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High Wycombe road rededicated to WW2 Royal Navy hero

5 July 2022
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A road in High Wycombe has been rededicated in memory of a WW2 naval hero.

The daughter of Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy was invited to perform the honours, 82 years after he was killed engaging the enemy in the finest traditions of the Senior Service.

There’s been a Kennedy Avenue in High Wycombe since 1962, serving as the main road through the US base originally established in 1942 and known variously as Station 101/High Wycombe Air Station/RAF Daws Hill down the years.

Most Americans who served at the base were apparently convinced it was named after their assassinated president.

In fact, it takes its name from Royal Navy officer Captain Edward ‘Bulldog’ Kennedy, father of the future broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy, who lived in the Buckinghamshire town and served as the agent for its MP in the 1920s and 30s.

He was recalled to service in 1939 and put in charge of a former P&O liner, converted into an ‘armed merchant cruiser’ with the addition of several 6in guns.

HMS Rawalpindi was then employed to enforce the naval blockade against Nazi Germany, preventing merchant shipping delivering goods to or from the Third Reich.
On November 23 1939 south of Iceland she encountered two of Hitler’s battle-cruisers, each bristling with nine 11in guns.

They demanded his surrender, but Kennedy chose to fight, supposedly remarking: “We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. Goodbye.”

The Rawalpindi was put out of action within 40 minutes and sank after nightfall, taking 263 men to a watery grave – including her captain, who was subsequently mentioned in dispatches.

“The Rawalpindi was destroyed in a matter of minutes by overwhelming force, though not before inflicting damage on the German ship, requiring her to return to port for repairs,” said Kathleen Calvocoressi, Capt Kennedy’s only surviving daughter.

“There were very few survivors and my father went down with his ship. His courageous action was widely admired as upholding the great traditions of the Royal Navy, inspiring the nation in one of the darkest periods of its history.”

Now in her 90s, Mrs Calvocoressi, returned for the rededication of her father’s avenue and the naming of about 15 other roads, largely with American-themed names, including those of battleships lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The US base finally closed around 15 years ago, but in the past few years the site has been redeveloped as the Pine Trees community – which has included restoring some of the original road network, including Kennedy Avenue.

Mrs Calvocoressi vividly remembered the original dedication back in 1962, when her mother was among several dignitaries invited to mark the occasion, received a tour of the base and lunch in the officers’ mess.

“My father had a close and happy connection with High Wycombe. Having been retired from the Navy in the 1920s he worked here as the agent to the local Member of Parliament until the outbreak of the War,” she said.

The entire district takes its name from the secret ‘Pine Tree’ bunker used by the US Army Air Force during WW2 to orchestrate daylight bombing missions over Europe.

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