In the summer of 1941, Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for climbing onto the wing of his Wellington bomber 13,000 feet above the Zuider Zee in Holland to extinguish a fire in the starboard engine. Secured only by a rope around his waist, he managed not only to smother the fire but also to return along the wing to the aircraft's cabin. Churchill, an admirer as well as a performer of swashbuckling exploits, summoned the shy New Zealander to 10 Downing Street (for our American friends that's like the British White House). Ward was struck dumb with awe in Churchill's presence and was unable to answer the Prime Minister's simplest questions. Churchill surveyed the unhappy hero with some compassion. “You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence,” said Churchill. “Yes sir,” stammered the young flyer. “Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours,” said Churchill. (Fadiman, 1985, pp. 122-23)
Robert L. Boucher is with the School of Human Kinetics at the University of Windsor, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4.