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At last a chance to see the face of hero who saved plane and crew

Flt Lt Verdun Ashley Smith DFC - WW2 Sudbury bomber pilot hero ANL-160309-174951001
Flt Lt Verdun Ashley Smith DFC - WW2 Sudbury bomber pilot hero ANL-160309-174951001

The story of RAF hero Ashley Scott is a proud chapter in Sudbury’s war history and features on the Roll of Honour in the town’s museum.

But for years the winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross remained a man without a face because researchers could not find a picture of him.

john smith, victim of zeppelin raid on sudbury during WW1 ANL-160309-174936001
john smith, victim of zeppelin raid on sudbury during WW1 ANL-160309-174936001

Now, after a decade of fruitless searching, a photograph has turned up of the young pilot whose skill brought his Wellington bomber safely home after it was crippled by enemy fire.

The picture of him in uniform, smiling and with his cap at a jaunty angle, was handed to staff at Sudbury Town Hall.

But exactly who brought it in remains a mystery to the trustees of the museum, which shares the Town Hall premises.

“We believe it must have been one of his relatives,” said Valerie Herbert from the Museum Trust.

“And we would love to hear from them to learn more about how it was found, and to thank them properly.”

The photograph will be on show for the first time on Saturday, together with his story.

Sudbury’s Town Hall, Heritage Centre and Museum will be open free from 10am to 4pm as part of Heritage Open Days weekend – the country’s biggest celebration of its cultural assets.

“We have been hoping to find a photograph of Ashley Scott for more than a decade because of his heroism” said Valerie, co-author with Shirley Smith of No Glorious Dead, the history of Sudbury in the two World Wars.

The 26 year-old Pilot Officer won the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the RAF’s highest gallantry awards, in 1942.

It was given for his achievement in getting his badly shot-up Wellington bomber back from a raid over Germany.

The bomber’s fuel tanks were pierced and hydraulics shot away causing the undercarriage to drop.

The drag slowed its speed so much there the was a high risk of crashing into the North Sea.

Steadily losing height, the young pilot held his nerve and managed a masterly forced landing in a field, according to the official DFC citation in the London Gazette.

It continues: “Throughout the operation, this officer displayed skill and judgment of a high degree.”

But the survival rate of bomber crews was low. Almost half were killed – a total of more than 125,000 men.

A year later luck ran out for Ashley Scott, who had by then been promoted to Flight Lieutenant.

His Wellington, part of a squadron deployed to hunt German U-boats, crashed on take off from Blida airfield, Algeria, killing all the crew. He lies buried in El Alia Cemetery, near Algiers.

Verdun Ashley Scott was raised by his widowed mother Ethel in Upper East Street, Sudbury. He never knew his father, who died when he was a baby.

His first name, Verdun, commemorated the WWI battle in the year he was born, but he chose to use Ashley instead.

He attended North Street School, and at one time was a clerk at the Sudbury Institution which was the successor to the Sudbury Workhouse.

Two of the bomber pilots named on Sudbury war memorial won the DFC.

The other was Flt Lt Eric Fillimore, who was also honoured for getting his damaged aircraft back across the North Sea.

He survived the war but was later killed in a crash while testing a Spitfire.

If you can help with more information about the photograph of Flt Lt Scott contact Valerie Herbert on 01787 372097.

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