Remembering a hero: Villagers mark death of Victoria Cross pilot

Heroic: Lt Cmdr Eugene Esmonde attacked the German fleet in a swordfish torpedo bomber, above.
Heroic: Lt Cmdr Eugene Esmonde attacked the German fleet in a swordfish torpedo bomber, above.
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THE bravery of a Second World War pilot who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his role in an attack on German battleships will be marked in a South Yorkshire village this weekend.

A service is to be held on Sunday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the death of Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde, who perished in an aerial battle over the English Channel.

The memorial service will be held in Thurgoland Parish Church by the vicar, the Rev Canon Keith Hale.

Lt Cmdr Esmonde, who was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order, was killed as his Royal Navy Swordfish torpedo bomber was shot down in an offensive against the German fleet including the battleships Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen.

The Channel Dash offensive happened on February 12, 1942 when the Royal Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Artillery attempted to stop a German fleet of 66 ships making their way home from Brest, in Brittany, northern France.

The British attacked as the German ships passed from the Straits of Dover into the North Sea – but bombardment failed to stop convoy.

Britain had one ship heavily damaged and lost 42 aircraft. There were 40 British dead and missing, and 21 wounded.

Germany sustained damage to two ships and 13 sailors were killed. The German Luftwaffe, which provided air support for its navy, lost 22 aircraft and 23 airmen in the battle.

Lt Cmdr Esmonde was the second man in his family to be awarded the VC, after his great uncle Thomas received the honour while serving in the Army during the Crimean War the previous century.

Another memorial service will be held on Sunday at the former RAF Station at Manston in Kent from which the aerial attack – called Channel Dash – was launched.

Lt Cmdr Esmonde was born in Thurgoland on March 1, 1909, where his father was the village GP. He joined the RAF in 1928, later transferring to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm in 1939. The family later returned to their native Ireland but the war hero’s name is on the village war memorial in Thurgoland.

The Yorkshire Fleet Air Arm Association is arranging the memorial event at Thurgoland, which will include representatives of the association and Thurgoland Parish Council laying wreaths at the village war memorial after the church service.

The event will be followed by refreshments at The Green Dragon pub across from the memorial.

A spokesman for the parish council said: “This is a memorable occasion for Thurgoland because Lt Cmdr Esmonde was born in the village and his name is included on the war memorial.”

Lt Cdr Esmonde had earlier been awarded the DSO for bravery in an operation against the German battleship Bismarck, in May 1941. His squadron was part of a series of attacks which slowed the ship down before the Royal Navy sunk it.

His great uncle, Thomas Esmonde, from County Waterford in Ireland, received the VC during the Crimean War when he was a captain in the 18th Regiment of Foot. Thomas Esmonde’s award was for repeated bravery at Sebastopol, Crimea, in 1855, when he repeatedly helped rescue wounded men from exposed situations.