Westminster City Council have been honouring all World War 1 Victoria Cross winners since the centenary commemorations began. Engraved paving slabs have been purchased and laid all over the country in recognition of the centenary of the Victoria Cross awarded for acts of bravery and heroism. In total, there will be 628 Victoria Cross paving slabs unveiled at the recipients’ birthplaces by the 11th November 2018, with the last being unveiled on the 4th October.
Air Cdre FMF West VC CBE MC, formerly of 8 Squadron, was commemorated on 26th July 2018. This was a special occasion, not only the first Victoria Cross earned and awarded for the newly formed RAF, but a Westminster City born resident who the Lord Mayor called ‘our own’. The Victorian Gardens on the embankment next to MOD Main Building, where previous Victoria Cross slabs have been unveiled, ‘Freddie’ would be honoured for his actions on the 10th August 1918.
The ceremony was attended by The Lord Mayor of London Councillor Lindsey Hall, Air Cdre Burrows as the senior RAF representative, Air Cdre Lord Trenchard, as well as a small contingency from 8 Squadron, including Wg Cdr Batt. The 8 Squadron Standard was paraded alongside members of the Queens Colour Squadron and a bugler from the Central Band of the RAF. The citation was read by Officer Commanding 8 Sqn, Wg Cdr J Batt, and the stone was blessed by Wg Cdr (Rev) David Osborne, Chaplain of St Clement Danes.
On the morning of 10th August 1918, Capt. West and Lt Haslem were on a reconnaissance mission flying an Armstrong Whitworth FK8. They were attempting to locate a group of allied tanks to assist in advancing on Roye. Suddenly, through a gap in the clouds, they identified, at the edge of a wood, a large concentration of tanks, transport and troops, which began to fire at them. Returning fire from Haslam’s single Lewis gun, West turned and headed for the gap in the clouds again to confirm what they just witnessed. As they approached the gap, West was conscience of two aircraft behind them firing as they approached. Seconds later he experienced a searing pain in his right leg as another two aircraft were approaching. His other leg was now gushing with blood from a hole caused by the Germans’ explosive ammunition. As a result, he twisted the seam of his trousers to make a tourniquet attempting to stop the blood.
Lt Haslem continued to return fire not realising that West was semi-conscious in the front and always told everyone that West saved his life that day. As West regained consciousness he manoeuvred the aircraft for Haslem to get a better aim at the enemy and then managed to land near the Canadian lines. When they were greeted by the Canadian soldiers, West asked them to get in touch with 8 Squadron because he had very important information for them. Capt West refused medical intervention until he reported the masses of enemy activity at Ham, Hombleux and Bussy.
His VC citation read:
“Captain West, while engaging hostile troops at 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.”