In the summer of 1941 Royal Air Force Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for climbing out onto the burning wing of his Wellington bomber at 13,000 feet over Germany. He used a fire ax, a piece of canvas and his bare hands to extinguish a raging fire coming from starboard engine. Secured only by a rope around his waist, and despite receiving severe burns to his hands and face, he managed not only to smother the fire but was able to successfully return along the wing to the aircraft’s cabin. His incredible exploit undoubtedly saved the aircraft and likely the lives of 5 other crew members.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill, summoned the shy young New Zealander to 10 Downing Street. Ward, struck dumb with awe and embarrassed by his disfiguring burns found himself unable to answer the prime minister’s questions. Churchill surveyed the unhappy hero with some compassion. “You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” managed Ward.
“Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours.”