NZ Airman Honoured at French Ceremony

Wing Commander Barry Nelson pays his respects to the fallen RAF airmen at a memorial ceremony in Sassenay, France.
Wing Commander Barry Nelson pays his respects to the fallen RAF airmen at a memorial ceremony in Sassenay, France.

22 August 2011

A solemn ceremony to honour eight members of an RAF Lancaster bomber crew who were shot down during World War Two was held on Monday at Sassenay, in eastern France.

Flight Lieutenant Royston Taylor, an RNZAF airman, was one of eight flight crew from England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who died in the crash who are remembered by the people of Sassenay at a ceremony held on the 15th of August each year.

FLT LT Taylor was born in Wandsworth, London in 1915 but grew up in New Zealand. He attended Hastings High School and before the war worked as an electrical engineer in Hastings and Gisborne.

In 1941 he joined the RNZAF and was trained in New Zealand and Canada before finding a place with a crew at No. 7 Squadron where he flew operational missions from December 1942 to August 1943.  On August 14 1943 he was part of a No. 7 Squadron RAF Lancaster crew which took off from RAF Oakington, near Cambridge on a bombing mission to Milan. The aircraft came down in a field near Sassenay after being attacked by a night fighter.

The ceremony held this week was attended for the first time by a representative from the New Zealand Defence Force, RNZAF Wing Commander Barry Nelson.

The remarkable part of the story is the courage of the people of German-occupied Sassenay. After the crash they decided to hold a funeral for the eight airmen, as an act of resistance against the Germans, despite having been directed not to.

A great crowd from the surrounding neighbourhood assisted, bringing flowers. A collection was made for a low marble wall to surround the graves. The Mayor of Sassenay was arrested by the Gestapo for allowing the time of the ceremony to be known and the public collection made. He was condemned to two years in prison and deported to Germany. A number of other local people were also imprisoned for a time by the Germans. This act of defiance in the face of occupation forces was truly courageous.

WGCDR Nelson said, “The service was a poignant time to reflect on service and sacrifice. I am proud to honour the bravery of the people of Sassenay and those who are responsible for the memorial that marks the fallen members of the RAF Lancaster bomber including Flight Lieutenant Taylor.” 

At the same time the service also remembers a young Frenchman who was electrocuted and killed by downed power lines as he tried to approach the crash site to see if he could assist any members of the crew.

In 1988 the village of Sassenay invited representatives from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to the unveiling of a memorial for the eight men. New Zealand declined to attend then as members of the Embassy staff were unavailable. 

“Having learnt that no official visit had yet been made by a New Zealander, I was pleased to be able to represent the people of New Zealand at this ceremony. The genuine respect shown by the French citizens to these gallant men by conducting these annual services underlines our warm relationship based on common values and historical ties,” WGCDR Nelson said.

This page was last reviewed on 22 August 2011.