The legacy of Wagga’s little-known war hero was immortalised in song just days before Anzac Day.
The moving tribute to World War II RAAF pilot Bruce Meiklejohn brought a tear to the eyes of family, comrades and friends as the story of a Wagga boy-come-hero struck a new chord.
Songwriter Scott Cochrane launched the ballad and music video to a full house at RAAF Base Wagga’s Heritage Centre on Friday.
His song commemorated a 21-year-old man who sacrificed himself to save an entire village in 1943.
Flying Officer Meiklejohn stayed at the controls of a badly damaged, almost un-flyable bomber as it plummeted to the ground on June 22.
German fighter planes attacked and crippled the aircraft while on a bombing mission.
As his crew grabbed their chutes and flew, the pilot placed his feet against the controls to steer the careening Stirling EF366 away from Hamont-Achel, Belgium.
Witnesses claim they saw the severely disabled plane – “a burning cross” carrying fuel and bombs – turn 40 degrees to narrowly avoid the township it was nosediving towards.
While windows were smashed and doors thrown open from the force of the impact, only 270 homes were damaged.
The decendant of a 366 survivor said the young Wagga man “sealed his fate, sacrificing his life for others”.
In a moving testimony, the captain’s nephew Stuart Meiklejohn said an annual service was still held for his uncle in Belgium – “the Wagga man who saved their town”.
Stuart said his uncle was known to be “generous” and a “good bloke” – a farming boy who could not wait to join the war.
“That is why I tell this story,” Stuart Meiklejohn said. “My uncle died a hero.”
Scott Cochrane said the tale of courage and selflessness had inspired his project, recorded by Wagga band Bitter Shoosh. He said tales like The Captain and 366 could “reach far and wide through music”.
In his lyrics Mr Cochrane said while, “many are gone and forgot… they honour your name and praise you on hallowed ground.”
“You flew the coffin like a fighter but they caught you right back in the tail,” Mr Cochrane sang. “Captain 366 makin’ a hero’s stand tonight.”
A plaque honouring Bruce Meiklejohn was also unveiled and donated to the museum on Friday.
Wagga mayor Greg Conkey joined RAAF Base Wagga representatives in honouring the tribute.
In apologies, Wagga Michael McCormack and Riverina MP Daryl Maguire said the timely launch provided an opportunity to thank the sacrifice of captain Meiklejohn and others who served their country.