Newspaper cutting - V.C. for Gravesend Squadron Leader



Newspaper cutting - V.C. for Gravesend Squadron Leader


Sub headlines - great act of heroism and some remarkable tributes. States that Acting Squadron Leader Robert Antony Maurice Palmer had been awarded the Victoria Cross after a hazardous daylight operation over Cologne. Quotes telegram from Sir Arthur Harris to Mr Palmer Senior. Quotes from citation which notes that Palmer had completed 110 bombing operations and gives some service history. Gives an account of action on operation to Cologne and then continues with more service history including award of two DFCs and mention in dispatches. Adds personal and family background. Follows quotes from letters and comments from Chief of Air Staff, his squadron commander, the mayor of Gravesend and headmaster.

Temporal Coverage




Two page printed newspaper cutting


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Great Act of Heroism



It was announced on Friday that an R.A.F. bomber pilot from Gravesend, who had completed more than 100 missions and who was reported missing after a particularly hazardous daylight operation over Cologne last December has been awarded the Victoria Cross. The award is to:-

Acting Squadron Leader Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer, D.F.C. and Bar, 109 Squadron, son of Mr. and Mrs. A.R.F. Palmer, of 52, Bellman-avenue, Gravesend.


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News of the award was sent by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Chief of Bomber Command, in the following telegram to Mr. Palmer:-

“His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on your son Robert. This supreme award so heroically earned will I trust give some solace to those near and dear to him in their deep anxiety. His selfless devotion to duty and unwavering resolution in the face of accurate and intense enemy fire to accomplish the important task allotted to him will emblazon his name in the annals of the Royal Air Force, and is an example and inspiration to us all.”


The citation says that Squadron Leader Palmer had completed 110 bombing missions. Most of them involved deep penetration of heavily defended territory; many were low-level “marking” operations against vital targets; all were executed with tenacity, high courage, and great accuracy.

He first went on operations in January, 1941; he took part in the first 1,000-bomber raid against Cologne in 1942; he was one of the first pilots to drop a 4,000lb bomb on the Reich. It was known that he could be relied on to press home his attack whatever the opposition and to bomb with great accuracy. He was always selected, therefore, to take part in special operations.

The finest example of his courage and determination was on December 23, 1944, when he led a formation of Lancasters to attack the marshalling yards at Cologne in daylight. He had the task of marking the target, and his formation had been ordered to bomb as soon as the bombs had gone from his, the leading aircraft. Some minutes before the target was reached his aircraft came under heavy anti-aircraft fire. Two engines were set on fire and there were flames and smoke in the nose and in the bomb bay.


Enemy fighters now attacked in force. Squadron Leader Palmer disdained the possibility of taking avoiding action. He knew that if he diverged the least bit from his course he would be unable to utilize the special equipment to the best advantage. He was determined to complete the run and provide an accurate and easily seen aiming-point for the other bombers. He ignored the double risk of fire and explosion in his aircraft and kept on.

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With his engines developing unequal power, an immense effort was needed to keep the damaged aircraft on a straight course. Nevertheless, he made a perfect approach and his bombs hit the target.

His aircraft was last seen spiralling to earth in flames. Such was the strength of the opposition that more than half of his formation failed to return.

Squadron Leader Palmer was an outstanding pilot. He displayed conspicuous bravery. His record of prolonged and heroic endeavour is beyond praise.


During his first tour of operations (with 149 Squadron) he took part in the first raids on Italy from this country, having to fly across occupied and unoccupied France. On one of these missions he was piloting a Wellington during a roof-top-high raid on a Italian city, and this exploit is still referred to in R.A.F. circles as “The Raid of the Three,” the reason being that only three aircraft took part. After this he was posted to Scotland as an instructor, but volunteered to go back on operations.

He was mentioned in despatches in January, 1944, awarded the D.F.C. in the following June, a Bar to the D.F.C. last December and the V.C. for his gallantry during the same month – four distinctions in the one year – a great record.

He never talked about his flying activities when at home, and when on one occasion he came on leave showing some scarcely healed scars he passed all questions off with a joke. It has since been learned that he was involved in a bad crash and barely escaped alive. He disliked publicity of any sort.

Squadron Leader Palmer, who was born at Gillingham on July 7th, 1920, was educated at Gordon School and Gravesend County School. Before the war he was in the office of the Gravesend Borough Engineer. His father was a pilot in the last war and held a commission in the 402 (Gravesend) Squadron A.T.C., until last June. He is an official of the Ministry of Labour at Gravesend.

His youngest son, Douglas, who is nearly 19, was also educated at Gravesend County School and was a flight-sergeant with the School’s A.T.C. He is now undergoing training as an officer-cadet in the R.A.F.

News was received this week that one of Squadron Leader Palmer’s crew is wounded and is a prisoner of war in Germany.


Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles F.A. Portal, Chief of Air Staff, has written the following letter to Mr. Palmer:

“I hope you will allow me [missing word] tell you of the profound admiration with which I read of the great act of heroism for which your son has been awarded the Victoria Cross. I am sure that the whole of the Royal Air Force will share this admiration and will be deeply sensible of the honour which his action has brought to the service.

“I was grieved to learn that your son is missing from the operation which he so heroically performed and offer you my deepest sympathy in your anxiety.”


Wing Commander R.C. Cobbe, his Squadron Commander, paid this tribute to Squadron Leader Palmer: “He was the type of officer,” he said, “whom every squadron commander wants to have in his squadron but few have the good fortune to find. His personality and energy led him to take an active interest in all the various activities of Service life, and made him popular and respected by all ranks. The interest he took in his work, and his loyalty to his squadron, coupled with his eagerness to engage the enemy, made him an outstanding captain. The climax of his Service career was reached when by his courageous and selfless action, he refused to be beaten and pressed home his attack against overwhelming odds on the last operation. Nevertheless, it is certain that having released his bombs his greatest concern was for the safety of his crew who so magnificently supported him on his last sortie.”



The Mayor of Gravesend (Councillor H. Davidson, J.P.) writes:

“The Victoria Cross, that highest award of all for gallantry in action, has been awarded by His Majesty the King to Acting Squadron Leader Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer, D.F.C. and Bar, of 52, Bellman-avenue, Gravesend, aged 24, and when last week the great news came through the whole town thrilled with pride in knowing that one of our own fighting men had won imperishable fame and a name that will live for ever in the annals of our old Borough.”

“Ifeel that we must not fail to find some way of perpetuating for all time the name of this very gallant gentleman – in what way precisely I shall venture to suggest when I have had more time to think things over and consult with my friends. You will all, I know, be glad and proud to help.”



The Rev. S. Lister, M.Sc. (Headmaster, Gravesend County School for Boys) writes:-

It is with a proud and yet an anxious heart that I write this appreciation of R.A.M. Palmer – proud because of his truly great record and achievement, anxious because he is still posted as missing after the brilliant and hazardous day-light operation on December 23rd for which he has been awarded the Victoria Cross by His Majesty the King.

During the twelve years I have known him, he has spent his life in the service of his School, his town and his country, with unassuming determination and perseverance combined with a charm of manner and personality which has endeared him to all who have been associated with him.

He came to the School a year later than the normal age of entry, and at once set himself the task of making up the ground thus lost: his record term by term, was one of steady progress, and in July, 1936, he obtained his School Certificate with “Special Credit” in Oral French and Spanish and in mathematics. He played a good game of rugger for his House and for the Second XV and, though never brilliant, his steady and determined play often helped his side to victory.

On leaving School, in 1936, he was appointed to a clerical post in the Borough Surveyor’s office. Here, too, his sterling character and his readiness to accept responsibility soon won him recognition so that, to use the words of Mr. Hill, he “broke the bounds of regular promotion” and within twelve months was appoint [sic] chief cost clerk.


Then came the war. Volunteering for air-crew in 1939, he gained his commission in 1942 and was soon selected for special operational tasks. He was twice mentioned in despatches, and awarded the D.F.C. in June, 1944: to this, a few months later, a Bar was added, and on December 23rd came the heroic deed over Cologne which gained him the Victoria Cross. The official citation accompanying the award speaks for itself – no greater tribute could be paid to his supreme courage, tenacity of purpose and devotion to duty.

“Bob” Palmer as he was affectionately known to us, was the humblest of young men. Nothing could ever get him to talk of his own achievements. His visits to the School or the office were invariably to enquire about old friends and their welfare – never under any circumstances to tell of his own doings. Most of the information we possess about his work in the R.A.F. has been gained from his fellow officers. On the other hand, no one rejoiced more to hear of the achievements of other Old Boys or was more concerned over their misfortunes.

That he is in God’s keeping we are all conscious, and it is our earnest hope and prayer that he may yet be restored to his home and friends. Words are inadequate to convey the pride of his old School in this great-hearted, unassuming young Englishman: his exploits will remain an inspiration to every succeeding generation of boys, not only in Gravesend, but throughout the Empire.


When a “Reporter” representative saw Mr. G.E. Hill, Borough Engineer and Surveyor, this week he paid this tribute to “Bob” Palmer:

“His ability and his enthusiasm for his job were such that we took the rather unusual course of promoting him to senior cost clerk after he had been here for only two years. He always kept his interest in this office. Every leave he had he used to come in here and see us to keep in touch with us.

“On his last leave he said he was looking forward to the day when he would be together with us in his job. He was singularly popular with us all.

“He was a rather reserved, hard-working, enthusiastic fellow. And he would take on any job, no matter how difficult: and by sheer ability he would get through with it . . . He was a really great chap.”


“Newspaper cutting - V.C. for Gravesend Squadron Leader,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 15, 2024,

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