2nd Lieutenant Flying Officer George White WILLIS
Royal Air Force
Date of birth April 1899
Date of death 4 January 1919
Killed on active service in an air accident aged 19
Buried Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille Grave XII E 36
George White was born in Rochester, Kent, the elder son of Charles and Edith Lucy Willis. George had a place at Christ Church but after leaving school he joined the Royal Flying Corps as a 3rd Class Air Mechanic on 5 September 1917.
He was discharged on 1 February 1918 at the Reserve Depot at South Farnborough and granted a temporary commission with the Royal Flying Corps attached to 1st Aircraft Supply Depot, Reception Park as a probationary 2nd Lieutenant.
Personal details on the discharge papers include:
age: 18 years and 10 months.
height: 5 ft. 10 in.
trade: "Miscellaneous Aviation".
military character: "Good Character"
character: "Keen & efficient”
On 4 January 1919 he took off in Sopwith Camel D1867 for a test flight - his engine failed at 200 feet, he crashed and was killed. His distraught mother is said to have slept with the propeller of his plane in her bedroom so crushed was she by grief.
Probate was granted to his father on 16 May 1919. He left £4,986-6s-9d.
His parents donated the Willis Gardens in Rochester to the people of Rochester in memory of George. They, also, donated two bells to Rochester Cathedral.
Cast by Gillett & Johnson in 1921, they bear the inscription,
TO THE GLORY OF GOD
AND IN PROUD MEMORY OF OUR DEAR SON
2ND. LT. GEORGE WHITE WILLIS RAF,
WHO WAS KILLED IN FRANCE ON 4TH
AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN AND IN THE MORNING WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.
AS THE STARS THAT ARE STARRY IN THE TIME OF OUR DARKNESS
TO THE END, TO THE END, THEY REMAIN.
George’s father had his own firm of solicitors with premises in Chatham, and Rochester and had an interest in the paddle steamer fleet on the river Medway. He was four times Mayor of Rochester and an Alderman for many years. A great local benefactor, he gave a sack of coal to every Rochester citizen during the Great Depression and donated shoes to schoolchildren: “Great bags of shoes arrived. One lad had never had shoes before and got this huge pair of boots. He was so proud - and polished them every day with the sleeve of his jumper”. When Charles died in 1943, his house was bequeathed to charity.