Published: Thursday, 19th April 2018

Medway Council has unveiled a commemorative stone which honours one of the most highly decorated airmen in British military history.

A ceremony in honour of Major James McCudden was held before the commemorative stone was unveiled at the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham on Thursday, 12 April.

McCudden was born in the Chatham Garrison Female Hospital, Brompton, in 1895 and lived in Brompton Barracks, Belmont Road, Gillingham, in Chatham and in Sheerness. His father was Sergeant-Major William McCudden of the Royal Engineers. His mother, Amelia, was a member of the well-known Chatham Byford family. Many members of his family had served in the armed forces, including with the Chatham Royal Marines and the Royal Engineers.

One of the most highly decorated airmen in British military history

McCudden followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Royal Engineers in 1910. He transferred into the Royal Flying Corps in 1913, serving initially as an air mechanic. By the time of his death in July 1918, aged just 23, he had risen to the rank of Major, commanding 56 Squadron RAF. As well as the Victoria Cross, he was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order twice, Military Cross twice, Military Medal, 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. His contribution was also recognised by the French who awarded him the Croix de Guerre. His collection of medals is on display at the Royal Engineers Museum. McCudden is one of the most highly decorated airmen in British military history.

Medway Council worked with the Royal Engineers and the Royal Air Force to organise the event to honour McCudden as part of a government scheme to recognise Victoria Cross winners in their home towns.

McCudden served in the Royal Engineers, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force. He was one of four brothers to do so. Three of them lost their lives as pilots in the First World War.

McCudden honoured at special public ceremony

Royal Engineer and Royal Air Force personnel joined the Lord Lieutenant of Kent and civic dignitaries at a special public ceremony at the Royal Engineers Museum on Thursday, 12 April, to mark the 100th anniversary of his receiving the Victoria Cross from King George V. The commemorative stone, mounted on a plinth, was unveiled at the museum gates. The Standard of the current 56 Squadron RAF took part in the ceremony. McCudden was serving with the squadron when he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

During the ceremony there was a short service accompanied by musicians from the Royal Engineer Band and the Royal Air Force. The Standards of the Royal Engineers and the Royal Air Forces Associations were paraded along with the Standard of 56 Squadron RAF. There were also guards formed of personnel from the Royal Engineers, Royal Air Force, Kent Army Cadets and the Kent Wing of the Air Training Corps.

Members of the McCudden and Byford families attended the ceremony. One of them, former RAF Squadron leader Paul Spears AFC, the grandson of Mary Amelia McCudden, sister of James McCudden, took part in service. Other family members who were at the ceremony included Richard Benns, grandson of Mary Amelia McCudden, Lynne Cowley, granddaughter of Robert McCudden, James McCudden’s uncle, Roger Evans, son of Winnifred McCudden, James McCudden’s sister, and David Evans, Roger Evans’ son.

The McCudden War Memorial and grave in the Maidstone Road Cemetery, Chatham, has also recently been granted Grade II listed status by Historic England. The memorial was originally dedicated to brothers William, James and John McCudden who all died whilst serving in the First World War. It also includes a dedication to their brother-in-law Arthur Spears who died after an explosion aboard the HMS Princess Irene in 1915.

‘We are very proud of our military history’

Cllr Howard Doe, Deputy Leader of Medway Council and Portfolio Holder of Community Services and Armed Forces Champion, said: “We were pleased to welcome crowds to Medway to witness the unveiling of the commemorative stone to honour Major James McCudden. I was also pleased to meet members of McCudden’s family. There is a strong armed forces community in Medway and we are very proud of our military history.”

Lasting tribute

Rebecca Nash, Royal Engineers Museum Director, said: “We were pleased to host the McCudden family and distinguished guests for the ceremony and we are sure visitors will value the opportunity to see this lasting tribute outside the museum and the medal to which it relates in our Victoria Cross gallery.”

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