VIDEO: Tributes paid to war hero as Causeway plaque is unveiled

A plaque honouring Neville Duke, a former Horsham resident and air speed record holder, was unveiled at his former home in The Causeway on Saturday.

Air Chief Marshal Sir David Cousins of the RAF gave a speech and unveiled the plaque, while the widow of Squadron Leader Duke was also in attendance.

JPCT 080613 S13240111x Blue Plaque unveiling in Causeway, Horsham to world air speed record holder of 1953, Neville Duke. His widow attended unveiling, Gwendoline Duke,93 with Air Chief Marshall Sir David Cousins on left, and Anhony Fletcher on right -photo by Steve Cobb

JPCT 080613 S13240111x Blue Plaque unveiling in Causeway, Horsham to world air speed record holder of 1953, Neville Duke. His widow attended unveiling, Gwendoline Duke,93 with Air Chief Marshall Sir David Cousins on left, and Anhony Fletcher on right -photo by Steve Cobb

Gwendoline Duke, who now resides in Dunsfold, lived at 15 The Causeway with her husband in 1964, and returned to Horsham for the first time in 40 years to attend the ceremony.

The 93-year-old said: “It is a lovely house, we have lived in a lot of houses but this is the most beautiful.

“I did not really think I would come because I am 93, but I felt I had to for him - he was very shy so he would have hated it!

“We still flew until he was 86. There is no next of kin, only aeroplanes.”

Sqn Ldr Duke, who died in 2007, was a successful pilot in the Second World War – he was credited with shooting down 27 enemy aircraft, despite only being 17 years old when war broke out in 1939.

After the war he achieved further fame as a test pilot, and broke the air speed record in 1953 when he flew a Hawker Hunter at 727mph.

In his speech, Sir Cousins paid tribute to Sqn Ldr Duke, labelling the commemorative plaque ‘a part of Horsham’s rich heritage’.

He added: “I am delighted to be here to honour Neville Duke, who so profoundly affected my life and was responsible for a generation of people wanting to join the Royal Air Force.

“It is impossible for today’s generation to realise, but in the 1940s and 1950s test pilots had the same standing as rock stars and footballers nowadays.

“Being a test pilot was an extremely dangerous business – and the RAF recognised the courage and bravery of these people by paying them £20 a week!

“In every sense this is a man who was an exemplar for people like me. The aura of Neville Duke was all around me in my life and that is why I am so thrilled to be invited.”

Other attendees at the ceremony included Group Captain David Baron OBE of Tangmere Museum, former Hawker test pilot Duncan Simpson and other RAF personnel.

The plaque was arranged by Antony Fletcher, 84, of The Causeway, who called Sqn Ldr Duke ‘a brave fighter pilot’.

He added: “It seems very appropriate to be at the house where he and Mrs Duke lived all these years ago.

“I am very grateful to Sir David Cousins for agreeing to come to unveil the plaque.”