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The Airmen's Stories - P/O R F F Malengrau


Roger Malengreau, the Belgian diplomatist who has died aged 81, fought with the RAF in the Battle of Britain. In the spring of 1940, when Germany invaded the Low Countries and France, Malengreau was serving with a Belgian army co-operation squadron flying two-seater, open-cockpit Fairey Fox biplanes dating from 1925. The squadron had moved to an airfield near Liege on May 10th but two days later the aircraft were wiped out, mostly on the ground. Malengreau and his fellow pilots escaped to France. After the French armistice with Hitler in June Malengreau defied orders to stay where he was, and with some other pilots made his way to Port Vendres, south of Perpignan near the foothills of the Pyrenees. Assisted by a British destroyer, he boarded the SS ‘Apapa’ at sea and arrived at Liverpool on July 7. Twelve days later he was commissioned into the RAF and, following brief operational training and a conversion course to Hurricanes, he was posted to No 87 Squadron at Exeter on August 12. It was the eve of the Luftwaffe's Eagle Offensive which was expected to achieve air superiority swiftly and to pave the way for operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain.

Malengreau flew his first operational sortie the day after joining the squadron. Although based in Exeter, to the west of the main air battle, he saw plenty of action.

As winter approached teething troubles with the early airborne interception radar sets on Beaufighter aircraft hampered efforts to hunt enemy bombers at night. No 87 Squadron, then at Colerne near Bath, was one of five Hurricane squadrons to step into the breach and Malengreau endured the frustrating needle-in-a-haystack process of seeking enemy bombers over target cities at night.

Roger Fernand Fulgeance Ghislaine Malengrau was born in Brussels with his twin sister on August 1st 1914 into a family noted for the incidence of twins. His father and uncle (also twins) were the inspiration for Thomson and Thompson, the two bowler-hatted detectives in ‘Herge’s Adventures of Tintin’. Malengreau was educated in Brussels at the Jesuit College of St Michel and entered the Belgian Royal Military Academy in 1934.

In early 1941, having joined No 56 Squadron, Malengreau flew Hurricanes in the early offensive sweeps over France. In April he moved to No 609 and was flying a Spitfire on blenheim bomber escort when he shared in the probable destruction of a Me109. Malengreau’s aircraft was so badly damaged that a fuel tank broke away and he just managed to glide to a crash landing at Dover. His skills and his modest brand of leadership were recognised in the New Year of 1943 when be arrived at Ikeja in Nigeria to form, as its commander, No 349, a new Belgian Tomahawk Fighter Squadron for service in the Belgian Congo. On the outward voyage the squadron suffered a serious setback when aircraft being transported on deck were wrecked in severe gales. Subsequently Malengreau and his fellow pilots were usefully employed ferrying fighters which had been landed by sea in West Africa across to Khartoum, then up to Egypt to reinforce the Desert Air Force. Malengreau returned in the autumn to a staff appointment at Fighter Command HQ as a member of the D-Day planning team.

In July 1944 he was detached as a liason officer with the 12th US Army Group. He was present at the liberation of Paris and Brussels and then acted as a liason officer between the Allies and Belgium. After VE Day in 1945 he was released from the RAF and joined the Belgian Foreign Service. In 1948 he was posted to Peking where he encountered many difficulties following upon Mao’s civil war with the Nationalists. In the upheaval Malengreau assisted a Manchu princess, a daughter of the Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi, to preserve financial resources banked in Belgium. He was also concerned with the safety of Belgian missionaries and priests of whom there were many in China at the time. When Mao came to power it was de riguer for foreign envoys to attend state occasions in formal morning dress - top hats were in short supply but Malengreau discovered a stock of them in the embassy attic and was able to fit out his fellow Western diplomats.

In 1952 he returned to Lagos, as consul. His area of responsibility included Ghana and French Equatorial Africa and the posting gave him the opportunity to indulge his love of polo. He returned to Europe in 1957 to the post of director of transport and communications in the Belgian Foreign Office and the next year to the first of a series of NATO appointments.

Malengreau was always known for his good looks and charm. These served him well in his diplomatic posts, notably when, as Ambassador at Kuala Lumpur, he overcame the embarrassment of holing-in-one when playing golf with Belgium’s Princess Liliane.

He also served as ambassador to Singapore and Chile. Finally he acted as permanent representative of Belgian industries at Kinshasa in the Congo from 1969 to 1974 when he retired.

He was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm for his wartime service and was appointed CBE in 1988. He held the US Bronze Star, the French Liberation Medal and many other decorations.

He married, in 1948, Daphne Leach, whom he had met on a sea passage home from Lagos. They had a son and a daughter.

With acknowledgments to the Daily Telegraph May 1996


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