A Battle of Britain Memorial service is being held at All Saints Parish Church, Staplehurst, on 10 September at 10 am.
Staplehurst has an important connection with the Battle of Britain thanks to resident Mrs. Jean Liddicoat, who spent many years tending the grave of Flt Lt Freddie Rushmer, a Spitfire pilot with No.603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron AAF (Auxiliary Air Force, later the RAuxAF), who was killed on 5 September, 1940.
As an eight year-old, Jean witnessed an aerial battle over Staplehurst and saw an RAF pilot parachuting to the ground. Nearly 50 years later, her grandson told her of an overgrown grave in the village churchyard dedicated to un unknown airman.
Recalling her earlier experience, Jean painstakingly researched RAF war records and established that the grave in the parish church’s graveyard was that of Flt Lt Rushmer, who had been shot down and killed near Staplehurst. She subsequently convinced the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that the headstone should be replaced with one correctly inscribed and attributed to the gallantry of Flt Lt Rushmer.
From the time she first heard about the grave until her own death in 2014, Jean cared for Flt Lt Rushmer’s grave. Since being reformed in 1999, No.603 Squadron and its squadron association has held the memory of Jean and her actions in deep affection. Jean’s husband Des and her family have also continued to support the RAF and the RAF Benevolent Fund.
The Staplehurst Battle of Britain service will commemorate all those men and women, both on the ground and in the air, who took part in the Battle and in many cases, lost their lives. It is being organised by No. 603 Squadron Association together with the Vicar of Staplehurst, the Reverend Silke Tetzlaff.
The service will be followed by a short graveside dedication and the unveiling of a plaque acknowledging Jean Liddicoat’s commitment to the memory of Freddie Rushmer’s sacrifice.