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Webmatters : British Air Services Memorial at Saint Omer

Royal Air Force

Location

The Aérodrome de Saint Omer is situated to the south of the town on the Plateau des Bruyères (The Heather Plateau) in Longuenesse. Follow the D 928 in the direction of Abbeville. On the left coming up the hill is the Longuenesse (Saint Omer) Souvenir Cemetery. Immediately afterwards there is a junction to the right before the local prison (on the left).

The entrance to the aerodrome is 400 metres along this road.

Coming from the south the runway and buildings can be seen alongside the racecourse.

The memorial is situated in front of the hangars.

 

Background

41 Squadron pillar

It is perhaps a touch ironical that the area around Saint Omer is better known to the British for the missile launch sites of the German Blitz of the 2nd World War, than for the fact that this small aerodrome within sight of the enormous dome of La Coupole at Wizernes played a significant part in the birth of British military air power.

Following its initial deployments on the Continent followed by the retreat from Mons in August and September 1914, the fledgling Royal Flying Corps (RFC) chose Saint Omer as a major airfield and fighting complex, employing over 4,000 technical staff, supplying aircraft and components for the entire Western Front.

Throughout its existence the Saint Omer base remained an important headquarters for the RFC and twice housed the GHQ RFC of Major General Hugh Trenchard.

Hugh Trenchard is considered to be the founding figure of the infant Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918.

Some of the RFC Squadrons were formed at St Omer and No 41 Squadron still carries the Cross of Saint Omer as its emblem.

The area of many of the administrative buildings is now occupied by the prison.

 

The Memorial

Air Services Memorial at Saint Omer Aerodrome

Per ardua ad astra — Through Struggle to the Stars

The Memorial was unveiled by Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge, Commander-in-Chief Headquarters Strike Command, and Lieutenant-General Jean Patrick Gaviard of the French Air Force on 11th September 2004.

It was designed by Tim O’Brien for the Cross and Cockade aviation historical society.

Air Commodore Peter Dye, Personnel and Training Command RAF, who suggested the idea of a memorial said:

The Royal Air Force are here to commemorate the efforts and achievements of the men and women of the British Air Services. We are also here to recognise the debt that we owe them, to reflect on the values of courage and self sacrifice — values that continue to be important to the Royal Air Force.

The inauguration was graced by Henry Allingham (At the time a mere 108 years old) who had returned to France fro the first time since serving as a mechanic with the Royal Naval Air Service. Henry became an instant favourite of Saint Omer’s children and returned for Armistice ceremonies up until his death in 2009.

The unveiling of the memorial coincided with the 90th anniversary of the first British aircraft to arrive at Saint Omer in September 1914. By the end of the war there were nearly 5,000 air service personnel serving at the base.

The round hangar behind the memorial dates to the Luftwaffe base of the 2nd World War.

 

Some photos from the inauguration

11th September 2004

Junkers CL1 SE 5a Nieuport 17 The cockpit is very basic The hangar is courtesy of the Luftwaffe Spectators and the Band French and British airmen unveil the monument A Battle of Britain Flight Spitfire Henry Allingham lays a wreath Henry Allingham the last founding member of the RAF A windy day for the Colours of the RAF The British Air Services Memorial at St Omer Does it fly ? Well it got me here ! Perhaps 90 years separates them In his day, women service personnel would have been unthinkable Henry Allingham with the trainees of the Mechanics Depot The Cross and Cockade plaque The British Air Services Memorial at St Omer

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