Acting Squadron Leader - Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves - 109 Squadron - Service No.115772
Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer was born on 7th July 1920 in Gillingham, Kent. His father was Arthur Robert Palmer, a Civil Servant (ex-Royal Air Corps Pilot), and his mother was Lilian (née Skuse). His first school was Cecil Road School in Gravesend.
In 1932 Robert Palmer joined The County School for Boys – now known as Gravesend Grammar School. The Head Master at that time was the Reverend Samuel Lister. The County School for Boys was located in Darnley Road, Gravesend close to the Railway Station (now the Victoria Centre for Education). In 1938 the School moved to brand new premises in Church Walk, Milton, Gravesend opposite to Milton Church.
The School’s Admission Register lists Robert’s address as 52 Bellman Avenue, Gravesend. Whilst at the School, Robert was in Town House. Younger brother Douglas (born 1926) also attended the School. He served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves as a Pilot Officer in World War Two.
In 1936 Robert left the School and started work in the Borough Surveyor’s Department. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves on 22nd August 1939, Service Number 115772 as a Pilot Officer.
Robert flew with both 75 Squadron (November 1940) and then 149 Squadron. After that he served at No.20 OTU at Lossiemouth in Scotland, as an Instructor, before joining 109 Squadron in January 1944. 109 Squadron was part of the Pathfinder Force, and Robert became their Acting Squadron Leader.
On 30th June 1944, Robert Palmer was awarded the DFC. The citation reads: “Received in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations”.
On 8th December the same year, he was awarded his Second DFC, received in the form of a bar to be worn on the ribbon of the first DFC, for flying 100 sorties. Citation: “Since the award of the D.F.C. this officer has continued to operate with unremitting zeal and enthusiasm, successfully completing a large number of operational sorties He has invariably pressed home his attacks regardless of enemy opposition, displaying courage and great devotion to duty.”
By late December 1944, Robert had completed 110 bombing missions.
On 23rd December 1944, Robert Palmer led a formation of Lancasters in daylight to attack the Gremberg railroads marshalling yards at Cologne. Before the target was reached, they were met with heavy anti-aircraft fire and two of his plane’s engines were set on fire. Ignoring the double risk of fire and explosion in his aircraft, he carried on. He made a perfect approach and dropped his bombs right on target. Robert Palmer’s aircraft fell to the ground in flames. Only one member of his crew managed to escape. Robert Palmer died, age 24.
Squadron Leader Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously on 23rd March 1945. The Citation for the VC: “This officer has completed 110 bombing missions. Most of them involved deep penetration of heavily defended territory; many were low-level “marking” operations against vital targets; all were executed with tenacity, high courage and great accuracy. He first went on operations in January, 1941. He took part in the first 1,000 bomber raid against Cologne in 1942. He was one of the first pilots to drop a 4,000 lb. bomb on the Reich. It was known that he could be relied on to press home his attack whatever the opposition and he bombed with great accuracy. He was always selected, therefore, to take part in special operations against vital targets. The finest example of his courage and determination was on the 23rd December, 1944, when he led a formation of Lancasters to attack the marshalling yards at Cologne in daylight. He had the task of marking the target and his formation had been ordered to bomb as soon as the bombs had gone from his, the leading aircraft. The leader’s duties during the final bombing run were exacting and demanded coolness and resolution. To achieve accuracy, he would have to fly at an exact height and air speed on a set course regardless of opposition. Some minutes before the target was reached, his aircraft came under heavy anti-aircraft fire, shells burst all around, two engines were set on fire and there were flames and smoke in the nose and in the bomb bay. Enemy fighters now attacked in force. Squadron Leader Palmer disdained the possibility of taking avoiding action. He knew that if he diverged the least bit from his course, he would be unable to utilise the special equipment to the best advantage. He was determined to complete the run and provide an accurate and easily seen aiming-point for the other bombers. He ignored the double risk of fire and explosion in his aircraft and kept on. With its engines developing unequal power, an immense effort was needed to keep the damaged aircraft on a straight course. Nevertheless, he made a perfect approach and his bombs hit the target. His aircraft was last seen spiralling to earth in flames. Such was the strength of the opposition that more than half of his formation failed to return. Squadron Leader Palmer was an outstanding pilot. He displayed conspicuous bravery. His record of prolonged and heroic endeavour is beyond praise”.
Robert Palmer’s portrait and VC citation still hang in the School Hall at Gravesend Grammar School. He is remembered at Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany.
There are links below to Newspaper Clippings and Photographs from the Gravesend Grammar School Archives.
Below are links to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and a few other websites that might be of interest: