Pilot who downed Zeppelin denied WWI town honour
The omission of a swashbuckling war hero and Zeppelin hunter from a national roll-of-honour has provoked outcry in the Westcountry.
Royal Navy pilot Reginald "Rex" Warneford won the Victoria Cross for taking down one of the dreaded German airships which were terrorising Britain, using hand-launched bombs and a pistol.
But he is to be omitted from a scheme to commemorate those awarded the medal in the First World War because he was not born in the UK.
To mark the centenary of the war, inscribed paving stones in memory of 480 VCs are to be laid in their home towns.
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But Exmouth, where Sub-Lieutenant Warneford, known as Rex, spent his formative years, is not included because he was born in Darjeeling, where his father worked for the Indian railways.
Barbara Gilbert, archivist for the Fleet Air Arm museum at Yeovilton, Somerset, where his VC is held, said she was saddened by the "official discrimination".
Exmouth's mayor, John Humphreys, said the airman had made the Devon resort his home and should be commemorated there.
He added: "It's perverse that some bureaucrat has made a decision to exclude him from being recognised in his home town."
Sub-Lieutenant Warneford was given the VC the day after a daring raid on Zeppelin sheds in occupied Belgium in June 1915.
On his first night flight he became separated from the other aircraft.
By sheer luck, he came across a lone Zeppelin, the LZ-37, and after a prolonged pursuit in his flimsy Morane Parasol aircraft, caught up with it over Bruges.
Despite coming under heavy fire, he managed to score a direct hit with the last of his six 20lb bombs, causing the hydrogen-filled airship to explode in a fireball.
His plane was damaged by burning debris and he was forced down by a broken fuel line 35 miles behind enemy lines, but he managed to repair it with a cigarette holder and return to base.
Sub-Lieutenant Warneford became an instant national hero, but died ten days later after falling from a plane.
The Royal Navy Air Service pilot has been commemorated with a blue plaque on the Dolphin Hotel where he lived with his mother before the war.
Lionel Howell, who organised a parade to honour Sub-Lieutenant Warneford and Exmouth's other 1914-18 VC winner Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford, said: "It is 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 out Rex they should scrub the whole thing."