“His Majesty the King would like to award you the British Empire Medal.” We can imagine the emotion of Nicolas Bucourt, a 38-year-old from Normandy, when he received this phone call from the British embassy announcing that he was going to be decorated with the British Empire medal.
It was last July, the deputy ambassador of the United Kingdom contacted him on behalf of King Charles III, after hearing of his memory work on Operation Biting, better known in France as the Bruneval raid . This professional computer graphic designer, passionate about history, has been investigating this little-known event of the Second World War for 20 years. The operation, which took place on the night of February 27 to 28, 1942, mobilized nearly 120 paratroopers from the Royal Air Force (British Air Force) in Normandy, for a reconnaissance mission of German radars. The soldiers landed on the beach of Saint-Jouin-Bruneval (Seine Maritime), a place that Nicolas Bucourt knows well since he grew up in Heuqueville, a neighboring town.
“In the region, when we were little, we played in the surrounding blockhouses,” recalls Nicolas Bucourt to BFM TV. He still remembers the first time he discovered the dedicated monument: “At the time it was a simple monument where there were no explanatory panels,” he tells Le Figaro. This mission “was told among the elders in the surrounding villages (...) I remember Mr. Etu, in my village, who explained to us that in February 1942, he had been locked up with all the men in his village in a room the day after the raid, to prevent them from helping lost paratroopers.
He then undertook his own research, at the age of 18, and met the families of the veterans of this raid (which left two dead in the English camp). He also met Alain Millet, another enthusiast of the Bruneval raid, who had been dedicated to it since the 1970s (he is now deceased). Together, they published Raid de Bruneval et de la Poterie - Cap d'Antifer, Mystères et vérités, in 2012. The same year, the commune of Saint-Jean-de-Bruneval inaugurated a memorial based on the documentation gathered by Alain Millet.
For twenty years, Nicolas Bucourt has been collecting photos, documents and objects, which they exhibit in local museums, but he hopes to be able to open a museum entirely dedicated to the Bruneval raid. “It would be my dream to one day have one!” confides the thirty-year-old with a smile. In the meantime, he feeds a digital museum on social networks, where he lists everything he has managed to find over the years on this little-known chapter of History.
Even if he managed to reconstruct the main lines of the operation, Nicolas Bucourt continues his research. “There are always little unresolved stories and we always find additional information,” he explains. Now, what I find allows me to enrich the story more and more.”
In October, after four months of secrecy, he officially became the recipient of the B.E.M (British Empire Medal) for meritorious service. He will be received in the coming months at the British Embassy in France, to receive his medal. A ceremony which should be held without King Charles III, who will probably not make the trip.