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Commemorating a Moment of Avon’s History

Commemorating a Moment of Avon’s History

In 1943, an heroic Avonian Raimund 'Smudge' Sanders Draper ’32 sacrificed his life to save children at a school in Hornchurch, Essex in England. This March, Dean of Faculty Roger Cantello was lucky enough to visit the school to pay our respects and shard the history with our school:

Raimund Sanders Draper was born in London on December 27, 1913, the younger son of New York interior decorator, writer, and hostess Muriel Draper. The Draper family was very influential in the early years of Avon Old Farms: Dr. George Draper, Raimund’s uncle, is mentioned several times in the biography of our founder Theodate Pope Riddle, “Dearest of Geniuses.” Dr. Draper seems to have had a great deal of sway over Mrs. Riddle during a difficult time in the school’s early history.

Raimund Sanders Draper is in the back row, third from the left.

Dr. Draper’s nephew, ‘Smudge’ as he was known at our school, graduated from Avon Old Farms in the class of 1932. Several years later, Smudge Sanders Draper joined the Royal Air Force as a flying officer, where he served as a Spitfire pilot. He went on to win special commendation for his work as a flying instructor, and apparently he flew many operational missions. He served in Number 64 Squadron and at the height of the Second World War, he was based in Hornchurch in Essex, just east of London.

A Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire

On Wednesday, March 24, 1943, at 10:40 a.m. Sanders Draper took off in a Spitfire from RAF Hornchurch, but the aircraft developed engine trouble shortly after take off. Eyewitnesses said that he intended to pass to the left of Suttons School, adjacent to the aerodrome, in an attempt to land on open ground.

However, realizing that with reduced power he could potentially hit the school, “he deliberately put the nose of the Spitfire down in the playing field, whereupon it bounced up onto the gravel drive and came to rest against the wall and windows of the two end classrooms.”

It is believed that Sanders Draper might have saved himself by abandoning the plane, but chose to stay in the aircraft to ensure that it did not crash into the school and injure any of the 650 students inside. Windows were shattered by the crash, but thankfully only one boy was injured; allegedly, that boy had disobeyed his teacher by looking out of the window instead of taking cover! Sanders Draper was dead in his cockpit.

Draper’s noble sacrifice has never been forgotten in Hornchurch. Volunteer Spitfire pilots from overseas countries are rightly revered by the British. There is an annual memorial service at his grave at St. Andrew’s Church in Hornchurch. 

In 1973, on the 30th anniversary of the crash, Suttons School was renamed ‘Sanders Draper School.’ However, in 2014, the school changed its name again by dropping the name ‘Draper’ to become the ‘Sanders School.’ There was uproar at the time, and simmering resentment remains to this day, the 77th anniversary of Smudge’s heroism. 

Thankfully, under the energetic leadership of Headteacher Stuart Brooks there is a proposal to restore the school’s name back to ‘The Sanders Draper School.’ 

Art Custer, our school historian, recently discovered Smudge’s story, and has suggested that we commemorate Raimund ‘Smudge’ Sanders Draper by designating March 24th year (or an appropriate date in March) as ‘Smudge Draper Day’ at Avon Old Farms. On that day, we would all commit to offering a random act of kindness in service to someone we care about in our community. 

That would indeed be a fitting way to honor one of our own who gave his life so that others might live. Today might be a good day to start. So why not reach out and do something kind for someone you care about, wherever you are?