The Allied Air Forces Memorial and Yorkshire Air Museum has just learned of the sad passing on Thursday night (23rd Jan.) of Lucien Mallia, one of the few remaining veterans of RAF Elvington’s wartime French squadrons. A Rear Gunner, or “Tail End Charlie” as they were often referred to as, he flew 23 missions with 346 “Guyenne” Squadron, from Elvington, the only base in Bomber Command to be operated by another nationality.
Born on 8/01/1923, and living at Pontault-Combault (Seine et Marne) Lucien Mallia had just passed his 91st birthday, but has been ill for the past two years, making him too frail to make his annual pilgrimage to Elvington to attend the Remembrance Sunday Services. His last visit to York however was a very poignant one, as he and a number of his compatriots attended the unveiling of a unique memorial plaque to Elvington’s French Squadrons in York Minster on 20th October 2011. He was very touched and honoured that they were being remembered in this way.
Lucien flew in Captain Notelle’s crew “D” (Halifax NR229) and was badly injured on his 23rd mission when this aircraft was shot down by Luftwaffe night fighters on the night of 3rd/4th March 1945 in what was known as Operation Gisela. Flying from Norway, the Luftwaffe planes infiltrated returning RAF aircraft, which they then attacked as they prepared to land. Lucien’s Halifax was coming into land when it was about to be attacked by the JU88 flown by Johan Dreher, but the crew were warned in the nick of time by Elvington Control Tower and managed to pull up and divert to Croft, further north. There, their luck ran out as they were attacked again and made a crash landing, during which Lucien was badly burned, scarring him for life. But, all the crew mercifully survived. Johan Dreher and his crew were not so fortunate, as they came in to attack Elvington again, they were too low and clipped a tree and crashed into a farmhouse on the roadside at Elvington, thus becoming the last German aircraft of the war to crash on UK soil. All died, along with farmer Richard Moll, his wife and mother in the farmhouse.
Commenting after receiving the news of Lucien’s passing, Ian Reed FRAeS, Director of the Allied Air Forces Memorial, said: “Lucien Mallia participated in one of the legendary episodes in our history and has been a true and loyal friend to us over the years. He will be greatly missed by many and he loved coming “home” to Elvington. We are thankful however, that he was able to attend the unveiling of the French Memorial in York Minster, to meet our Vice Presidents the then Chief of the Air Staff Sir Stephen Dalton, and Général Jean Paul Palméros, then Chief of the French Air Force and now head of NATO Strategic Command, in what was a truly emotional and memorable occasion.”
Today, and until the funeral ceremony has taken place, the Tricolour is flying at half-mast at the Yorkshire Air Museum as a mark of respect to Lucien Mallia.
After the war had ended, Lucien worked in the aviation industry in Africa and then went on to run three private airports, one at Lognes, East Paris, where he oversaw the complete modernisation of the facility and building of a new control tower.