Battle Of Britain Memorial Day Rene Mouchotte

Jan Leeming

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Shoreham Airshow 2007
Me looking brave before taking to the air (and the wing) of the plane. Wow, it was cold !! But the whole experience was totally exhilarating.

 

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Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

BATTLE OF BRITAIN MEMORIAL DAY - RENE MOUCHOTTE

Date: 12th July 2009

It is the third year that I've attended this function held at Capel le Ferne near Dover where there is a superb Monument of a Pilot sitting in the middle of a huge stone propeller and gazing out across the sea to France.  It's a very imposing edifice and I would love to gaze down on it from a small plane where I think one would get the strongest impact.  (Unfortunately the celebration coincided with the 20th Anniversary of the Bombing of the Marines' Music School here in Walmer where, today,  thousands turned out to honour the dead musicians - unarmed non-combatants - at the Bandstand built and dedicated in their honour.  Had my lovely friend General Sir Martin Garrod still been alive, he would have been at the forefront of the celebrations as he was the Commandant in Chief of the Marines at the time of the atrocity and made no bones about it when he appeared on Television)

The Battle of Britain  Memorial Day is a superb occasion - the top brass not only from the UK but also from Australia, America and New Zealand, families of the fallen, RAF Cadets and veterans -  but sadly every year there are fewer and fewer of the latter. . If the weather permits there is a flypast.  On the first year I attended we had a flypast of a Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster - an amazing spectacle and the old veterans could tell you whether the Spitfire engine was a Merlin or a Griffin.  Last year the flypast was rained off and we had a shortened service.  Today the Hurricane was grounded and only the Spitfire flew.  The day commenced with rain and we feared the worst but as the day progressed the weather improved to the point that when the Spitfire flew, she was etched against a brilliant blue sky. It is quite a spine-tingling feeling watching that plane and remembering it's vital role in the Second World War. When the War commenced the German Messerschmitt was a superior aircraft but eventually the Spitfire was improved and improved until it became the superior craft which gave the pilots more manoeuvrability and greater height and allowed them to take the advantage.

As well as the Memorial at Capel there's a superb Granite Wall (the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall) with the names of over 3,000 pilots who fought and  died in the Battle of Britain and the remainder of the War.  At the Anniversary Luncheon there is a form inviting you to sponsor a name on the wall which has still not been fully paid for.  So, after the first luncheon I attended,  I sent off my cheque and filled out the form and to my surprise received a communication asking if I had any special request - I suppose it was asking whether I had a relative or a connection to the Battle.  I don't but I wrote back and said that, as I was of Huguenot extraction, if there were any French pilots who had not been sponsored then I'd be happy to adopt a name.  And back came 'my' pilot - one Rene Mouchotte about whom I've written before on my Blog.  The first Frenchman to command an RAF Squadron - he'd been in North Africa when the Germans invaded France.  He stole a plane and made his way to Gibralter and then to England where he flew for us.  He wrote diaries which were never intended for publication but after his death in 1943 a French friend did get them published and many years later they were translated into English.  I obtained a first edition hardback off the Internet thinking it would be predominantly a Pilot's log but it turned out to be a very moving story - of cold, fear, blackouts, weariness and as I read the book, he came alive for me.  I've found out much about him from the Internet but am still trying to ascertain whether there are any family members still alive.  He disappeared on 27th  August 1943 over the Channel and his body washed up on a beach at Middelkerke in Belgium where he was interred in a grave under the number 87.   After the war the RAF, the French Airforce and the Americans made a search for the remains of their pilots as they knew where many of them had 'gone down'.  Rene's remains were dis-interred,  identified and  re-interred in the Family Vault at Pere La Chaise Cemetery North East of Paris.  (The story of his identification is a tale in itself - and if any of my readers are interested I will relate it at some future date if you contact my manager at the email address on my website)   I have yet to make my pilgrimage to his grave.  (I notice that I'm getting quite a few hits from France so if anyone can put me onto any leads as to how I can find out more about Rene's family, I'd be very grateful.  I know that there are streets named after him and a small airfield.)

Today, as I was putting a tribute at the wall close to Rene's name, my friend was talking to a Tall Elegant Wing Commander, Wing Cdr. Neil.  We were introduced and he asked what was my connection.  To my astonishment both he and his wife had worked with Rene at Biggin Hill and declared him to be a most charming man.  They went with him to a Function at the Savoy (?) to celebrate the downing of the 1000th Hun.  I have to tell you that the Wing Commander was 90 and had made the journey from Norfolk to attend the Ceremony - now there's dedication for you.  (Had Rene lived he would have been 95 years old)  

I am only able to attach One picture to my Blog. so I chose this one of Wing Commander Neil, his wife Elizabeth and myself.  Other photos from the Memorial Day, I will put into the Gallery.

What a small world it is and has made me even more determined to find out all I can about Rene Mouchotte.  I'd love to get a documentary made about his life and especially his days with the RAF because I think he is indicative of the dedication and sacrifice of so many men of his generation.  In my opinion, this kind of selfless dedication to 'duty' is  something about which the younger generation should be made aware.  And his story has a great chunk of the 'daredevil' about it - especially when you read about how he stole a plane in North Africa and only just made it to Gibraltar.  He could so easily have packed his kitbag and returned to France and might still be alive today enjoying his children and grandchildren instead of dead in a cold sea at 29 years of age.

 

Because the weather was so poor when I left home, I didn't take my camera and then kicked myself.  However I prevailed on a few people to take photos for me and they will send them by Email - so when I get back from Cornwall (Blind Association Function) I'll put them up in the Gallery.

At the memorial they have two Spitfire Replicas and every year they have a display of Living History of 212 Squadron - the guys and the gals decked out in the uniforms of the 40's so I'll post some pictures of that too.

Bye for now, Jan.

BATTLE OF BRITAIN MEMORIAL DAY - RENE MOUCHOTTE

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