Edinburgh Reservists Honour Fallen 603 Squadron Pilot Killed in Battle of Britain

603 Squadron's Officer Commanding, Squadron Leader Derek read, addressing the congregation at All Saints Church in Staplehurst

On Sunday 10 September, Reservists from 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron and members of the 603 Squadron Association laid a commemorative plaque at All Saints Church in Staplehurst, Kent, in tribute to a former parishioner who helped identify a pilot killed in action during the Battle of Britain.

For many years, there was a grave in the grounds of All Saints Church that bore the simple inscription: ‘An Airman of the 1939-45 War.’ This troubled a compassionate parishioner, Mrs Jean Liddicoat, who was a first-hand witness to the Battle of Britain taking place in the skies over Kent. In particular, Jean vividly remembered a downed British pilot in his parachute being fired upon by an enemy aircraft. 

Squadron Leader Derek Read, left, and Air Commodore Jane Middleton, right, stand ready to lay wreaths at the grave of Flight Lieutenant Freddie Rushmer.

This memory later prompted her to set about conducting painstaking research, leading to the eventual discovery that the young man lying in the nameless grave is Flight Lieutenant Freddie Rushmer, a Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve pilot who flew with 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force.  

Jean discovered that Flt Lt Rushmer was killed in action over Kent on 5 September 1940, fighting in the Battle of Britain. Having identified the grave, Jean then played an active role in having the headstone changed and rightly attributed to Flt Lt Rushmer. For many years following this, beyond the disbandment of 603 Squadron in 1957, and up until her death in 2014, Jean Liddicoat tended Flt Lt Rushmer’s grave with sincere respect and devotion. 

Interior of All Saints Church in Staplehurst, Kent, where the commemorative service for Flight Lieutenant Rushmer and Jean Liddicoat is taking place.

In 1999, 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron RAuxAF was reformed and became aware not only of the Squadron’s valuable contribution to the Battle of Britain, but of the story of Flt Lt Rushmer’s death and Jean Liddicoat’s commitment to honouring the memory of the brave young man. 

Keen to pay tribute to Jean’s dedicated work, the 603 Squadron Association recently obtained permission from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to place a small plaque beside Flt Lt Rushmer’s headstone, detailing Jean’s role in recognising this fallen Officer’s sacrifice.

Squadron Leader Read salutes at the grave of Flight Lieutenant Freddie Rushmer, with poppy wreaths laid either side of the white headstone and a commemorative plaque for Jean Liddicoat on the left hand side.

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