A First World War hero from Westminster who successfully completed his mission despite being injured has been remembered by civilians, service men and women for his bravery, on 26 July 2018 in Whitehall Gardens.
A service took place in remembrance and commemoration of the Victoria Cross awarded to Captain Ferdinand West for his actions in August 1918. He was one of the first serving personnel in the RAF to be given this prestigious award.
Captain Ferdinand West, known to his friends as ‘Freddie’, left his Westminster birthplace and moved to Milan with his mother when he was six. When Freddie was fourteen, he joined the crowd in Milan watching the progress of airman Georges Chavez, who became the first person to fly an aeroplane over the Alps. Freddie was so inspired by what he saw that he wanted to fly himself one day.
In 1914 Freddie returned to London to start work in a bank, but was caught by recruiting sergeants and sent to Aldershot to join the Royal Army Medical Corps. After a year in the RAMC, Freddie was promoted to Lieutenant and joined the Royal Munster Fusiliers on the Western Front. In 1917, Freddie was treated to going up in a plane for the first time when he visited No 3 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. He enjoyed it so much that he got a posting to the RFC the following month.
In October 1917 Freddie’s application to train as a pilot was accepted. After a number of mishaps,, he returned to the front to join RAF 8 Squadron as a Captain.
Freddie’s observer was Lieutenant John Haslam, and the two men were sent out on mission on 10 August 1918, to gain information on enemy movements. As Freddie’s FK8 flew over a gap in the clouds, and he tried to take note of enemy troop movements, his plane was spotted by several enemy aircraft, who fired at his plane, sending bullets searing through both of Freddie’s legs. In spite of the pain, Freddie had the sheer nerve to be able to continue to manoeuvre his plane, allowing Haslam to fire at the enemy.
He managed to escape and successfully land the plane behind the Allied lines.
He received a Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace on 1 March 1919 for the extraordinary bravery and nerve that Captain Freddie West displayed under such dangerous circumstances. Freddie’s left leg had been amputated. However, he did not let his disability hinder his future as he married and was granted a permanent commission in the RAF in 1921.
Westminster’s Armed Forces Champion, Councillor Rachael Robathan said: “It is an honour to gather here today to remember and commemorate the actions of Captain Ferdinand Maurice Felix West VC. Ferdinand ‘Freddie’ West is of particular importance to the RAF 8 Squadron, and we are privileged today that representatives from the RAF 8 Squadron are in attendance.”
“We are thankful for this opportunity to bring together the military and civilian communities in Westminster in common purpose. Our experience of commemorating the Victoria Cross recipients born in this City is that their acts of bravery and leadership have the power to resonate across generations, and bring us closer in understanding to the experiences of those who fought one hundred years ago. The RAF is of particular importance to Westminster - with the RAF original headquarters being on the strand, there are several monuments commemorating service men and women and many residents that have connections with the RAF live in Westminster.”
The Lord Mayor of Westminster, Councillor Lindsey Hall added: “It is a great honour to be here today, along with representatives of 8th Squadron of the Royal Air Force, to commemorate the actions of Westminster’s only RAF VC recipient: Captain Ferdinand West”.