Jim Auton: The RAF hero hailed 'a true friend of Poland'

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Jim Auton (second left) with aircrew in front of a B-24Image source, IBCC Digital Archive
Image caption,
Jim Auton (second left) was one of seven aircrew who flew a B-24 Liberator

"When I talk about when I won the war, I always say I didn't do it alone, there was seven of us."

Jim Auton was a modest man who would not describe himself as a hero, but was hailed a "true friend of Poland" after he helped fight off the Nazis in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

The 95-year-old had no surviving relatives, and was thought to have been the last British member of the Warsaw Air Bridge, in which supplies were dropped to Polish resistance fighters.

Earlier this month, hundreds flocked to his funeral following an appeal for people to attend.

During his service, he flew 37 missions with 178 Squadron which only ended when he was badly injured by a piece of shrapnel, losing sight in his right eye.

He was awarded 20 medals by six different countries, making him one of the most highly decorated World War Two veterans.

Image source, RAFA (left), BBC (right)
Image caption,
Jim Auton was buried in Newark beside Peggy, his wife of 70 years

"It's quite unusual to have that much recognition from so many countries," said Ailsa Gough from the RAF Association, who rallied up support for people to attend his funeral.

"But Jim just took it all in his stride and said he was just serving his country and was part of a bigger team.

"He'll be remembered not just by the Polish people, but by the UK as a whole because he was one of the last few remaining World War Two veterans who has done so much, but been very modest about what he has achieved."

'Be like daddy'

Mr Auton, the son of an RAF officer, was destined to join the service having grown up at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.

"I was brought up on RAF stations and I didn't know any other life," he told the International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) in a 2015 interview from his home in Louth.

"We had to walk across the aerodrome to school. We were told to walk in groups together and if you see an aeroplane coming in, stand still so he can avoid you.

"And we used to see aeroplanes coming into land on the grass field, and we'd wave to the pilot and if he waved back to us that made our day.

"Pilots were our heroes and we all wanted to be like daddy and join the RAF when we were old enough."

He eventually trained at RAF Ansty in Coventry before he was sent to South Africa to train as a navigator and was then stationed in Foggia, Italy, until the end of his service.

Image caption,
Hundreds attended Mr Auton's funeral after an appeal

Speaking to the IBCC, he played down his role in the Warsaw Uprising.

"When I talk about when I won the war, I always say I didn't do it alone, there was seven of us," he said.

Mr Auton's funeral was attended by hundreds of people who never knew him but were inspired to pay their respects after hearing his story.

During the eulogy, attendees heard how Mr Auton's role as bomb aimer in the Warsaw Uprising was to spot the drop zones and drop 12 containers of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Warsaw Uprising lasted for 63 days in 1944

He advised the airmen the best way to survive the guns and searchlights in Warsaw was to fly as low as possible just above the rooftops, and also avoid the city's tallest building.

The crew completed their drops in this way while other aircraft nearby were shot down.

"Warsaw was in flames," Mr Auton told the BBC in 2017. "When we opened the doors to drop the supplies all we could smell was smoke.

"It was a futile gesture really and very costly in allied lives. In three days we lost 90% of our force."

It was Mr Auton's work which led to the Polish Ambassador calling him "a true friend of Poland", and when he became seriously ill last year, the country sent him hundreds of messages of support and thanks.

Image source, British Poles
Image caption,
Mr Auton was sent hundreds of letters and messages of thanks from Poland when he fell ill

"Jim was a truly remarkable man with many stories to tell," said his carer Paul Trickett.

"He was proud of what he and his comrades did for the people of Warsaw.

"He campaigned tirelessly for military charities, and for the Warsaw Air Bridge to be properly remembered."

After the war, Mr Auton became a businessman exporting goods around the world. He also raised thousands of pounds for military charities, for which he received an MBE in 2000.

He is now buried next to the Air Bridge Memorial at Newark Cemetery, which he founded in 1989 to help remember the 250 allied airman who died during the Polish Resistance.

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