On June 18th 1998, 91 members of the RAFA (French Royal Air Force Association) boarded at Villacoublay’s military airport, close to Paris. Their goal was to pay tribute to the 2000 French staff that served on the United Kingdom air bases during World War II.

The R.A.F.A members were especially involved in giving their homage to the 150 crews, including those who had completed all their missions. So all together tribute were paid to all aviators who served the Royal Air Force on board heavy bombers, especially those who belonged to Squadron 346, 2/23 Guyenne and 347, 1/25 Tunisie; both based at Elvington air base near the city of York in the north of England. This homage was rather poignant given that nearly 50% of bombers were destroyed in action.

Villacoublay - People are very welcome.

Theses fighters were rather discrete and we may see them as heroes from the shadow because their missions consisted, for more than 50%, in overnight bombing strategical Reich military positions. The means they used at the time would surely force today’s fighters’ admiration. During the war, at the taking off time the only information bombers Navigator disposed of were their flight plan and weather forecast.

Then during the flight they used the radio to receive messages (but were forbidden to broadcast, due to the enemy's radars) and flight instruments such as slide rule that allowed them to reach the agreed objectives during pre-take off meetings, with a time precision down to the minute. In contrast American bombers carried out their missions during day light flying at a very high altitude, these crews were considered to be the best technically. Their flights lasted between 6 and 8 hours back and forward from Elvington base and they also used flying instruments. French staffs take-off happened during the evening and they flew just above the sea in order to avoid being detected by enemies' radar. They then climbed up with several changes of direction so they would remain off the enemies ‘radar and away from the German fighter aircraft.
Each air crew was composed with 7 members: the navigator, the pilot, the bomber, the radio operator, the flying engineer, the top gunner and the tail gunner.

But...let us come back to the details of the trip in June 1998.

For the occasion the French Air Force had provided a Hercule C130 aircraft, specialised in troop’s transport, so the ex-service men along with their families and friends were able to fly from Paris to York in 2 hours.
This was a rather unusual expedition for these people; some of them were over 80 years old! The level of comfort in the Hercule aircraft was definitely more humble compare with the usual airlines and this created more memories. However unlike the Halifax aircraft the Hercule was pressurised so nobody required oxygen masks. Participants for this expedition were coming from everywhere in France and they all boarded around 2 pm in this rather rustic style aircraft. Still they displayed a rather casual mood, typically French.

Rough comfort for our seniors...!

This outing at York is organised every two years by the Royal Air Force Heavy Bombers’ association. The Royal Air Force Association (RAFA) represents the aviators’ memory. As Churchill put it, all crew who served the heavy bombers are the people who contributed to the decisive turning point of the 39/45 World War. Without this air force, the war would have lasted at least for another 3 devastating years.

These 91 present persons represent not only of the survivors from both heroic Squadron 346 and 347, but also families and friends. This pilgrimage, years after years is becoming a high place for the collective memory that is worse remembering.
At Elvington base, one can discover an astonishing museum that keeps on improving with regard to historical aircraft rebuilding, but also by donation of other aircrafts. The last one on the base is the French Nuclear Bomber "Mirage IV", given by France, on 2017, and the renovation of the Elvington base.
In addition the discovery of the wonderful Yorkshire, in the north of England is a delight. For us, young people, this association represents a friendly way to link memories with pleasure and trip.

Throughout its renovation years Elvington museum gives its partner countries such as Australia, Canada, France, and probably other countries, the homage to the war effort that brought back our freedom and identity.

For this purpose the inauguration ceremony, in 1996, of the unique rebuilding of a Halifax was made possible. Thanks to Canadian and English enthusiastic who carried out this strenuous task on a voluntary basis. This team used historical plans and their main motivation was their passion for aviation. France provided the four Hercule engines from Bordeaux.

Heavy group emblem