8 Squadron Pay Tribute to the Fallen
On the morning of Thursday 17th July 2014, 15 members of 8 Squadron, including the OC, left RAF Waddington to travel to the Holy Trinity Church, Sunningdale, Berkshire. The main purpose of the visit was to clean and tidy the grave of Air Commodore Fred West and, in addition, tidy the surrounding graveyard.
Ferdinand Maurice Felix West was born in London on 19th January 1896. When war broke out in 1914, West joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private, before being commissioned in 1915. After a flight in 1917 enthralled him, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer. West then undertook pilot training in Grantham in mid-1917, before being posted to No 8 Squadron in early 1918. Here he flew army cooperation duties with the infantry and tanks, and became a 22-year-old Captain during the First World War.
On 12th August 1918 West set off at dawn with his observer in his Armstrong/Whitworth FK8 bomber/reconnaissance aircraft in order to identify enemy positions. Avoiding severe enemy ground fire their aircraft immediately came under attack from seven German fighter aircraft, and it was during this attack that West was hit in the leg. Badly hurt, West didn’t lose focus and continued with the mission. West manoeuvred his aircraft in such a way that his observer was able to let off several good bursts into the enemy, which drove them away. Only when West was sure of the enemy’s position did he break away and head for home, reporting his findings.
His left leg had five wounds, one of which had shattered his femur and cut the femoral artery.
He twisted his trouser leg into a tourniquet to stem the flow of blood before landing the aircraft. Due to the injuries, West’s leg was amputated; later he was fitted with an innovative Swiss artificial leg. On 9th November 1918,West learnt that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his courageous actions, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy.
West left the Royal Air Force in 1946 achieving the rank of Air Commodore after fighting in two World Wars, and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his work. He sadly passed away on 8th July 1988, aged 92. Whilst at the Holy Trinity Church, members of 8 Squadron identified 26 other military graves, and made sure these were also thoroughly cleaned. Furthermore, the surrounding areas of the church were cleared of untidy shrubbery and overgrowth. Reverend David Uttindell, Sue Cook and their team assisted for the duration of our stay by providing a buffet lunch and cold drinks. This was much appreciated as throughout the day there were clear blue skies, and the temperature was in the high 20s.
After our work at the church was complete, the team then travelled to the Air Forces Memorial in Runnymede. The memorial was introduced by the Officer Commanding 8 Squadron, Wing Commander Beldon. Following this, readings were given by four members of 8 Squadron, for four fallen comrades whose names are engraved on the stone walls of the memorial – Squadron Leader John Dering Nettleton, Noor Inayat Khan, Squadron Leader Herbert Cecil Pugh and Wing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane. They were four of the many fallen who we remembered that day, for their commitments and the lengths they went to for our freedom during World War II, but whose bodies were never found.
Overall the day was a huge success, and being part of it was a great pleasure. Reverend Uttindell and Sue Cooke were extremely grateful for everyone’s efforts and, as a result, it is now hoped 8 Squadron will visit the Holy Trinity Church annually to ensure the graves are well-kept and maintained.