Back in 2016, Barbara George got talking to an elderly French veteran who was part of a group paying a Remembrance Day visit to the French Memorial monument in Elvington and the nearby Yorkshire Air Museum.

He was incredibly humble and modest, Barbara admits. But the story she gradually teased out of him was an amazing one.

His name was André Hautot, he was from Montpellier in France - and towards the end of the Second World War he had been stationed at RAF Elvington with the Free French 346 Guyenne heavy bomber squadron.

Still only a teenager then, he flew four missions as a gunner in a Halifax piloted by Sous-Lieutenant Mathurin. The air museum still has several photographs of him as a young airman from his days at the RAF base.

But it wasn't the fact that he had served as part of a bomber crew at Elvington that made his story so amazing, Barbara admits. It was how he came to be there in the first place...

André and his family lived in French Tunisia. When the British and their allies swept through the country in 1942, he found himself separated from his family and, still only 16, interred in a Prisoner of War camp as a suspected Italian.

He kept insisting he was French, not Italian - but no-one could understand what he was saying, Barbara says. Eventually, however, an English officer asked him why he could speak French."Because I am French," he replied.

He was released, made his way to the south of England, and applied to train as part of a bomber crew to fight the Nazis.

Despite by now being 17, he looked much younger, Barbara says - more like 14. Eventually, however, he was accepted, and ended up at RAF Elvington.

York Press:

The young André Hautot in uniform

It was very much a day-to-day existence, Barbara admits. Bomber casualties were notoriously heavy, and air crew never knew whether they would return from a mission.

Asked years later how he'd felt to be part of a bomber crew, he told Barbara: "I didn't feel anything. You just did what you had to do."

When the war finally came to an end, his first thought was to return to Tunisia to see the mother he hadn't seen for years. And then, says Barbara, he spent the rest of his career working as a civil engineer to restore the damage caused to his beloved country during the war in which he himself had fought...

The Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington has countless stories like that waiting to be told, Barbara says.

Perhaps the most famous is that of Francis Usai, the Free French air force sergeant who was also stationed with a Halifax squadron at Elvington during the war.

Francis, who lost two of his closest friends on bombing raids, and who was himself shot down but survived, struck up a wartime romance with a young woman from Liverpool, Barbara Rigby.

Years later, their love letters and diaries, which had been uncovered by former Yorkshire Air Museum director Ian Reed, formed the basis for a powerful play, Cis & Barbiche. The play told the story of their romance, and their lives during the war.

It is a story that is now very well known. But you would hardly realise that from walking around the Yorkshire Air Museum today, says Barbara.

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Francis Usai as a young man in uniform

The museum has an extraordinary collection of aircraft - both military and otherwise. It also has the authentic feel of a wartime air base, with its nissen huts, observation towers, hangars, runways and carefully-manicured lawns. There's even a canteen modelled on ones that air crew might have used all those years ago.

But while the museum is great at telling the stories of the aircraft on show, it is not so great at telling the stories of the people who flew them, Barbara admits.

"What sort of people were they? What were their lives like? How did they feel? We don't tell these stories enough," she says.

There's also not much about the women who served at RAF Elvington during the war, she says. At one point there were 378 women serving with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) at Elvington, doing jobs ranging from catering and cleaning to control tower admin, mapping and research. There were even women pilots: they weren't allowed to fly on missions, but they could deliver aircraft to air bases.

She wants to tell their stories, too - and the stories of all the men and women of different nationalities (French, Polish, Sikh and others) who served alongside the RAF during the war.

Having taken over from Ian Reed over as the museum's new director a few weeks ago, she's perfectly placed to do that. And not just because of her new position.

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New director: Barbara George

Born and brought up in France, she also holds Australian citizenship. But she's part British, too, she says. Her grandfather on one side was British, and her grandmother on the other side from Sheffield.

Her British grandfather served on the crew of a Wellington bomber during the war. Her other grandfather was a French army doctor with the rank of Colonel, who won the legion d'honneur.

He was married to an Englishwoman from Sheffield who lived in occupied France during the war - where she had to hide the fact she was British.

Barbara herself grew up in northern France, studied applied languages and communication at university in Lille, then spent several years in London working in PR and marketing.

She then travelled to Australia, where she met and married her husband, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilot Benjamin George. His career took him to various postings in Australia, and Barbara herself held different jobs in PR, marketing, employment and immigration law. She also ran a business helping French citizens (and some Brits) who wanted to emigrate to Australia.

A few years ago, her husband was posted to England to work on a project with BAE Systems at Brough in East Yorkshire. The couple have been here ever since.

She'd never heard of RAF Elvington. But then she went with her husband to visit the Allied Air Forces Memorial. Barbara fell in love with the Yorkshire Air Museum, offered to help out, and by 2017 was the deputy director. She has now stepped up to the top job.

She isn't going to change much, she stresses.

Ian Reed did a brilliant job in helping to turn the museum from an amateur organisation into a professional, award-winning business, she says. "So it's about building on the foundations that have been set by Ian."

But that will involve telling more of the human stories of the people who once served at RAF Elvington, she says. And it will also involve trying to appeal to a more diverse audience.

"I don't want to hear people saying, as they come in, 'oh, my wife is staying in the car!'" she says. "We want to tell stories that will appeal to women as well as men."

Watch this space...


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Buzz Aldrin on the moon, with Neil Armstrong reflected in his faceplate. Picture: NASA/Neil Armstrong

This weekend, to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the Yorkshire Air Museum will be celebrating the voyage of Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong's 'giant leap'.

OK, so space flight isn't strictly speaking aviation, admits museum director Barbara George. "But the first astronauts were military pilots. And the landing of the Eagle was one of the best bits of flying ever!"

There is also so much that links the very first aviators, such as the Wright Brothers, with the first astronauts, she adds. "They shared that determination, that sense of adventure, that urge to discover."

The Air Museum has always been about much more than telling the story of life on a wartime air base - though that is very much part of what it does.

It also tells the story of manned flight - from the glider of Yorkshireman Sir George Cayley and the Wright Brothers original flyer (the museum has beautiful replicas of both craft) to modern jet flight.

But on Sunday, there will also be a chance to learn more about the Apollo space project, and the history of spaceflight.

Apollo 11's lunar landing module, the Eagle, set down on the evening of July 20. But it wasn't until the early hours of July 21 that Armstrong famously first set foot on the moon. That's why the museum is holding its 'space day' on Sunday, not tomorrow.

Astronomer Martin Lunn - the 'Astrognome' - will be at the museum all day to talk about space, stars and the 50th anniversary of the moon landing

A team from RAF Fylingdales will also be on hand to talk about their work monitoring missile launches and tracking space debris.

The museum's Astra cinema, meanwhile, will be screening original NASA footage of the moon landing - and there will even be a chance to try building your own space rocket.

To find out more, visit