On 10th September 2023, at All Saints’ Church in Staplehurst, Kent, the Rector, Revd Silke Tetzlaff, officiated at the Parish’s annual Battle of Britain Memorial Service. Particular reference was made during the Service to a former resident of the Parish, Mrs Jean Liddicoat who, as an 8-year-old in 1940 had witnessed aerial combat over Staplehurst, including seeing an RAF pilot parachuting to the ground. Nearly 50 years later, Jean’s grandson told her of an overgrown grave in Staplehurst’s churchyard which bore the words “To an Airman of The Second World War, known unto God.”
Recalling her youthful experience, Jean painstakingly researched RAF war records and established that the grave was that of a Flight Lieutenant Freddie Rushmer of 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron RAuxAF who, it was confirmed, had been shot down and killed near Staplehurst on the 5th September 1940. Jean subsequently convinced the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) that the headstone should be replaced with one correctly inscribed to the memory of Flight Lieutenant Rushmer.
From the time when she first heard about the grave in Staplehurst’s churchyard, until her own passing in 2014, Jean regularly visited and caringly tended the fallen pilot’s grave.
Supporting the Rector in the Service were:
The Revd Group Captain Alasdair Nicoll from the Royal Air Force Chaplain’s Branch
Councillor Gordon Newton, The Worshipful Mayor of Maidstone
Squadron Leader Derek Read, Officer Commanding 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force
Wing Commander Alasdair Beaton of 603 Squadron Association (Sermon)
Members of Jean Liddicoat’s family (Prayers)
A member of 500 Squadron Air Training Corps (Prayers)
Members of All Saints’ congregation (Prayers)
Flight Lieutenant Greg Harley of Royal Air Force Waddington (Piper)
In addition to the Parish’s usual congregation, other attendees included:
Members of the late Jean Liddicoat’s family including her husband Des Liddicoat
Honorary Air Commodore Jane Middleton, 606 (Chiltern) Squadron – representing the RAuxAF hierarchy
Wing Commander Alison Moodie, Chairman 603 Squadron Association
Members of 603 Squadron, 603 Squadron Association, 500 Squadron Air Training Corps and Royal Air Force Media (who provided photographs and a Press Release)
Representatives from the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Foundation
Since being reformed in 1999, 603 Squadron and its Squadron Association have not only treasured the memory of Mrs Jean Liddicoat and her painstaking efforts to identify and look after the unknown airman’s grave but also are very grateful for the continual support offered to the Royal Air Force and its Benevolent Fund by Jean’s husband Des and her family.
Following the Memorial Service, the congregation assembled at Flight Lieutenant Rushmer’s grave and paid tribute to him and to all those others who gave their lives in the Battle of Britain. At the same time, in recognition of Jean Liddicoat’s painstaking and devoted efforts to identify the previously unknown airman and then to tend his grave, a plaque positioned alongside his headstone was dedicated to her memory .