As we approach the Eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two, we hear how the heroism of an RAF pilot and a love of tennis has created a memorial tournament that has brought two communities together
All over the country, players in Local Tennis Leagues make new friends and acquaintances in matches and we celebrate their stories. Last week in Wimbledon, directly opposite the All England Lawn Tennis Club, a remarkable tennis event took place, celebrating an extraordinary story of courage and luck.
It all began on 23 September 1943, when British RAF pilot George Wood (right) was on a mission to bomb an aerodrome near Carantec in Brittany, northern France. “You dive from about 14,000 feet and immediately you pull out from the dive, you press a knob and drop your bombs,” says George who is now 97.
“As I pressed that knob, all hell broke loose. A burst of flak must have hit the bombs. It blew up the bombs and blew up the aircraft. The very next moment, I am outside the cockpit, watching it spin down to earth, and I am being shot at.”
George landed on the airfield, ran across a minefield and walked – nonchalantly – down a sandy track. With great presecence of mind, he helped himself to an apple from a tree so he could not be engaged in conversation, then scrambled up the tree when a group of Germans approached. “They stopped under the tree to smoke and I could smell tobacco fumes. I just hoped and prayed they wouldn’t look up.” They didn’t.
From his tree, George noticed some buildings, took refuge and fell asleep. The famer who discovered him summoned the doctor who, in a second piece of luck for George, was in charge of the local resistance. Disguised as a deaf mute student named Pierre Floch, George was smuggled back to the UK in a re-configured fishing boat by the doctor's colleagues. He flew a further 60 missions during the war.
Seventy two years later, to celebrate those who helped liberate France, George was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the Mayor of Carantec, on October 31, 2015. It was the anniversary of the day his boat sailed back to the UK.
At the reception which followed, the Mayor and George’s daughter Clare discovered they shared an interest in tennis (Clare is a former British number one and was tennis competition manager at London 2012 Olympics). What better way to mark the heroism of the fighter pilot and the French Resistance, they decided, than to hold a tennis tournament. The George Wood Trophy was born, with proceeds going to the RAF Benevolent Fund which supports George in his retirement home.
The first tournament between the Carantec and Wimbledon Tennis Clubs, was held in France last year (it was a tie). The second took place (see pic above) on May 18 in Wimbleon. The home team won. At the prize giving dinner, Gerorge sat next to the mayor of Merton and presented the trophy. “I always like a party and it was fabulous. The food was very good and the company was marvellous."
- The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is the RAF’s leading welfare charity. Ite exist to support current and former members of the RAF, their partners and dependants. In 2018 the charity spent £21m supporting more than 53,000 members of the RAF Family. For more information visit: www.rafbf.org