Honouring the brave: Ian Willoughby Bazalgette was Alberta’s sole Victoria Cross recipient of the Second World War

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Ian Willoughby Bazalgette circa 1941.

Born in Calgary, Alberta on Oct. 19, 1918, Ian Willoughby Bazalgette would become Alberta’s only recipient of the Victoria Cross in the Second World War. Bazalgette only lived in Alberta for a short time; his family moved to Toronto, Ontario in 1923, then moved to England shortly thereafter. While Bazalgette is absent from many historical war records, the Bomber Command Museum, in Nanton, Alberta reached out to those who served with him and his remaining family, in order to piece together his amazing story. 

Bazalgette started his military career in July 1939 when he signed up to join Britain’s Royal Artillery, which is part of the British Army. By 1940, he was already a Second Lieutenant. Bazalgette was first stationed at a searchlight regiment; the regiment’s goal was to spot enemy aircrafts flying above the city. In March 1941, Bazalgette enlisted with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. A few months later, he received his pilot wings and was certified to fly alone. In September 1942, Bazalgette flew with Squadron No. 115 in a Vickers Wellington Bomber. A year later, Bazalgette was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for operations in Italy; this was the precursor to an even greater honour that was soon to follow.  

Bazalgette would be awarded the Victoria Cross for the action he took on Aug. 4, 1944. He was acting as Master Bomber, while leading No. 635 squadron in a sortie to mark an enemy target for another bombing squadron to come and destroy. A detailed account of this mission and citation for his Victoria Cross was published in the London Gazette on Aug. 14, 1945. The sortie had a straightforward objective but, as usual in times of war, nothing is simple. 

Courage in the face of crisis

Upon nearing the designated target in Trossy St. Maximin, France, the squadron came under heavy anti-aircraft fire. The deputy Master Bomber’s aircraft was shot down during the chaos. As acting Master Bomber for his squadron, Bazalgette now knew it was up to him to ensure the mission was a success. The bomb aimer in Bazalgette’s aircraft had already been severely wounded, and fires had started to break out on board from the heavy enemy anti-aircraft attack. Regardless of the state of his aircraft, Bazalgette was able to mark the target. The success of the mission was fleeting, considering the degrading condition of the aircraft.

A black-and-white image of Ian Willoughby Bazalgette, sitting down with his hands crossed on his lap.

Ian Willoughby Bazalgette pictured during a ceremony. Circa 1941.

Bazalgette had to make a tough decision in the best interest of his crew; he ordered the remaining crew members to abandon the aircraft. Next, he took it upon himself to try to land the damaged aircraft, to save the wounded crew members who remained: a gunner overtaken in his turret by the fumes of the fire onboard and the wounded bomb aimer was unable to leave via parachute. Miraculously, Bazalgette was able to bring the aircraft down, but the aircraft then exploded killing Bazalgette and the remaining crew members. A quote from the citation in the London Gazette sums up Bazalgette’s heroic career aptly, “His courage and devotion to duty were beyond praise.”

Honoured by his home province

Bazalgette has an impressive list of memorials, including a mountain in Jasper National Park in Alberta. A school in Calgary, Ian Bazalgette School, was also named in his honour. In addition, Bazalgette has been remembered through the restoration of the Bomber Command Museum’s Lancaster bomber. 

This photo shows the Lancaster bomber that would later be dedicated to Bazalgette crossing a river. The bomber shows clear signs of disrepair.

The Lancaster bomber that would later be restored and dedicated to Bazalgette.

The aircraft was dedicated to him posthumously in 1990. The Bomber Command Museum even went so far as to put F2-T on the aircraft, the same markings that were on Bazalgette’s bomber during his fateful last mission. Currently the Museum’s Lancaster functions as a show piece, guided tours of the interior are offered to visitors of the Museum. As of 2020, his medals rest in the RAF Museum in Hendon, England.

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Connor Wilkie

As a co-op student at Ingenium, Connor is looking forward to researching and writing an array of stories over the coming weeks. With a background in journalism, Connor enjoys being informed on all issues, from science and technology topics to every day breaking news. When he’s not busy writing, Connor loves taking photos and shooting video.