Reginald Alexander John Warneford RNAS, VC, was the grandson of Rev Thomas Lewis Warneford who was the brother of Rev Canon John Henry Warneford.
During World War I, he served with the Royal Naval Air Service.
On the 7th June 1915, Sub-Lieutenant Warneford set out to bomb a Zeppelin airfield. On his way, he encountered the German Zeppelin LZ37 over Ostend and chased it. In the ensuing battle, Warneford flew above the 521 ft long Zeppelin, which meant he was out of range of the airship's guns. When directly above, he switched off his engines allowing him to descend almost on top of it. He then dropped all of his 6 fire bombs.
On releasing the last one, there was a terrific explosion which turned his tiny plane upside-down and out of control. He regained control to find that the main part of the Zeppelin had crashed to the ground and small parts of it were still floating down. He then realised that his own plane was damaged and he was forced to land to carry out repairs.
Not knowing whether or not he was in German territory, he prepared to set fire to the plane if necessary. However, he managed to repair a damaged fuel-pipe and start the plane single-handedly. After taking on fuel at Cap-Gris-Nez, he was able to return to his home base.
Within 24 hours, King George V awarded Sub-Lieutenant Warneford the Victoria Cross. The French awarded him the Legion of Honour and a few years later the Belgians erected a memorial to him. News of his heroic achievement was flashed on to cinema screens throughout the world to cheering audiences, particularly in London which had been the target for most of the Zeppelins' bombs.
On 17th June 1915, he was in Paris being presented with the French Legion of Honour when he was instructed to report to Buc Aerodrome to take delivery of a brand new plane. After a short test flight, he was ready to return to his home base and was to be accompanied by an American journalist, Henry Beach Needham, who was interested in writing a story about the bombing of the Zeppelin.
Shortly after take-off the plane was seen to turn over and begin to break up, and both Warneford and his passenger fell out. Needham was killed instantly and Warneford died on the way to hospital. Although it was a new plane, it would appear that certain standard items had not yet been fitted, including safety belts.
It is not known what caused the accident, one possible reason was that a faulty propellor broke and crashed into the tail section.
Sub-Lieutenant Warneford, was buried on the 21st June 1915 at Brompton Cemetery, London with full Military Honours. The ceremony was attended by thousands of people, who 2 weeks previously, had been cheering his heroic achievement.
His Victoria Cross is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovil, Somerset
Revised 16:04 /16th February 2020 / mmw2375 / 4978
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