THE head of a York aviation museum is to receive one of the highest awards France can bestow for ensuring the memory of French airmen lives on.

French President Francois Hollande has conferred the Ordre National du Mérite on Ian Reed, director of the Yorkshire Air Museum and the Allied Air Forces Memorial at Elvington, at the rank of officer.

It has only ever been given to about 2,500 people, with its recipients including King Juan Carlos of Spain and French actor Gerard Depardieu.

The honour was made by the French Ambassador to Britain, Bernard Emié, and proposed by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Mr Emie said it recognised Mr Reed’s career, his “commitment to the duty of remembrance for the airmen of France”, and his “admirable work over the last 20 years which has given France a special presence and renown”.

More than 2,500 airmen were stationed at Elvington airfield during the Second World War, with the area being nicknamed “Petit France”.

The Allied Air Force Memorial organises events and exhibitions across Britain, with Mr Reed recently arranging for Battle of Britain medals to be presented at a Paris ceremony to the families of two famous Free French fighter pilots, Henri Lafont and Rene Mouchotte.

The award will be formally presented later this year.