Memories of World War 1
A Hundred Years On by Faye Erskine
On June 7th 1915 my uncle Flight Sub Lieut. Reginald Warneford became the first person to shoot down a Zeppelin airship. This was over Belgium and over the years it was always Leefe Robinson who was remembered as he brought down the first one over England in 1917. Rex was posted to No 1 Squadron R.N.A.S Dunkirk. Operations were carried out from the adjacent airfield at St.Pol. One of the jobs of No.1 Squadron was to prevent Zeppelins from reaching England. On the evening of the 6th June a telephone call came directly from the Admiralty that three Zeppelins were returning to base.
It was after midnight that Rex took off in the Morane Saulnier Type L and gave chase. He caught up with the Zeppelin and was immediately fired on. It then became a waiting game and when the moment came he pulled hard on the stick and climbed to 11,000 ft. He then released the first bombs and after a second go the explosion was so great that it turned his plane over and threw it high into the air.
He finally landed in enemy territory and managed to start the plane again using his cigarette holder to join the two pipes and returned to base. It was here that he later heard that he had received the VC by telegram from the King. He was also to receive the Legion of Honour from Monsieur Mitterand who pinned his own medal on Rex’s tunic.
On his return to duty he was instructed to fly a new Henry Farnham biplane back to Dunkirk. After the test flight Rex was asked to take a leading American magazine writer to fly with him. Rex banked at 2,000ft to start landing and the plane went into a spin. Both occupants who were not strapped in fell, and Needham was found dead and Rex was unconscious and terribly injured. He died in hospital. The funeral was to be at the hospital Chapel and he was to be interred in the hospital grounds. This was countermanded and Rex’s body was sent back to England. The coffin arrived at Victoria Station and from there was placed on a gun carriage. The gates of Brompton Cemetery were opened to allow the cortege through and closed before the spectators could come in. At 4.00 the next day the coffin was placed on the gun carriage and his mother and two sisters were at the grave. Before the grave a firing party of 50 stood with arms reversed and heads bowed. They had given him a funeral fit for a prince and 50,000 looked on and he became the country’s hero as he had proved the Zeppelins were not invincible.
On May 3rd and 16th 2015 celebrations are to take place at Highworth, Wiltshire, the original home of the Warnefords where the Warneford Chapel is within St. Michael and All Angels Church and where there will be talks on the action that won the VC for Rex and on the building of the replica aeroplane by the people who built it. They will also be placing the Commemorative V.C. paving stone, on a date nearer the 7th June. On June 7th 2015 in Gent in Belgium there will be a major commemoration and inauguration of some of the text plates and the replica of the plane.
On June 8th the date he received the VC by telegram from the King there will be a special celebration at King Edward VI School in Stratford upon Avon where Rex was at school. Here the commemorative Victoria Cross paving stone will be placed inside the Archway to the Guildhall near the chapel. There will also be a guard of honour and a fly past and an exhibition in the Guildhall as part of the commemoration.
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