Runnymede Memorial

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.
Gateway to the Runnymede Memorial

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:

Royal Air Force 15462
Royal Canadian Air Force 3050
Royal Australian Air Force 1397
Royal New Zealand Air Force 576
South African Air Force 17
Royal Indian Air Force 7
Woman's Auxiliary Air Force 10
Ferry Command 9
Air Transport Auxiliary 8
British Overseas Airways Corporation 7
Air Training Corps 4

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.

The great north window
The shrine

A large arched window - the great north window - is engraved with the words from the 139th Psalm, sometimes called the Airman's Psalm.
If I climb up into Heaven, Thou art there;
If I go to Hell, Thou art there also.
If I take the wings of the morning
And remain in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there also shall Thy hand lead me;
And Thy right hand shall hold me.

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.

Four of the names carved on panels at the Memorial are from the crew of 35 Squadron Halifax R9646, flown by my grandfather, lost on March 30th/31st 1942. Sgt J F Staff, Sgt S Palmer, F/Sgt G H G Murray RAAF and Sgt L J Nelmes. Three bodies from the crew were recovered are buried in Stavne Cemetery in Trondheim, Norway.
Staff J F
Palmer S
Murray G H G
Nelmes L J

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 first rays of the dawning sun
Shall touch its pillars,
And as the day advances
And the light grows stronger,
You shall read the names
Engraved on the stone of those who sailed on the angry sky
And saw harbour no more.
No gravestone in yew-dark churchyard
Shall mark their resting place;
Their bones lie in the forgotten corners of earth and sea.
But, that we may not lose their memory
With fading years, their monuments stand here,
Here, where the trees troop down to Runnymede.
Meadow of Magna Carta, field of freedom,
Never saw you so fitting a memorial,
Proof that the principles established here
Are still dear to the hearts of men.
Here now they stand, contrasted and alike,
The field of freedom's birth, and the memorial
To freedom's winning.

And, as evening comes,
And mists, like quiet ghosts, rise from the river bed,
And climb the hill to wander through the cloisters,
We shall not forget them. Above the mist
We shall see the memorial still, and over it
The crown and single star. And we shall pray
As the mists rise up and the air grows dark
That we may wear
As brave a heart as they.

Left - words to the untitled poem by Paul H Scott engraved in the window.

Below - looking through the window in the gallery engraved with poem by Paul H Scott.

Poem by Paul H Scott engraved on window in gallery

The Runnymede Memorial was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 17th October 1953.

Looking down on the cloisters and the entrance from the gallery
Detail on arched entrance door
Arched entrance to Runnymede Memorial

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.

Top of Page
© Linzee Druce 2001-2012