A Tangmere resident, Philippe Arent, has donated to the Museum a Free French flag in memory of his father Claude who on the night before D-Day was parachuted into the beachhead with the American 101st Airborne forces to act as a translator. Unfortunately, he was wounded in the fighting that followed and was evacuated from Utah beach back to the UK with shrapnel injuries and burns to his arms. After recovering, he became a French Colonel’s ADC in Camberley, Surrey and there met his future English wife Kitty. The war ended with Claude in Paris, following which he married and with his new wife lived for five years back in his native NE France. In the early 1950s, the couple decided to come back to England and settled in Reading where Claude worked in the operating theatres of the Royal Berkshire Hospital.
But, how did Claude join the Free French forces? When the German Army overran France at the beginning of the war he was still studying at school but was soon deported, at the age of 16, to Germany to work on constructing military airfields. He was later sent to Italy to work on the Monte Cassino fortifications but managed to escape to the American lines from which he was put on a troop ship to Liverpool where he experienced for the first time the luxury of doughnuts and American coffee. On reaching England his story was checked, part of the process being to use SOE agents to check back in France the details he had given. Prior to D-Day, he joined the Free French and was trained as a paratrooper.
The photographs are of Claude during the war and his son Philippe presenting the flag to Alan Bower, the Museum’s Director.