A Victoria Cross hero – the first pilot to down a zeppelin – is to be honoured by the Stratford-upon-Avon school where he boarded.
A commemorative stone will be placed at the entrance of King Edward VI School as a tribute to the daring deeds of Great War pilot Reginald “Rex” Warneford.
The June 8 ceremony marks the 100th anniversary of Warneford receiving Britain’s greatest military honour. It’s also the culmination of a far-reaching campaign by Old Edwardians to give the feted ex-pupil the credit he deserves.
Two years ago, the Government announced each Great War VC recipient would be remembered with a commemorative stone.
Warneford, a member of the Royal Navy Air Service, was excluded from the list because he was born in Darjeeling, India.
But he was brought to England as a child and educated at King Edward. When his family returned to India, Warneford continued his schooling at English College, Simla.
Former pupils battled to get the decision reversed – and won and the Department for Communities and Local Government relented.
King Edward headmaster Bennett Carr said: “This memorial will ensure that Rex’s conspicuous bravery will be remembered for generations to come in the town which he considered home.”
It’s richly deserved. On June 7, 1915 Warneford chased German airship LZ 37 from the coast of Flanders to Ghent, successfully dropping his bombs on the machine from a height of just over 100 feet.
The zeppelin exploded and the plume of flames damaged his own plane, a flimsy Morane-Parasol.
He was forced to land behind enemy lines and used a cigarette holder and handkerchief to fix the craft’s damaged fuel line. Amazingly, the strafed plane managed to limp back to base.
The following day, King George V informed Warneford, by telegram, that the Victoria Cross had been conferred on him. On June 15, the French honoured him with the Knight’s Cross of the Legion d’Honneur.
News of the award came on the very day he died, aged only 23.
Warneford had enjoyed a celebration lunch before travelling to Buc aerodrome where he was tasked with taking an aircraft to Veurne.
The pilot made one short test flight before embarking on a second with American journalist Henry Beach Newman his passenger.
The plane climbed to 200 feet – then disaster struck. The righthand wings collapsed, causing the craft to concertina.
Neither Warneford or the reporter were harnessed and both were flung from the plane. Newman died instantly, but Warneford, badly injured, passed away en route to hospital. The sub-lieutenant was buried at Brompton Cemetery on June 21, 1915, in a service attended by thousands.
During next month’s tribute to Warneford will see his niece, Faye Erskine, unveil the commemorative stone at the entrance of the school’s guildhall.