John Alexander Cruickshank VC is a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Cruickshank was born 20 May 1920 in Aberdeen, Scotland. He enlisted in the Royal Artillery in May 1939, serving there until 1941 when he transferred to the RAF. He underwent flight training in Canada and the US, earning his wings in July 1942. After further training, he was assigned to 210 Sqn. in March 1943, piloting in Consolidated Catalina flying boats.
He was 24 years old, and a flying officer in 210 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC. On 17 July/18 July 1944 Flying Officer Cruickshank, on anti-submarine patrol in the North Atlantic, was attacking a U-boat in a hail of flak shells when one burst inside the aircraft, causing a great deal of damage. One member of the crew was killed and two wounded, and although he too had been hit - it was later found that he had 12 wounds, two serious wounds to his lungs and ten penetrating wounds to his lower limbs - Flying Officer Cruickshank went in again, releasing his depth charges, which straddled the U-boat perfectly, and it sank. On the hazardous 5 1/2-hour return journey the flying officer several times lost consciousness, but insisted on helping to land the Catalina.
Cruickshank recovered sufficiently to return to administrative duties by December 1944 but did not return to flying command. He left the RAF in September 1946 to return to an earlier career in banking. He retired from this in 1977.
In March 2004 the Queen unveiled the first national monument to Coastal Command at Westminster Abbey, London. Cruickshank said in an interview after the ceremony: "When they told me that I was to get the VC it was unbelievable. Decorations didn't enter my head." Four VC's were awarded to Coastal Command in the war; the others were posthumous.
He is a living recipient and the last surviving VC for air action in World War II (as of June 2006). He later achieved the rank of flight lieutenant.