On this day in history….30th September 1938

On this day in history : 30th September 1938 – Neville Chamberlain arrives back in the UK with an agreement signed by Hitler…. He claims “I believe it is peace for our time” – he could not have been more misguided….

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Chamberlain holds the paper signed by himself and Hitler on his return to Heston Airport – Ministry of Information Official Photographer – Public domain

The Prime Minister had met with the German leader three times in the last two weeks of September…. This last meeting had been at the Munich Conference – which involved talks between Britain, Germany, France and Italy, to decide the future of Sudetenland, part of Western Czechoslovakia…. The Czech government had been hoping Britain and France would come to its aid in the event of a German invasion…. However, it was Chamberlain’s main priority to avert war – British people were terrified of another conflict within Europe…. It was agreed that Germany would annex a large part of Czechoslovakia and Britain and France would not support any resistance put up by Czechoslovakia; in return a non-aggression pact was signed with Germany…. Czechoslovakia was forced to hand over Sudetenland, though it had not even been present at the conference….

Chamberlain arrived back at Heston Airport, West London, where a large crowd greeted him, eager to hear him read out the signed agreement…. He then went on to Buckingham Palace, where he appeared on the balcony with the King and Queen – and then went on to hold a further audience outside No.10 Downing Street…. The crowds were jubilant….but there were also many who believed Chamberlain had given in to the demands of Hitler….

Needless to say, Hitler did not adhere to his promise…. A year later he dismissed the agreement as a ‘scrap of paper’ and on the 1st of September 1939 Germany invaded Poland…. World War 2 was declared two days later…. Chamberlain was succeeded by Winston Churchill after being forced to resign in May 1940; he died the following November….

On this day in history….4th September 1939

On this day in history : 4th September 1939 – The first 200 Citizen’s Advice Bureau establishments open across Britain – the day after the outbreak of World War 2….

The Government had begun to consider the need for an information service in 1935…. By 1938 World War 2 was looming, so the National Council of Social Services formed a group to study and understand how to meet the needs of the civilian population during war time…. Their recommendations being :- “Citizen Advice Bureaux should be established throughout the country, particularly in the large cities and industrial areas where social disorganisation may be acute”….

THE WORK OF THE CITIZENS' ADVICE BUREAU, ELDON HOUSE, CROYDON, ENGLAND, 1940
THE WORK OF THE CITIZENS’ ADVICE BUREAU, ELDON HOUSE, CROYDON, ENGLAND, 1940 (D 522) A widow of a civil servant seeks advice about her delayed pension from volunteer Mrs Wraight at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Croydon. Mrs Wraight was one of 12 volunteers working at the bureau at this time. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197564

On the 3rd of September 1939 World War 2 was declared; the following day the first 200 Citizen’s Advice Bureaux opened…. Initially volunteers ran the service from private houses or sometimes public buildings – dealing with problems such as lost ration books, evacuation and homelessness….

On this day in history….23rd August 1944

On this day in history : 23rd August 1944 – An American Liberator bomber crashes into an English village school in Feckleton, Lancashire – killing 61 people, 38 of whom are children….

Two recently refurbished B-24 bombers had departed from Warton Aerodrome at 10.30 in the morning on a test flight, when a violent storm blew up…. Both aircraft were recalled to the USAAF airbase and as they approached visibility was greatly reduced because of the torrential rain and 60mph gusts of wind….

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B-24H Liberator bomber – similar to the one that crashed. Image : United States Army Air Forces – Public domain

Pilot John Blosmendal, in the first of the two bombers, reported to the control tower that he was going to abort his landing attempt and would circle around again – only his aircraft was to disastrously crash into the Holy Trinity Church of England village school, which lay to the east of the airfield…. The right wing of the B-24 was ripped from the fuselage as it hit a tree-top; it then impacted with the corner of a building…. The fuselage of the 25-ton bomber then continued to plough a path of destruction, partly demolishing three houses and ‘The Sad Sack Snack Bar’ – which catered for the American servicemen stationed at the base…. The aircraft then burst into flames, whilst another inferno raged, caused by the ruptured fuel tanks of the bomber, at the infants school….

The Feckleton air disaster instantly claimed the lives of the B-24’s three crew members, thirty-four children, a teacher, six American servicemen, one RAF airman and seven staff at the snack bar…. A further four children, a teacher, an American serviceman and three RAF airmen died later in hospital – and many more people were injured….

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Feckleton Air Disaster Memorial and Remembrance Garden

On this day in history….20th August 1940

On this day in history : 20th August 1940 – The speech “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” was made by Prime Minister Winston Churchill….

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Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, giving a V sign in 1943 – British Government, public domain

It was in recognition of the efforts of the Royal Air Force, who were in the midst of the ongoing Battle of Britain, fighting against the German Luftwaffe – as Britain was anticipating an imminent invasion….

Churchill had apparently first said the words during a visit to the No.11 Group RAF Operations Room – during a particularly harrowing day of battle; it was an experience he found emotionally moving…. He was then to use the words as a basis for his House of Commons speech, in an attempt to inspire the Country…. He pointed out that although in the previous months the Allies had seen monumental defeats, the situation now was much better…. He was right, not long after Britain had won the Battle – the first major defeat of the Luftwaffe….

To this day, pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain are known as ‘The Few’….

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HM Stationery Office – Public domain

On this day in history….5th June 1944

On this day in history : 5th June 1944 – Ahead of the following day’s D-Day landings a small café in Bénouville is the first place to be liberated after British troops seize a vital canal bridge….

Every June 5th since, shortly before midnight – to celebrate the D-Day anniversary – Mme Arlette Gondrée has offered Champagne to everyone present in her café….many of whom have been veterans of the Normandy invasion….

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Cafe Gondree in 2009 : Runvald – Public domain

The walls of the quaint interior are covered with photographs, old uniforms, helmets and regimental insignia…. Now known as the Pegasus Bridge Café, the two-storey, red brick building was once called ‘The Café Gondrée’….

Georges and Thérèse Gondrée had met in Cannes…. Georges had been a banker, working at Lloyds and so his knowledge of the English language was excellent…. Thérèse being from Alsace was fluent in German…. They married and settled down to run a coffee shop in the Commune of Bénouville in the Normandy region of northwestern France…. Their little café being situated on the West Bank of the Caen canal – at the north end of the Bénouville Bridge (now called Pegasus Bridge)….

However, in 1940 France was invaded by Germany; Georges and Thérèse found life under German occupation intolerable…. They began to support the French Resistance in Caen and passed vital information via the French Underground Movement to British intelligence…. Thérèse did not let the Germans know she could speak their language – she and Georges were able to gather details on the German garrison and the defences of Bénouville Bridge….

On the eve of D-Day three gliders were released from 8,000 up into the pitch-black, stormy night…. Sixty paratroopers, a Glider Unit of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment, British 6th Airborne Division under the command of Major John Howard, had orders to take and hold the bridge…. Howard had been able to put together a detailed plan with the information received from the Gondrées….

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Horsa gliders, which had landed a hundred yards from the bridge. The cafe can be seen in the background – Royal Air Force Official Photographer – Public domain

All three gliders managed to land in a nearby field, the rough terrain causing considerable damage to the aircraft…. What followed then was a short but fierce battle in which the British troops managed to take control of the bridge…. It was not without loss of life, several died….the very first casualty of the D-Day operation is buried in the cemetery at nearby Ronville…. The taking of the bridge was a key part of the preparations for D-Day – as it made it extremely difficult for the Germans to launch a counter-attack during the days of the Normandy invasion….

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The Benouville Bridge, 9 June 1944 – Christie (Sgt) No.5 Army Film & Photographic Unit – Public domain

The Gundrées had been woken in the early hours by the noise of the gliders landing and then the following gunfire…. Georges had looked out of the window to see what was happening and was shot at by a British soldier….he had been mistaken for a German…. Georges and Thérèse quickly bundled their three young daughters into the safety of the cellar and spent the next few hours trying to work out the nationality of the soldiers – as they knew they were not German….

At 6.20am there came a loud knocking on the door….and all was revealed – as there stood three British paratroopers…. Café Gondrée was officially the first French building to be liberated…. Georges responded by digging up 99 bottles of Champagne he had buried in the garden and for the rest of the day gave celebratory drinks to the passing soldiers….

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Pegasus Cafe as approached from the bridge. Image credit: SIMCard25 at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA-3.0

In later years the café was taken over by Georges and Thérèse’s daughter, Arlette, who had been 5 at the time of the liberation…. It is because of Arlette that the café continues to honour the anniversary of D-Day, with Champagne of course….but I do believe the café serves a very decent cup of tea as well…. Of course, only the British would ensure that the first place to be liberated would be somewhere they could guarantee a great cuppa! The café became an Historic Monument on the 5th of June 1987….

The following video clip shows Mme Arlette Gondrée at the 6th of June 2011 Ceremony