With Tuesday’s announcement that the UK and France are to create an Anglo-French military force it did indeed seem that we were going back in time. Historically, Britain and France signed the Anglo-French Entente Cordial back in 1902 and fought alongside each other against tyranny in WWI and WWII, and this longstanding association has continued ever since. National history may be happening now, but this relationship is nothing new to us here at the Yorkshire Air Museum, home to the Memorial for Allied Air Forces.
This evening of 4th November sees a significant anniversary of an event that occurred when the French were flying alongside the Royal Air Force with Bomber Command. 66 years ago, 16 Halifax aircraft from 346 Guyenne Squadron and 11 from 347 Tunisie Squadron flying from RAF Elvington took part in an large scale attack on Bochum, in the notorious Ruhr Valley of the Nazi German industrial heartland. Tragically, 346 Squadron lost 5 Halifax aircraft and 35 airmen either killed or taken as Prisoners of War, their biggest single loss in one operation. Reflecting the losses of Bomber Command, 50% of the French airmen from Elvington’s French Heavy bomber Squadrons (Groupes Lourds) were killed in action.
This seems an auspicious time to announce that in order to cement these long standing links, a new Memorial will be erected next year in York Minster to honour the French airmen who died in action whilst serving at their British base. This will in fact be the very first French War Memorial to be placed in an English Cathedral.
This will take place on 20th October 2011, marking the 66th anniversary of the two French Squadrons returning home to their base near Bordeax to become the Air Force of liberated France.
This momentous ceremony is likely to be attended by Heads of State as a testimony to the bravery and self-sacrifice of the French air crews within RAF Bomber Command.