by Hugh A Halliday
The travails of a DFC to F/O Robert Edward Joseph Fitzgerald, RCAF (No.408 Squadron), demonstrates procedure and disagreements.
It began as a recommendation by W/C E.R. McLernon drafted 13 September 1944 when he had flown 63 sorties (335 hours 47 minutes):
Flying Officer Fitzgerald has completed two tours of operations entailing over sixty sorties. On his first tour he flew as gunner to practically every heavily defended target in Germany and throughout this tour he proved himself an extremely cool, capable and efficient gunner.
His second tour was completed in an exemplary manner. On many occasions his piercing search for enemy fighters and skilful evasive action saved his aircraft and crew from destruction.
Flying Officer Fitzgerald has at all times been exceedingly keen to participate in operations and by his keenness and efficiency he has set a splendid example to all members of this squadron; therefore I recommend that he be awarded the immediate Distinguished Flying Cross.
This submission appears to have generated some heat. It appears that at the level of No.6 Group Headquarters it was raised to a DSO.
On 21 October 1944, an officer at Bomber Command Headquarters, identified as “Dawes”, wrote to G/C F.W. Hammond, No.6 Group Headquarters, as follows:
I am returning herewith the narrative for the award of the DSO to Flying Officer Fitzgerald. The Commander-in-Chief [Harris] is quite prepared to give favourable consideration to this case but wishes the narrative rewritten a little more fully, also that the recommendation by the Squadron, Station and Base Commanders should read “DSO”.
Perhaps you can quote a recent specific case of gallantry on the part of Fitzgerald. If so, put that first and then follow with an amplified version of the remarks on the attached. Subject to the foregoing, it is quite possible that the C-in-C will consider making an Immediate Award.
This was followed by a letter dated 27 October 1944, W/C F. Gaffney (No.62 Base) to the Commanding Officer, No.408 Squadron (copy to Station Linton):
1. Herewith recommendation for the award of the Immediate DFC as originated by you and raised to the award of the DSO by the AOC, No.6 Group. This recommendation was returned from Headquarters, Bomber Command, advising that the Commander-in-Chief is quite prepared to give favourable consideration to this case but wishes the narrative re-written a little more fully, also that the recommendation by the Squadron and Station Commanders should read “DSO”.
2. It is suggested further that perhaps you can quote a recent specific case of gallantry on the part of Flying Officer Fitzgerald. If so, it should be quoted first and followed by an amplified version of the remarks on the original recommendation.
3. It is requested, please, that this be given your attention and returned for onward transmission as soon as possible.
On 1 November 1944, W/C McLernon wrote the following to No.62 Base:
1, Concerning the return of a recommendation for an award of the DFC for the above mentioned officer with instruction to resubmit, recommending a DSO, I would like to bring the following to your attention.
2. I do not consider that this officer warrants in any way an award higher than a DFC. Admittedly his first tour was slightly longer than the average. However, his commanding officer did not see fit to recommend him for any decoration at its conclusion. His second tour was an extremely easy one. Never during this tour was courage or deportment shown or such sterling qualities that they should warrant an award of the DSO.
3. His recommendation for a DFC was based entirely upon length of service, not on any act of outstanding gallantry. The DSO is a decoration which, up to this point, has only been awarded to those who really deserve it. As his commanding officer, I found this man not overly cooperative on the ground and in the air he was never given an opportunity, during his second tour, to demonstrate outstanding courage or efficiency.
In due course this emerged as a DFC (London Gazette, 2 January 1945) with the following citation:
As air gunner, Flying Officer Fitzgerald has completed two tours of operational duty. He has at all times displayed the highest standard of keenness for air operations and most of his assignments have necessitated flights to attack heavily defended targets. On many occasions his vigilance and timely warnings have enabled his pilot to evade enemy fighters. Flying Officer Fitzgerald has proved himself to be an invaluable member of aircraft crew.