World War 1 hero Reginald ‘Rex’ Warneford to be honoured in Exmouth Victoria Cross dedication

Commemorative flagstone to be laid in memory of Royal Naval pilot who called Exmouth his home

Exmouth’s own local hero, Victoria Cross* (VC) winner Royal Naval Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Warneford, who – aged just 23 - was the first British airman during World War One to destroy a German Zeppelin airship, is to be honoured with a special memorial flagstone, which will be laid during a VC dedication service at the Strand Gardens, Exmouth on Sunday 7 June 2015 – exactly 100 years after his award winning mission.

Warneford called Exmouth his home for a number of years, returning to live with his mother on Morton Road when he was on leave. The laying of his memorial stone in Exmouth is part of a national First World War centenary commemoration campaign to honour Victoria Cross recipients from that war.

The dedication service, which will be conducted by Royal Navy (RN) Chaplain the Rev Paul Andrew, will commence at 10.55am with a welcome address given by East Devon District Council’s Chairman, Councillor Stuart Hughes. However, people will start gathering from 10.30am in order to ensure a prompt start.

As well as hymns and general prayers, the service, which has been jointly organised between East Devon District Council, the Royal British Legion, Exmouth Town Council and the Royal Navy, will include:

  • A prayer of dedication and an address by Rev Paul Andrew Chaplain (RN)
  • The  exhortation will be read out by the President of the Royal British Legion, Exmouth
  • Last Post and Reveille will be played
  • A Royal Navy historical fly past will take place at 11.05am
  • Lt Commander Alex Hampson RN will read the citation
  • The Chairman of East Devon District Council, Councillor Stuart Hughes and Lt Commander Alex Hampson RN will unveil the stone
  • Wreath laying by members of Rex Warneford’s family
  • Readings will be given by the Mayor of Exmouth, Maddy Chapman, and Mark Williams, Chief Executive of East Devon District Council
  • The closing address will be read by the Chairman of East Devon District Council, Councillor Stuart Hughes

As a pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), Sub-Lt Reginald Alexander John Warneford, earned the nickname ‘Reckless Rex’ for his daring exploits, including his bold yet successful attack on an enemy Zeppelin. Warneford become a national hero overnight, and was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V for: “Most conspicuous bravery on the 7 June 1915, when he attacked and, single–handed, completely destroyed a Zeppelin in mid-air.”

At the time, people living in eastern England were living in fear of the devastating Zeppelin bombing raids, which puts into context the jubilation following his deed.

When Rex sadly died, in an air crash just ten days later, the whole nation went into mourning, with 55,000 people attending his funeral.

Commenting on the VC dedication service, East Devon District Council Chief Executive Mark Williams said:

It is a tremendous privilege for Exmouth to be part of the activities to commemorate the life of British World War One hero Reginald ‘Rex’ Warneford. The specially commissioned paving slab, which will be laid as part of a Victoria Cross commemorative ceremony, is a fitting memorial for this daring young pilot who gave his life while serving his country and gave the nation hope at a very dark time.

Exmouth was Rex’s home town when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for outstanding valour and the whole town was immensely proud of him then, so it is only right that it should have the chance to remember him permanently. It will be a great moment for Exmouth to see him immortalised in stone in a place where future generations can visit and honour his memory.

*The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy, which can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. During the First World War just 628 crosses were awarded.