of Italian industry. During the raid the aircraft was severely damaged by fire from an enemy fighter, causing it to become unstable and difficult to control. The navigator was killed, and other crew members were wounded. Arthur Aaron suffered appalling head and facial injuries while his right arm was rendered useless. Unable to speak he sought to command the crew by use of hand signals and although he was in great pain and suffering from exhaustion, he continued to lead his comrades by writing instructions for them with his left hand. At all costs, Arthur was determined that his crew would not fall into enemy hands.
Five hours after leaving the skies above Turin the aircraft reached safety and landed at Bone, in French Algeria. Nine hours later Arthur died of his injuries and of exhaustion, aged twenty-one.
On 5 November 1943 it was announced that King George VI had awarded Arthur Aaron a posthumous Victoria Cross. The official citation recorded that “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 equalled and never surpassed.”
Sir Arthur Harris, the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, wrote to Arthur’s parents saying, “In my opinion, never in the annals of the RAF has the VC been awarded for skill, determination and courage in the face of the enemy greater than that displayed by your son on his last flight.”
Arthur Aaron VC, DFM is buried in Algeria, at Bone War Cemetery, Annaba, where he is ‘Remembered with Honour’.
On Sunday 28 November 1943 Arthur’s life and death and his conspicuous service to King and Country were remembered in a Requiem Mass at St Anne’s Cathedral in Leeds, attended by the city’s Lord Mayor. In the days leading up to Remembrance Sunday we recall a young man of great courage who was born in the Cathedral parish and baptised a Catholic, whose life was cut short by war. As the Cathedral congregation did on that day eighty years ago, we also pray for the repose of his immortal soul.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)