Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1944, Squadron Leader Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer, V.C., D.F.C., Royal Air Force Bomber Command, was killed while on a mission over Germany.
The son of a former Royal Corps pilot, he was educated at Gravesend County School and Grammar School, and as a child developed a fascination with flying. After leaving school he was employed in the Borough Surveyor’s Department, and then in August of 1939 he enlisted in the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve.
Squadron Leader Palmer graduated as a pilot in September of 1940 and two months later flew three missions over Germany. Completion of his first tour of operations as skipper of his own crew followed, along with a period of time as an instructor, and he was commissioned as Pilot Officer in 1942. He took part in the first three 1,000-bomber raids, was promoted twice, and then posted to Path Finder Force, joining 109 Squadron in January of 1944. In June of that year he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and six months later, after completing one hundred operational sorties, he received a bar to the D.F.C. and was promoted to Squadron Leader.
On the day of his death Squadron Leader Palmer was leading a formation of twenty-seven Lancaster bombers and three Mosquitoes over Cologne for a raid on the Gremberg railway yards. The expected cloud cover had cleared, so it was decided to break formation for safety. Squadron Leader Palmer, whose aircraft had already been damaged, did not receive the order and continued with the original plan. Just before reaching the target, two of his engines were on fire but he stayed on course and released his bombs before spiralling to the ground. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his actions that day.
He is buried in the British War Cemetery at Rheinberg in Germany – on his headstone are the words: “A lonely impulse of delight drove to this tumult in the clouds”. Those words are from the poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” by William Butler Yeats.
Robert, from Gillingham in Kent, was 24 years old.