b. 05/03/1922 Leeds, Yorkshire. d. 13/08/1943 Bone Hospital, Algeria.
Arthur Louis Aaron (1922-1943) was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire on 5th March 1922, the son of Benjamin Aaron, and his Swiss born Scottish wife, whose father had been Rector of Aberdeen University. From childhood, Arthur was fascinated with mountaineering and flying, and his first taste of flying came at one of Alan Cobham’s travelling aerial “circuses” near Penrith.
Educated at Roundhay Secondary School, Leeds, Aaron won an art scholarship in 1939 and entered the Leeds College of Architecture as the start of his intended career. Still keen on flying, he joined the Leeds University Squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps (later retitled Air Training Corps), and eventually enlisted in the RAF for pilot training on 15th September 1941. In early December he was sent to the USA and commenced flying instruction at No 1 (British) FTS, Terrell in Texas; graduating as a Sergeant pilot on 19th June 1942.
Returning to England, Aaron underwent further advanced instruction at No 6 (P) AFU and No 26 OTU, before being sent to No 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) to acquire experience in handling the giant four-engined Short Stirling bomber. Finally, on 17th April 1943, Aaron joined his first operational unit, 218 “Gold Coast” Squadron based at RAF Downham Market in East Anglia. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 1st May 1943, and during the next three months, he and his crew completed 20 sorties over Europe, bombing a wide variety of targets in Germany and enemy-occupied territory. An early indication of his determination came on the night his Stirling was partly crippled by flak on its approach. Undeterred by the damage, he continued the attack, bombed the objective, and then brought his Stirling home. His action that night saw him awarded the DFM.
On 12th August 1943 during a raid on Turin, Italy, Flight Sergeant Aaron's bomber was hit by gunfire (possibly from a night fighter, but may have been friendly fire from another Stirling). The Stirling was very badly damaged; three engines were hit, the windscreen shattered, the front and rear turrets put out of action and the elevator control damaged, causing the aircraft to become unstable and difficult to control. The navigator, Canadian Cornelius A. Brennan was killed, other members of the crew were wounded, and Flight Sergeant Aaron's jaw was broken and part of his face was torn away. He had also been hit in the lung and his right arm was useless. Despite his terrible injuries he managed to level the aircraft out at 3,000 ft. Unable to speak, Flight Sergeant Aaron urged the bomb aimer with gestures to take over the controls. The crippled bomber made for the nearest Allied bases in North Africa.
Aaron was then assisted to the rear of the aircraft and given morphia. After resting he insisted on returning to the cockpit where he was lifted back into his seat where he made a determined effort to take control and fly the aircraft although his weakness was evident and he was eventually persuaded to desist. In great pain and suffering from exhaustion he continued to help by writing directions with his left hand. Five hours after leaving the target fuel was now low, but Bone airfield in Tunisia was sighted. Flight Sergeant Aaron summoned his failing strength to successfully direct the bomb-aimer in belly-landing the damaged aircraft in the darkness. He died nine hours after the aircraft touched down.
He was buried with full military honours in Bone War Cemetery. On 3rd November 1943 the London Gazette published the official citation for the award of a posthumous VC to Arthur Louis Aaron. For their parts in the action, Allan Larden was awarded the CGM, and Mitcham and Guy each received the DFM. On 25th February 1944, Aaron’s parents received their son’s VC from King George VI at Buckingham Palace, and shortly afterwards Benjamin Aaron was present at a mass parade of ATC cadets in Wellington Barracks, London, where the ATC Commandant, Air Marshal Sir Leslie Gossage read out the VC citation of their ex-cadet.
Two years later, in August 1946, Aaron’s parents’ home was burgled and all of his medals stolen, but after a police appeal the medals were returned anonymously in the mail. In December 1953, Benjamin Aaron presented Arthur’s medals to the Leeds City Museum for a permanent loan.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LEEDS CITY MUSEUM
BURIAL PLACE: BONE WAR CEMETERY, ALGERIA.
Bone War Cemetery, Tunisia. Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier.
Aaron's memorial in Quarry Hill, Leeds
Buried in Plot II, Row B, Grave 3
Replica display at Thorpe Camp, RAF Woodhall Spa
National Memorial Arboretum (Andy Wright)
Yorkshire Air Museum (Stewart May)
Courtesy of Leeds City Museum
St Clement Danes, Aldwych
Leeds VC Memorial
Bomber Command, Lincoln (Brian Drummond)