The Airmen's Stories - Adjutant H G Lafont
Henry Gaston Lafont was born in Cahors, France on 10th August 1920. Attracted by flying, he obtained his pilots licence and on 4th November 1938 entered the flying school at Istres. When the Armistice was signed on 22nd June 1940, Lafont was just finishing a course at the Fighter School at La Sénia airfield near Oran, Algeria.
He flew to Gibraltar against orders on 30th June with Rene Mouchotte and four others in a Caudron Goeland. The aircraft's propellers had been damaged deliberately to disable the aircraft and it flew barely above stalling speed.
They sailed for England on 3rd July 1940 in the French armed trawler President Houduce, arriving in Liverpool on the 13th.
Lafont was one of eleven French pilots who went to RAF St. Athan in late July. He moved to No. 1 School of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum on 29th July and then went to Odiham on 10th August where he flew 15 hours on Tiger Moths and Hectors. He was posted to 6 OTU, Sutton Bridge on the 19th, converted to Hurricanes and joined 245 Squadron at Aldergrove on 11th September, moving to 615 Squadron at Prestwick on the 18th.
After a period of training, Lafont moved south with 615 to Northolt on 9th October. He probably destroyed a Me109 on 26th February 1941 and was the only one of his formation of six to return safely to base. On 15th March Lafont probably destroyed a Me109. In late May 1941 he was posted to 59 OTU Crosby-on-Eden as an instructor for French pilots coming from 10 FTS at Tern Hill.
Lafont went to the Middle East in late December 1941 to join the Groupe Alsace, which had operated in the Western Desert since 1940 as the Free French Flight. He was disappointed to find Gladiators and very old Hurricanes.
After a months training the unit was declared operational and was engaged in convoy patrols between Alexandria and Tobruk. In May 1942 Lafont volunteered to joined the Normandie Squadron, then being formed in the Lebanon for service in Russia. At this time the Groupe Alsace was short of pilots and Lafont elected to remain with it for a while. He was shot down and wounded and because of this he was declared unfit for the Russian expedition.
Lafont returned to Britain with the Groupe Alsace. It was expanded to squadron strength and re-numbered as 341 Squadron at Turnhouse on 1st January 1943.
The youngest of the Free French pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain, Lafont was also the last survivor of the group who had escaped in June 1940 to carry on the fight. He was a Compagnon de l'Ordre de Liberation and a Commander of the Legion d'Honneur. By the end of the war he had completed 230 operational missions. He also won the Croix de Guerre with three palms and the Croix de la Valeur Militaire.
Lafont served in the French Air Force post-war, serving at the 5th Air Region Headquarters in Algeria during the conflict there and for six years in London. After losing his fighter pilot medical category, he turned to helicopters. He retired from the French Air Force in 1966.
In 1967 Lafont was appointed Director General of the Paris Air Show , the world’s oldest and largest air show and held at Le Bourget since 1909. He remained in the post until 1984.
He died on 2nd December 2011 and is survived by two sons, Lucien and Jacques, and one daughter Anne-Marie, as well as eight grand-children.
L'Hôtel National des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids) is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissment of Paris, France, containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building's original purpose.
On Wednesday 7th December a funeral service was held there for Colonel Lafont consisting of a Catholic mass with communion followed by a eulogy. Senior officers of the French Air Force were in attendance, the Chief of the Air Staff being represented. After the service the coffin, draped in the French flag and carrying a cushion holding his decorations, was borne out by ten men of a French Air Force colour guard.
The courtyard was lined with the standard-bearers of many French military associations, the standard of the Fighter Pilots Association being carried by
Colonel Pierre-Alain Antoine. Officers from the Royal Air Force were also in attendance.
Above image and additional research courtesy of Colonel Pierre-Alain Antoine.