In the month of August and with the Olympics very much in mind, we should be reminded of one William “Billy” Fiske. An American, he was a double Olympic gold medal winner in Bobsleighing (winter). Until 1992, he was the youngest gold medal winner ever at 16 years old in 1928.
He studied economics and history at Cambridge and eventually married Rose Bingham, Countess of Warwick whilst in England. In 1939, back in England, he became the first US citizen to join the RAF after the outbreak of WWII. In July 1940 he was serving in 601 Squadron, based at nearby Tangmere.
On the 16th August 1940 Billy Fiske, flying a Hurricane aircraft, took off as enemy dive-bombers came in over Selsey to bomb Tangmere airfield. The enemy were chased off but Fiske’s plane had been hit through the fuel tank and was on fire. He managed to get his plane back to Tangmere but had to be extracted, with bad burns. He was rushed to The Royal West Sussex Hospital in Chichester but died
48 hours later. He was just 29 years old.
He was buried in the SE corner of the churchyard of the lovely Boxgrove Priory, just East of Chichester, on 20th August 1940 with both British and US military flags. In 2008 a new stained glass window was installed in the south aisle in the Priory church and displays a Hurricane airplane along with the Stars and Stripes. “An American Citizen killed while flying in combat in the Battle of Britain”
He is honoured as the first American Airman in British service to die in WWII.