Posts Tagged ‘Yorkshire’

Nuclear Bomber Clocks up 20th Anniversary as Live Exhibit

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Yorkshire Air Museum Victor


The excitement is mounting as the date of Monday 25th November approaches and the Yorkshire Air Museum prepares to mark the 20th Anniversary of the arrival of Handley Page Victor V-bomber XL231 “Lusty Lindy” with a high speed (120 knot) dash of the aircraft down Elvington airfields long runway! This will be timed to coincide with the exact moment XL231 touched down at 14:20pm on 25th November, 1993. To add to the spectacle, the braking parachute will be deployed at this moment, to slow the aircraft down from its near take-off speed dash, as occurred when the aircraft landed 20 years ago.

“Lusty Lindy” will first be started up on a dispersal point, conduct some high power throttle ups of the four mighty Rolls Royce Rco 11 turbo fans, each capable of developing 17250 lbs of thrust, and then circle the dispersal before making a slow initial taxi down the runway, for the benefit of viewers and photographers, then turning to make the fast run. After the run, there will be opportunities to get a closer look at “Lusty Lindy” when she is safely parked up and shut down.

To add to the party on this special day, the Museum’s similarly ‘live’, ground operational Nimrod MR2 XV250, the ‘Mighty Hunter’, will also make a fast taxi down the runway prior to the Victor’s run, symbolising the service relationship between the aircraft types.

A special voucher will be available on the day to allow visitors to see this awesome spectacle of power at close quarters on the airfield itself, with proceeds contributing to the fuel for these aircraft runs.

The saving of HP Victor XL231 as an icon of British engineering design and technology, is the result of a unique collaboration between the Yorkshire Air Museum, the Handley Page Association and the Tempest family. The ball was started rolling in 1992 by Harry Fraser Mitchell of the Handley Page Association, who lobbied the MoD on behalf of the Yorkshire Air Museum, to secure one of the 55 Squadron Victors, then based at RAF Marham, for Elvington on their imminent retirement from 35 years service.

It was disclosed that some aircraft would be disposed of to suitable aviation museum’s and organisations, through a ‘sealed envelope’ bidding process, and so the Museum duly mounted a fundraising campaign from amongst our members and supporters to raise the funds envisaged. By October 1993, with the retirement of the aircraft looming and the window of opportunity closing, it had become clear that insufficient sums had been raised. At this point, local businessman Gerry Tempest came in, after being persuaded by his son and YAM member Andre, that it would be a ‘good idea’ to buy an aeroplane, namely the Victor. Gerry reached an agreement with the Museum that he would put up the funds to purchase the aircraft, to be owned by his family, but classed as a Museum exhibit and purchased under the Yorkshire Air Museum name (to meet MoD requirements) in return for free standing for the aircraft at Elvington.

The bid was successful, and Gerry and Andre Tempest went to RAF Marham at the end of October 1993, to select the aircraft, with XL231 being ‘the one’. The Museum made the final arrangements with the MoD, RAF and local residents to facilitate the flying in of “Lusty (perhaps Lucky) Lindy” on 25th November 1993. Andre Tempest and a team of volunteers have maintained XL231 in ground operational condition ever since.

HP Victor B.2 V-bomber / K.2 Tanker XL231

Built in 1961, with maiden flight 28th December, and joined 139 Squadron, RAF Wittering, 1st Feb. 1962. To carry ‘Blue Danube’ Nuclear bomb or 35 x 1000lb iron bombs. Converted to Mk 2 status in Nov. 1963 and re-joined RAF Wittering Wing in July 1964. To carry the Avro ‘Blue Steel’ nuclear warhead missile.

Converted to K.2 Tanker (air to air refuelling), the FIRST prototype, on 23rd Jan 1972.The aircraft was fully converted to K.2 specification, zero fatigued to as new.

In 1977, XL231 was taken on charge with 57 Squadron, RAF Marham. In the build up to the South Atlantic campaign, XL231 was chosen for trials to convert Nimrod and Hercules aircraft for in flight refuelling.

In this role, the aircraft saw service in support of the Falklands War and also saw action in the Gulf War, in 1990, after being transferred to 55 Squadron (Marham). It was during Operation Granby (Desert Storm) that XL231 was given the “Lusty Lindy” decal, in honour of the Crewchief’s wife! XL231 returned to the UK in September 1993, but 55 Squadron was disbanded in October 1993, with XL231 making her last service flight on 15th October, as part of the disbandment flypast.

The Victor was the longest serving of the V bomber generation, which included the Avro Vulcan and Vickers Valiant.

Head of the French Air Force to be Vice President of Yorkshire Air Museum

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

It was announced today that General Jean-Paul Paloméros, Chief of the French Air Force has become a Vice President of the Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial.The General joins Sir Stephen Dalton, Chief of the Royal Air Force in this role, as well as the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu; RAF historian, author and Daily Telegraph columnist Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork and TV celebrity Jan Leeming, who recently accepted the same invitation, in this ‘ambassadorial’ role in support of the work of the Memorial to preserve the memory of allied servicemen and women. This is the first time that the Heads of two Air Forces have ever come together as Vice Presidents for a Museum.

Born in Paris in 1953, General Paloméros became the 49th Chief of Staff of the French Air Force on 25 August 2009. He gained his flying wings in 1976 and holds the Grand Officer de la Legion d’Honneur, Officer de l’Orde National Mérite and Médaille de l’Aeronautique. His Battle Honours include Operation Crécerelle and Operation Deny Flight. He was involved “on the ground” in Libya in support of the highly effective Anglo-French air operations.

In his letter, General Paloméros expressed his enjoyment of his recent visit to York for the Inauguration of the French Memorial at York Minster on 20th October last year, and that it was his great pleasure to accept this Honorary role for the Allied Air Forces Memorial.

Museum Director, Ian Reed said, “We are delighted that the French Air Force have honoured us in this way, which underlines the close aviation links between our two countries and the important significance of the work of the Allied Air Forces Memorial. The Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial is one of the largest museum memorials of its type in Europe. It is located at Elvington near York and was the former base of the only two French Heavy Bomber squadrons within RAF Bomber Command.”

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Battle of Britain 70th Anniversary & Allied Air Forces Day

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

This year’s Annual Allied Air Forces Day held here at the Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial, Elvington, on Sunday 5th September was once again the largest event of its type in the North, and this year marked the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Over 450 veterans, ex service personnel and serving members of the RAF took part in the Parade and Commemoration Service, followed by the March Past, Salute and Sunset Ceremony.

The Head of the Royal Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton KCB ADC BSc FRAeS CCMI RAF, Chief of the Air Staff, took the Salute and he was attending in his capacity as Vice President of the Allied Air Forces Memorial. HM The Queen was represented by the Lord Lieutenant of East Yorkshire, the Hon. Mrs. Susan Cunliffe-Lister.

The poignant Service, led by YAM Chaplain the Revd. Taff Morgan MBE BA BSc RAF Rtd. reflected the fact that Winston Churchill’s famous speech, in which he stated that ” ..never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few” is actually directed at all British and Allied aircrews, not just those in Fighter Command, to whom the words have largely been attributed. Churchill’s speech actually pointed out that it was the bomber crews, undertaking their deadly missions to fly into heavily defended occupied lands to destroy enemy airfields and factories, that bore the brunt of the burden on the air force and would go on to “.. play an invaluable part in the case of invasion.”

With the loss of 998 aircrew RAF Bomber Command and Coastal Command lost more air crew during the period of the Battle of Britain, than the 544 pilots of Fighter Command, a fact very rarely reflected in articles about this epic battle of the skies.

Fittingly therefore, one of the veterans participating in the Parade was 89 years ‘young’ Ron “Bram” Bramley, who flew dangerous missions with 22 Squadron Coastal Command during the Battle of Britain in October 1940. He counts himself as one of the ‘Forgotten Few’ who seldom get the recognition they deserve. One of the few remaining Members of the Turret Committee, Ron attended as part of the Nottingham & Derby Air Crew Association contingent.

The Parade was made up of members of many regional Royal Air Force Associations, Royal British Legion Branches, Royal Observer Corps Association and other forces associations and also included a large contingent of serving personnel from 609 (West Riding) Squadron RAuxAF from RAF Leeming. This Squadron was first formed in 1936 in Yeadon (now Leeds / Bradford Airport), initially as a Bomber Squadron, but then designated to Fighter Command and one of the first Squadrons to be equipped with the new Spitfire Mk1a, went on to play a significant part in the Battle of Britain, claiming 85 ‘kills’ and going on to be the first Squadron to reach 100 victories – quite some going for what was initially a civilian Squadron. The Museum houses the fascinating 609 Squadron Memorial Room.

The Parade was led in style led by the Massed Bands of the Northern and Eastern Region Air Training Corps, and, unusually, a contingent of 9 members of the East Yorkshire RBL Riders Group on motorcycles taking part, with Standard. In all, 28 Standards were presented. The occasion culminated with a truly spectacular flypast by a Spitfire Mk 9 from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, swirling around magnificently in the sunny skies on the day, bringing an end to another wonderful day at Elvington.

Nimrod MR2 for Yorkshire Air Museum

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

The Royal Air Force announced today that the Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial at Elvington, York is to receive an iconic Nimrod MR2.

Yorkshire Air Museum will soon be the only Museum in the world to display a LIVE example of the remarkable Nimrod military reconnaissance aircraft.

Nimrod MR2, XV250 will be flown from RAF Kinloss into Elvington on Tuesday April 13th where it will be maintained in full ground operational capacity as a ‘live’ aircraft.

From now XV250 will be part of the Museum’s world class collection, alongside the huge Victor V-Bomber and Buccaneer Strike aircraft and will stand as a permanent tribute to the 14 British servicemen killed in Afghanistan when Nimrod XV 230 crashed at Kandahar on 2nd September 2006.

The multi million pound Nimrod was developed from the Comet, itself a revolutionary design which was the world’s first jet airliner. Much of the development for the Nimrod was undertaken at BAe Systems at Brough, East Yorkshire, giving the aircraft a special local connection.

Nimrod, the ‘mighty hunter’ is found in the Book of Genesis, and for over 30 years the aircraft has continued to play an exceptional role in the defence of the British Isles and support in other operational theatres. The ‘submarine hunting’ role has developed into strategic military intelligence gathering, utilising state of the art equipment. The Nimrod MR2 has been described as the world’s largest fighter, with the capability to carry Sidewinder air to air missiles!

Museum Director, Ian Reed said, “We have been working closely with our colleagues in the RAF for over a year on this project and are delighted at the confirmation announced today. Yorkshire Air Museum is probably the only major Museum in Europe capable of operating large jets of this type and in this way. It is also very appropriate that, as the Allied Air Forces Memorial, we are able to make a significant contribution to the memory of those servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq who have lost their lives and those who daily risk their lives in the service of our country”.

Details of arrival timings on Tuesday 13th April will be issued as soon as they are known.

Behind Enemy Lines

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

If you have ever wondered what life was really like for those airmen taken as Prisoner of War during WWII, or the harrowing exploits of those that managed to evade capture, then the forthcoming lecture taking place at the Yorkshire Air Museum on Saturday 20th March will answer all your questions. Internment was a life of squalor, deprivation, and almost unending monotony, with only the light relief of banter with fellow prisoners to keep alive a glimmer of hope for freedom.

Behind Enemy Lines’ will be presented by well known author and Aircrew Association historian Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork, drawing on his research for books such as ‘Shot Down’ and ‘On the Run / In the Drink’. Graham will be supported with recollections from John Morrison (76 Squadron) whose Halifax was shot down over Norway on the night of 30th / 31st January 1942 in the first of the attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz, spending the remainder of the war as a POW. We are also honoured to have ex Lancaster crewman Harry Levy, author of ‘The Dark Side of the Night’. As a 19 year old Jewish airman, Harry was the sole survivor after his aircraft crashed during a raid on Dusseldorf in July 1942. He was helped by Belgian patriots before being captured and held in solitary confinement for 10 weeks before moving to a POW camp. His presentation is bound to captivate the audience.

Neil Galloway, from 90 Signals RAF Leeming, will also be discussing the recent re-enactment of the 1945 ‘Long March’ of POW’s across Poland, which was undertaken by RAF personnel from across the country.

In addition, a fantastic line up of other veterans, all either POW’s or Evaders, and all with their own amazing tales to tell has been gathered and all of the veterans will be joining in the Question and Answer session and memorabilia signing opportunity that will take place after the lunch break. There will be book, print and model sales available.

The line up and the aircraft type they flew on is as follows:
POW’s are John Morrison (Halifax), Harry Levy (Lancaster), Fred Heathfield (Halifax), Philip Bates (Stirling).
Evaders: Tom Wingham (Halifax), Ray Worrall (Lancaster), Ralph Forster RCAF (Wellington), J R Parkinson (Lancaster), Rev. Les Hood (Lancaster) and Eric Hirst.

As all these gentlemen are now into their eighties, this event provides a rare opportunity to meet and hear at first hand their incredible experiences of life behind enemy lines.

Tickets are available now and cost just £10, to include 2 items for signing. (Additional charge for more items) but don’t delay as numbers are limited. Available online at: (Shop / Tickets) or call 01904 608595 during office hours.

Hawker Hurricane to Support Windsor Tattoo

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Designed by the legendary Sir Sydney Camm in 1934, the Hawker Hurricane played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain, downing more enemy aircraft than the more widely known Supermarine Spitfire. This year, the Yorkshire Air Museum’s full size replica of the Hawker Hurricane will be transported to the magnificent setting of Windsor Castle, where it will form a centrepiece display for the Windsor Tattoo, taking place between the 12 and 15th May.

This display not only celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain but also supports a campaign instigated by Sir Sydney Camm’s only grandchild, Elizabeth Dickson, to establish a scholarship fund to mark Camm’s towering achievements as one of Hawkers most prolific designers. At one time, during the 1930’s, eight out of ten aircraft within the RAF were designed by him, including the Hawker Hart, Hind and Fury. However, despite being described within the aviation industry as the ‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel of aeronautical engineering’, Camm’s contribution to victory in WWII and post war defence has not received the recognition from the British public that he richly deserves.

Elizabeth Dickson describes her grandfather as a quiet and reserved man, not given to ‘blowing his own trumpet’ and actually had to be persuaded to accept his knighthood. Camm, who was born in Windsor and joined Hawker in 1923, continued to develop aircraft such as the Hawker Hunter, which in 1951 was the fastest aircraft of it’s time, and then became the pioneer of vertical take off and landing jet flight with the revolutionary Hawker Harrier, which is still in service more than 40 year’s after Camm’s death in 1966. The Harrier became famous for its impressive role during the Falklands War and an example of the aircraft can be seen at the Yorkshire Air Museum.

Ian Reed, Museum Director, comments: “We are very proud to have been invited to support the Windsor Tattoo and bring our Hawker Hurricane to Sir Sydney Camm’s hometown. The scholarship fund that the event will also promote is an excellent way to ensure Camm’s achievements can inspire future generations of aeronautical engineers. Work is now in progress to repaint the Hurricane and bring it into pristine condition for this superb event.”

Forthcoming Events at Yorkshire Air Museum

Monday, October 5th, 2009

TARGET FALKLANDS – Saturday 17th October.
A superb lecture presentation featuring four well known veterans of the RAF Falklands War air campaign. Barry Neale (from Devon) and Martin Withers (Easingwold, York, who is also Chief Display pilot to the Vulcan to the Sky Trust) will talk about their experiences in the famous Black Buck raids, the bombing of Port Stanely airfield. Martin flew the Vulcan Bomber that actually dropped the bombs on the airfield and Barry is a Victor K2 Tanker pilot, who refuelled Martin on the return. Barry Neale was also involved in the strategic planning of the Black Buck raids, which at the time were the longest range bombing mission ever undertaken by any air force.

Also appearing is John Kennedy, who is one of the pilots to have flown legendary Chinook helicopter ‘Bravo November’, which was the only Chinook to survive the destruction of the Arctic Conveyor. The Falklands was this aircraft’s first theatre of operation and it is still in service, having seen action in Lebanon, Germany, Northern Ireland, Kurdistan, Iraq and now Afghanistan. It is currently the most decorated aircraft in service with the Royal Air Force.

Perhaps the icing on the cake is the recent confirmation that Sea Harrier pilot David Morgan will be joining the discussion, with opportunities to purchase his well received book “Hostile Skies” and have it signed.

There will be other V Force, Chinook and fast jet veterans attending and there will be a Question and Answer session and memorabilia signing opportunity with all of these guests and also author Gordon Ramsey, author of ‘Falklands War – Then and Now.’

Other attractions are Aces High Aviation Gallery sales, Corgi diecast model display, International Plastic Modellers Society display and also the opportunity to sit in the cockpits of the Harrier GR3 and Mirage III. Harriers saw distinguished service in the Falklands was and Mirage III were operated by the Argentine Air Force.


The day session is followed in the evening with the exciting Nightshoot, where the Handley Page Victor K2, veteran of the Falklands and Gulf Wars, will be joined by another legend of the skies, the De Havilland Mosquito. This is the only restored Nightfighter version of this aircraft, so this interesting and challenging photographic session provides a unique opportunity to photograph these two aircraft in an evening setting with external / internal lighting on for dramatic effect. Tickets for the Nightshoot include an opportunity to have access to the Victor cockpit for some fascinating aspects of this aircraft.

These events can be booked either individually, or in a package, and prices are as follows:

Target Falklands Lecture presentation £12

Lecture plus Nightshoot £30

Victor / Mosquito Nightshoot £25

Prices include museum admission.

Book online at ‘Shop/Tickets at or send cheque made payable to Yorkshire Air Museum to Target Falklands / Nightshoot, YAM, Halifax Way, Elvington, York, YO41 4AU. For further information, please ring 01904 608595.


THUNDER DAY – Sunday 18th October.
The live engine runs of the Blackburn Buccaneer and Handley Page Victor, giving a superb opportunity to see – and hear – these mighty aircraft at close quarters. A thrilling experience.

The Buccaneer will give two performances, morning and afternoon, featuring engine power up of the twin Rolls Royce Spey engines, short taxi run and then the wing-folding, bomb bay rotation, rear airbrake activation and control surface movements, all under power. The afternoon session will be followed by the Victor which will be performing a fast taxi run down Elvington’s runway, providing a magnificent spectacle. All this will be under the watchful eye of the Museum’s fully trained Fire Team, with appliances such as the 38 tonne Pathfinder airport fire tender, six wheel drive Range Rover V8 Tactical Airfield Crash and Recovery vehicle, all providing additional spectacle and interest. The Fire Team will be giving an opportunity for kids to have a go with the fire hoses in the morning, before the engine runs commence. Don’t miss this great day of activity!!

Admission: £6 Adults, £5 Senior citizens and £3 Children.

For further information, please ring: 01904 608595

NEW Chief of the Air Staff to Attend Battle of Britain Commemoration at Yorkshire Air Museum

Friday, July 31st, 2009

We can now confirm that the newly appointed Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Stephen Dalton KCB ADC BSc FRAes FCMI RAF will be Guest of Honour at the forthcoming Battle of Britain Commemoration Service and Parade, taking place at the Allied Air Forces Memorial (Yorkshire Air Museum) on Sunday 6th September. This will be amongst Sir Stephen’s very first public engagements since taking up the senior position of Chief of the Air Staff on 31st July, and he is attending in his capacity as Vice President of the Allied Air Forces Memorial, Elvington.Organised in conjunction with Royal Air Forces Association, the event will mark the 70th Anniversary of the outbreak of WWII and the famous battles that were fought in the skies and fields of Europe and other occupied territories. The event will feature a huge parade of veterans old and young and National Standards of RAFA and other Service Associations. During the event, Sir Stephen Dalton will present a brand new trophy, the Regional Young Person of the Year Award, to the most outstanding Air Training Corps cadet nominated by regional ATC Squadron’s, which will be a high honour for the chosen recipient.

The Service will be also be attended by The President of the Royal Air Forces Association, Air Marshal Phillip Sturley. The Revd (Sqn Ldr) David Norfield, Station Chaplain RAF Linton on Ouse and Yorkshire Air Museum Chaplain Revd Neill Mackay, will lead the Service of Remembrance in the Canadian Memorial hangar, with the stunning background of the unique WWII Halifax bomber.

Other dignitaries include the Deputy Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, Air Commodore William Gambold, the York Civic Party and Station Commanders of RAF bases Linton on Ouse, Group Captain Mike Longstaff, and Fylingdales, Wing Commander Greg Hammond, amongst many others.

A formal Military Parade, March-past and Salute will take place with veterans, serving airmen and women and ATC. The York Railway Institute Band are providing music for the Service, whilst the Air Training Corps Northern Group Band will accompany the Parade and March Past.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire & Hurricane will be flying at the event which concludes with the emotional Sunset Ceremony and Lowering of the RAF Ensign with the Piper playing the Evening Hymn.

This is a last call for veterans and Squadron Associations / Service Groups from across the country to register their wish to take part in this poignant ceremony in the presence of the Chief of the Air Staff, the most senior position in the RAF, and other high profile guests. We urge you to take this opportunity and enjoy this great occasion with us. Please contact John Allison, Hon. Secretary RAFA on 01904 761077 or contact the Yorkshire Air Museum on 01904 608595.

Twitch Inn Door Returns to Famous Wartime Haunt of Fighter Aces

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

The cellar door to the legendary ‘Twitch Inn’ at Douces Manor is today being returned to its former home by the Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial, to complete the restoration of this famous wartime haunt. This unusual artefact was donated to the Museum through the Aircrew Association in January 2002.

Douces Manor was the Headquarters and Mess for officers flying from RAF West Malling, in Kent. The cellar bar was frequented by many brave young fighter pilots and, typical of the dry sense of humour of the time, became colloquially known as the ‘Twitch Inn’, due to the nervous affliction that affected many pilots. This noticeable twitch that many displayed was a result of the immense stress, strain and fatigue they experienced during this time of national crisis.

The name was ‘officially’ inscribed into the top half of the swing door by officers of 29 Squadron in 1944, using metal which could possibly have come from aircraft of the time. The bar, which was also adorned with candle soot ‘graffiti’ in the form of signatures and cartoons carved by the airmen into the walls and ceiling, has witnessed many tales of aerial battles won and lost.

Many illustrious air aces have frequented Douces Manor, including ‘Sailor’ Moran, Stanford Tuck, Guy Gibson and Wing Commander John ‘Cats Eyes’ Cunningham with his navigator Jimmy Rawnsley. Together, this pair had become the most successful defensive night fighter team, flying Mosquito aircraft with 85 Squadron and protecting the skies over the Home Counties during 1943. As Commanding Officer of 85 Squadron, John Cunningham actually lived in the Manor House.

The door and other photographic panels were initially donated to the Aircrew Association by Norwich Union, who had been using Douces Manor as a Training Centre, until they vacated the premises. The Yorkshire Air Museum, as the Allied Air Forces Memorial, is now the national repository for items donated to the Aircrew Association and the Twitch Inn artefacts arrived in January 2002. Since then, the Douces Manor site has been redeveloped by Beechcroft Developments, but the cellar bar (Twitch Inn) has now been leased to West Malling Parish Council for a long period for use as a Heritage Centre, managed by the Malling Society. Beechcroft undertook the restoration of the cellar bar in a high quality and sympathetic manner.

Ian Reed, Director, Yorkshire Air Museum, comments: “It is fantastic that these artefacts that have been in our safekeeping for a number of years can be returned to their original home, and complete the restoration of this historic room, which has been witness to so many tales of bravery in the defence of our nation in its darkest hour.”

On behalf of the Malling Society, Margaret McCarthy (Secretary), said: “We are indeed very grateful that the Twitch Inn door panel was saved in the first instance and protected by the Yorkshire Air Museum and the enthusiastic reception to the idea of bringing these artefacts back ‘home’ to Douces Manor on long-term loan is much appreciated. They will be the finishing touch to the restoration project.”

The Douces Manor Heritage Centre will open to the public on certain days and times, and information on this can be found by calling Margaret McCarthy on 01732 220 563 or e-mail:

French Veterans Mark Anniversary of Squadron Formation at RAF Elvington

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Five veterans of the unique French Squadron’s that operated out of the WWII Bomber Command Station of RAF Elvington made a pilgrimage back to the former airbase, now the Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial, to mark the 65th Anniversary of the formation of their Squadrons. These Squadrons were formed around the remnants of the French Air Force, under the name of Groupes Lourds (Heavy Groups), flying near obsolete Leo 45 aircraft in missions alongside allied forces in North Africa against the Nazi Afrika Korps. Under the RAF designation of 346 Guyenne Squadron and 347 Tunisie Squadron, they were officially formed on 16th May and 20th June 1944 respectively.The visiting veterans, whose ages range from a ‘youthful’ 87 to a grand 91, have recently all taken part in the production of a French film documentary about their lives and loves in York and on the operations over Europe conducted from RAF Elvington. It will not be lost on many people that it is also the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, one of the greatest operations in military history, but what is often overlooked is the vital role played by the two French Squadrons of Bomber Command in this strike for liberty and victory.

346 Squadron was immediately drawn into the invasion operations and it’s first missions were on the night of 1st/2nd June 1944 in a raid on the strategically vital radar installations at Ferme d’Urville on the Normandy coast. This mission, involving aircraft from other Squadrons and locations, was led by Group Captain Leonard Cheshire (617 Squadron). Then on the night of 5th/6th June, 346 was involved in raids against the heavy German Gun Battery just outside the small fishing port at Grandcamp Maisy, on the western tip of what was designated as ‘Omaha’ Beach, for the landings. Operations also took place against the railway marshalling yards at Caen and St. Lo. One of the veterans attending, Louis Hervelin, 87, took part in these missions.

The success of these operations was crucial to the overall outcome of the battle ahead, but the anguish that those first French crews must have gone through in bombing their own homeland is revealed in the documentary, overcome by their determination to ‘kick the Nazi enemy out of their beloved homeland’.

346 Squadron was augmented by the formation of 347 Tunisie Squadron on 20th June, and from this point they together took the war to the Ruhr, known ironically as the ‘Happy Valley’ because of the immense danger from flak and fighter intervention, and the German industrial heartland.

Ian Reed, Museum Director, said, “These young men, far away from their homes and their families had the unenviable task of often bombing their own country, and 50% never made it home. They were brave men and well known throughout York. Their stories in this new film are exceptionally heart-warming, especially about the English people and we are pleased to welcome them “back to base” once again”.

All of these veterans are united in their admiration in respect for the way they were welcomed and received in England, despite the language barriers, being treated as one of the family in the network of homes operated by Friends of the French Volunteers, when taking leave in places as diverse as London, Leeds or Lossiemouth. Locally, they learned to enjoy the unique atmosphere of the English pubs and the dance halls in York and the surrounding area. This exuberance in the face of the hostility of the times amazed them, as public dancing had almost ceased in France from the onset of the war.

They were impressed by the spirit and organisation of the British people and the way the old and the young, all pulled together in one united objective, all focused around the major figure of the time, Winston Churchill. Something else they had never encountered were the WAAF’s, and other branches of the women’s services, and the many and varied roles they took part in maintaining aircraft and keeping the bases running efficiently. This they found simply incredible.

What is very important to these survivors is what they refer to as the English Hommage and the ceremonies that are organized each year to pay tribute to those that did not return. Louis Hervelin recalls the services in York that he has attended: “At the commemorative service in York that I have been to several times, four Officers of the Royal Air Force take the Book (of Remembrance), and show it to the congregation, and then they turn the page. It is called The Turning of the Page and then they put it back in its place. That is a real memory, it gets you right here! When the English clergyman explained to me, when I saw the names of my chums – they are all there! I left in tears.”

Similarly, Pierre Patalano notes, with a tear in his eye: “In Elvington (York) in the village there is a War Memorial dedicated to the French. Every year, the schoolchildren keep a day (Remembrance Sunday) to visit the Memorial … that’s all! What else can be added?!”

The veterans who took part in the trip to Elvington are:

Group Guyenne:

Louis Hervelin – 87. Radio Operator / Air Gunner. 32 missions. Took part in raids on Grandcamp Maisy Caen and St. Lo.

Lucien Mallia – 88. Air Gunner. 23 missions. Survived from aircraft being shot down on night of 3rd/4th March 1945 when in ‘Operation Gisella’, German fighters lay in wait above air bases as the bombers returned. Lucien’s Halifax was shot at on approach to Elvington, but was able to divert to Croft where attacked again but made crash landing. The Luftwaffe JU88 that initially attacked this Halifax over Elvington crashed nearby, making another strike at the airfield, becoming the last German aircraft to crash on British soil.

Group Tunisie:

André Guédez – 88. Air Gunner, 23 missions.

Pierre Patalno – 88. Air Gunner. 29 missions.

Hervé Vigny – 91. Air Gunner. 35 missions.

Of these veterans, two have not been back to Elvington since the end of the war – Pierre Patalano and Hervé Vigny. Both were overwhelmed by the experience.

Louis Hervelin and André Guédez have not visited since 13th September 1996, but Lucien Mallia is a more regular visitor, who has attended the Remembrance Day services over the past few years.

During the visit to the Yorkshire Air Museum, the veterans had the opportunity to go inside the unique restored Halifax bomber, the only complete example in the world and see their former crew positions, recalling many memories. They toured the Museum and the many exhibits housed in original wartime buildings, including the Control Tower and French Officers Mess display. They were also shown for the first time, the documentary that they have all contributed to.

The trip culminated with a Civic Reception with the Lord Mayor of York and the High Sherriff at the Mansion House, York.

In Bomber Command, losses were one in two. The French Squadrons themselves lost 216, comprising of 41 crews plus those killed on training, exercise and bomb loading. After hostilities had ceased, and patrolling missions ended, these two French Squadrons left Elvington in October 1945, for Bordeaux, Mérignac, with their Halifax bombers, to form the basis of the new, and current, French Air Force.