The Air Forces Memorial, Runnymede, was constructed to commemorate those Air Force personnel who, based in the UK or Western Europe, died during the Second World War and have no known grave. They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. Some were from countries in continental Europe which had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force.
The memorial was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Vernon Hill. The engraved glass and painted ceilings were designed by John Hutton.
The memorial is located on Cooper’s Hill at Englefield Green between Windsor and Egham on the A308, 4 miles from Windsor. The location is under the flight path to London’s Heathrow Airport, with planes passing over the memorial at frequent intervals.
The memorial’s panels contain the names of 20,296 air force personnel.
THE FIRST NAMES
The day after the UK declared war, on 4 September 1939, Blenheim (107 Squadron) and Wellington (9 Squadron) bombers attacked German shipping near Brunsbuttel and Wilhelmshaven. In these raids, seven aircraft were lost and 25 airmen were killed.
The name panels on the Air Forces Memorial are in chronological order. Within years, they are in order of rank then alphabetical order within ranks.
The first name on Panel 1 is Wing Commander J.C. Cunningham, the son of James Francis and Carmencita Cunningham; husband of Rachel Margaret Cunningham, of Louth, Lincolnshire. Aged 31 years’ old, Wing Commander Cunningham was the Commanding Officer of 144 Squadron, based at Hemswell, Lincolnshire.
144 Squadron’s mission, was a reconnaissance over the North Sea. Eleven Hampdens, split into two sections (1 section of five led by Wing Commander J.C. Cunningham and a section of six led by Squadron Leader W.J.H. Lindley) were detailed to search part of the Heligoland Bight to within sight of the German coast.
Cunningham’s section took off from Hemswell at 06:40. At approxmiately 10:00, this group of 5 Hampdens were shot down by German fighters (Me 109s), crashing into the sea between Heligoland and Wangerooge. Of this group’s twenty airmen, four became POWs with the other sixteen killed.
Lindley’s section found two enemy destroyers in the search area steaming east in line astern at 20 knots but, owing to the destroyers’ manoeuvres and anti-aircraft fire, only three Hampdens were able to attack; the results were not observed. All six Hampdens returned safely to base.
WARRANT OFFICER MICHAEL PATRICK CAMPION
Michael Patrick Campion was born on 8 May 1916. He later married Frances Rosina Campion, of Battersea, London. After entering 90 Squadron RAF in 1940, the then LAC Campion (together with AC1 Frost) were awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM).
The following citation was published in the London Gazette dated 5 July 1940 (Page 4098):
These two airmen displayed great courage in effecting the rescue of an unconscious pilot from a burning aircraft which resulted from a collision in which two Blenheim aircraft were involved while taking off. Aircraftmen Campion and Frost were among the first to arrive on the scene. Not knowing that the pilot was the sole occupant, Aircraftman Frost promptly entered the rear cockpit, which was full of smoke and fumes, in search of the wireless operator. Satisfying himself that no one was there, he climbed out and, nearly exhausted, ran to the front cockpit where Leading Aircraftman Campion was trying to rescue the pilot. Working heroically both men, with great risk to themselves, due to the imminent danger of the petrol tanks exploding, extricated the pilot from the burning wreckage. Shortly afterwards the tanks exploded and the whole aircraft was rapidly burned out. Unfortunately the pilot died later.London Gazette 5 July 1940.
When the George Cross was introduced, EGMs were exchanged for the George Cross.
Warrant Officer Campion, GC, was killed on 4 December 1943 whilst serving with 220 Squadron (Costal Command). Having no known grave, he is commemorated on Panel 134.
GROUP CAPTAIN WILLIAM NEIL McKECHNIE
William Neil McKechnie was born on 27 August 1907, the son of Lieutenant Colonel William Ernest and Marion McKechnie; the husband of Mary Roma McKechnie, of Musselburgh.
Whilst a Flight Cadet, McKechnie was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM).
The following citation was published in the London Gazette dated 18 October 1929 (Page 6615):
On the 20th June, 1929, an aeroplane piloted by Flight Cadet C. J. Giles crashed on landing at Cranwell Aerodrome and burst into names. The pilot was stunned but managed to release his safety belt and fall out of the machine in a dazed condition.
Flight Cadet McKechnie, who had landed in another aeroplane about the same time some two hundred yards away, left his machine and ran at full speed towards the scene of the accident. The petrol had spread over an area of about ten yards diameter in full blaze, with Giles lying in it, semi-conscious. McKechnie, without hesitation, ran into the flames and pulled out Giles, who was badly burned about the legs and face, with his Sidcot suit and clothes actually burning.
After dragging him clear of the flames, during the process of which he was scorched and superficially burned, McKechnie proceeded to extinguish the flames of Giles’ burning clothing. By this time, the machine was in full blaze, with the petrol spreading along the ground so that without McKechnie’s assistance, there is no doubt Giles would have been burned to death, as he was quite incapable of moving himself.
Ultimately the machine was entirely destroyed by fire and the ground for some distance around was completely burned up by the spread of the ignited petrol.London Gazette 18 October 1929.
When the George Cross was introduced, EGMs were exchanged for the George Cross.
At 20:15 29 August 1944, Group Captain McKechnie, GC, (pilot of Avro Lancaster III JB593 ZN-T of 106 Squadron) took off from Metheringham, as part of an operation to Konigsberg. The aircraft was lost without trace and the crew are all commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial.
|Flight Sergeant (RCAF)
WING COMMANDER JOHN DERING NETTLETON
John Dering Nettleton was born on 28 June 1917, the son of John Hennah and Ethel Nettleton; the husband of Betty Isabel Nettleton of Paignton, Devon.
Whilst a Squadron Leader with 44 Squadron, Nettleton was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC).
The following citation was published in the London Gazette dated 28 April 1942 (Page 1851):
Squadron Leader Nettleton was the leader of one of two formations of six Lancaster heavy bombers detailed to deliver a low-level attack in daylight on the diesel engine factory at Augsburg in Southern Germany on April 17th, 1942. The enterprise was daring, the target of high military importance. To reach it and get back, some 1,000 miles had to be flown over hostile territory.
Soon after crossing into enemy territory his formation was engaged by 25 to 30 fighters. A running fight ensued. His rear guns went out of action. One by one the aircraft of his formation were shot down until in the end only his own and one other remained. The fighters were shaken off but the target was still far distant. There was formidable resistance to be faced. With great spirit and almost defenceless, he held his two remaining aircraft on their perilous course and after a long and arduous flight, mostly at only 50 feet above the ground, he brought them to Augsburg.
Here anti-aircraft fire of great intensity and accuracy was encountered. The two aircraft came low over the roof tops. Though fired at from point blank range, they stayed the course to drop their bombs true on the target. The second aircraft, hit by flak, burst into flames and crash-landed. The leading aircraft, though riddled with holes, flew safely back to base, the only one of the six to return.
Squadron Leader Nettleton, who has successfully undertaken many other hazardous operations, displayed unflinching determination as well as leadership and valour of the highest order.London Gazette 28 April 1942.
At 22:23 on 12 July 1943, Wing Commander Nettleton, VC, (pilot of Avro Lancaster I ED331 GZ-F2 of 44 Squadron) took off from Dunholme Lodge, as part of an operation to Torino, Italy. It’s believed that this aircraft was shot down by enemy night-fighters over the Brest peninsular. Wing Commander Nettleton and his crew of seven are all commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial.
|Flight Lieutenant (RAAF)
FLYING OFFICER RODERICK BORDEN GRAY
Roderick Borden Gray was born on 2 October 1917, the son of Stanley and Robina Gray; husband of Muriel Elizabeth Gray, of North Vancover, Canada.
Whilst a Flying Officer with 172 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, Gray was posthumously awarded the George Cross (GC).
The following citation was published in the London Gazette dated 13 March 1945 (Page 1387):
One night in August, 1944, this officer was the navigator of a Wellington aircraft which was shot down into the sea by a U-boat in the Atlantic.
Flying Officer Gray and 3 other members of the crew managed to extricate themselves from the aircraft. Despite a severe wound in the leg, Flying Officer Gray succeeded in inflating his own dinghy and then assisted his captain, who had also been wounded, into it. Shortly afterwards cries were heard from another member of the crew, who had broken his arm, and Flying Officer Gray also helped him into the dinghy.
Knowing that it could not hold more than 2 persons, Flying Officer Gray, although suffering intense pain, refused to get into the dinghy. Assisted by another member of the crew and by an occupant of the dinghy he held on to its side for some hours. The pain from his leg (it is thought that the lower part had been shot off) was increasing in intensity and he was becoming exhausted. He steadfastly refused however, to endanger his comrades by entering the dinghy. He eventually lost consciousness and died. When it became light, his companions realised that he was dead and they were forced to let his body sink. The survivors were rescued later.
Flying Officer Gray displayed magnificent courage and unselfish heroism, thus enabling the lives of his comrades to be saved.London Gazette 13 March 1945.
Having no known grave, Flying Officer Gray, GC, is commemorated on Panel 246.