Not mentioned in the last blog, the German Zeppelin company balloon that Rex was chasing was one of three sent on a bombing mission over London. Two turned back due to wind conditions while the third continued with the run. The three were communicating with each other by radio, and all of the conversations were being monitored by the Allies who lay in wait for their approach. On hearing of the two being returned they redirected their planes in the area of the expected routes. Rex was one of these and it was he who eventually found the "long green cigar shapped" object 25 miles away. It was the Zeppelin numbered..LZ 37.. and was the very dirigable that conducted the first bombing of London back in May of 1915.
As he approached he was driven back by machine gun fire from the gondolas below the balloon. He then headed off in another direction and unknowst to them circled back to follow from quite a distance. For two hours he followed and got his chance to attack, when the ballist was dropped and the balloon lowered to dip between the clouds and make her approach to home base in occupied Belgium.
Thanks to Rex she never made it home.
It was at about 2.30 a.m. on 7 June 1915 that Rex dropped his bombs and at least one hitting the Zeppelin that destoyed it. After his escape, crash landing, repairs and flying off again, he got back to his home base about 10.30 in the morning. By then the word was travelling all across the British Empire of the battle and how he became the first in the war to bring down an enemy dirigible in air combat.
On the 8th the British Admiralty sent him a telegram offering the congratulations of HRH King George V and further advised that he was soon to return to England as the King had awarded him the Victoria Cross. It would be just the second VC to an airman of the war, the first for bringing down a balloon, and the first in history to be announced via a telegram.
Soon word came that he was also being honoured by the King of France. He was to report to Paris to receive the French Legion d Honnour. This is the country's highest national award. From there he would pick up a plane destined for the military in England, fly it home and be invested with the VC whilst there.
On reporting to Paris he was greated by large crowds wherever he went, and of course stayed at none other then the world famous Ritz.
Since the medal could not be produced quickly enough for the ceremony, General Joffre, a proud holder of the medal himself, took his off his uniform and presented it to Rex. In doing so he noted that.." I shall be pleased to wear the one destined for you in its stead."
At the time of the photo Rex had been awarded his Victoria Cross but he had still yet to receive it in the days to come.
(Regular readers in this space will hopefully remember the story covered here about American born hero Colonel Lewis Millett, who also removed a very senior medal from his chest to present to another recipient who was awaiting his own medal's arrival many years ago.)
It was probably on the same day of the presentation that he later received control of the new plane destined for Britain. He would take it on two test flights. The first without incident. On the second he was asked to allow a accomplished American journalist in France at the time, to accompany him on another short flight. He complied and during that flight mechanical failures caused a wing to drop off. Soon after take-off it was flipped upside down and went into a spiral down to earth. Since there were no seatbelts yet installed, both men were thrown out of the plane.
The journalist was killed immediately. Rex lived to everyone's surprise but had major injuries. The very medal he was just presented was now imbedded through his jacket and into his chest. Rex died before he made it to the hospital. The above photo was no doubt one of the last taken of him.
Rex's coffin and that of the journalist were visited by thousands at a funeral in St Gordans. Rex's coffin carriage was draped with the largest of the wreaths including a massive one in the shape of an airplane, complete with left and right wings. And on one of these was a floral arrangement in the shape of the French Medal of Honour, while on the other an arrangement in the shape of the Victoria Cross. On the propellor was a card that contained the message... " Honoured by the King, admired by the Empire, but morned by all."
It was later decided that Rex Warneford's body needed to be shipped back to England for burial on Englishg soil and this was done before massive crowds said to number in excess of 50,000.
On Sunday I will bring you the story of why this VC award is of historical significance to almost a dozen countries around the world.