Nostalgia: 70 years ago today Raimund Sanders Draper died a hero in Hornchurch

David Seaman, Joe Pittman, Jim Ring at a previous memorial service.

David Seaman, Joe Pittman, Jim Ring at a previous memorial service. - Credit: Archant

Today marks 70 years since Raimund Sanders Draper sacrificed his life to save a school full of children in Hornchurch.

Teacher Joan Culling

Teacher Joan Culling - Credit: Archant

At 10.40am, the pilot crashed his plan, avoiding the Suttons Senior School, which was renamed in the 29-year-old’s honour in 1973.

Jim Ring was 13 at the time. He described the fateful moments to the Romford Recorder earlier this week:

“We were in a maths class with our teacher Miss Joan Culling, about 10,40am.

“We were quite familiar with the sound of a Spitfire, the school back fence was right next to RAF Hornchurch.

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“It didn’t sound like a particularly healthy noise from a Spitfire and we gathered it was in trouble.

“We couldn’t see much out the windows but we soon realised something terrible was going to happen. We all dived under our desks and we said to our teacher Miss Culling – ‘Miss, get down’.

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“There was this terrible bang which was in fact the [wing of the] Spitfire hitting the classroom wall right outside the room we were in. She ushered us out.

“We were then assembled in the main hall of the school and the deputy head informed us what had happened. He said that normal school would resume immediately after our usual break.

“In those days children didn’t ask questions, we just got on with it.

“Afterwards I read up about it a lot, I always thought - if not for him, a great many of us wouldn’t be here.”

In his book The Hornchurch Offensive, historian Richard C. Smith explained what happened:

“Raimund Sanders Draper took off in his Spitfire MkIX but almost immediately his aircraft developed engine problems, which caused it to cut out at 200 feet.

“With no other option but to try to land his aircraft, Sanders Draper was faced with the sight of Suttons junior and senior schools in his direct path.

“He managed to avoid the junior school, but with no power he was confronted with the two-storey senior school. He put the aircraft down in the playing field in front of the school, the Spitfire careering across the grass and finally bouncing up onto the gravel drive before coming to rest against the end classroom wall of the school. The pilot died, but only one child, Richard Barton, was slightly injured, suffering a cut leg.”

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