“ONE OF THE BRAVEST AND THE BEST DOING HIS DUTY CALLED TO REST”
Sergeant John Merifield, service number 751514, 30 Sqdn., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was the son of Edith Mary Ann Merifield, of 7 Hopps St, West Hartlepool, Co. Durham.John was the wireless operator and air gunner in a 30 Squadron Bristol Blenheim and was killed on 6th November 1940 as his aircraft patrolled over Valona in Albania and was attacked by three fighters from 349 Squadrigilia. Although the plane made it back to base, John subsequently died of his wounds.
What makes John’s death more than a tragedy for his family was that he was the first British airman to be killed in the defence of Greece and was given a full state funeral by the Greek authorities. The King of Greece was represented at the funeral and the Greek President attended personally. One Greek newspaper wrote “The coffin was covered with two crossed flags – the flags of Greece and Britain”. The procession was filmed by Pathe News and shown in Cinemas throughout the British Commonwealth. As the first casualty of the battle, the Greek sculptor Phamyreas proposed making a symbolic bust of him in Pentelic marble, the same stone as the Parthenon.
Unfortunately, the bust does not appear to have been constructed but John is still commemorated by a CWGC headstone over his grave in Phaleron War Cemetery on the coastline south of Athens.
My thanks to Manolis Tsoulos, the CWGC Head Gardener at Phaleron, for the photo of John’s headstone and to all the CWGC staff for their ongoing care and attention to the memory of the men and women under their care.
Finally, there is a personal connection for me as my wife’s mother was a Merifield and a relation of John.
NB – this post is a work in progress but have been published today to mark the 79th anniversary of John’s death. Further material will be added in due course.