Party crosses Channel for plaque unveiling to mark brave sea voyage

Stephen Lloyd at Fort Mahon
Stephen Lloyd at Fort Mahon

Eastbourne’s MP and mayor led a group over the Channel to visit Fort Mahon Plage in France to take part in a commemoration ceremony.

The ceremony was a follow up visit to one made in September 2012 by a party led by the mayor of Fort Mahon Plage, Alain Baillet, to Beachy Head to unveil a commemoration plaque.

The plaque in both locations commemorates a crossing of the English Channel in open canoes on September 16th 1941 by fiveyoung men aged under 20 who were residents of Fort Mahon Plage which was under German occupation at the time.

The crossing by Reynold Lefebvre and two sets of brothers, Christian and Guy Richard and Jean Paul and Pierre Lavoix, took more than 30 hours and they finally landed at Beachy Head. The young men were welcomed by the townspeople of Eastbourne and eventually they were presented to Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle in London.

Their story at the time was held up as one of great courage and determination and lifted the spirits of the occupied French. The crossing’s planning took over a year with canoes being prepared and kept hidden from the German occupiers.

The Eastbourne civic party was met at Fort Mahon Plage town hall by Madame Yvette Bonnet, the First Deputy Mayor, and transported via a Dotto train to the seafront, where they were welcomed by the town band for the commemoration ceremony. Before the Mayor’s opening speech, Gerard Tabary and Pierre Gosselin gave a short summary of the five young men’s achievement in 1941.

Eastbourne mayor Mike Thompson said, “We were very pleased to be able to renew our ties with our friends from Fort Mahon Plage to commemorate the heroic voyage made in 1941 of five young citizens of their town, we thank them for their hospitality on the day and we look forward to meeting up again in the future.”

Speeches were made by Alain Bailet the local mayor, Cllr Thompson, Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd, Monsieur Jean-Claude Buisine the MP for Fort Mahon Plage, Monsieur Daniel Dubois, Senator for the department of the Somme and the plaque was unveiled. After the ceremony the party returned to the local hall where around 90 enjoyed lunch and were entertained by a bagpiper and fiddle player.