A LASTING memorial to an almost forgotten hero of York's wartime past was unveiled in a special ceremony in the city yesterday.
The actions of pilot Yves Mahe during the bombing raid on the city made such an impression on the people of York in 1942 that the French tricolour was flown over the city, and now the young airman has been permanently memorialised in a city centre church.
Mahe is the Free French RAF pilot credited with saving York from the notorious "Baedecker" bombing raid of April 1942 when he shot down one of the 40 German bombers attacking York.
Yesterday, after a campaign led by children of St Wilfrid's RC Primary School, the French ambassador travelled to York to unveil a memorial to the airman.
His Excellency Bernard Emié and Air Attaché Col Nicolas Chambaz took part in a special ceremony at St Martin le Grand church in Coney Street, and spoke of French gratitude that Mahe's actions were being commemorated in York.
M Emie called Mahe the "stuff of legends", and added:
"I am very pleased that the initiative for this plaque was taken on not by veterans or historians, but by children. I am very grateful for that initiative, and for the support of the authorities."
He also praised Yorkshire Air Museum director Ian Reed for his work to see the memorial become a reality, and said it was pleasing to see stories of the French- British alliance passed down through the generations.
Children from St Wilfrid's were also invited to see their campaign, which started when they learnt about Mahe's story at an exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the raid, come to fruition.
Ten year old Angus Crossan said: "It's really good to be here, because without Yves Mahe York would have been half blown up. He risked his life for a town that was not even his hometown."
The pupils started their campaign thinking it would not come to anything, he added, and were thrilled to see their idea taken up by the French ambassador, the York Civic Trust, the air museum and the city council.
"It makes us feel really important," he added.