Allied Air Forces Memorial Day marks 70th Anniversary of Famous Wartime Bomber Command Base
Wednesday 5th September 2012On Sunday 9th September, the bi-annual Allied Air Forces Memorial Day will also celebrate the 70th anniversary of Britain’s largest original wartime RAF Bomber Command Base being opened.
The ceremony will be attended by the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Stephen Dalton GCB ADC BSc FRAeS CCMI RAF; Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu and former TV Newsreader Jan Leeming in their capacities as a Vice Presidents of the Museum plus other celebrated guests. Deputy Lieutenant, Air Cmdre W. Gambold will represent HM The Queen, and international diplomatic representatives from Canada, Australia and other nations plus France in honour of Elvington’s unique French Squadrons, will be present.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said: “It’s wonderful to be back at Elvington to remember the important contribution and sacrifice made by Allied Air Forces during the Second World War. We are reminded of the heroic personal struggles of those who worked together to combat evil during this time in our history. We are in their debt. It is right that our service on Sunday will remember the brave and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. In Churchill’s words: ’Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’”.
The 70th Anniversary of the opening of RAF Elvington airfield in October 1942, within 4 Group Bomber Command, (Headquarters at Heslington Hall – now York University) is being celebrated by the attendance of wartime veterans of the original 77 Squadron RAF who were the first airmen to be based there in October 1942. During the 18 month period they lost over 600 young airmen in action.
Standards of RAF Associations, Royal British Legion Branches and Squadron Associations from across Britain will be Paraded and displayed during the poignant ceremony with over 300 expected in the March Past and including flypasts by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster Bomber and a Spitfire fighter. Historic live aircraft will also be displayed on the Museum site.
For this special event a series of wartime photographs showing the Elvington base alive with young wartime aircrews 70 years ago, have been placed to give a unique “Then & Now” display, dramatically emphasising the historical and tense wartime atmosphere in a way which brings the images to life. Ian Reed, Museum Director, comments: “Visitors can stand where the photographs were taken and can see where they were, looking at the same views. They are quite emotional photographs and very historic and displaying them this way makes people look at the site in a different way.”
No. 77 Squadron RAF were the first to occupy the newly constructed RAF Elvington, from October 1942, with crews assembling after training to fly the Halifax four engine bombers rather than the obsolete Whitley aircraft they had previously operated at the start of the War. The Squadron was to suffer horrendously, losing more than 600 aircrew in the space of just 18 months. From May 1944, the base was taken over by two newly formed French Squadron’s, unique in Bomber Command, 346 “Guyenne” and 347 “Tunisie” Squadrons, whilst 77 Squadron relocated to newly opened RAF Full Sutton, nearby. One of the first missions undertaken by the French was on the night of 5th June 1944, in support of the D-Day Landings – i.e. to bomb their own country. Their targets were the marshalling yards and railways of Caen and St. Lo, radar and communications installations and the huge German gun battery located 2 kilometres outside the tiny fishing village of Grandcamp Maisy, on the western tip of what was Omaha Beach, where today stands a huge memorial sporting the French Tricolour and the Union Flag. The courage required to attack their home country in the cause of freedom was almost unimaginable.