View Full Version : AIR FORCE CROSS - Citations or Reasons for the Award

Jetset 88
3rd Dec 2022, 11:56
The daughter of a former RAF pilot now lives in the USA and she has asked me from afar if I can find why her father, now deceased, was awarded the Air Force Cross back in 1962 in the Queen's Birthday Honours. She never knew the reason her Dad got the gong even though she attended the Buckingham Palace award ceremony with him when aged just 12 yrs old.

I have found his name for the award in a search of the Supplement to the London Gazette - 2 June 1962 (Page 4340). He was Flt Lt Peter Ernest Nelson (195206) and prior to the award was flying either Victors at Gaydon and Cottesmore or possibly Canberras too on No 232 OCU. He later flew 216 Sqn Comets and VC10s at Brize prior to his retirement in 1984.
I understand it is/was possibly necessary for a CO to put a squadron pilot up for an award, but not a specific medal, at least some six months before the Queen's Birthday Honours in June each year.

With that date span in mind, does anyone know where one can find a citation or reason for the award being given. The period in question involving the incident generating the award would have been from June 1961 and November 1961 and if the 6 mth rule didn't apply then the dates would have been June'61 - May'62.
As I understand it, the Air Force Cross is awarded for 'acts of gallantry or bravery in the air when not in the face of the enemy'. It doesn't seem easy to find reasons for medals being awarded let alone the Citation itself.
Can anyone throw any light on the subject please?

3rd Dec 2022, 13:43
IIRC several years ago a similar question was asked about another Gallantry medal and after a lot of discussion it appears there has never been a system for publishing them at all. VC & GC normally get out but the others are buried deep in the records and there is no easy way of finding them.

All that was ever published was the Gazette Notice - if you look at WW1 listing its just a long list of names ever month under "MC" for example

Yellow Sun
3rd Dec 2022, 15:35
The Gazette (https://www.thegazette.co.uk/awards-and-accreditation/content/100042) has the following statement regarding the criteria for award of the AFC:

Awarded for acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty when flying by officers and warrant officers, but not in active operations against the enemy.

So a singular act may not be the trigger for a recommendation. An exceptional level of performance in a role or appointment could qualify a recipient. In fact most of the AFC holders I know\knew fell into that category.


3rd Dec 2022, 16:07
All my test pilot colleagues at Farnborough had AFCs.

3rd Dec 2022, 23:24
The citation that accompanies the award, and given to the recipient at the time of pinning the medal, will document the reason for the award. I'm sure her Father would have retained the document, a question for whoever was responsible for his effects post death perhaps.

Brewster Buffalo
4th Dec 2022, 10:56
Could the squadron's operational record book give a reason for the award?

National Archives have them for 1961/62
Nation Archives - ORBs (https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/royal-air-force-operations-record-books-1911-1963/)

5th Dec 2022, 14:44
In a previous life I spent many hours at The National Archives at Kew where these records would be kept. The vast majority of RAF records there were never indexed and so languished in a fairly anonymous file and it took a lot of digging to find the right one. That said, I read in my copy of "RAF Records in the PRO " that "most files on post war campaign and bravery medals no longer survive". I would suggest that an application be made by the daughter to the RAF Records at the MOD. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/request-records-of-deceased-service-personnel for the service file which may give some clues. Don't be surprised if it takes a year for a reply. The file is quite basic, postings and promotions etc.
Regarding the criteria for the award of the Air Force Cross. At one time (post 1932 I think ) the award was given "for exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy" I'm not sure what is meant by devotion to duty. I think some were for instructing 'above and beyond'
I used to know of a researcher who specialised in RAF records but I believe he is long retired.

6th Dec 2022, 03:57
Guy I worked with did a lot of rescue and support work during one of the country's big floods which resulted in him him being featured prominently in the media, upon seeing all the media his boss said "better write you up for a AFC then", which he did and the chap was awarded same.

6th Dec 2022, 07:53
"devotion to duty whilst flying,"

I think it meant staying with the aircraft and even trying to land it when any sane person would have bailed out

6th Dec 2022, 10:21
A56,when you don`t have a parachute,that`s all you can do....!

6th Dec 2022, 11:08
Agreed ! But I can remember some historic AFC's and they often had the choice - parachute/Ejector seat or stay with the plane (and possibly the other crew who weren't so blessed)

Jetset 88
20th Dec 2022, 16:35
To all who have contributed to this thread, many thanks for your wise counsel about finding why Pete Nelson got his AFC in 1962. I have passed your comments on to his daughter who is going to search all the family papers to see if there was a bit of paper anywhere that said why he was getting it.
As a matter of interest may I ask OyYou what newspaper or mag the cutting came from that you kindly posted on Pprune? It was obviously a local one for the Cottesmore area, as it quotes the daughter going to Bourne School and I can't imagine that detail being published in a National paper. Pleaase PM me with an answer as I'll close this thread now.
I think we must assume that the medal was awarded for good 'services rendered' over a longish period of time when the Victor V-Force was in it's infancy and the pressures of the Cold-War deterrent job back then.
Thanks again to all who threw in their comments.

Brewster Buffalo
21st Dec 2022, 13:00
As a matter of interest may I ask OyYou what newspaper or mag the cutting came from that you kindly posted on Pprune?....
I have found a reference to this in another paper - the wording is different. Let me know if you would like details..

21st Dec 2022, 15:41
Sure I've seen Jock Stirrup's AFC citation somewhere........???

Jetset 88
22nd Dec 2022, 08:32
I have found a reference to this in another paper - the wording is different. Let me know if you would like details..
It would be churlish not to have a sight of the second paper's reference so please post it here or PM me and I'll give you my email address.
Grateful thanks.,

Brewster Buffalo
22nd Dec 2022, 11:02
It would be churlish not to have a sight of the second paper's reference so please post it here or PM me and I'll give you my email address.
Grateful thanks.,

Reference found stored in the online British Newspaper Archive. It's the Leicester Daily Mercury (page 5) for 2 June. It's the 10th one down the web page. Just says "Flight Lieutenant Peter Ernest Nelson of RAF Cottesmore is awarded the Air Force Cross"
Link is

There may. or may not. be further detail about the award in the article but you'll have to subscribe to the BNA to have it displayed at a readable size.

If the link doesn't work let me know.

Brewster Buffalo
23rd Dec 2022, 09:36
Some more info courtesy of the BNA.
This from the Peterborough Standard of 22 December 1961 on Page 1

"Plane Crash Scare - Fire Brigades from Peterborough, Stamford and RAF Wittering waited anxiously as a Victor Mark
Tuesday. But the aircraft landed without iniury to any of the crew of five. though it was slightly damaged. Die (sic) bomber. from RAF Cottesmore. was returning from a routine training flight when it Si.(sic) diverted to Wittering because of fog at its base. The lire (sic) brigades

Could this be the incident which lead to the AFC? Viewing the full story could give the answer..

Plane Crash Scare (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/results/1960-01-01/1962-12-31?basicsearch=%22raf%20cottesmore%22&phrasesearch=raf%20cottesmore&exactsearch=true&retrievecountrycounts=false&sortorder=dayearly&page=2)

23rd Dec 2022, 10:00
Surprised that a "peacetime" AFC was not fully documented in the London Gazette. Jock Stirrup's was:

Whitehall, London SW1A 2KB.

12th July 1983.

The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to approve the following award:

Air Force Cross

Squadron Leader Graham Eric STIRRUP (8020760D), Royal Air Force.

On 7th March 1983 Squadron Leader Stirrup, a flight commander on No. 226 Operational Conversion Unit R.A.F. Lossiemouth was conducting a student progress check from the rear seat of a Jaguar aircraft at low level when there was a bang followed by severe vibration and his forward vision became completely obscured by blood and bird remains. As Squadron Leader Stirrup was unable to see or communicate with the front cockpit and did not know if his student was conscious, he immediately took control and started to climb. All radios and the navigation system were inoperative so he jettisoned his external stares into the sea. He then headed for Royal Air Force Leuchars carrying out low speed handling checks which revealed a flap control restriction. At the same time the vibration increased and the temperature of one engine rose rapidly; he closed the throttle to idle and prepared for a single engine approach. W ith no forward visibility Squadron Leader Stirrup crossed the calculated centreline of the runway before 'turning to fly parallel with it. Once he could see the approach features he gradually aligned the aircraft with the runway. About 3 miles short of touch- down the idling engine began to burn but could not be shut down because, if it had seized, the resulting increased drag would have proved catastrophic. Squadron Leader Stirrup would have been justified in abandoning the air- craft, but still unaware if his student was conscious or not he elected to attempt to land. The debris andflames from the engine set fire to the ground beneath the aircraft which was at a height of 100 feet when he first glimpsed the corner of the runway threshold and managed to land straight ahead. After touchdown the braking parachute deployed. The only control is in the front cockpit and this indicated that the student was conscious. Squadron Leader Stirrup turned off the runway; the damaged engine was still burning when he and his student vacated the aircraft. Throughout this difficult and dangerous recovery, Squadron Leader Stirrup displayed outstanding flying skills, airmanship and courage which not only saved a valuable aircraft but also would have saved the life of his student had he proved unable to eject.

Nice one Sir.

[Edited to add]: Must be only those not in NYHL or QBHL (like Jock's) that get the full write up in the Gazette. Peter Nelson's was there amongst 5 or 6 other AFCs and 5 bars to AFC, so perhaps it was space saving!