THE treasured memory of a young Australian airman who sacrificed his life to protect the people of March is at the heart of a new friendship charter twinning Fenland with the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
And there are hopes that it will help to foster close contacts between young people here and their counterparts Down Under. Neale-Wade Community College in March has already indicated it is keen to pursue such links.
Jim Hocking died when the Stirling bomber he was piloting on a training flight over Cambridgeshire crashed on the outskirts of March in July, 1944.
When the notoriously unreliable plane – it was nicknamed the Flying Coffin - caught fire, the 21-year-old ordered his crew to bale out while he remained at the controls to steer it away from the town centre.
For security reasons, the story was hushed up at the time and Hocking’s heroism only came to light after an investigation in the 1980s.
It led directly to the establishment in 1997 of a twinning arrangement between Fenland District Council and Maroochyshire, a district in Queensland. Maroochyshire has since amalgamated with two other authorities to form the Sunshine Coast. And this summer a new “Charter of Mutual Friendship” was signed to reflect that change.
In August copies of the charter were signed at Fenland Hall by Councillor Michael Humphrey, FDC’s Chairman. They were taken out to Australia by Councillor Mike Cornwell and his wife Judith, who were holidaying there, and counter-signed by Councillor Bob Abbot, Mayor of the Sunshine Coast.
During his visit Cllr Cornwell stayed with the Hocking family. He said: “The welcome and hospitality we received over there was fantastic. This charter renews the formal relationship between our two authorities but we want to broaden that to make a real difference in the wider community.
“We’ve got to look to the future – and our young people are the future. This is a chance to build a bridge between youngsters here and over there.”
The first moves have been made to establish links between Neale-Wade and Matthew Flinders Anglican College in Queensland.
Amanda Carlin, a governor at Neale-Wade, has won the backing of Jason Wing, the college’s new principal. She has also been in touch with Alan Hocking, Jim’s brother, in Australia, and gained a similar response from the principal of Matthew Flinders.
Mrs Carlin said: “I’m delighted by their support. I was lucky enough to live in Queensland for a while and I learned so much. So I know from personal experience how positive such contacts can be. This charter gives us a tremendous opportunity to do something really exciting for everyone involved - something that is potentially life-changing.”
She added: “If any other Fenland-based school, group or organisation is interested in forging links with the Sunshine Coast, I would be pleased to hear from them to see how I can help.”
• THERE is a memorial to Jim Hocking at St Wendreda’s church, March, and a permanent display about him at the March Museum. His Australian Royal Air Force uniform is also occasionally on show there, having been generously donated to the museum by his family.
He is buried in Cambridge Cemetery, where the inscription on his headstone reads: “Nobly he lived. Nobly he died. Ever remembered.”