In December 1944, the war in Europe was intensified following D Day and here at RAF Elvington, the French Squadrons were flying missions in support of the offensive. Flying from the UK to free their homeland, these were intense times for the French airmen and ground crews. It must have been worrying to not know what was happening at home in France and Christmas could have been the last thought on their minds.
However, on December 21st 1944, Lt Lemarchand, serving with the mechanics section of the French Squadrons, passed through York railway station and saw the huge Christmas tree erected there.
This festive sight inspired the Lieutenant to give something back to the people of the City of York, who had welcomed them so warmly. Lt Lemarchand gathered together his colleagues and between them they began to create toys for the children of York.
Throughout a three day period, in addition to maintaining the Halifax bombers in readiness for operations, they crafted 204 toys from materials available to them on the airfield.
On December 24th 1944, the men of the two French Squadrons delivered the toys to York Mansion House on Christmas Eve – just in time for them to be handed out to the sick and needy children of York on Christmas Day.
In the dark times of 1944, with losses of their flying comrades ever mounting, it would have been easy to become consumed with the task of readying Halifax bombers for the next raid. Instead, the French Squadrons reached out to the city of York and returned the friendship that had been offered so kindly to them by the residents when they arrived at RAF Elvington.
As they created the toys in the Elvington workshops, memories of their own loved ones far away in France must surely have been on their minds as the wondered if they would ever be reunited with them.
We like to think that the men of the French Squadrons who created the hand made toys in 1944 would have been proud to think that 75 years later, the memory of their act of kindness is alive and well and that the sacrifice and loss of their flying comrades was ultimately worthwhile for the peace and friendship that has existed throughout Europe since then.
As we face a challenging end of year ourselves, we must take the time to think back with humility at our ancestors, their determination in the face of adversity, their simple acts of kindness and their support for one another in a world under attack.