This was the first event of this special day for Catherine Colonna, Ambassador of France to the United Kingdom, as part of the commemorations of the 101st anniversary of the signing of the 1918 Armistice.
Ambassador Colonna was accompanied by Consul General Guillaume Bazard and Defence Attaché Rear Admiral Luc Pagès; and before a traditional wreath laying ceremony at the Free French section of the cemetery, members of the Armée de l'Air Française were on parade when the Ambassador awarded a currently serving French airman with the Legion d’Honneur.
This ceremony was accompanied by a particularly moving rendition of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, and the Ambassador later commented: “11 November 2019 is particularly symbolic today. After the Great War centenary commemorations which have punctuated the past four years, we remember today all civilian and military French men and women who died for France. We also honour all the Allies who fought for freedom.”
The Charity was represented by Information Officer Carol Brown, Joy Hanauer, Ray Windmill, Guy Audibert Ld'H, Ian Titman, Adi Proudfoot, Mark Brown and new member Richard Stone.
The Charity's team then moved on to Brookwood's Memorial to the Missing 1939-45 where they laid either a poppy cross, Star of David or a Crescent Moon marker at the base of each memorial panel which included the name of a member of SOE or the Palmach. Ray Windmill read out the Exhortation.
The Charity's Trustee Paul McCue had already placed crosses on the graves of Jacques Tayar and Lt-Colonel Albert Berthaud, and also, on the graves of Second Lieutenants Popoff and Garnier.
Tayar and Berthaud had been agents of General de Gaulle’s secret service the BCRA, and were killed when the 161 Squadron Lysander bringing them back from France had crashed in bad weather, also killing its pilot F/Lt Stephen Hankey.
Popoff and Garnier were trainee SOE agents who'd been killed during the Blitz, while in a holding house in central London.
Refreshments were hosted at the Estaminet built close to the cemetery by Eddie Jones, with Ambassador Colonna and the French and British Military attachés among the attendees.
These combined efforts had been a modest but well considered way to honour some of those this Charity exists to remember, and the team's attendance concluded with an enjoyable lunch at the nearby White Hart.
Ambassador Colonna went on to host an event at the French Residence in London, to highlight "the unwavering friendship between France and the UK".
To mark this tribute to France’s Allies and highlight the unwavering friendship between France and the UK, the Ambassador awarded France’s highest distinction, the Légion d’Honneur, to three British WW2 veterans: Keith Whiting, Jean Neal and William Allen.
Each had contributed in their own way: Keith Whiting on HMS Ramillies and the Normandy beaches, William Allen from Field Marshal Montgomery’s operational HQ and in the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and Jean Neal at Bletchley Park’s Code and Cypher School.
Ambassador Colonna expressed “our country’s gratitude to these heroes, who helped liberate France during the Second World War”.
“At a time when Europe was experiencing its darkest hours, my country was fortunate to be able to count on the support of its closest partner, the UK, and of the brave British people who fought for our common values: freedom, democracy and peace.”
Photos courtesy of Carol Brown and the French Embassy in London