On Sunday 18th June 2017 we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of Operation Squabble, which took place on 12th June 1942. A daring act of precision flying by a local pilot, Ken Gatward, the mission sought to send a message of hope and solidarity to the people of France during the occupation of the country in WW2.
The information below comes from a series of exhibition boards that were prepared to mark the Anniversary. You can download a copy of the display boards here. You can hear a recording of Ken Gatward talking about the mission here.
MEMORIES OF A DARING FLIGHT
Above the west door in church hangs a Tricolore – the French Flag. The flag replaces one which was dropped on top of the Arc de Triomphe on 12th June 1942 by the crew of a Beaufighter Aircraft in one of the most daring – but now forgotten – acts of precision flying in WW2. The pilot of the aircraft was Alfred “Ken” Gatward, a Southgate resident, who lived at 27 Meadway. Ken volunteered for “Operation Squabble” after his skills as a pilot in low-level attacks came to the attention of his commanding officer. Intelligence had shown that the Germans paraded down the Champs-Elysees every day between 12.15 and 12.45.
In an act of defiance against the occupying forces and in support of the French people, the mission to drop a Tricolore on top of the Arc de Triomphe was conceived. Ken and his navigator, George Fern, practiced on a shipwreck in the English Channel, using a variety of techniques to weight down the flag, so it landed unfurled. The initial mission on 13th May had to be cancelled due to poor visibility over the French coast. Ken and George took off on 12th June 1942 for a repeat attempt, flying from Thorney Island at 11:29 and circled the Eiffel Tower at 12:17.
Unknown to Ken Gatward and his navigator George Fern, the parade up the Champs Elysees had been cancelled but their mission continued and at 12:28 the Tricolore was released by George Fern down the flare chute over the Arc de Triomphe. The crew returned home and landed at RAF Northolt at 13:53. The replica flag which hangs in church was presented to the Southgate and Wood Green Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association by representatives of the French Government at a special ceremony in Broomfield Park on 28th July 1949 and has hung in our church ever since.