This month’s published issue of the Olivier Le Floch Newsletter describes the hectic progress of the American 367th Fighter Group across France, their brief stay at A-44 Le Peray, near Le Mans, and their onward drive via A-71 Clastres Airfield, towards Germany. Several notable personal recollections are included, with the highs (French hospitality, food and drink) and the lows, (pilot comrades lost, repeated airfield moves, at short notice) all crammed together in a few short months, once the Allied breakout from the Normandy beach head had been achieved. The logistics are mind-boggling.
Amazingly, the multiple problems encountered are described in a wholly ‘matter of fact’ way, such as the use of touches (flashlights) to light the runway (!) and the destruction of the tar paper (burlap) runway covering, which could have been disastrous to landing aircraft. Many unpublished photographs abound, especially of French civilians climbing all over the aircraft.
Overall, the sense of immediacy, urgency, energy and organisational power run through the personal stories, the impression of an unstoppable machine steamrollering its way across France to eventual victory. However, ‘Mee-Mee’s Snack Bar’ followed them wherever they went, even though Stoney Cross seemed by then a very long time ago. The Newsletter ends with a tribute to Lt Donald Elgin, another of the pilots lost in the onward drive to victory.
We remain greatly indebted to Olivier for his dedicated research, bringing together so many disparate and varied recollections and photographs, an truly unique record of a time that should never be forgotten, when men in their teens and early twenties, from ordinary backgrounds, did extraordinary things, day after day, for the freedoms that we enjoy today.