50th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony
This took place on 18 June 1994. Following is a translation of a speech made at the time. The reference to “an aeroplane in flames circles around above” again conflicts with the stationmaster’s unequivocal statement that no such thing occurred, and the one to “the seven Australian occupants”, possibly influenced by the RAAF presence at the ceremony, is an unfortunate misrepresentation of the actual nationalities of the crew members.
Mr George Lefevre, Commander of the Australian Air Force,
Mr Sub Prefect,
Members of Parliament,
President of the District of Plateau Picard,
Lady and Gentlemen Mayors,
April 1944. The last World War has gone on for four and a half years. Thousands are dead.
In Italy, terrible battles are taking place around Cassino and on the Eastern Front. Sebastopol is on the point of being retaken by the Soviets. In the Far East, MacArthur has conquered the Admiralty Isles.
The BBC, which we listen to despite the interference, is sending us reassuring messages during these spring days. We continue to hope.
The long-awaited landings approach. The Allied airplanes are relentlessly bombing the railway junctions while the members of the Resistance increase their sabotage attacks.
In Gannes, as throughout France, food shortages are felt, the presence of the Occupying Army is oppressive. We suffer from the loss of freedom and we dream all the time of our people in prison camps. But not a single one of our people has been killed since the start of the war, neither civilian nor a member of the armed forces, no member of the Resistance has been arrested, no building has been damaged, not even the railway station.
All is calm. We are resigned.
But everything is about to change.
On May 10th dreadful news comes to us. Fernande Rodier, our beloved hairdresser and her daughter Marcelle, who is only 15 years old, are killed in the bombing of the station at Creil, a bombing which does not spare the passenger train of travellers stuck on the railway and leaves many dead and many injured.
In this general mourning, surrounded by flowers and a large crowd we hold their funerals even though Mr Rodier is not here - he is in prison near Potsdam in the Brandenburg area.
In the days that follow, sadness then resignation gives way to a new hope - a hope which is strengthened by the June 6th Normandy Landings.
While large numbers of Allied aeroplanes streak the sky more and more often, and the Resistance are active despite the German repression and the increased deportations, we come to June 18th - the fourth anniversary of the call to arms made in London by General De Gaulle.
This same June 18th, very early, an aeroplane in flames circles around above us, grazes the station master’s house, takes the roof off a workman’s house and crashes a few dozen metres further on in a great explosion in the area called L'Epinnette.
The population gathers in this sad place. Probably hit by fire from the anti-aircraft guns at Montdidier, a four-engined RAF Lancaster has crashed resulting in the terrible deaths of the seven Australian occupants.
Their bodies are placed in coffins in the main hall of the Town Hall, which is transformed into a funeral home filled with flowers. Their funerals take place in our Church on the following Wednesday and they are buried in our village cemetery.
Thus, for the second time in a little more than one month, the population of Gannes and the neighbouring villages and numerous others gather round the victims of terrible death.
Fifty years have passed. We have not forgotten. Certainly, since that time our relations with Germany have totally changed due to the efforts of General De Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer. Reconciliation has taken place between our two nations which in 75 years confronted each other three times but which now cooperate for the greater good of our people.
The European Union has been born, a Europe which is still looking for itself but which at least has brought us peace. Last Sunday we reopened Parliament. Should we thus forget for a few hours the aeroplanes, the peoples killing each other in the former Yugoslavia and genocide in Rwanda?
Let us not be pessimists. Let us dream of the other encouraging signs which are appearing. Israel and Palestine have signed a peace treaty and in South Africa apartheid appears to have been defeated.
I will end by speaking to our youngest citizens, to those who do not remember the last war, to our children, to our little children who are still at school - and I say to them simply:
No, no, never again!
Understand that there are others who are not of the same race as you, accept that they do not speak the same language, that they do not practice the same religion. Learn that their customs, their beliefs are different from yours. Respect them. Practice solidarity. Force does not solve problems.
Remain faithful to the memory of these young airmen, 20 to 35 years old, who died so that we may live in freedom and peace.
I hope that in a half century, in 2044, others will still remember their sacrifice and will celebrate the centenary.
Finally, I would like to thank the War Veterans, the flag bearers of all the Associations, the firemen, the school children and their teachers, and all the people who have taken part in the organisation of this commemoration.
To all of you who have come here in such numbers:
Thank you and long live peace.
The following photographs were taken at the ceremony in 1994.