St Omer - RAF Memorial
Per ardua ad astra — Through Struggle to the Stars
During the First World War, the headquarters of the British army was based in Saint-Omer, that is, near the front line but in an area spared by the fighting. The first squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps (the predecessors to the RAF) made Bruyères aerodrome their home in 1914. Three squadrons of the RAF even have very strong links with our region. In this way, Squadron 9 was created in December 1914, Squadron 16 was born in February 1915, while Squadron 41 carries the twin-bar cross of Saint-Omer. On 20 September 1918, Squadron 41 left Bruyères aerodrome, ending the RAF’s four-year presence in Saint-Omer. But the links have never been broken between the British Air Force and the “city of the cauliflower”. That’s why Henry Allingham, the last surviving veteran of the First World War, went to Saint-Omer every year until his death in 2009 at the age of 113 years.
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.