THE NIECE of Stratford-upon-Avon’s war hero, Rex Warneford, has unveiled a commemorative plaque in the town’s Garden of Remembrance to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War.
Faye Erskine, 85, travelled from Monmouth, Wales, for the ceremony in Old Town last Friday (10th January).
She unveiled a plaque in memory of the 31 boys and one master from King Edward VI School who lost their lives during the Great War.
Faye’s uncle, Rex Warneford, is one of the names on the list. The ex-KES boy was the first man to single-handedly shoot down a zeppelin, and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts.
His funeral in London was attended by thousands of mourners in 1915, but Faye told the Herald the famous fighter-pilot felt most at home in Stratford.
“It was surprising how well he settled here,” she said.
“I think it was the attitude of the school because he did have a certain amount of difficulties leaving his life in India.”
Born in 1891 in India where his father wor-ked on the railway line, Rex came to England to live with his grandfather Tom in Durham. He found his way to Stratford because Tom Warneford was great friends with the KES headmaster at the time, Cornwell Robertson.
Although he was only here between 1901 and 1905 before he became an apprentice on the SS Somali, Stratford is where he grew up and where he called home.
The plaque has three sets of brothers on it.
In June 2015, 100 years on from receiving his VC, an official commemorative stone issued by the government will be placed outside the school’s Guild Hall.
Faye’s mother Jeanne Warneford was one of Rex’s four sisters.
“I learnt an awful lot from my mother, she was devoted to Rex and they were always very close, well as much as you can be with the life he had,” said Mrs Erskine.
“Somebody asked her who was going to bring the first zeppelin down. My mother turned around and said my brother, that’s who.”
She was right. In June 1915 Rex climbed above a German zeppelin making its way to England through Belgium and, using his hands, threw bombs out the side of his plane.
Destroying the zeppelin, the force of the explosion turned Rex’s plane upside down and he was forced to land behind enemy lines. Exhausted, he woke up on the edge of a cliff, yards from a sheer drop with a plane that wouldn’t start.
He managed to fix it with his cigarette holder and fly back to base. However, just ten days later Warneford was killed in a test flight with a journalist.
“The zeppelin was the invincible weapon, he destroyed the myth,” said Faye.
At the ceremony she wore a replica of the Legion D’Honneur medal Rex received from the French military.
It was made by the French factory which built his plane and was given to his mother after his death.
KES pupils observing a minute's silence at the unveiling ceremony.
Joined by her children Katharine, 52, and John, 49, Faye unveiled the plaque in front of pupils who had been learning about the First World War throughout the day.
Headmaster Bennet Carr said: “I think the interesting thing now for remembering World War One is that there aren’t any survivors left so commemoration takes on a whole new meaning. With no first-hand experience left the role of education has so much more importance than it ever has.”
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