War Memorials to Airmen Listed to Mark Centenary of the Royal Air Force
- 14 war memorials dedicated to First World War and Second World War airmen newly listed and upgraded to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force
- The Royal Air Force is the world’s first air force independent of army or navy control
- First World War heroes include: the most decorated British pilot who shot down 57 enemy aircraft and the first British pilot to shoot down a German Zeppelin airship
- Unusual aviation memorials include: The Aviator’s Memorial in Kent with its central figure of Zeus ‘God of Thunder’, the Calvary Cross in North Yorkshire with a figure of Christ crucified on the Cross and Captain Eric Lubbock’s Memorial in the shape of an aircraft in the London Borough of Bromley
To mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force, 14 war memorials dedicated to British airmen including a flying ‘ace’ who was the most decorated pilot in the First World War, and the first British pilot to shoot down a German airship, have been newly listed or upgraded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.
The First World War was the first conflict in which aviation played a major role. Prior to the Wright brothers inventing, building and flying the world’s first successful aeroplane in America in 1903, the military services of various nations used balloons and airships at war.
The formation of the RAF
The Royal Air Force was the world’s first air force independent of army or navy control. It was formed on 1 April 1918 following the merger of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) which was set up in April 1912 and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) which was established in July 1914. Prior to this, the Royal Engineers were responsible for the British Army’s ballooning capability in the 1860s and in 1911, the War Office issued an order for the formation of an Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers.
At the outbreak of the war in August 1914, the Royal Flying Corps had 146 officers and around 100 aircraft. The Royal Naval Air Service had over 700 personnel, 93 aircraft, two balloons and six airships.
By the end of the war in November 1918, the Royal Air Force had grown in strength to 27,000 officers and 260,000 other personnel operating more than 22,000 aircraft. But the casualty rate was very high. Official figures recorded 14,166 air service casualties, of whom around 9,000 died or were missing in action. Some 8,000 were killed in training accidents.
Heritage Minister Michael Ellis said: "From the pioneering pilots of the First World War, to the heroism of the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force has a proud and distinguished wartime history. As we mark its centenary, it is right that we remember the stories of the brave pilots and staff who served in defence of Britain. These listings commemorate this legacy and preserve these historic memorials for future generations."
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: "The listing and upgrading of these war memorials dedicated to members of the air services helps to tell the story of Britain's wartime aviation history and marks the centenary of the formation of the Royal Air Force. They commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of Britain's pilots of both the First and Second World Wars."
Newly listed war memorials at Grade II
McCudden War Memorial and Grave in Maidstone Road Cemetery, Chatham, Kent
This memorial is an important symbol of the role of the Royal Flying Corps in the war and the sacrifices of its pilots. It is dedicated to the four McCudden brothers – Royal Flying Corps pilots William, James and John and Royal Air Force test flight engineer Maurice. James McCudden shot down 57 enemy aircraft and became the most decorated British pilot of the First World War, with medals for bravery including the Victoria Cross (one of 11 awarded to the Royal Flying Corps), Distinguished Flying Order and the French Croix de Guerre. He died of his injuries on 9 July 1918, aged 23, when his aircraft developed an engine fault on the way to France and crashed. He is buried at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s Wavans Cemetery in France.
Leefe Robinson Memorial Obelisk, East Ridgeway, Cuffley, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
Captain Leefe Robinson, A Royal Flying Corps pilot, became a national hero when he downed the German airship SL11 on 3 September 1916. It was the first successful destruction of a Zeppelin over Britain and he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Leefe Robinson used newly developed incendiary ammunition to set the Zeppelin on fire. In the past, bullets had passed harmlessly through the skin of airships but the new bullets exploded within and ignited the flammable hydrogen gas. The Zepplin crashed in flames behind the Plough Pub at Cuffley. Leefe Robinson was shot down over France on 6 April 1917 and taken prisoner-of-war. Repatriated in December 1918, he died on 31 December 1918 in the global flu pandemic. The Imperial War Museum’s First World War exhibition contains drawings and a letter written by a schoolboy staying at Cuffley to his father in London describing the Zepplin in flames and also contains remnants of the airship.
Captain Eric Lubbock’s Memorial, High Elms Country Park, Shire Lane, London Borough of Bromley
Captain Eric Lubbock’s memorial was erected after he was killed in action when his bi-plane was shot down over Belgium in March 1917. It was commissioned by his grieving mother, Lady Avebury, who asked that the memorial take the form of a aircraft and be placed in the family graveyard at High Elms in Bromley. The estate was sold in the 1930s and became the responsibility of Bromley Council. In 1981, the council moved the memorial from the burial ground into the grounds of nearby St Giles’ Church. It then went missing and was found a decade later in a stonemason’s yard in Wiltshire. The memorial was put up for auction and the Avebury family bought it back for £8,000. It was restored and re-sited in 2010 in what was the walled kitchen garden of the family estate and now forms part of High Elms Country Park.
Memorials to Captain Alexander Bruce Kynoch and Captain Henry Clifford Stroud, Dollymans Farm, Rawreth, Essex
These two memorials were erected in memory of Captain Alexander Bruce Kynoch from Stow of No 37 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps and Captain Henry Clifford Stroud from Rochford of No 61 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. They suffered a fatal collision in bad weather on the night of 7 March 1918 trying to intercept a German bomber heading for London. The two aircraft crashed in adjacent fields at Rawreth in Essex. The tenant farmer of the time erected two memorials with propellers on the plinths at the sites where the planes landed.
Catterick Camp and Aerodrome War Memorial, High Street, Catterick, Richmond, North Yorkshire
This Calvary Cross memorial featuring Christ being crucified on the Cross honours the officers and men from both the army camp to the west of the village and the RFC Catterick airfield to the south. Catterick Camp was opened in 1914 and operated for pilot training and home defence duties for the north-east of England. It was one of the oldest military airfields in the world. With the creation of the RAF on 1 April 1918 it became known as RAF Catterick.
St Matthews Oxhey War Memorial, St Matthew’s Church, Eastbury Road, Oxhey, Hertfordshire
This memorial includes the name of Reginald Alexander John Warneford who was noted for his skill and aggression in the air. He made a habit of intercepting and chasing German airships attempting to bring them down before they could get to Britain. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for successfully shooting and bombing a zeppelin over Sint Amandsberg (Ghent), Belgium on 7 June 1915.
Memorial Obelisk for Captain Hamilton and Lieutenant Wyness Stuart, Willian, Hertfordshire
This memorial marks the deaths of Captain Hamilton and Lieutenant Wyness Stuart (Royal Flying Corps). They died on 6 September 1912 when they crashed during an exercise. The obelisk was unveiled in 1912 and the men’s uniforms were buried underneath it. The obelisk is an important reminder of how untested the new science of aviation was prior to the outbreak of the First World War.
Egton Bridge Cross, Castle Hill, Egton Bridge, North Yorkshire
This memorial commemorates the death of Probationary Flying Officer Francis Titcomb (Royal Naval Air Service), who on 15 April 1917 took off from Redcar Aerodrome for his first solo training flight. Disorientated over the Yorkshire moors, he crashed near Egton Bridge. Locals found him in the wreckage and carried him to a nearby farm where he died from his injuries. The memorial cross was erected close to the crash site on the moors. Titcomb was buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.
RAF Wickenby 12 and 626 Squadron War Memorial, Wickenby Airport, Lincolnshire
This Second World War memorial – located at the entrance to Wickenby Airport commemorates the 1,080 aircrew of 12 and 626 Bomber Command squadrons who lost their lives in bombing raids on Germany and during the liberation of occupied Europe. The memorial contains a bronze figure, with broken latticework wings based on the mythical Icarus who wore wings to try and escape from Crete, but who fell to earth after flying too close to the sun. The framework of the sculptural wings is symbolic of the airframes of Lancaster and Wellington aircraft that flew wartime missions from the airfield.
War memorials upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*
Aviator’s Memorial, South of All Saints Church, at the junction of High Street and Church Road, Eastchurch, Kent
The Aviator’s Memorial has a central figure of Zeus, the ‘God of Thunder’ and marks the outstanding impact of the Royal Aero Club – based at Eastchurch and Leysdown Flying Grounds – on the development of aviation in Britain. It features detailed reliefs of early aircraft, the names of pioneering and celebrated early aviators, designers and constructors connected to the site and a carved bust of an aviator fully dressed in flying gear.
St Saviour’s War Memorial, Southwark, Borough High Street, London
Unveiled in November 1922, this memorial comprises a stone plinth topped by a crouching bronze infantryman and carved reliefs by sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark. He was badly wounded in the First World War and intended the memorial to ‘express the same dogged determination and unconquerable spirit displayed by all branches of our forces on land, on the seas, and in the air.’
Bootle War Memorial, Kings Gardens, Stanley Road, Bootle, Merseyside
This war memorial is comprised of heroic life-size bronze figures which are all symbolic. The mother and child represent the motherland and the future generations of the then British Empire, guarded by the three great fighting forces – army, navy and air force. The inclusion of the detailed figure of the airman – pulling on his gloves while looking skyward – is relatively uncommon on war memorials and indicates the growing importance of the air services during the conflict.
Royal Air Force Memorial, Victoria Embankment, London
This is the national memorial to the Royal Air Force. Its enormous gilded bronze eagle with wings outstretched is the symbol of the Royal Air Force and it stands on a zodiacal globe on a tall plinth, looking across the River Thames towards France. At the top of the plinth are the words ‘Per ardua ad astra’ (Through adversity to the stars). This was originally the Royal Flying Corps’ motto but has been the motto of the Royal Air Force since its foundation 100 years ago.