THE tragedy of war was brought home at a poignant ceremony recalling the kindness and bravery shown in even the darkest of hours.

In 1942 eight men died when their bomber was shot out of the sky over a French village whose inhabitants then showed exceptional compassion at huge personal risk.

Now villagers from that same community have travelled to the North Yorkshire base from where the Halifax took off to forge even closer links between the two.

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Six Britons and two Canadians were aboard the aircraft from 78 Sqn when it took off from RAF Linton-on-Ouse on October 24, 1942, on a mission to Genova, Italy.

But they were intercepted by a German nightfighter and shot down, smashing into the ground near the chateau in the Burgundy village of Montcony.

The headmaster of the village school, Henri Vincent, arranged the recovery of the bodies and laid them in state under a Union Flag.

More than 3,000 local people filed past the coffins before the funeral, which was held with great dignity, despite opposition from the Vichy authorities. Local children sang the British national anthem as the airmen were buried in the village churchyard.

It was an amazing act of defiance. At the time, Montcony was in the heart of occupied France and situated between two major Gestapo headquarters.

There were reprisals - and the girls who sang the British anthem were barred from attending school – but they led to the formation of the local French Resistance, with M Vincent emerging as its leader.

Montcony and Linton are now officially twinned and at a ceremony at the base people from both villages mingled with present-day airmen.

Station commander Group Captain David Cooper said: “I am very pleased to be able to show our gratitude for the acts of kindness the residents of Montcony showed to our fallen airmen.

“It was especially poignant to be presented by our friends from Montcony with a small fragment of the lost aircraft which departed from this Station so long ago.”

Representatives of each village exchanged gifts and a Yorkshire rose was planted at the gate of the base – a match to one planted last year in Montcony on the 70th anniversary of the tragedy.

Those who died aboard the Halifax were:

  • Sgt Frederick George Allen, 30. RAF. Husband of Winifred Mary Allen of Acocks Green, Birmingham
  • Sgt John Beveridge, 21. RAFVR. Son of Alexander and Mary Beveridge, of Menstrie, Clackmannanshire
  • Sgt George James Chambers, 32. RAFVR. Son of George James and Eliza Jane Chambers of Southampton
  • Sgt Albert Ernest Messer, 21. RAF. Son of Ernest Arthur and Ellen Esther Messer of Kilburn, Middlesex
  • Flight Sgt William Stanley Rausch, 20. RCAF. Son of George and Charlotte Rausch of St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
  • Flight Lieut Harold Rhoden, 22. RAFVR. Son of Harold and Maggie Rhoden of Holcombe Brook, Lancashire
  • Flying Officer Denis Frank Teague, 21. RCAF. Son of Frank William and Edith Anne Teague of Montréal, Province of Quebec
  • Sgt Eric Walton, 20. RAFVR. Son of Frank and Elise Walton of Sheffield