DAVID ARNOLD – Seaford’s ‘Mayday’ man lies here

The grave of "Mayday" man Frederick Stanley Mockford
The grave of "Mayday" man Frederick Stanley Mockford

This is the tombstone of Frederick Stanley Mockford who is buried in Selmeston Churchyard in East Sussex.

As you can see from the inscription, this gentleman was the inventor of the “Mayday” signal that is used worldwide as a call from aircraft and ships in distress.

Born in Seaford in 1897, Mockford went on to become a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport. In 1923 he was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would be easily understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency.

Since much of the air traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word “Mayday” taking his cue from the French “m’aider” (“venez m’aider” meaning “come help me”). The call should always be made three times in a row to prevent it being confused with some similar sounding phrase.

It was a fortunate choice because being a word that sounded English but had a French origin meant that were no objections to its use by our Gallic friends (remember the fuss they made over “Concorde” and “Concord”?).

Frederick and his wife Winifred lost a son in World War II.

Patrick Mockford served with the RAF and was killed when his Lancaster bomber was shot down in the course of a mine-laying operation off the coast of Occupied Denmark in the early hours of 28th April 1943. He was just 20 years of age.