Road named after Hornchurch war hero has been misspelt for more than 50 years
PUBLISHED: 07:50 22 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:47 22 October 2018
The road in Elm Park has been misspelt since the 1960s and now the council is going to recognise the mistake with a commemorative plaque.
A road named after a Hornchurch war hero has been spelled wrongly for 50 years but is now to have a new plaque to rectify the error.
John Connell Freeborn was a decorated Spitfire pilot in 74 Squadron, stationed at Hornchurch, and carried out more flying hours than any other during The Battle of Britain.
Following the war, Freeborne Gardens in Elm Park was named after him.
However it has always been incorrectly spelt.
Havering Council has been aware of this mistake and has agreed to install a commemorative plaque to mark his achievements.
John’s first taste of war was when he was 19 and he signed up to the RAF.
Three days in he was involved in the famous Battle of Barking Creek – where he accidentally shot down a British pilot but was later absolved of any blame.
He went on to become a flying ace, and a true war hero, as he was awarded a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy; a requirement of which was at least six confirmed kills.
In 1941 he received his second DFC, awarded as a bar to the ribbon of existing medal holders, for having killed at least 12 enemies.
According to his great niece, Amy Freeborn, he was skilled enough to fly solo after half the average training time, and his accuracy while firing in flight was twice as good as most pilots.
Amy, 38, moved to Rainham a year ago, and when she was coming home on the bus one night she noticed the stop called Freeborne Gardens, and thought it couldn’t be just a coincidence.
After carrying out her own research she found that the road was named after John and contacted the council to see if it would consider changing the spelling.
There are a number of other roads in Elm Park with war references including Coltishall Road (after the RAF station), and Adnams Walk, Beaumont Walk, Broadhurst Walk and Robinson Close all named after veterans.
However it could only be changed if residents agreed unanimously to do so.
After consulting those affected it was agreed that the best way to honour John would be to put a plaque in the street.
By the end of the war, John amassed more than 13 confirmed kills (25 unconfirmed) and had flown more operational hours than any other pilot in the Battle of Britain.
He retired from the RAF in 1946, having been made a flight commander in 1940, and a wing commander (of Squadron 118) in 1943.
He died in 2010 aged 90.
Amy was born and raised in Australia and never got to meet her great uncle, as he died just weeks before they were due to meet.
She told the Recorder: “To our family he is a hero, but I think he is much more than that.
“He’s a hero to the whole nation.”
According to her, in the pre-war days, pilots were allowed to take aircraft home for the weekend and John once revelled in flying aerobatic displays over his former school, before landing on the cricket pitch where his teachers – who had berated and beaten him as an unruly, anti-authoritarian student – praised him as a shining example to the current pupils.
Elm Park councillor and chairman of Elm Park Royal British Legion, Barry Mugglestone, said it is a great gesture from the council, and it is important we remember heroes like John.
He said: “It’s very important that we show respect and give thanks to the servicemen that fought so bravely and courageously for our country.”
There will be a short service in Freeborne Gardens on Thursday, October 25, at 2pm, to unveil the plaque, and Cllr Mugglestone will be speaking along with Jon Cruddas MP and Father Tom Keighley from St Nicholas Church.