A WAR hero from Stratford-upon-Avon who was the first pilot to shoot down a Zeppelin is not being recognised in the government's 100-year anniversary plans for the First World War because he was born in India.
Reginald ‘Rex’ Warneford was awarded the Victoria Cross—Britain’s highest military decoration — for his actions at the age of 23 just days before his death sent the whole country into mourning.
It was recently announced that 100 years on, commemorative stone slabs dedicated to VC medallists from the Great War will be installed in 2014, but only for those who were born in Britain.
The Herald is now campaigning with King Edward VI School to bring a commemorative stone to Stratford for the school’s former pupil.
KES headmaster Bennet Carr said: “He’s British, he defended Britain, he’s buried in Britain, and it just seems a great shame that because he wasn’t born in Britain he won’t be commended here.”
Rex moved to the country from India to stay with his grandfather when his parents split up. At the age of 11, he was sent to board at KES School for five years.
Mr Carr said: “He wasn’t born in Stratford, but that was just the sign of the times, his dad was working on the railway in India. But India wasn’t home for him, he needed a home in Britain and Stratford became it.”
School archivist Richard Pearson said a letter from Warneford’s mother to the headmaster at the time, Cornwell Robertson, confirms Stratford was where Rex, who lived in Chapel Street, felt most at home.
“He was happy here, these were his formative years. It was the only home he ever had,” said Mr Pearson.
Mr Carr said: “Where do we call home? It’s where we grow up. I imagine he would have called Stratford home and that is where he should be commended.”
After finishing school in Stratford he joined the British-India Steam Navigation Company. When war broke out, he was in Canada, but returned home to join the army before he was transferred to the Royal Navy Air Service for pilot training, which he completed in February 1915.
On 7th June he became the first person to shoot down a Zeppelin, taking it down single-handedly near Ghent in Belgium by raining down bombs from above.
But Warneford’s tiny plane was engulfed in the huge flames and he was forced to crash-land behind enemy lines. After spending 35 minutes fixing the plane, he managed to restart it and return to base.
At the time, Mr Robertson, described it as a “supreme test of coolness and unselfish daring.” However, just ten days later, after receiving the VC and the Légion d’Honneur, the highest French military award, Warneford died in a crash during a test flight with an American journalist.
Thousands of people turned up to his public funeral at Brompton Cemetery in London where he was buried on 21st June.
Mr Carr said: “Truly an heroic act, he undoubtedly saved lives by bringing down that Zeppelin.”
Mr Carr wants a commemorative paving stone to be placed outside the Guildhall, where Rex would have been educated.
In Mr Pickles’ plans, each stone will have a QR barcode that can be scanned by smartphones by people wishing to find out more information about the recipient.
A government spokesman said: “The men who gave their lives in the Great War will remain heroes forever. The government will be setting out more of its plan to commemorate the 100th anniversary shortly. This will include the most appropriate way to commemorate Commonwealth Victoria Cross winners. No hero will be forgotten.”
For 90 years Rex’s name was left off the memorial in the Garden of Remembrance in Old Town. until his name was finally added in 2007, when it was spelt incorrectly.
An incredible oversight for someone who believed Stratford to be his home, Mr Pearson said: “We cannot have people forgetting again.”
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