A32110 Hon Colonel, Legion of Frontiersmen, Australia
Gazetted 19 July 1940
880538 Corporal (now Assistant Section Officer) Joan Daphne Mary Pearson, Women's Auxiliary Air Force
On 31 May 1940, an hour after midnight, an aircraft crashed near the Women's Auxiliary Air Force quarters at Detling in Kent,
the pilot being seriously injured, another officer killed outright and two airmen slightly injured. Upon hearing the crash Corporal
Pearson rushed out and, although she knew there were bombs on board, she stood on the wreckage, roused the pilot who
was stunned, released his parachute harness and helped him to get clear. When she got him about 30 yards from the
wreckage, a 120 lb bomb went off and Corporal Pearson threw herself on top of the pilot to protect him from the blast and
splinters. She remained with him until a stretcher party arrived and then returned to the burning aircraft to look for the fourth
member of the crew. She found him - the wireless operator - dead in the bomber. Her prompt and courageous action
undoubtedly helped to save the pilot's life.
George Cross (GC)
War Service Medal
Coronation Medal 1953
25 Anniversar Medal 1977
Dartnell Cross with 'V' device (DC[V])
Australian Medal of Merit (AMM)
Born 26 May 1911 Mudeford, Hampshire, England
Died 25 Jul 2000 Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Buried Springvale Botanical Cemetery, Victoria, Australia
Daphne Pearson, who has died aged 89, was the first woman to be awarded the George Cross, after rescuing a pilot from his burning aircraft. In 1940, she was a 29-year-old medical corporal working as an attendant in the sick quarters of the RAF base at Detling in Kent. At around 1 am on May 31 she was sleeping fitfully when she heard the noise of a plane in distress. One engine was cutting out and it seemed to be heading directly towards the base.
She quickly dressed and dashed outside in time to see the plane crash. She scrambled over a fence, tumbled down an incline, was stung by nettles in the ditch and reached the field with the wreckage. As she neared the aircraft, others appeared on the scene and started dragging the pilot clear. Running towards them she yelled: “Leave him to me – go and get the fence down for the ambulance.”
On her own, she began to drag the pilot away from the blaze, but he was groaning in pain and she stopped to give first aid. Unclipping his harness, she found that his neck was injured and she feared a broken back. The pilot then said there was a full load of bombs on board, so she pulled him further way, reaching the other side of the ridge just before the petrol tanks blew up.
Pearson at once threw herself on top of the pilot to protect him from the blast and splinters, placing her helmet over his head. As they lay there, a 120-lb. bomb went off, and she held his head to prevent any further dislocation.
A soldier then crawled forward and lent her a handkerchief so that she could clean him up and she was about to examine his ankle when the plane went up in another huge explosion. The air around them seemed to collapse and the breath was sucked out of them. They were showered with splinters and debris.
Fearing that other bombs would go off, Pearson ran to the fence to help the medical officer over with the stretcher. Shortly after the pilot had been removed by ambulance there was yet another, even fiercer explosion. Pearson was undaunted, however, and went back to the wreckage to look for the fourth member of the crew, the wireless operator; but he was dead.
Afterwards, she returned to the base to help the doctor, and was on duty as usual at 8 am that day.
Daphne Pearson was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal on July 19 1940, the first woman to receive a gallantry award during the Second World War. This became a George Cross in 1941. Her action earned a mention in the House of Commons by Sir Winston Churchill.
Joan Daphne Mary Pearson was born on May 26 1911 at Mudeford in Hampshire, the daughter of Reverend J H Pearson. After St Brandon’s Clergy Daughters’ School in Bristol, she apprenticed herself to a photographer, with her own studio at St Ives.
Ill health persuaded her to sell the studio in the mid 1930s, after which she worked as a chauffeuse and as the manager of the retail fruit section of a farm in Kent. Muck of her spare time was taken up with flying lessons and she was only a few hours from gaining her pilot’s certificate when war broke out. She enlisted in the WAAF in 1939 and was accepted as a medical orderly. A month after her courageous action at Detling, she was commissioned, and served throughout the war with Bomber Command. In august 1940 she was transferred to RAF West Drayton as Temporary Equipment and Gas Defence Officer, and her subsequent postings were mainly in recruitment.
After demobilisation in 1946, Daphne Pearson began a job as assistant governor of a woman’s borstal at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. She later became the assistant to the keeper of the herbarium at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
In 1959 she emigrated to Australia, where for many years she helped her friend Mervyn Davis, one of Australia’s first landscape architects run a farm outside Melbourne, and was active in botanical circles.
She never married.
A32000 Major Rex Clarke (AATTV) introduced Daphne Pearson to the Legion of Frontiersmen, in 1977. In recognition of her past service she was awarded the Dartnell Cross with Valour Clasp and the Australian Medal of Merit
Her personal friends described her as a wonderfully warm and courageous woman and dear friend – now at peace.
On behalf of the Legion, may we also express our deepest respect and thanks.
Go on your journey safely dear friend, God Guard Thee.
Behobeho East Africa 1915 - 1917 Nyangao Kilimanjaro Great War 1917 Belgium 1914 -18