During an action near Southampton on 16 August 1940, Flight Lieutenant James Nicolson was wounded when his Hurricane was attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 110. Despite his cockpit being on fire, he attacked and shot down another German fighter, suffering serious burns before bailing out. For his actions he became Fighter Command’s only recipient of the Victoria Cross during the Second World War.

The announcement and accompanying citation for the decoration was published in supplement to the London Gazette on 15 November 1940, reading:

Air Ministry, 15 November 1940.

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery : —

Flight Lieutenant James Brindley NICOLSON (39329) — No. 249 Squadron.

During an engagement with the enemy near Southampton on 16th August 1940, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson’s aircraft was hit by four cannon shells, two of which wounded him whilst another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft owing to flames in the cockpit he sighted an enemy fighter. This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying in his burning aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face, neck and legs. Flight Lieutenant Nicolson has always displayed great enthusiasm for air fighting and this incident shows that he possesses courage and determination of a high order. By continuing to engage the enemy after he had been wounded and his aircraft set on fire, he displayed exceptional gallantry and disregard for the safety of his own life.

Source: British Pathé