A to Z of Leeds: How Arthur Aaron became a war hero

We all know Leeds is a great city, right?

Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 11:52 am
Updated Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 11:55 am
Arthur Aaron.
Arthur Aaron.

There are many reasons for this bold claim, from the people who've called this place home, to the history of the region, the developments underway and the talent and creativity we see on a daily basis. Here, we go through the alphabet to give you some reasons to be proud.

A IS FOR... ARTHUR AARON

He was the courageous Leeds airman whose extraordinary bravery under fire saw him awarded the nation’s highest military honour.

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The statue of Arthur Aaron at the bottom of Eastgate in Leeds city centre pictured in March 2013. PIC: Tony Johnson

Born and educated in the city, Arthur Aaron enlisted in the RAF in 1941 before being promoted to Flight Sergeant in 1943, flying on more than 20 bombing missions over Europe alongside his

crew.

On August 13, 1943 he was captain of a short Stirling heavy bomber that came under heavy fire whilst on a sortie to Turin, killing the plane’s navigator and a number of other crewmen

whilst Flt Sgt Aaron himself lost the use of his right arm and part of his face.

Determined to save his remaining crew despite his horrific injuries, severe injuries, Flt Sgt Aaron directed the stricken plane towards North Africa, returning to the cockpit to rally his fellow

airmen and help them through a hazardous landing at Bône airfield, Algeria.

Nine hours after the landing, Flt Sgt Aaron collapsed and died of exhaustion. He was buried with full military honours at Bône Military Cemetery.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously in November 1943

Sir Arthur Harris, commander-in-chief of RAF Bomber Command, wrote a letter to his parents which said: “In my opinion, never, even in the annals of the RAF, has the VC been awarded for skill, determination and courage in the face of the enemy of a higher order than that displayed by your son on his last flight.”

In August 1946, the VC won by Flight Sergeant Aaron was stolen from his parent’s home in Leeds, together with his DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal), some articles of jewellery and a cup won by him while at school.

Mr and Mrs Aaron made a public appeal for the medals to be returned and about a month later, the VC and the DFM were send anonymously to the Leeds CID (the rest of the booty was not sent back).

In 1953, the medals were donated to Leeds City Museum by his parents.

To mark the new Millennium, Leeds Civic Trust organised a public vote to choose a statue to mark the occasion, and to publicize the city's past heroes and heroines. Candidates included Benjamin Latrobe and Sir Henry Moore.

Arthur Aaron won the vote, with Don Revie beating Joshua Tetley and Frankie Vaughan as runner-up.

The statue located on Eastgate was unveiled in March 2001 by Malcolm Mitchem, the last survivor of the aircraft.

The five-metre bronze sculpture by Graham Ibbeson takes the form of Aaron standing next to a tree, up which are climbing three children progressively representing the passage of time between 1950 and 2000, with the last a girl releasing a dove of peace, all representing the freedom his sacrifice helped ensure.

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Laura Collins