A CHRISTMAS act of giving 76 years ago is being hailed as a reminder that “hope and kindness” can prevail - even in the most difficult of times.

As people in York prepare to celebrate Christmas as best they can in the midst of the Covid pandemic - they are being reminded of a heartwarming story from another crisis three quarters of a century ago - the Second World War.

In December 1944 French servicemen were based at RAF Elvington near York, now home to the Yorkshire Air Museum, flying wartime missions in Halifax bomber aircraft.

The French squadrons were in exile, far from their homeland and separated from their loved ones.

Despite this, mechanics on the base convinced their chief - Commandant François Churet - to let them build toys for the less fortunate children of York for Christmas.

Throughout a three-day period, in addition to maintaining the bombers in readiness for operations, they crafted 204 toys from materials in their workshops.

On Christmas Eve - 76 years ago today - they delivered model planes, cars, ships, dolls, play kitchens, scooters and many more toys to York Mansion House so they could be handed out to sick and needy children on Christmas Day.

The avalanche of toys turned the State Room into something resembling a toy shop.

The inspiring wartime story has been recounted by bosses at Yorkshire Air Museum this Christmas - along with pictures of the kind-hearted French heroes.

A museum spokesperson said the spirit of giving shown by the French squadrons was remembered every year - and was still very much alive.

They said the team at the museum had been inspired to also reach out to the community this year with initiatives like hosting a large flu-vaccination site in September.

The spokesperson added that when the museum restaurant was forced to close during lockdown, it donated the majority of its stock of food to a homeless shelter in York.

Redundant computer equipment was also donated to a children’s charity, and in 2021, the museum hopes it can help medical staff again with the rollout of mass Covid vaccinations.

Museum director Barbara George said 2020 had been an “incredibility challenging” year for everyone and the pandemic had shown that “we are all vulnerable and connected”.

She said: “Our connections are bigger than the virus, just as they were bigger than the world war 75 years ago. As we miss the closeness that we need the most, it is important that we focus on the sparks of hope and kindness that have been shown by so many during past months.”