Personnel from 8 Squadron RAF Waddington have been back to the Holy Trinity Churchyard, Sunningdale, Berkshire to tend the grave of Air Commodore Ferdinand West - the First World War flying ace and the very first Royal Air Force Victoria Cross recipient who had a German Gestapo price on his head during WWII and just happened to be on 8 Squadron at the time.
Lieutenant Ferdinand Maurice Felix West’s Victoria Cross was gazetted on November 8th, 1918 - Ferdinand Maurice Felix West, Lieut. (Acting Captain), Royal Air Force (formerly of the Special Reserve, Royal Munster Fusiliers). Captain West, while engaging hostile troops at a low altitude far over the enemy lines, was attacked by seven aircraft.
Early in the engagement one of his legs was partially severed by an explosive bullet, and fell powerless into the controls, rendering the machine for the time unmanageable. Lifting his disabled leg, he regained control of the machine, and although wounded in the other leg, he, with surpassing bravery and devotion to duty, manoeuvred his machine so skilfully that his observer was enabled to get several good bursts into the enemy machines, which drove them away. Captain West then, with rare courage and determination, desperately wounded as he was, brought his machine over our lines and landed safely. Exhausted by his exertions he fainted, but on regaining consciousness
insisted on writing his report. After a full RAF career, he died July 7 1988 at Windsor and is buried in the Holy
Trinity Churchyard, Sunningdale, Berkshire. His Victoria Cross is held by the Imperial War Museum, London
With guidance from the Victoria Cross Trust the small team set about clearing the surrounding area of debris and undergrowth before sympathetically cleaning the headstone, bringing the marble back to its former glory.
A glance around the graveyard revealed other military graves nearby so the group did a basic clean and tidy around these too.
An invite to a gathering with the local community at the Holy Trinity Church was an opportunity for the group to deliver a handful of short presentations to the congregation - including the story behind the awarding of Air Commodore West’s VC. The presentations preceded a short blessing, prayer and wreath laying at the grave.
Garry a Cpl on 8 Sqn said
“We were delighted with how the event went and were genuinely thankful for the reception we received from the local congregation – they made us feel so welcome and were really interested in what we were doing. Through our research we’ve learned a great deal about Air Cdre Wests achievements and his bravery and will go back to our Sqn with a real sense of pride in the work we’ve been involved with here."