Almost 2000 people crowded into York Minster on Thursday 20th October to witness the inauguration of the French Air Force memorial to 346 & 347 Squadrons of RAF Bomber Command, formerly based at RAF Elvington from June 1944 until October 1945. The day represented the 66th anniversary of the two squadrons beginning to return to liberated France. The event was attended by the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, The French Ambassador, The Rt. Hon Lord Mayor of York, Sheriff of York, High Sherif of North Yorkshire, Chief of the French Air Force, Chief of the Air Staff, Head of the French Strategic Air Force, plus defence attaches from several allied countries and 9 veterans with a contingent of over 120 French families and friends and many hundreds of other guests and well-wishers. The ceremony was very poignant with the two Chief of Air Forces Turning the Page in the Minster’s Boof of Remembrance to two of the 216 French airmen who were killed whilst operating from Elvington. The two Chiefs also read passages from the Bible and a wartime poem by Jules Roy (also based at Elvington) was read by Monsieur Paul Bogaert, President of Les Amicale des Groupes Lourds (French Heavy Bomber Veterans Association). In a very moving moment, Sandrine Bauchet of the Museum’s French Desk said the Act of Remembrance both in French and English before the Last post was sounded from up high in the Minster Gallery.
The Band of the Royal Air Force played within the Minster and also headed the Parade which followed the ceremony at 12:30 accompanied by aircraft including French Rafale (in Guyenne colours); Typhoon; 9 x Tucanos in diamond formation; 4 x Xingu (pygmy)French twin turbo props., and the BBMF Lancaster, flying beyond it’s annual programme finale for this very special occasion. It then banked around the Minster and gave everyone a surprise low pass at the end of the parade, as a huge French tricolour flew over the Minster on a perfect bright and sunny day.
The event at york Minster was the culmination of 9 other events in 4 days including the Museum’s Hawker hurricane complete with re-enactors which was stationed in York City Centre for 5 days; a Remembrance Ceremony at Elvington attended by over 300 including 80 Primary School children; a major event at The Yorkshire Museum with York Philosophical Society; French educational event at York St John university attended by over 100 local students and the premier of two of the Museum’s latest films “Flightpaths” and “Hommage aux Groupes Lourds” at City Screen.