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South Holland Commemorates Hero Pilot with New Memorial

Posted on 28 September 2021

In a private ceremony on Monday 27 September a new memorial was unveiled to commemorate RAF Pilot Officer George Furniss, who tragically lost his life in September 1953 after his jet fighter caught fire during a training exercise over Spalding. He remained in the jet in order to ensure it came down away from the town, saving countless lives whilst ultimately costing him his own.

George was born in Sheffield in 1924. After leaving grammar school he joined the Air Force Receiving Unit in London. His enthusiasm and aptitude for flying meant he progressed through the ranks and soon became a proficient pilot, pilot navigator and later an instructor.

In November 1951, he joined the Royal Auxiliary Airforce 616 Squadron at RAF Finningley.

During a training exercise from RAF Wymeswold on Sunday 27 September 1953, PO Furniss' Gloster Meteor VIII caught fire over Spalding. He successfully manoeuvred his fireā€stricken aircraft away from the built-up area of the town, crashing into a field near the Vernatt's Drain.

George was forced to eject from the aircraft at too low an altitude to ensure his own survival and was killed instantly. He was 29 years old and left behind a wife of 4 years, Margaret and 12-month-old twin daughters, Sheila and Gillian.

68 years to the day, an invite-only ceremony was held to unveil a new memorial near the crash. It was attended by George's daughters, other members of his family, several representatives from the RAF and Royal Auxiliary Air Force, local councillors and family of local residents who were present on the day. A service was led by Revd Philip Johnson, with music provided by Anthony Fell and St Nicholas Community Brass and Steve Wand playing The Last Post and The Reveille, with Royal British Legion standard-bearer Graham Hewitt.

The memorial was funded through contributions from 13 South Holland District Council councillors: Cllr James Avery, Cllr Anthony Cronin, Cllr Roger Gambba-Jones, Cllr Rob Gibson, Cllr Rodney Grocock, Cllr Manzur Hasan, Cllr Christine Lawton, Cllr Jack McLean, Cllr Angela Newton MBE, Cllr The Lord Porter CBE, Cllr Sally Slade, Cllr Elizabeth Sneath, and Cllr Gary Taylor.

South Holland District Council Leader, Gary Porter said "The heroic and selfless actions of PO George Furniss undeniably saved the lives of many Spalding town residents and deserves to be recognised and remembered.

"I am pleased that as a district we are now able to formally commemorate his sacrifice in the form of this new memorial. I hope that this permanent reminder of his actions will ensure that his story and memory live on for a long time to come. Thank you to all those who have helped create this memorial, and to George's family and everyone who joined us for its unveiling."

Councillor Angela Newton said: "I am delighted to have been part of the organising team, liaising with the Sheila and Gill and Gp Capt Richard Mighall OBE of the Royal Auxiliary Airforce Foundation over the past couple of years. It was lovely to welcome them, other members of George Furniss's family and RAF and Royal Auxiliary Airforce members from around the country, including 616 Squadron Waddington, to the Memorial Service.

"I am pleased we were able to pass on the thanks of the people of Spalding and South Holland District to Sheila and Gill for the ultimate sacrifice made by their father. Thank you to everyone who helped with the memorial, and to the residents and Broadgate Builders for their kind offers of parking to those who attended."

The memorial plaque has been created by Gary Huggins of Holbeach. It is located near to Two Plank Bridge in Spalding (What3Words: harshest.slowness.jars).