Friday 22nd October 2021

In a special ceremony at 9am on Sunday 23rd of October, the village of Illiers l’Evèque in the Eure department of France will honour the crew of the Halifax bomber which was shot down there on the night of the 3rd June 1944, three days before D-Day.

The ceremony will be split in 2 parts:

  • The unveiling of a plaque on the memorial in Illiers l’Evèque
  • St Andre’s graveyard where wreaths will be laid by the Mayor and the British, Canadian and American military attachés to honour the two members of the Halifax crew, as well as a British, an American and three Canadian servicemen buried there.

Squadron Leader Stanley Booker MBE, awarded the Legion D’Honneur earlier this year is the only surviving member of the Halifax crew. Stanley has recorded a video message to be played to those in attendance and he will be represented by members of his family and Barry Dickens, Chair of SSAFA’s Berkshire Branch.

After the ceremony at St Andre’s, guests will return to Illiers l’Evèque for a celebratory lunch organized by the local community.

As well as the military attachés, guests include members of the French Air Force from Évreux-Fauville Air Base, Mayors from the towns and villages in the local area as well as the local fire service, police, veterans and members of the public.

For media enquiries, interviews or to attend, please contact: Alice Farrow, [email protected]

The day has been organised by Jean Pierre Curato who lives in the local area: “My wife’s grandparents hid one of the gunners after the Halifax bomber crashed near our village in June 3rd 1944; this inspired me to research and write some pages about the epic of these brave RAF airmen once on the French soil after I heard the incredible first-hand account from Squadron Leader Stanley Booker. The story of these airmen will be read during the ceremony of unveiling a plaque fixed on the memorial in the village on the 23rd of October.

“It was only fitting that 75 years after the end of WW2 we held an event to commemorate the lives of those Allied servicemen who sacrificed so much. COVID has only slowed us down a little and I am honoured that so many can join together to mark these important moments in our village’s history.”

STANLEY BOOKER
RAF Halifax Bomber officer

Read about Stanley’s incredible story here: VE Day Stories Stanley Booker

An excerpt is here:

“I did all my flying training in North Wales, came out top and got commissioned, and then sent off into Bomber Command, in Abingdon.

“In the meantime, my good lady had passed her nursing exams and she was in Yorkshire, so when it came to choosing whether I wanted to be on Lancaster or Halifax bombers, I chose Halifax because they were based on a station just outside York.

“It was just about 3 months before D-Day. They took all the Halifax’s out of Bomber Command and said, ‘Let the rest of the Bomber Command do the heavy bombing in Germany. We want you to do the softening up of the railway lines, so that when the invasion comes, there is as much disruption as possible’. We started at the German border, and every railway line, marshalling yard, assembly line, were bombed regularly, night after night, for 3 months, from March until June. We had a softer war, in the sense that our targets weren’t defended, and we didn’t have to fly so far.”

The night of 3 June, three days before D-Day, Stanley was sent on a bombing mission to France, from RAF Melbourne. However, he was soon met by the German Air Force.

The German Air Force congregated, thinking our Halifax’s were the mainstream. Our 105 Halifax’s got suddenly thumped on by 60 German night fighters, and before we knew where they were, 18 were shot down in as many minutes.

“We were the second in the queue. Our gunners saw them coming and started firing, and they shot back, and my pilot was killed.

“The wireless operator sat beside me in the front got up and was holding the wheel. The aircraft was blazing, and the engine was on fire. The escape hatch was right under my desk. You had to lift the lid up to get out, with no light to see, as the aircraft was coming down.

“We managed to bail out at about 1,000 feet and landed on the edge of a wood. I was standing watching the aircraft going above thinking, another hour and half, they’d be sitting down to their breakfast.

“I saw this old chap in the field. I damaged my knee, so I knew I couldn’t walk too far. I went up to him and I said, in my best schoolboy French, that I was an English officer and could he help me? He put his arms around me and gave me a great big kiss. I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ He said, ‘My son is over in England with General de Gaulle. When’s the invasion?’ They hadn’t told me when the invasion was, but it was pretty obvious it was going to be in a matter of weeks, because of the targets we were bombing so I said, ‘Well, soon.’

See also: UK and overseas RAF stations back the Hardest Day Challenge

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