Remembering Capitaine Jean Pierre Edmonde Maridor

03.07.2024
Remembering Capitaine Jean Pierre Edmonde Maridor

The Heroic French Pilot who Saved Benenden School from a V-1 Bomb During World War II. 

This week, we remembered the selfless bravery of Jean Pierre Edmonde Maridor (24 November 1920 – 3 August 1944) , the remarkable French Free pilot whose courage and quick thinking prevented disaster at Benenden School. At the time, the School had been evacuated to Newquay, and its buildings were repurposed as a military hospital.

Our Combined Cadet Force, together with Reverend Jack and Mr Miller, paid their respects in a moving service and laid a commemorative wreath to honour M. Maridor’s bravery 80 years ago.

Archive records give an insight into a true Benenden hero: 

Born in Le Havre, France, Maridor developed a passion for flying at an early age. He abandoned his studies to pursue aviation, obtaining both his Civil ‘A’ and Civil ‘B’ flying licenses before turning 18 – an impressive feat that made him one of France’s youngest pilots. As World War II unfolded, Maridor joined the Free French Fighters. 

When France fell to the German invasion, Maridor escaped and made his way to England alongside other French pilots. He arrived in Liverpool in 1940 and subsequently joined the Royal Air Force. After training, Maridor became part of the 615 Squadron. However, his true ambition was to join the 91 Squadron, based in West Malling, Kent.  

In February 1942, he achieved his goal and quickly gained a reputation for fearless and daring flying tactics. Maridor frequently executed low-level attacks on German ships, transport, and troops. 

His unwavering commitment to liberating his homeland led him to resist any attempts to reassign him away from the 91 Squadron. As the Allies pushed the Germans out of Normandy and eastwards, Germany introduced a new threat: V-1 rockets, colloquially known as “Doodlebugs.” These early cruise missiles were deployed for terror bombing in London, causing fear across Kent. 

The 91 Squadron was tasked with intercepting these deadly flying bombs and on August 2 Maridor had destroyed or shot down 10 of them. However, on 3 August he faced a critical moment. Intercepting a Doodlebug over Rolvenden, Maridor fired at it, damaging but not destroying the bomb. Realising that it was headed for Benenden School he took decisive action. 

At that time the main School building served as a military hospital, caring for wounded men, while Medway House was occupied by Leelands School. Barbara Sharp, a resident of Medway House, vividly recalled the events: “Suddenly we heard cannon fire. Almost immediately afterwards we saw the flying bomb, which was losing speed rapidly and gliding down on a path which would inevitably have meant it landing on Medway House or on the main building of Benenden School. I don’t think that the pilot knew about the children, but he did know about the hospital.” 

With hundreds of lives at stake, Maridor closed in on the Doodlebug, ensuring he wouldn’t miss a second time. “At that point” recalls Barbara, “I believe that he flew with his wing under the wing of the Doodlebug to deflect its path”. This technique, employed by Spitfire pilots during World War II, involved using the aircraft’s wingtip to disrupt the gyroscope of the V-1, causing it to veer off course and nosedive to the ground. An explosion followed.  

Maridor’s sacrifice came eight days before his marriage to WAAF Section Officer, Jean Lambourn. Maridor was decorated posthumously, made both Officer and Chevalier de L’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur as well as receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

Bill Hollingshead, a tuberculosis patient at Benenden Sanatorium, recalled the moment: “There was an enormous flash as the bomb exploded, then we saw the plane falling like a sycamore leaf and out of our sight.” 

In 1994, exactly 50 years after the heroic event, a ceremony took place at Benenden School to honour the sacrifice of Capitaine Jean Pierre Edmonde Maridor. During this occasion, a commemorative plaque was placed in Benenden Church, and the School chaplain delivered the service. 

In a fitting tribute to Maridor’s bravery, the School renamed a room in the Main Building after him. This enduring gesture stands as a testament to his unwavering courage and the lives he saved that day.