WWII archive of French airman uncovered by Yorkshire Air Museum heads back to France

By Richard Moss | 14 January 2011
a wartime portrait photograph of young couple with the man in uniform
Francis Uzay and Barbara Rigby during wartime© Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum / Allied Air Forces Memorial
Researchers working for the National Allied Air Forces Memorial at Yorkshire Air Museum have uncovered an extraordinary archive detailing the experiences and wartime love affair of a WWII French airman.

The remarkable haul of more than 2,000 letters, diaries, artefacts and photographs relates to Francis Uzay, an educated and eloquent writer from a village near Marseille who served as an airman in Britain with Bomber Command.

a photograph of a man wearing a cap and overcoat
Francis Uzay during WWII© Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum / Allied Air Forces Memorial
The letters chronicle his love affair with a young British woman in intimate and fascinating detail, as well as his friendships, losses and other poignant wartime experiences.

A single photograph was originally found by the researchers from the Collection's Department and Research Library at the museum, which led them to contact Uzay’s wartime love, Barbara Rigby, who now lives in Australia. 

Barbara, who was only 19 when she met Francis, donated the revealing correspondence for all to see and read. Among the items is a telegram - dated January 1945 - informing Barbara that Uzay was missing after being shot down during a bombing mission in his Halifax over France. He actually survived the war but died in 1996.

The archive has now been presented to the French National Archives in Paris, where it is being studied with the intention of using its contents for a novel and a film.

Agnés Chablat-Beylot, Chief of the Air Force Department at Service Historique de la Defense, said: "We are very grateful to the Allied Air Forces Memorial for this wonderful archive." The SHD also plans to publish the collection as an academic book for research purposes.

a photograph of a bomber flying low over Paris past the Eifel Tower
A Halifax Bomber over Paris © Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum / Allied Air Forces Memorial
During World War Two, two French Heavy bomber Squadrons flew with RAF Bomber Command from RAF Elvington, York, which is now home to the Yorkshire Air Museum. On October 20 2011 the very first French Memorial in an English cathedral will be inaugurated at York Minster in commemoration of them.

Yorkshire Air Museum has also announced that its film, Flightpaths, has been shortlisted for the 10th Imperial War Museum Film Festival Awards. The winner will be announced in London on February 8 2011.
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