The second location for the main War Graves Week events this week takes us into the South Region and to the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial. The two Public Engagement Coordinators for the Commission who cover the South East of England are Sarah Nathaniel and Will Reid.
Sarah is the Public Engagement Coordinator for the South East, which covers the counties of Kent and Sussex. Her interest in the CWGC began in 2004, when she first visited the battlefields and cemeteries of the Western Front. The trip had a profound emotional impact upon herself and the group of young people she was visiting with, which encouraged her passion to ensure that the stories of those the CWGC commemorates are never forgotten. She was also lucky enough to meet one of the last surviving veterans of the First World War, Henry Allingham, which was an experience she describes as being “one I will never forget.
Will is the Public Engagement Coordinator for the South Region, which covers the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire and Surrey. He has always been fascinated by modern conflict history, which influenced him to study a degree in Archaeology and to become involved in several projects investigating battlefields and aircraft crash sites.
In April 2019, Will began his career with the Commission by working as a Commonwealth War Graves Foundation Intern at the Thiepval Memorial in France. Reflecting on his time as an Intern, Will says that “some of my fondest memories of the experience are of helping visitors discover the relatives they never knew they had. The moment they made this realisation was always incredibly profound and moving, and is a feeling I will never forget.”
Runnymede Air Forces Memorial: Noor Inayat-Khan & Amy Johnston
The Runnymede Air Forces Memorial stands upon the crest of Coopers Hill, overlooking the river Thames and the field of Runnymede. A place twice hallowed, once by the spirit of English liberty in 1215 when King John affixed his seal to the Magna Carta and once by the shared sacrifice remembered here, there are over 20,000 Commonwealth air force servicemen and women who gave their lives during the Second World War remembered here.
The site was unveiled by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, on 17th October 1953 and was designed by Sir Edward Maufe, the Commission’s Principal Architect for the United Kingdom after the Second World War. Sir Maufe’s aim was to create an atmosphere of quiet and intimacy for those visitors who come to remember the missing.
Among those remembered here are Section Officer Noor Inayat-Khan GC MiD and First Officer Amy Johnson CBE. To learn more about Noor’s story, the CWGC launched a digital exhibition last year to tell the story of her life and the work she did in the SOE.
Amy Johnson is probably best remembered as the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia in 1930. Born in Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire in 1903, she set many long-distance flying records in the 1930s, when she flew solo or with her husband Jim Mollison. During the Second World War, she flew as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary. She disappeared during a ferry flight along the Thames Estuary, near Herne Bay in Kent, in January 1941.