The Typhoon Memorial weekend took place from June 17/18th this year, rather later than usual, and coincide with French parliamentary elections, so some of the usual official attendees and some of the Mairies were otherwise occupied. However, we had an excellent visit, despite the heat – the temperature was over 30°, the Sun brilliant and the skies cloudless.
I had suggested that we might first meet for a cooling drink at our hotel on the Friday evening. A very smooth and quiet crossing from Portsmouth brought us to familiar Normandy roads and we were soon established near Caen. There we met, for the first time, one of our newest members, Bernard Gardiner and his grandson Matt (a Virgin Atlantic 747 pilot). Bernard joined 193 Squadron in October 1944 and was not involved in the Normandy campaign so the weekends' activities were new to him. Bernard and Matt came from Jersey, flying first to Dinard then driving to Caen.
On the Saturday morning there was a small ceremony at the Henry Tallala plaque outside Airan where Piers Tallala, nephew of Henry, with his two young sons was joined by our Chaplain, Jim Charles, TECT Members and representatives of the local community, including the Bree family who had been responsible for the original monument at Henry's crash site on their farm. Passing traffic posed a small problem until that was solved by the local National Assembly député simply standing in the middle of the road until the ceremony was finished. As the weather was good we were able to walk across the adjacent field to the original monument, situated in quiet spot beneath trees. On all of our visits to Normandy I have been struck by the contrast between the peaceful and beautiful locations of so many crash sites, thinking of what the areas must have been like in June-August 1944. We then all moved to Airan, where we were welcomed to a generous vin d'honneur in the Mairie. As there were pictures of aircraft on the walls, including Henry Talalla's Typhoon, we decided to present the mayor with a “Two Typhoons” print which was signed then and there by Bernard Gardiner. The Hawker Typhoon in the picture was flown by Denys Gillam, Bernard's former commanding officer in 146 Wing.
After a relaxing lunch-break we set off for Ste Croix-sur-mer, the site of ALG B3, home of 146 Wing. There we were met by the mayor, M.Gerlet. After a brief commemoration ceremony he invited us back to the Mairie in the village for refreshment. There we learned of his great interest in researching and commemorating the contribution of all the forces that passed through the commune in 1944, including those who built the B3 airfield, and we heard some of the stories about the dangerous times immediately after D-Day.
Our evening was spent at an excellent restaurant in Caen where we met this year's RAF party from Coningsby. There were a few familiar faces but also one who had joined 3 Squadron only three days before. It was good to renew old friendships and to make new ones.
Noyers Bocage on Sunday morning we were greeted by an impressive
parade of “Anciens Combattants” with their banners and we were
welcomed to the church for the ecumenical mass. Our chaplain, Jim
Charles, assisted the local priest and preached an excellent sermon,
both in English and in French. It was getting very hot, so we walked
slowly to the Typhoon Memorial where a small crowd had gathered. The
ceremony followed the usual pattern, although there were 6 national
anthems to be played and 6 flags to be raised by the RAF personnel
because there were representatives from the UK, Canada, New Zealand,
Australia and Malaysia. Bernard was our wreath-layer, as many Typhoon
veterans have been before. The speech by the mayor included
expressions of sympathy and solidarity following the recent events in
Manchester and in London.
Another short but hot walk took us to the school yard in Noyers Bocage (the town hall was in use for the elections) where we enjoyed yet another vin d'honneur.
It was, as usual, a memorable weekend. If you have never attended the event you will never know the genuine gratitude of the Normandy people for the work and sacrifices of the Typhoon pilots and crews and you will have missed some very generous hospitality. Come with us next year.