Ren Mouchotte Presentation Of Bob Medals To His Sister In Paris

Jan Leeming

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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.

RENÉ MOUCHOTTE - Presentation of BOB medals to his sister in Paris

Date: 10th May 2012

RENÉ MOUCHOTTE

Just a recap of the story if you haven’t tuned in before or are not aware of my on-going researches into the René Mouchotte story.

René was the first Free French pilot to become a Squadron Leader in the RAF. Among other duties he commanded the FF Squadron Alsaçe. His last tour of duty was at Biggin Hill in Kent from where he made his last flight on 27th August 1943. His plane fell to enemy fire and his body was washed up on the Belgian Coast at Middlekerke on Sept. 3rd. The French had to be careful about the possibility of being captured in German occupied France and many assumed adopted identities. René’s body was incorrectly identified and laid to rest in a grave at Middelkerke.

After the war the British, French and Americans did as much as they could to locate the last resting places of their combattants. René’s body was exhumed and through one piece of clothing with his correct identity his remains were repatriated to Paris. He was given a full military funeral at Les Invalides and then he was laid to rest in the family tomb in the cemetery of Père Lachaise in November 1949.

In 2007 I was a guest at the Battle of Britain Memorial Day at Capel-le-Ferne near Dover in Kent. (I am of French Huguenot descent) I sponsored the name of a French Pilot on the memorial wall (of which there are 13) and was given that of René Mouchotte. I discovered that he had written diaries throughout the war and though they were never meant to be made public, they were published in French in 1949 and in English in 1956. I purchased a copy of ‘Mes Carnets’ and couldn’t put it down. There are many excellent books written by Pilots from WW2 but they were written after the War. René’s diaries were written at the time and he talks openly about fear, fatigue, black outs, frustrations, as well as the lighter moments of the war. He had a great sense of humour which comes across constantly in the way he describes the English, our Food and bureaucracy. He also wrote to Winston Churchill complaining about the inactivity of the Free French pilots and this letter was only shown  in the first unexpurgated version of his diaries published in 2000. I’ve read the Diaries five times and will probably read them again and again for each time I find more about the man – his warmth, devotion to duty and his dilemma at being in England when he knows his mother is suffering badly from his absence – although he hid from her the true nature of his work and she believed him to be working in a cosy desk job for the Free French in London.

From reading the diaries, my ‘search for René’ began in the hope that I could have commissioned a documentary about this heroic, honourable, good man who was so highly regarded by his comrades that many cried at the news of his death.

Over five years I found more and more photos, information etc. and having visited the Family tomb and looking at the Plaques there, I realised that unless she had been laid to rest elsewhere (highly unlikely) René’s sister was still alive. My French is not good enough to have attempted to find her through Military archives etc. so I simply left a letter in the tomb last July – translated into French by a friend. In November, I was contacted by one of her sons in law. She was 101 last December and I hired a cameramen and went to Paris to interview her.

While in Paris I was contacted by Ian Reed the Director of the Yorkshire Air Museum whom I’d contacted a few weeks previously. (Ian has done great work in honouring the French Bomber Crews which were based at Elevington and had a very high attrition rate. He succeeded in getting a memorial to the French Bomber Crews which was installed at York Minster last October) Ian asked if I were still in Paris as Henri Lafont (the last of the thirteen names on the wall) had died on Dec. 2nd and was to have a funeral at Les Invalides on the 7th. Lafont was one of several Frenchmen who, with René, escaped in a ‘stolen’ plane from Oran in North Africa whilst they attempted to make their way to England and continue their fight for their homeland.

At the funeral we made the discovery that neither Mouchotte nor Lafont had received the Battle of Britain Medals to which they were entitled. Ian Reed got to work on this, the papers were filled in and the medals obtained. Ian and I plus the cameraman, David Parker, who I’d taken with me last December, went to Paris on May 10th to present the medals to René’s sister. We also showed her the film which Ian Reed has put together from his researches where he’d found old film of René and Jack Charles who shared the prize for the downing of the 1000th German plane and also of the Ball in London which was thrown to celebrate the event.

René's other medals including his DFC have been donated to the Musée de L'Air at Les Invalides and on his sister's  death, the BOB medals will also be housed there

It was a joy and a privilege to give the medals to René’s sister in the presence of two of her daughters and her sons in law. I will always remember her joy at receiving the medals and also her words when she saw the film – ‘to see my brother alive - c'est magnifique'

I have been attempting for 5 years to get this story made into a documentary and I’ve had several knock-backs but I shall go on trying. Ian was the one who called it ‘Searching for René’ and indeed it has been a search and a very rewarding one.

French school children come over and visit the Capel site and I learned recently that one group are currently undertaking a project on this French hero who died almost 70 years ago.

So please wish me luck or say a prayer that eventually I will get a documentary made to honour this lovely man.  Meanwhile you can follow this link to see a few photos of Réne put together by the Director of the Yorkshire Air Museum.    www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCGWzG5sRrM

RENÉ MOUCHOTTE - Presentation of  BOB medals to his sister in Paris

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