Footage of Leonard Cheshire's wartime work 70 years on
8 February 2014
Moments before a night time raid on the Gnome et Rhône aero-engine factory in Limoges, France, on 8 February 1944, Leonard Cheshire flew over the factory three times at perilously low levels so 500 workers could escape. His colleague, who was filming the feat from the Lancaster plane, later said: ‘I’d never before had the feeling of having the target brought right under my nose, almost to pose for the cameras.’
The night-time footage of the target, filmed from the fuselage of a Lancaster bomber flown by Leonard Cheshire, shows his aircraft a few feet away from rooftops dropping marker flares ahead of the attack. The approach was particularly difficult as the factory sat in a valley with a pair of water towers and a chimney.
Leonard Cheshire’s letter on his thoughts from that day says:
‘In order to give those in the factory the best chance of escaping and not to put anybody’s life in danger, I did three low level runs over the top and then waited five minutes before dropping my markers. To have dropped them without warning would almost certainly have caused fairly serious loss of life and injury.’
As a result of Leonard Cheshire’s forethought and bravery, everyone escaped from the factory except one man who returned for his bicycle. The production of the aircraft engines ceased and the operation was deemed a success.
Watch the footage:
Stephanie Nield, our archivist, has been looking at what the Leonard Cheshire Disability archive holds about that night.
‘We have letters from Leonard Cheshire discussing the operation with residents from Limoges, including times when he met with those who were in the factory. It is obvious from the correspondence that he found this very moving, and he writes about his thoughts on what happened.’
Our chief executive, Clare Pelham, commented on the footage and letters:
‘Our founder, like many people of his generation, was affected by the appalling loss of life that took place during World War Two. He did what he could on the night of 8 February 1944 to prevent the loss of life at Limoges.
‘This story not only demonstrates the incredible courage of our founder, but also illustrates his compassion. His letters demonstrate the values that underpin the charity we are today.’