IT was one of the defining episodes of the second world war – a daring British raid which could have come straight from a Boys Own comic.
Two hundred elite troops captured a heavily armed German radar after parachuting behind enemy lines, allowing the Allies to establish control of the European skies for the first time.
Now a French scholar is hoping to trace the family of a Sheffield man who took a lead role in Operation Biting, perhaps better known as the Bruneval Raid.
Company Sergeant Major Gerald Strachan, who lived in Studley Court, Darnall, was shot in the stomach during the 1942 night-time assault - but, being made of South Yorkshire steel, the 37-year-old didn’t let a small thing like that get the better of him.
He ignored the wound and continued to trade close-quarter gunfire with Germans as British troops infiltrated the radar base on the north French coast, swiped vital equipment from under the enemy’s nose and then escaped by sea.
The Brits even had time to take a German helmet as a memento of the operation.
More importantly, it was a game-changing raid which allowed British scientists to use the stolen instruments to give the Allies air supremacy and Strachan and his fellow troops were lauded as heroes in the British press. Only two of the 200 soldiers were killed during the operation – and just five Germans died.
Now Nicolas Bucourt, the author behind a new book set to be published next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the raid, is trying to gather information on every soldier who took part in the daredevil action.
“The research is for the book but it’s also very personal because I live very close to Bruneval and I’m passionate about the British Airborne history, and what these troops did here,” says the 26-year-old.
“I’m looking for every account or written narrative by veterans that they might have told their families, and I would like to put faces to names in the book too so I’m looking for pictures.
“I’ve done a lot of the military research in the National Archives but I also want to find more personal details about these heroes – about where they came from, what their peacetime jobs were, what they did post war and if they have family left.
“Despite the raid’s significance there are actually no real books dedicated to the men who made it happen.”
It was not the only significant war time raid Company Sergeant Major Strachan, a paratrooper in 2nd battalion of the 1st Airborne Division, took part in, either.
He would later be taken prisoner during the Allies infamous attempts to capture Arnhem Bridge over the Rhine, and is thought to have remained in captivity until the end of the conflict.
He passed away at home in South Yorkshire in 1947 from injuries sustained during the war – including that gun shot at Bruneval. He was just 42.
His wife Ivy remained in Sheffield her whole life and is thought to have passed away in the 1990s aged over 90-years-old. It is unclear whether the couple had any children.
Anyone with information is asked to email Nicolas at firstname.lastname@example.org