New retirement development in Huntingdon to be named after First World War aviator

William Rhodes-Moorhouse won the Victoria Cross.

William Rhodes-Moorhouse won the Victoria Cross. - Credit: Archant

A new retirement living development in Huntingdon has been named in honour of the first aviator to receive the Victoria Cross.

Moorhouse Lodge, on Edison Bell Way, has been named after William Rhodes-Moorhouse, who received Britain’s highest gallantry honour during the First World War.

The name was chosen by the winner of a competition organised by Churchill Retirement Living to name the new development.

The competition was won by Dorothy Cooke, who has lived in Huntingdon for 58 years, and she said: “I wanted to pick a name that was strongly connected to Huntingdon, with a great historical story behind it. William’s love of engineering began when he was living here in Cambridgeshire; his studies at Harrow and Trinity College came second as he much preferred to race around the streets of Cambridge in fast motorcycles and cars.”

William Rhodes-Moorhouse was born in London in 1887 and educated at Harrow and Trinity College in Cambridge, where his fascination with aviation and love of engineering took hold. Along with his friend and aero pioneer James Radley, he built an aircraft factory in St John’s Street in Huntingdon where they developed their own monoplane. William flew the aircraft aged 24 to gain his Royal Aero Club Pilot’s Certificate. The pair regularly drew crowds as they flew their aircraft from Portholme, a meadow between Huntingdon and Godmanchester, which was the site of Huntingdon Racecourse until 1896.

When the First World War began in 1914, William joined the Royal Flying Corps as a second lieutenant. Despite his great experience as a flyer, he wasn’t allowed an aircraft and instead, was given the job of checking aero-engines. By March 1915, a shortage in war pilots saw William moved to France to join the No.2 Squadron Royal Flying Corps in Merville, near Calais.

During March and April of 1915, he made many flights over the Western Front to photograph enemy troops’ movements. On April 26, 1915, the Royal Flying Corps were ordered to bomb the Germans’ railway network to prevent reinforcements reaching the front lines. William was instructed to attack a railway junction at Courtrai in Belgium. Heading out on his solo mission, he was told to release his bomb from just below cloud-level, however to ensure a direct hit, William chose to fly down to a mere 300 feet over the city. A torrent of rifle and machine-gun fire badly damaged the aircraft and injured William, but he completed the mission successfully.

Most Read

Despite his injuries, William made it back to base and refused medical attention until he’d reported the results of his mission. He died later that day aged just 27. For his flight, William was acclaimed a hero and in May 1915 he was awarded the Victoria Cross for ‘most conspicuous bravery’ – the first to be awarded to an airman. He was subsequently promoted posthumously to lieutenant.

The new development, which is currently under construction, will comprise 47 private, self-contained apartments.