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Council unveils plaque in Elm Park road named after Hornchurch war hero that has been misspelt for more than 50 years

PUBLISHED: 17:00 29 October 2018

Amy Freeborn with the plaque in honour of her great uncle John Freeborn..

Amy Freeborn with the plaque in honour of her great uncle John Freeborn..

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After more than 50 years the misspelt road has been honoured by the council.

The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens. Deputy Lieutenant Colonel Mark Bryant MBE speaking at the service.The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens. Deputy Lieutenant Colonel Mark Bryant MBE speaking at the service.

Havering Council has unveiled a plaque commemorating a heroic Second World War pilot who had an Elm Park road named in his honour – after it was pointed out his name had been spelt wrong on road signs for 50 years.

John Connell Freeborn was a decorated Spitfire pilot in 74 Squadron, stationed at Hornchurch, and carried out more flying hours than any other airman during The Battle of Britain.

Following the war, Freeborne Gardens in Elm Park was named after him.

However it has always been incorrectly spelt.

The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens. Standard bearer Trevor HermesThe unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens. Standard bearer Trevor Hermes

Havering Council has been made aware of this mistake and last Thursday (October 25) veterans, members of the council and members of John’s family unveiled a commemorative plaque to mark his achievements.

John’s great niece, Amy Freeborn, 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 just be 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.

However it could only be changed if residents agreed unanimously to do so.

The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens.The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens.

After consulting those affected it was agreed that the best way to honour John would be to put a plaque in the street.

Last Thursday, in Freeborne Gardens, John’s great niece along with MP John Cruddas and Councillor Barry Mugglestone unveiled the plaque.

Speaking at the unveiling Amy said her great uncle would be “chuffed” to see what they had achieved.

She said: “He was an incredible pilot and enjoyed an eventful RAF career.

The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens.The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens.

“Us Freeborns are used to people spelling our surnames incorrectly.

“But the error in the naming of this street was more substantial than most.

“I’m really pleased it’s being rectified, and my uncle John’s contribution is being recognised, and I’m extremely thankful to the council for making this happen.”

MP John Cruddas said: “Its not very often you get the opportunity to acknowledge a local and national war hero and patron.

The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens.The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens.

“It’s a lovely acknowledgement of the sacrifices that people have made so that we can live with the freedoms that we have.

“A little story about one letter speaks volumes about previous generations.”

There were also speeches from John Watson, deputy chairman of the Elm Park Royal British Legion, and prayers and comments from leaders of Elm Park Baptist Church.

The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens.The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens.

The story of John Freeborn

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.

The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens. Amy Freeborn speaking and unveiling the plaque.The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens. Amy Freeborn speaking and unveiling the plaque.

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.

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.

The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens. Amy Freeborn speaking and unveiling the plaque.The unveiling of a plaque for war hero John Freeborn in Freeborne Gardens. Amy Freeborn speaking and unveiling the plaque.

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.

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