2 September 2009

Following the tragic death of Reginald Warneford in an air accident when his aeroplane crashed over Versaille in France, his body was brought back to England and was interred in the Brompton Cemetery with full military honours.

The impressive headstone erected over Warneford's grave was funded by the readers of the 'Daily Express' newspaper to "commemorate the heroic exploits in destroying a Zeppelin airship near Ghent on June 7, 1915".

Over the years the stone had deteriorated badly owing to wind and polution, the Brompton Cemetery being almost in the centre of London. The headstone has now been completely refurbished and is back in the same condition when it was first erected in 1915.

No. 1 Naval Aeroplane Squadron, 8th June 1915, official report by Flight Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Warneford

I left Furnes at 1:00 am on 7th June 1915 on Morane No. 3253 under orders to look for Zeppelins and attack the Berchem St Agathe Airship Shed with six 20 lb bombs.

On arriving at Dixmude at 1:15 am, I observed a Zeppelin apparently over Ostend and proceeded in chase of the same. I arrived at close quarters a few miles past Bruges at 1:50 am and the Airship opened heavy maxim fire, so I retreated to gain height and the Airship turned and followed me.

At 2:15 am it stopped firing and 2:25 am I came behind, but well above the Zeppelin; height then 11,000 feet, and switched off my engine to descend on top of him. When close above him at 7,000 feet altitude I dropped my bombs, and, whilst relasing the last, there was an explosition which lifted my machine and turned it over. The aeroplane was out of control for a short period, went into a nose dive, but control was regained. I then saw the Zeppelin was on the ground in flames.

The joint on my petrol pipe and pump from the back tank was broken and at about 2:40 am I was forced to land in enemy territory to repair my pump. I made preparations to set the machine on fire, but was not observed, so was able to effect a repair of the aircraft and after considerable difficulty in starting my engine single handed, was able to take off and head in a South Westerly direction.

I tried several times to find my whereabouts but was unable to do so, so I eventually landed and discovered I was at Cape Gris Nez, where I was given petrol by French soldiers. When the weather cleared I was able to proceed and arrived back at my Aerodrome about 10:30 am.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 11 June 1915 ], Over Ghent, Belgium, 7 June 1915, Flight Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Alexander John Warneford, Royal Navy ( 1 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service ).

For most conspicuous bravery on the 7th June 1915, when he attacked and, single-handed, completely destroyed a Zeppelin in mid-air.

This brilliant achievement was accomplished after chasing the Zeppelin from the coast of Flanders to Ghent, where he succeeded in dropping his bombs on to it from a height of only one or two hundred feet. One of these bombs caused a terrific explosion which set the Zeppelin on fire from end to end, but at the same time overturned his Aeroplane and stopped the engine.

In spite of this he succeeded in landing safely in hostile country, and after 15 minutes started his engine and returned to his base without damage.

On the same day as Reginald Warneford wrote his report, 8th June 1915, he received a telegram from King George V conferring the Victoria Cross on him. The official publication of the award was made in the 'London Gazette' on 11th June.

Instead of returning to England Warneford travelled to Paris to be awarded the Legion of Honour and whilst there agreed to take up an American journalist for a flight over the city.

At the end of the flight at 2,000 feet Warneford banked to start his landing approach, or so it seemed to those on the ground. Suddenly the plane began to go into a spin, dived steeply, then pulled out flinging up its tail which snapped off and caught the propellor, shearing part of it away. At 700 feet the aeroplane started to roll and turned upside down throwing Warneford and the journalist out as they were not strapped in.

The journalist was killed instantly and Reginald Warneford died later in the British Military Hospital in the Trianon Palace Hotel at Versailles.

( select to enlarge )
Medal entitlement of Flight Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Warneford,
1 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914-15 Star
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 )
  • Knight, Legion of Honour ( France )


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Iain Stewart, 2 September 2009