French teenagers’s perilous Second World War Channel crossing commemorated in Eastbourne

French schoolchildren and the mayors of Eastbourne and Fort Mahon Plage at the service at Beachy Head
French schoolchildren and the mayors of Eastbourne and Fort Mahon Plage at the service at Beachy Head

A heroic Channel crossing during the Second World War has been remembered in Eastbourne, writes Isabelle Barker.

Five courageous French teenagers escaped German occupation in 1941 by rowing in canoes from their home town, Fort Mahon Plage, to Beachy Head.

The young men arrived exhausted and cold on the rocks under Beachy Head after sailing for 30 hours in canoes.

The people of Eastbourne cared for the teenagers before they joined the Free French in London and met Winston Churchill.

Their bravery was remembered at a ceremony hosted by Eastbourne mayor, Councillor Gill Mattock.

Civic representatives from Fort Mahon Plage and Eastbourne, joined by a group of French schoolchildren, gathered at a special plaque on Beachy Head for commemoration.

Both mayors spoke of their admiration for the courage shown by the teenagers.

This was followed by readings from the children and singing of both national anthems.

After the service, the mayor hosted lunch for her 50 French guests, which included descendants of the five teenagers.

Cllr Mattock said, “It was both moving and uplifting to remember the heroic effort of the French teenagers, and I was particularly pleased to hear the children talk about it.

“We must never forget the incredible sacrifices made during all conflicts.”