AN OFFICIAL paving stone commemorating Stratford-upon-Avon’s forgotten war hero for the 100th anniversary of the First World War will be placed in the town, the government has confirmed.
Rex Warneford – the first man to single-handedly shoot down a zeppelin - was ignored in the government’s initial plans to recognise Victoria Cross winners because he was born abroad in India.
The Herald launched a campaign, together with King Edward VI school, where Rex lived and studied for five years, to get the fighter pilot recognised.
Although the government u-turned on their decision to ignore VC winners born abroad in September, there were concerns that Rex would be commemorated in Exmouth, Devon, where he lived briefly, rather than Stratford.
However, the government wrote to KES Headmaster Bennet Carr last week, confirming an official paving stone was going to be sent to the school as well.
The Headmaster said: “I am delighted that common sense has prevailed and that Rex Warneford will be properly commemorated in the place he considered home.
“Our thanks to the Stratford Herald who spearheaded the campaign and all those who joined the school in supporting it.
“This stone will help ensure that Rex Warneford’s conspicuous bravery will be remembered for generations to come.”
The winning design of the paving slab that will be used to commemorate VC winners from WWI.
Rex is going to be commemorated in Exmouth too, where the community have also campaigned for a stone, but his 85-year-old niece Faye Ersikine is pleased he’s being recognised in Stratford.
The son of a British engineer on the Indian railway system, Rex was born in October 1881 in Darjeeling, in the foothills of the Himalayas.
After studying at KES for five years, he joined the Royal Navy Air Service for pilot training when the war broke out.
On 7th June 1915 the 23-year-old fighter pilot was ordered to join a four-plane attack on German zeppelin sheds in Belgium.
Having lost his fellow pilots in the dark, Sub Lieutenant Warneford chased a zeppelin heading to bomb England.
Flying a tiny single-seater plane, and armed with just a revolver, a carbine, and six bombs, he shot at the zeppelin, before climbing above it.
He dropped his bombs on the aircraft, but the huge explosion engulfed his tiny plane and he was forced to crash-land 35 miles behind enemy lines.
Fixing his fuel line with a cigarette lighter, the fighter pilot managed to fly home to a hero’s reception.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V the next day, and was later awarded the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest military decoration.
However, later that month, Rex was killed during a short test flight with an American journalist. Buried at Brompton Cemetery, his funeral was attended by thousands of mourners.
As part of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the government are installing commemorative paving stones in over 400 communities across the UK.
The stone’s design, which was recently unveiled, includes an electronic reader which people will be able to scan with their smartphones to discover more information about their local war hero.
The first paving stone will be laid in August 1914, 100 years after the first two Victoria Crosses were awarded in WWI.
In a letter to Mr Carr, Sally Sealey, from the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: “I’m pleased to confirm that your school will be able to have an additional paving stone for Mr Warneford. I understand that Mr Warneford was an alumnus of the school and was very happy there.”
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