The medals of a WW2 pilot, who flew low over Nazi-occupied Paris and dropped a huge French flag on top of the Arc de Triomphe, are to be auctioned this week.
RAF pilot Flight Lieutenant Ken Gatward and his navigator, Flight Sergeant George Fern, volunteered for the audacious mission, which was planned following intelligence reports that German troops were parading down the Champs-Elysees every day between 12.15 and 12.45 pm.
On 12 June 1942 Gatward and Fern took off in their Bristol Beaufighter from Thorney Island, West Sussex, flew over the English Channel into occupied France and headed towards Paris at low level. Gatward later recalled, “I’ll never forget the astonishment of the crowd in the Paris streets as we swept low at rooftop level. They had been taken completely by surprise.”
Gatward flew at just 30ft down the Champs-Elysees and Fern dropped the French Tricolour on top of Paris’ famous monument. Gatward then flew on to the Gestapo’s Paris HQ, the former Ministere de la Marine, raked it with 20mm shells – scattering its SS guards in panic – and Fern dropped a second Tricolour on the building.
The daring duo’s spectacular raid boosted the morale of oppressed Parisians and, when the news broke at home, lifted the spirits of the beleaguered British too. Gatward was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and both he and Fern were feted as heroes.
London-born Gatward, who had joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1937 and started the war as a sergeant pilot, went on to command No 404 Sqn, Royal Canadian Air Force. In August 1944 he led the Sqn on a raid against enemy shipping in Norwegian waters which earned him a second DFC. He also earned the Distinguished Service Order the same year.
After the war, which had claimed the lives of his two brothers, Frederick and Douglas, he continued with his RAF career, which included tours as a USAF liaison officer in Germany and as Commanding Officer of RAF Odiham. The French government didn’t forget his wartime feat and at a ceremony in Paris presented him with a Tricolour and a large bottle of Champagne in a wooden commemorative case, inscribed with the words ‘In Remembrance of Your Flight Over Paris’.
Ken Gatward retired from the regular RAF as a Group Captain in 1967, then immediately rejoined the RAF Volunteer Reserve as an instructor in the rank Flight Lieutenant, enabling his return to his first love – flying. He died in 1998 aged 84.
Gp Capt Gatward’s medals, which includes his DSO, DFC and bar, are to be auctioned on Friday after the recent death of his widow. The medals, which are being sold along with his flying log books, the champagne case and other momentoes of the raid, are expected to fetch £8,000 (US$12,800).
Source: The Telegraph