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Weekly forces government U-turn over war hero

A weekly newspaper has forced a government U-turn after a campaign to have a World War One Victoria Cross winner honoured in his hometown.

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One and the government has decided to mark the anniversary by laying special commemorative stones in the birth towns of winner of the coveted medal.

But after Exmouth Journal reporter David Beasley found out that fearless airman Rex Warneford would not be honoured in his home town of Exmouth because was born in India, the Archant South West title ran a front page article calling for a government rethink.

The Journal’s article, which included supporting quotes from the town mayor, historians and military campaigners, quickly went national with pressure being put on Whitehall to relax the birth rule.

The Exmouth Journal's campaign was backed by the town mayor, historians and military campaigners

It was announced this week there are now plans to unveil a tribute in the town’s main park for Rex who moved to Exmouth as a youngster.

Group editor Phil Griffin said: “It would have been totally unjust for Warneford not to be honoured in Exmouth – a town he considered his home.

“Warneford was real war hero, like something out of the old Hotspur comic. He was described at the time as ‘knowing no fear’ and being ‘the wildest thing on two legs’. We are pleased to have helped to immortalise him.”

Rex was aged just 23 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross after becoming the first person to shoot down a Zeppelin planning to bomb London.

He “buzzed” the Zeppelin, firing his pistol at the crew before dropping hand-held bombs. Tragically, he died in a flying accident in France just a few weeks after he shot down the airship.

The war hero’s nephew, James Corkery, of North Devon, thanked the Journal for bringing the situation to light.

He said he had only found out about his uncle’s exclusion after his daughter read the Journal article online in Burma.

“We want to thank the Journal – if it hadn’t been for the article we would never have known,” said James.

“And thank you to (West Devon MP) Geoffrey Cox who took this up on our behalf and achieved a result within a few weeks.”