MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Personnel from Maxwell Air Force Base gathered together with British and French airmen and local community members in a Service of Remembrance, Sunday, in Montgomery’s Oakwood Cemetery Annex.
The cemetery holds the largest Commonwealth War Grave in the United States, and is home to the graves of 78 Royal Air Force and 20 French Air Force airmen who lost their lives flying training accidents in the Southeast U.S. during World War II.
Royal Air Force Group Captain Shaun Harvey, senior RAF officer and instructor at Air University’s Air War College, introduced the ceremony with an outline of the British tradition of Remembrance Sunday, and the symbolism of the poppy.
“This event commemorated all those who had suffered through war, past and present,” Harvey said. “The work of organizations, such as the Royal British Legion, was an important, year-round task to support veterans and their families.”
The use of the poppy was inspired by a poem called Flanders Fields, which was written by Canadian doctor, Lt. Col. John McCrae, after losing a friend during WWI. Today, the use of artificial poppies for wreathes or worn as pins is most common in the UK, New Zealand and Canada.
From June 1941 to February 1943, over 7,800 young RAF airmen came to flight schools in Alabama, Georgia and Florida to receive flight training from the U.S. Army Air Forces. Over 4,000 received their aviator’s wings and returned to Britain to fight for freedom.
Additionally, from June 1943 to November 1945 over 4,000 Frenchmen followed their British comrades to the U.S. During that time, 63 French military members, including the 20 flight cadets buried at Oakwood Cemetery, died in training.
“They fell far from the battlefield and from home,” said French Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel Fabrice Imbo, a student at Air University’s Air War College. “They made the ultimate sacrifice for France and our freedom.”