The Beaujolais Run® launches its Great Escape to France at RAF Benson in aid of RAF charity

The 49th edition of The Beaujolais Run® will pay tribute to the 76 men who escaped 75 Stalag Luft III 75 years ago and raise funds for the charity which has stood side by side with RAF personnel ever since.

RAF Benson provided a fitting backdrop for the launch of this year’s drivers who were welcomed by Chief of Staff Wing Commander Matthew Tandy as well as Sheffield’s finest, Tony Foulds. Tony, famous for tending a Second World War memorial to US air crew in Sheffield’s Endcliffe Park, waved the cars on their way across Europe to the Beaujolais region of France.

Gary Axon, Beaujolais Run spokesman, said:

“We are proud to be supporting those who gave everything to serve their country and the personnel serving today who continue to make sacrifices on our behalf.

“This year’s Run promises to be as spectacular as those which have gone before it, all the while offering its participants a unique insight into the audacious mission to dig out of one of the Nazi’s most notorious prisoner of war camps.”

During the Second World War, RAF Benson was home to the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit. These brave pilots flew deep into enemy territory armed only with cameras. Many did not return home. Several were captured, including Flight Lieutenant Alastair ‘Sandy’ Gunn. Sandy’s Spitfire was shot down and he bailed out over Norway. He was captured by enemy forces and after weeks of questioning he was entered into the prisoner of war system and was eventually sent to Stalag Luft III, where he was a regular member of the ‘Great Escape’ tunnelling team. Unfortunately, Sandy was captured and, after harsh interrogation, he was shot by the Gestapo, along with 49 other escapees.

Wing Commander Matthew Tandy said:

“We’re proud to be hosting the launch of this year’s Beaujolais Run, particularly as the competitors learn more about the Great Escape and fate of the brave Spitfire pilots from RAF Benson.  We are delighted that the event is raising funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund.  The Fund is at the heart of the support provided to the whole RAF family, for both serving personnel and veterans, and they have been there for us all during tough times.”

After leaving RAF Benson, the cars travelled in convoy to their first stop at nearby Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, where they joined Raymond Blanc for his 70th birthday celebrations. To keep with the RAF theme, two chefs from RAF Northolt Cpl Vishwaananda (Lvai) Kisten and SAC Ross Haynes presented Raymond with a three-tiered red velvet cake featuring the RAF Northolt crest and RAF Benevolent Fund roundel.

It seemed a great tribute to bake a cake for such a renowned chef as not only is it Monsieur Blanc’s 70th birthday this week, this year marks the 35th anniversary of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

RAF chefs Cpl Vishwaananda Kisten, left, and SAC Ross Haynes, right, with Raymond Blanc and his birthday cake.
RAF chefs Cpl Vishwaananda Kisten, left, and SAC Ross Haynes, right, with Raymond Blanc and his birthday cake.

Cpl Kisten said:

“We are both honoured and delighted to make this cake for Raymond Blanc on such a big occasion. We both feel privileged to have been given the opportunity and have spent most of the weekend making sure it was just right. As RAF chefs we cook lots of different meals for lots of different people, but this experience has been quite unique.”

From there the Runners made their way to Eurotunnel to begin their European adventure. Once in France, drivers and their passengers will make their way to Beaujolais completing several ‘fun navigational challenges’ along the way, before loading up with Beaujolais Nouveau and heading back to the UK, via the shortest route possible.

Air Commodore Paul Higgins, RAF Benevolent Fund Chief of Staff, said:

“The RAF Benevolent Fund has stood side by side with the RAF Family for one hundred years, providing them with practical, emotional and financial support. But we simply could not do that without the backing of events like The Beaujolais Run. The Run has raised thousands of pounds of vital income for the Fund to allow us to continue our work.

“This is all the more important this year as we mark our centenary celebrations by pledging to double the number of people we support. Fundraisers like the Beaujolais Run and its participants make it possible for the Fund to make these kind of promises.” To find out more about the RAF Benevolent Fund’s campaign to get more RAF veterans back on the radar, go to rafbf.org

Top image: Some of the Beaujolais Run cars ready for departure. Photo: RAF Benevolent Fund.

See also: Military charities

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