Event to mark anniversary of crash

French resistance leader Jean Moulin
French resistance leader Jean Moulin

SADLY he was to die just months later at the hands of the Gestapo in France, but one foggy night just east of Chichester in 1943, French Resistance leader Jean Moulin found that luck, for once, was on his side.

In awful weather conditions, the plane in which he was flying crash-landed at RAF Tangmere. Moulin emerged unscathed to tell the pilot he had enjoyed the flight.

That fateful night was February 24, 1943; to mark the 70th anniversary, Martyn Bell has organised a special day of commemoration, bringing together the Friends of Chartres, Chichester City Council, the University of Chichester and Tangmere Museum – the site of the crash.

The big day is the actual anniversary, Sunday, February 24, when events will begin at the museum in the morning with a service of remembrance in the museum memorial garden; events will then transfer to the University of Chichester for lunch, followed by a re-enactment of the RAF Sector Operations Room which operated from the building when it was Bishop Otter College.

Film and lectures will complete the afternoon, before a switch to the Chichester Cinema at New Park in the evening for a screening of the classic French Resistance film, L’armée des ombres.

As Martyn explains: “RAF Tangmere was used as a base for the RAF 161 Special Duties Squadron which flew agents, French and British, in and out of France. The aircraft that was used was the Lysander, and one of the squadron pilots was Hugh Verity.”

Moulin, a former prefect at Chartres, Chichester’s twin city, came down from London where he had had a meeting with General de Gaulle: “And they had to get him back to France from Tangmere urgently.

“They took off that evening and got over central France and got to the landing ground, but it was thick fog.

“They decided that they could not land and came back all the way from central France to Tangmere. By this time, Tangmere was covered in thick fog as well.

“The pilot was in contact with the radio and realised that Moulin did not have a parachute, so he had to make a landing.

“On the ground they had bonfires to show the way. They had two searchlights either end of the runway.

“And they made ten attempts going around trying to see the runway.

“He decided at the tenth attempt, he just had to go for it – and he nearly got it right. He was right over the runway, but got the height wrong.

“He cut the engine at about 30 feet, too high – so the plane crashed down on the runway.

“He could see where the runway was, but he could 
not judge how high he was above it.

“The aircraft was written off, but the two men got out unharmed.

“Verity apologised to Moulin for the crash-landing, but Moulin thanked him for what was a very enjoyable flight!”

Verity’s memories of the night are recorded in a film which will be shown on the day.

Tickets for the day must be bought in advance at £40, available from Martyn Bell on 01243 839704 or from the Council House in North Street.