22 June 2009

Visit the Museum and Memorial and obtain a copy of this remarkable tribute to those who died in service at RAF North Weald.

Winston Ramsey at the North Weald memorialThe incorporation of the Debt of Honour in the Airfield Memorial at North Weald is a unique tribute to over 250 servicemen, servicewomen and civilians employed at the station, who lost their lives - in peace and war - during the airfield's 48-year operational existence, initially under the Royal Flying Corps and then the Royal Air Force.

The station became active in August 1916 when No. 39 Squadron arrived to help counter the growing menace of the German airships. The aerodrome became a cornerstone in the defence of London and south-east England and during the Second World War Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Czechs, Norwegians and Poles also served at the base.

The Debt of Honour has been compiled by After the Battle using a variety of official records beginning with the Station Operations Record Book and the registers of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Numerous inconsistencies had to be resolved with the help of the RAF Personnel Management Agency, the Air Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defence, and the local Registrar of Births and Deaths. The American Eagle Squadron Association, the New Zealand and Norwegian Ministries of Defence and the Polish Institute were also consulted as well as aviation historians to try to make the record as complete and accurate as possible.

Altogether, over 50 squadrons saw service at North Weald and in the Debt of Honour no distinction has been made between those who lost their lives in the face of the enemy, and today lie in a foreign field, and those who died from illness or accident - or even suicide - on or around the airfield. All served . . . and all are commemorated.

No. 56, the long-time resident squadron from 1927 to 1941 (with short absences) lost the most men - 22 - followed by the other squadron having a close association with the airfield - No. 151 - with 18 men killed. The Royal Air Force suffered a total of 171 casualties between 1916 and 1964 when the airfield ceased to be operational, of whom 12 were members of ground crews. Of the overseas squadrons, the Norwegian Nos. 331 and 332 lost 36 men; the Americans (Nos. 71 and 121 'Eagle' Squadrons) 19; and the Canadians (Nos. 1(RCAF), 403 and 412) 11. The Czechs (Nos. 310, 312 and 313 Squadrons) lost three men; the Poles (Nos. 301 and 304) four men, and New Zealand one pilot from No. 486 Squadron. Ten members of the Essex Regiment and four civilians were killed in 1940.

In compiling and presenting the Debt of Honour, After the Battle Editor-in-Chief Winston Ramsey said: 'The provision of the Debt of Honour in a tangible form so that visitors to the memorial will be able to take a copy away with them is, in my experience, absolutely unique. I hope it will serve as a reminder - particularly to our younger generations - of the price paid in lives then for the freedom we enjoy today. Not only can North Weald be considered a battlefield but it is special because it saw airmen from two Commonwealth countries and four foreign nations coming to Britain to fight for both their country and our country. That so many lost their lives in the process so far from home I hope will never be forgotten.'

© Winston Ramsey, August 2000

© The above photograph and text were provided by After the Battle

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