The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede is an awe inspiring and thought provoking place to visit. It sits perched on a hillside overlooking Runnymede, the Thames, and the meadows where magna Carta was sealed in 1215 by King John. The land on which the memorial was built was donated by Sir Eugen and Lady Effie Millington-Drake in 1949. Being under the flight path for Heathrow airport means that fittingly there is the ever present sound of aircraft engines in the air which adds to the atmosphere during a visit.
The Memorial was built to commemorate by name those who lost their lives during the Second World War while serving with the Air Forces of the Commonwealth at bases in the UK or in North West Europe and who have no known grave. They came from all parts of the Commonwealth or from countries of continental Europe which had been overrun and whose airmen continued to fight as members of the Royal Air Force. The number commemorated, over 20,000, is made up as follows:
Designed by Sir Edward Maufe, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's principal architect for the UK after WW2, it comprises a shrine surrounded by a cloister in which the names of the dead are recorded, inscribed on stone panels. The coat of arms of the Commonwealth countries are represented on the cloister ceilings. The entrance, through a triple arched portico, gives access to the cloisters.
A large arched window - the great north window - is engraved with the words from the 139th Psalm, sometimes called the Airman's Psalm.
Angels are engraved at either side of the text and above these are vapour trails taken from actual photographs of the sky during the Battle of Britain. The window was designed by John Hutton, who was also responsible for the painted ceilings of the shrine and lookouts which depict the four winds, the planets and the phases of the moon scattered with stars.
Two stone staircases lead from the shrine to a gallery above. Here, one of the small windows is engraved with a poem written by a student, Paul H Scott, shortly after the Memorial was completed. From the gallery the stairs lead upwards to the roof of the tower which is capped by an Astral Crown in blue and gold.
The Runnymede Memorial was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 17th October 1953.
The Memorial is open during the hours of daylight every day except Christmas Day and new Years Day.
|Source for additional information on this page; The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
All photographs on this page are © Linzee Druce.