Friday, August 16, 2013
outrage broke out this week over the banning of an Exmouth fighter-ace from a list of World War One Victoria Cross heroes who are being immortalised in stone.
The mayor, historians, military campaigners and the Fleet Air Arm have all railed against a government decision to exclude Sub-Lieutenant Reginald ‘Rex’ Warneford from a commemorative stone marking the start of the conflict.
Rex, who lived in Morton Road, was just 23 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for outstanding valour, writes David Beasley.
In 1915, the dashing Rex single-handedly took on the dreaded zeppelin airship that was terrorising Britain – and won. He “buzzed” the zeppelin, firing his pistol at the crew before flying above it and dropping his payload.
Next year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the war, special paving slabs will be laid in the birthplaces of VC heroes.
Unfortunately, Exmouth’s commemorative slab will bear only the name of its other VC winner, Lieutenant Richard Sandford, and not Rex Warneford.
Government chiefs say only those born in Britain are eligible, and, because Rex was born in India and moved to Exmouth when he was small, his name will not be included.
This is the second time Rex has been ‘forgotten’.
The daring exploits of the town’s two VC heroes were first erased when a seafront plaque was melted down for the World War Two effort and all the council records were lost.
It was only after a campaign by the Journal in 1999 that a parade was organised to remember the pair - and a plaque in their honour erected in pride of place on the outside of the town hall.
Lionel Howell, who organised that parade, said: “It’s disgusting to even think about leaving Rex out.
“He fought for his country; it shouldn’t matter where he was born.
“If they are going to leave Rex out, they should scrub the whole thing.”
Mayor John Humphreys said that Rex made the decision to call Exmouth his home. “It’s perverse that some bureaucrat has made a decision to exclude him from being recognised in his home town,” he said.
Historian Arthur Cook said: “The newspapers in Exmouth at the time of the war saw Warneford as a hero and the whole town was immensely proud of him.”
Barbara Gilbert, archivist for the Fleet Air Arm Museum where Rex’s VC is held, said: “It is very saddening to learn of official discrimination against those born overseas. This means that no town in the UK can claim Rex Warneford as their own.”
She said that eastern England had ‘lived in fear’ of the zeppelin raids. “Overnight, Warneford became a national hero and gave us hope,” she said. “Killed in a crash only two weeks later, his death led to national mourning.
“Ninety-nine years on, it is fitting that we should remember him.”
● Read the full exploits of our VC heroes - see pages eight and nine.