I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the rededication of the ‘Airmen’s Cross’ which was located at a junction of minor roads near Larkhill in Wiltshire, adjacent to the Stonehenge World Heritage site.
The invitation came from the Officer Commanding 3(Fighter) Squadron based at Royal Air Force Coningsby (also home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight), who had been invited to attend the rededication with a standard party and to include a fly over by a Typhoon aircraft operated by the squadron. This was a rare privilege and was accepted by me as Chairman of the squadron’s comrades Association and I invited Vic Lorriman along who has investigated the history of the early days of the squadron.
On 5th July 1912, Captain Eustace Laraine and Staff Sgt Richard Wilson were flying in their Nieuport monoplane having taken off from Larkhill air station, when the pilot executed a steep turn and crashed killing both crew. The crash site is adjacent to the new visitor centre at Stonehenge:
This picture shows the site after the crash, showing a tent covering the crash area, with figures from modern day and the new background superimposed:
Just a year later a memorial cross was erected by their colleagues. They were the first military aviation casualties in the UK. The cross remained at the junction of the B3086 and The Packway for 80 years and was rededicated in 1996 by members of the 3(Fighter) Squadron Association, including the founder and Chairman Alan East, the Association’s historian Jack Long, both now sadly no longer with us, the aforementioned Vic Lorriman and Air Vice Marshal Barry Newton. Barry was dismayed at the state of the cross which had been neglected and left unloved for all that time, so he set about a near 20 year journey to get the Cross relocated and refurbished. The trouble is no-one; English Heritage, the local council, Wiltshire County Council or the RAF could lay claim to ‘own’ the cross. After a huge battle, and luckily with the decision to build a new heritage centre for Stonehenge, Barry got the permission to move the Airmen’s Cross to its new permanent location. During the building of the new roundabout and the access road to the new car park for the visitor centre, the Cross was taken away, cleaned and stored by a local army unit. It was re-erected just off the main pathway leading to the entrance to the visitor centre:
And so it was that the 1st May 2014 was to be the official unveiling and rededication of the Airmen’s Cross which was undertaken by the Earl and Countess of Wessex (Prince Edward and Sophie) who attended with local dignitaries including the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire Mrs Sarah Troughton and Lord Trenchard, grandson of the ‘father’ of the RAF.
Unfortunately it rained heavily all day but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the assembled people.
There was also a double fly past by a Typhoon from 3(F) Sqn:
Afterwards there was a chance to mingle with the organisers and the Royals in attendance. English Heritage (EH)were the main players as they run Stonehenge. Also in attendance was the volunteers from the local National Trust who carry out tours of the local area and are experts in local military history. EH provided a light buffet lunch and coffee etc which we were able to take advantage of. I was lucky enough to be in the line up to meet Prince Edward and we chatted about the squadron and the link to the Airmen’s Cross. I found him a delight to talk to and was very well informed. English Heritage had given us all badges for the event so we could visit the exhibition, which I did, and the stones, which I didn’t.
The royals departed and lunch consumed, the party started to break up; email addresses exchanged and promises of ‘see you soon’. Vic and I had a quick look round the exhibition, which is stunning, but we both decided it was too wet to visit the stones. Besides, we’re both coming back again this year, so perhaps next time the weather will be kinder. It was a great day for a worthwhile occasion and one which shall be remembered for some time to come.