Len Cotton, an RAF man who was sheltered in Oradour in 1943

Len Cotton, an RAF man who was sheltered in Oradour
Picture courtesy of The Canberra Times, Australia   

    This photograph was first shown in The Canberra Times of Australia on 11th January 1996. The people in the group are, Len Cotton (centre) Robert Chataignier (left) and Chris Laloz (right). The story behind the picture is as follows:

    Len Cotton was a RAF crewman aboard a Wellington bomber on the night of 23rd November 1943 when it was hit in both engines and forced to make a crash landing in France. All 6 crewmembers survived the landing, which was near to the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. Members of the resistance sheltered them in the village for three nights before arranging for their transport firstly to Limoges and then to Toulouse before crossing the boarder into Spain. In about a month the whole crew were back in Britain.

    Robert Chataignier was a 16-year-old member of the resistance operating in the locality, he said that he personally had not met any of the crew at the time, "but we all knew what was going on". He added, "I often wondered what happened to the crew and I was delighted to know that they all got out safely and to meet one of them after all these years".

    It was Chris Laloz who arranged the meeting shown in the photograph as a result of repairing Len Cotton's faulty refrigerator, during the course of which Len told him of his wartime experiences. Chris Laloz had been a plainclothes policeman in Paris at the same time as Robert Chataignier during the 1960's. When Robert came to Australia, "it seemed obvious that they (he and Len Cotton) should get together".

    The model in front of the three men is of Oradour-sur-Glane and has been built by Len Cotton in his Griffith retirement home garden. Before he retired to Australia, Len Cotton had been for many years a journalist in London's Fleet Street. I believe that he has subsequently passed away.

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© Michael Williams: revised February 2004