John Nettleton was at WPPS from 1928 to 1930. A member of the 1st teams for rugby and cricket, he is remembered by Edward Ashmore as one who stood up for the smaller boys, and would not tolerate bullying.
John had always wanted to join the Royal Navy, but was not accepted, so instead joined the General Botha training ship. Two years later however, on a visit to England he decided to join the Royal Air Force. He trained as a bomber pilot, and after the outbreak of war was soon involved in sorties over Europe.
On 17th April 1942, Nettleton’s No.44 Squadron, together with No.97 Squadron from a nearby base were briefed on what was to be one of the most audacious bombing raids of World War 2. The twelve new four-engined Lancaster bombers were to fly 800 km over enemy territory in daylight and at treetop height to avoid enemy radar, their target the MAN diesel factory in Augsberg, which made engines for U-boats.
The two squadrons somehow missed their planned rendezvous, so Nettleton’s six aircraft headed independently to the target. Attacked by German fighters, four of the six were destroyed or crash landed, 21 of the 43 aircrew who had set out two hours earlier, killed. Nettleton flew on with the one remaining aircraft and dropped four 500kg bombs on the target, as did the second aircraft, though hit by gunfire, forcing it to crash land outside the town. Nettleton, now on his own set course for England and landed his badly damaged aircraft safely back at base. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for bravery, one week later.
Nettleton led several other successful raids, but in July 1943 he failed to return from a raid over Turin. It is thought that he was shot down by enemy fighters over the Bay of Biscay.