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Return of war hero's memorial

PUBLISHED: 11:05 20 May 2010 | UPDATED: 10:13 12 August 2010

RETURN: Country park staff help install the historic headstone.

RETURN: Country park staff help install the historic headstone.

AN unusual memorial to a local hero has returned to its original home after a remarkable journey. The stone aeroplane, built in memory of Eric Fox Pitt Lubbock, was re-dedicated to the pilot and gentleman on Sunday - what would have been his 117th birthd

L-R Eric Avebury, verger Gordon Johnson and the Rev Matthew Hughes and (right) pilot Eric Fox Pitt Lubbock who was shot down in 1917.

AN unusual memorial to a local hero has returned to its original home after a remarkable journey.

The stone aeroplane, built in memory of Eric Fox Pitt Lubbock, was re-dedicated to the pilot and gentleman on Sunday - what would have been his 117th birthday.

The memorial was originally placed in the private burial ground on his family's High Elms estate, Orpington, but the stone - which weighed over a ton - disappeared mysteriously in 1981.

Eric's great-nephew, Lyulph Lubbock, 55, from Lancing Road, Orpington, said: "It is really gratifying to see the memorial returned, cleaned up and presented nicely. This has long been a mission of the Lubbock family.

"This has been top of the family agenda for many years and so it is good that it has finally been reinstated at High Elms.

"My father, Lord Avebury, gave his financial backing for the whole enterprise which has resulted in the memorial's return, he doggedly pursued all avenues to ensure its return. Friends and family have helped to maintain momentum on what has been a long drawn out saga."

Eric Fox Pitt Lubbock, the son the first Lord Avebury, died in March 1917 when his biplane, a Sopworth Camel, was shot out of the sky by German pilot Lt Paul Strahle.

His mother Alice mourned the death of her son deeply and commissioned the stone to be made in the shape of the aircraft which he so loved to fly, to be placed in the family burial ground on the estate.

Lyulph Lubbock said: "Eric was a brave patriotic pilot who had a very brief career before meeting his end after so short a time in the Royal Flying Corps. The average lifespan for a pilot at that point was about 22 days, a fact of which he was only to aware."

The family sold their 250 acre High Elms estate to Kent County Council before the Second World War and in 1981 Bromley council decided to move all of the gravestones in the Lubbock graveyard, into the grounds of St Giles Church, Farnborough, however the distinctive aeroplane memorial disappeared without any trace.

After a 15-year search for the tribute, the plane was miraculously discovered by the cousin of the current Lord Avebury in a stonemason's yard in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire in 1996.

The discovery marked the beginning more than a decade-long battle between the Lubbock family and the owner of the yard.

The memorial was being used as an advertisement at the yard, and the mason refused to give it, or to sell it, back to the Lubbock family despite their greatest efforts.

When the stonemason died in 2008, his son again refused to give it to the family.

However they saw it listed in an auction of goods for the yard.

Eric Lubbock, the current Lord Avebury, put in a bid and the family finally regained possession of their ancestor's tribute, paying £8,000 for the stone.

With the help of Nick Hopkins and his staff from High Elms Country Park, the Portland stone plane was returned to his estate, and has now been installed securely in the walled kitchen garden.

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