Lasting tribute to war hero Elizabeth
PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 August 2010
A TOWN has commemorated a true war hero who showed “exceptional” bravery during the Battle of Britain – 70 years on.
Joan Eugenie Mortimer, known as Elizabeth, was born in Earl Stonham and lived for much of her life in Stowmarket and the surrounding area.
For displaying “exceptional courage and coolness” while her airbase was under attack on August 18, 1940, Sergeant Mortimer was awarded the Military Medal (MM), becoming one of Stowmarket’s most celebrated war heroes.
So much so that 13 years after her death, the town has honoured her by naming a road after her.
Ralph Merry, the archivist and historian for the Stowmarket Royal Air Force Association, led the tributes to Sgt Mortimer, who he described as a “military star”.
He said: “As we know, most of the valour of this particular battle was shown by the Hurricane and Spitfire pilots but the decoration of the MM for this servicewoman was unique for this time.”
Stationed at RAF Biggin Hill, Sgt Mortimer was manning the switchboard during a heavy bombing attack on the airfield from the Luftwaffe.
Despite advice from her superiors, she remained at her post as the bombs rained down, passing telephone messages to senior officers.
After an anti-air gun was destroyed and the gunners all killed, Sgt Mortimer continued to operate the switchboard and ignored the danger.
Then, before the “all clear” was sounded, she picked up a roll of red flags and ran out to the grass runway to mark each unexploded bomb so that the returning 601 Squadron Hurricane pilots could see where to land safely.
As she did this, an unexploded bomb with a delay fuse blew up – sending her flying.
She was winded and her uniform was torn but she continued to mark the bombs, the last right in the centre of the landing strip.
Due to the explosions, she lost 60% of her hearing and was eventually discharged from the WAAF in 1941, suffering from her hearing loss and pneumonia.
Her MM citation read that she: “Displayed exceptional courage and coolness whilst under attack which had a great moral effect on all those whom she came into contact with.
“Her steadfast courage to both remain at her post whilst under bombardment and to undertake action to prevent further aircraft losses was outstanding.”
Sadly, Sgt Mortimer’s fiance was shot down and killed over Dover a few months later in December 1940.
She never married and after her discharge she returned to Suffolk and lived with her mother in Stowmarket.
After her mother’s death, she bought Water Run Farm in nearby Forward Green and developed an ecology garden, also writing a regular column for the East Anglian Daily Times about birds and their nesting habits.
In 1960 she sold her MM to a rag-and-bone man for £25 but thankfully a military historian managed to organise a replacement for her.
Sgt Mortimer died in Hartismere Hospital, Eye, on August 26, 1997.
Mr Merry, ex-chief technician for the RAF, was joined by other members of the Stowmarket RAF Association and the Royal British Legion in Mortimer Road this week to mark 70 years since her extraordinary actions.
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