b. 27/11/1921 Paisley, Scotland. d. 07/06/1947 Markfield, Leicestershire.
John Hannah (1921-1947) was born in Paisley, Scotland on 27th November 1921, the son of an employee of the Clyde Trust and, after receiving an education at the Bankhead Public School, Victoria Drive and Glasgow Secondary School, young John Hannah started to earn a living, as a shoe salesman, in order to contribute to the family purse. On 15th August 1939, however, he decided to enlist with the RAF for a 6 year regular engagement, and after initial indoctrination and attestation at RAF Cardington that month, was posted to No 2 Electrical and Wireless Training School on 14th September 1939 to train as a wireless operator.
On qualifying in this trade he was sent to No 4 Bombing and Gunnery School at West Freugh for a brief course in air gunnery, and on 18th May 1940 was sent to 16 OTU, Upper Heyford to complete his air-crew instruction as a Wireless Operator Air Gunner (WOP/AG). Promoted to Sergeant on 27th May 1940 – he was then only 18 – he joined 106 Squadron on 1st July, based then at Thornaby, Yorkshire and operating Handley Page Hampden bombers. His stay was brief, and on 11th August, he arrived at RAF Scampton to join 83 Squadron’s Hampden bombers for operations.
When he joined, the 83 were undertaking day and night operations raiding German-occupied ports and installations bordering France and Belgium along the Channel. The Battle of Britain was reaching its peak, and, with RAF Fighter Command fully extended in the daily defence of British skies, only Bomber Command could provide any form of offensive operations against Germany.
On the night of 15th-16th September 1940, over Antwerp, Belgium, after a successful attack on German barges, the Handley Page Hampden bomber (serial P1355) in which Sergeant Hannah was wireless operator/air gunner, was subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire, starting a fire which spread quickly. The rear gunner and navigator had to bail out and Sergeant Hannah could have acted likewise, but instead he remained to fight the fire, first with two extinguishers and then with his bare hands. He sustained terrible injuries, but succeeded in putting out the fire and the pilot was able to bring the almost wrecked aircraft back safely.
On landing, the true extent of John’s injuries became apparent, and it was immediately arranged to transport him to a nearby Service hospital for emergency treatment. On 1st October 1940 came the official awards of a VC to Sergeant John Hannah; a DFM to Sergeant Hayhurst (Canadian pilot), and a DFC to Pilot Officer C.A. Connor, who landed the plane with Hannah. Tragically, Connor was not destined to wear his DFC for long, as he was killed after a bombing sortie to Norway on 3rd-4th November 1940. Hannah was informed of his award whilst a patient in Rauceby Hospital, Lincolnshire, but after his discharge on 7th October 1940, accompanied Connor to Buckingham Palace on 10th October for their investitures.
Hannah did not return to operational flying and on 4th November reported to 14 OTU, Cottesmore for instructor duties. Here, in January 1941, he met Janet Beaver (1921-2005) his future wife, and on 1st April 1941 was promoted to Flight Sergeant. On 21st July 1941, he married Janet and they went on to have three daughters. In September, he was posted to No 4 Signals School, Yatesbury for further instructor duties, but his health began to deteriorate and he soon contracted TB; resulting in a full discharge from the RAF on 10th December 1942 with a full disability pension. Unable to take full time employment he found it hard to support his young family, and soon his health failed completely.
Finally, on 9th June 1947, aged just 25, John passed away in Markfield Sanatorium, Leicester, leaving his widow Janet and three daughters. He was laid to rest with full military honours in St James the Great Churchyard, Birstall, Leicestershire. Twenty years later, on 6th May 1967, Janet presented her husbands medals to 83 Squadron at RAF Scampton. When 83 Squadron was disbanded later, the medals were passed on to RAF Scampton itself. The medals are now held in the keeping of the RAF Museum, Hendon.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL AIR FORCE MUSEUM, HENDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST JAMES THE GREAT CHURCH, BIRSTALL, LEICESTERSHIRE.
John Hannah's VC and his flight mask displayed at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon (Picture - Thomas Stewart).
Yorkshire Air Museum (Stewart May)
Newspaper cuttings courtesy of Brian Drummond
Paisley War Memorial (Thomas Stewart)