On 12 January, two of Dr Courtney Willey’s three surviving children visited the Museum to present their father’s medals to us on long-term loan.
On 16 August 1940, Flight Lieutenant Willey was the medical officer on duty when RAF Tangmere was attacked by Stuka dive bombers. Thirteen people were killed during the attack and twenty others injured. For his gallant conduct in attending to the injured even as the bombs were falling, Courtney Willey was awarded the Military Cross.
Willey remained at Tangmere into the autumn of 1940 and then served at a number of Fighter Command stations including Croydon, Gravesend and Biggin Hill. In 1941, he was posted to Singapore; not long after, the British garrison fell to the Japanese and he spent the rest of the war as a captive in Malaya and Burma, doing his best to look after the health of his fellow prisoners — up to 1,200 at any one time — with very few surgical instruments and practically no drugs.
On the day of his return to England in January 1946, it was announced that Flight Lieutenant Courtney Willey had been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his services during the operations in the Far East before his capture. It was also announced that he had been Mentioned in Despatches in recognition of services rendered whilst a prisoner of war in Japanese hands.
From 1951, Dr Willey and his growing family settled in West Cumbria where he was a consultant physician. He died in December 2004, aged 90.
Main photo: Courtney Willey’s daughter, Judy and son, Peter (centre) presenting their father’s medals to the Museum’s Archivist, Dr Reginald Byron.
Bottom left: Courtney Willey’s medals.
Bottom right: A post-war portrait of Dr Courtney Willey MBE, MC.