A tennis tournament has hailed the wartime exploits of an RAF pilot who was awarded France’s highest honour three years ago, writes Toby Porter.
Wimbledon Tennis Club last weekend remembered the distinguished bravery of Flight Sergeant George Wood, pictured, and the people of Carantec, France who saved the lives of many allied soldiers during the Second World War.
It was the second staging of the tournament, but the first in the home town of war hero George Wood – last year’s 12-match competition in Carantec ended in a draw.
The charity tournament raised money for the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF’s leading welfare charity.
Each team, (England v France), had a mix of four men and four women, with more than 24 residents of Carantec travelling over for the contest.
The Mayor of Merton also joined the celebrations to present the ‘George Wood Trophy’ at the prize-giving dinner.
On September 23, 1943, a life and death battle took place in the sky above Carantec, in Brittany, for a 21-year-old RAF pilot from Wimbledon, as he dive-bombed Ploujean airfield in his spitfire.
It is believed that flak hit the bombs he had just released, causing a massive explosion and destroying the aircraft – all except the cockpit.
The pilot, Flight Sergeant George Wood, was trapped inside, unable to unwind the hood. After screaming for help, he was suddenly outside, heading towards land in his parachute.
Swaying from side to side, bullets whistled past from the small firearms below.
George was then given refuge by the French Resistance, the few brave, patriotic French men, women and children risking their lives to save him. To flee back to England, he then obtained a false identity through the help of Madame Le Duc.
George then became Pierre Floch, a deaf-mute student aged 17, as he prepared for his journey back to England.
On October 31, 2015 George Wood was presented with the prestigious Legion d’Honneur by the Mayor of Carantec, awarded by French President Francois Hollande to allied servicemen who helped liberate France in the Second World War.
Hundreds of military and civilian personnel attended the service, including two of George’s daughters, Clare and Ruth, and his granddaughter Meryem.
At the reception which followed, the Mayor and Clare discussed a shared interest in tennis – Clare is a former British number one player and referee – it was decided there and then that a tennis match should be arranged between Carantec Tennis Club and a team prepared by Clare to commemorate this special moment in history. And so, the George Wood Trophy was born.
Clare said: “I am extremely excited to have the team from Carantec over here in England for a shot at the George Wood Trophy. “I am unbelievably proud of my father, and forever thankful to the people of Carantec who saved him.”
George said: “I hope this occasion can act as a way for me to thank the people of Carantec who saved my life.
If it were not for the assistance and faith they had in me to help me return to England, I would not be here to share my story today.