Nine International Airmen Buried in Hornchurch

Russell Norris Langley, Canadian and A Spitfire pilot from Czechoslovakia

Hornchurch airfield was crucial in the defences of London during the Second World War. Many airmen sacrificed their lives and these foreign volunteers are buried in the Commonwealth War Graves section of the Hornchurch cemetery. They fought and died fighting for freedom with the RAF.

After Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis in 1939, many Czech pilots escaped with their aircraft to France. After France fell in spring 1940, they came to Britain and joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve. There were about 88 airmen in the RAF, two of whom are buried in the Hornchurch Cemetery War Graves section.

Blazej Konvalina was aged 23 when he died in January, 1942 in a flying accident at Purfleet.
Josef Valenta died during take-off at Hornchurch in January, 1942.

The Czechs wanted to continue the war against Hitler but New Zealanders fought because Britain was the Mother Country. They felt British and so our war was their war. New Zealand contributed seven squadrons to the RAF as well as 135 airmen. They have three men in Hornchurch cemetery.

Samuel David Earwalker was aged 26. His Spitfire plunged to the ground at Chelmsford in January, 1943.
Erl Joseph Kean was aged 33. He was shot down near Maidstone in April, 1941 by a Bf109 whilst on patrol.
Francis MacKay Laing was aged 29. After combat, he was returning to base and crashed near Hawkinge in July, 1941.

Like the New Zealanders, Canada was also motivated by being part of the Empire. They became the fourth largest air force in the war. Canadians suffered tremendous losses in bombing raids over Germany and they contributed to every aspect of the air campaign. There is one Canadian buried in Hornchurch cemetery.

Russell Norris Langley was aged 24. He died in a crash but I couldn’t find out where, though the date is February, 1942.

The sole South African buried in Hornchurch had lived in England for an extended period of time. He was a university student of mining, which is appropriate as he came from the Transvaal, the South African centre of gold mining. He was a member of what Churchill called The Few. Volunteers from RAF Hornchurch tend the graves of The Few.
Claude Waller Goldsmith was aged 23. He was shot down by a German Me 109 over Maidstone in October, 1940.

Another man with a connexion to Britain, even though having a different nationality, was an Argentinian. He had British parents and was born in Rosario.

Thomas Wilton Smith was aged 24. He came to Britain in 1940 and died of his injuries in Chelmsford in December, 1943.

The American, Raimund Sanders Draper, joined the RAF via Canada. It isn’t illegal for Americans to fight for foreign countries as long as they don’t fight against the USA, but it shows tremendous commitment.

Raimund Sanders Draper was aged 29. He died when his Spitfire had catastrophic engine failure on take-off. He saved the lives of children at Suttons Senior school,
“At 10.45 am an aircraft crashed on the playing field, the main parts being ricocheted onto the drive, fragments breaking a total of 9 windows in three classrooms. Splinters from the ‘plane scored the wall and injured the playing field and shrubbery. Richard Burton received a cut on the leg from flying glass needing medical attention and five boys were treated from primary shock. The boy with the injured leg was conveyed to his home by ambulance, under Dr. Heath’s orders. School was evacuated to shelter for 15 minutes owing to probability of danger from fire and exploding ammunition. By 11.15 am the school had resumed normal work.”*

For foreign airmen in the RAF see
For the Royal Canadian Air Force see
For the Royal New Zealand Air Force see
For a very interesting review of the Czech Air Force in WW2 see

Sources for local history
For a very good overview see
For the inter-war era see
and for the conservation status of the area see pp8-9
For photographs see
For a brilliant interactive map see
After the war the site was used for gravel winning see

Special thanks to Tony Philpot, chair of HAHT for his kind assistance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s