During research for a new documentary film about the wartime French squadrons at Elvington, a unique photograph linking all the people concerned was discovered in the Museum archives. It had an address in Australia from a former English girlfriend of one of the young French airmen shown in the picture. She had sent the picture to the Museum in 1992, so after 20 years, it was with crossed fingers that in December 2009, I wrote to her and was delighted to get a response just a few weeks later. This then led to the most amazing find of over 350 personal letters, of which some were 6 pages in length, of the day by day accounts in wartime Britain, even including being shot down over Occupied France. It is a most significant social history of the period, and for the last 6 months Genevieve Monneris (YAM Life Member and member of the French Veterans Friends Association) has been undertaking a massive task of translating and summarising the collection and researching details whilst in constant contact with the original recipient of the letters, Barbara Harper-Nelson in Western Australia.
In May of 2010 a meeting was held at the French National Archives (SHD) at Chateau Vincennes, Paris, where the Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial formerly offered the French nation the opportunity to acquire the original letters on a permanent loan basis. An offer which received an extremely positive response. This would be the largest single social history document that Service Historique Defense would hold and as such plans for a book about the letters and those involved is planned very soon.
Ian Reed – Museum Director
Translations of the summaries into English and scanning of every letter is being undertaken at the Museum by Sandrine Bauchet, a 21 year old French student on a 6-week placement from the College of Commerce in Nimes, Provence.