David Earnest Hornell didn’t need to volunteer for service. At the time of his enrollment in the RCAF, the Sunday school teacher with a fondness for rugby and poetry, was already 31 years old. Had he not been deferred due to his age, he almost certainly would’ve been because of his full-time employment in the chemical department at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, an essential wartime occupation. But on January 8th, 1941, David enlisted in the RCAF, not out of a sense of adventure, but seemingly because he understood the gravity of the conflict.
After receiving initial pilot training and performing coastal patrols on the west coast, David was transferred to RCAF-162 Squadron, which saw him deployed to the North Atlantic, piloting a consolidated PBY 5A Canso. Cansos were primarily used in this theater to provide mid ocean air cover to the vulnerable trade routes most susceptible to German U-boat attacks. And it is in this theater that David would earn his Victoria Cross. Flying his 60th operational mission on June 24th, 1944, Hornell spotted the surfaced German boat, U-1225 off the port side of his cockpit. Hornell flew toward the submarine as it opened fire on his airplane, causing its starboard engine to burst into flames.
Despite this, Hornell pressed on, ultimately defeating the U-boat before bringing his burning plane down onto the water. The crew was able to evacuate, but with only one serviceable dingy between them and the frigid North Atlantic Sea, it quickly became clear just how far they were from safety. Despite this, David attempted to maintain good spirits throughout. At one point, sacrificing a piece of his own clothing to help bail out the life raft. By the time the crew was rescued, nearly 21 hours later, David had gone blind and fallen unconscious, and he would be pronounced dead not long after he was taken aboard. David’s sacrifice is why we remember.