We were fortunate enough to speak with Ian Reed, Director of the Allied Forces Heritage Group (Groupe du Patrimoine des Forces Alliées), who agreed to tell us more about the activities of this organization which promotes French-British remembrance and friendship.
Q. Can you tell us more about your background?
A. I was born and raised in Old Malton, in rural North Yorkshire. My father was in the sixth airborne division during the Second World War. So from an early age, I developed a great interest in history – and in particular for the period of the Second World War. I had a career in civil engineering, as well as being in elected office from a very young age – having been elected for the first time at the age of 18, before serving two terms as mayor, in the town of Malton.
Q. I understand that the Yorkshire Air Museum has a special place in your heart. Is that so?
A. Indeed. The Yorkshire Air Museum is a place dedicated to the memory of the Allied Armed Forces. It is located on a former military base from which squadrons left during the Second World War. Nearly 2,300 French people were based there during the war. I took over the management of the Museum when I retired. At that time, the Museum was in a very difficult situation in terms of management and financing, and it only had a few pieces/ aircrafts in its collection. I had to work hard to get this museum up and running again and to make it known internationally.
Q. How did you become involved in promoting the French-British friendship?
A. Perhaps I should mention first that I have been surrounded by French friends all my life. My family owned a house in Villefranche du Rouerque, in the Aveyron region, for a very long time. From a more ‘institutional’ standpoint, I started to frequent French veterans’ associations as part of my duties at the Yorkshire Air Museum, and I also became Vice-President of the “Amicale des Anciens et Amis de Groupes Lourds”.
I subsequently organised a series of events across the UK and France, supported by both the British and French Governments. To name just a few examples, I organised several editions of the ‘The French in York’ Festival, which had 10 events over 5 days, and brought together around 6,000 people. I also helped organise the 100th-anniversary celebrations of the “Armée de l’Air” (French airforce) and the Royal Air Force, which were held at Les Invalides in Paris. On this occasion, I managed – at the cost of many efforts – to obtain permission to transport aircrafts dating from the First World War from Bordeaux and from York to the Invalides in Paris!
Q. Can you tell us more about the Allied Forces Heritage Group (Groupe des Forces Armées)?
A. The Allied Forces Heritage Group is an organisation that brings together historians, researchers and professionals from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. Its purpose is to contribute to historical research and commemoration, in particular by highlighting the (often incredible) stories of women and men on both sides of the Channel who fought and resisted for our common good. You can find some of these stories on our website: https://afheritage.org.
Q. You have just joined the Order of the Legion of Honour (Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur) and you have been awarded the title of Member of the British Empire, within a few months of each other – which is quite unique. How did it feel to receive these distinctions?
A. I was very humbled to receive these two awards. The title of MBE (Member of the British Empire), received on behalf of the Queen, has a special meaning as it was presented to me at the British Embassy in Paris by the new Ambassador, Her Excellency Menna Rawlings. 200 members of the diplomatic corps, military attachés and friends were gathered for the occasion. It’s a moment that I will remember for a long time!