An RAF veteran has revealed the incredible story of how he escaped the Nazis and on his way home introduced the French nation – to fried EGGS on toast.
Brave Thomas Maxwell, 93, is one of the last surviving rear gunners of WW2 known as the ‘tail end Charlies’.
He parachuted out of his Lancaster bomber when it was hit by flak at 8,000ft returning from a raid on Stuttgart in March 1944.
Five crewmen were captured but the remaining three, including Tom, then aged 19, managed to escape.
A local family hid him at their farm in Bazancourt nr Reims for ten days.
Each morning Tom said he was brought bread, cheese and a glass of red wine by the farmer’s wife, Mdme Tancre de Maertens.
But one day he decided to reach for the fry and cheekily asked – using sign language – for his favourite fried egg on toast.
He recalls the wife laughing and thinking it was ”ridicule” – ridiculous – but the next morning she brought him eggs on toasted French bread.
And after D Day a few months later she reportedly made fried eggs for all the advancing Allied troops.
Shortly afterwards ‘Oeuf sur le pain grille’ began to make its way into nearby cafes for the first time as a local delicacy.
Tom said he only discovered that his meal request had sparked a French revolution several decades later when researchers investigating crash sites of Allied aircraft visited the farm.
The Irish-born great-granddad, who now lives near Exeter, Devon, said: “They had been in touch with me and I had told them about the farm I went to in the village.
“They established where it was and turned up one day and found the son was still running it.
“The researchers ended up talking to him and all these stories came out – including the one about fried eggs on toast.
“He said his mother had shared the story with friends who laughed at this crazy Irishman.
“Shortly after that was D-Day and he said his mum made it for all the advancing Allied troops. It then ended up in all the local cafes.
“It was just my favourite dish at the time that’s all.”
After seeking sanctuary at the farm Tom returned to combat after being smuggled more than 600 miles by the French resistance across the Pyrenees to Spain.
He was eventually flown back to the UK from Gibraltar and resumed flying missions before ending the war in India.
After a brief stint as a teacher he rejoined the RAF in 1952 in Air Traffic Control.
He retired from the RAF in 1978 and then began a 10-year stint with the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force, in Oman before settling in Devon.
A total of 55,573 members of Bomber Command were killed during the war: only the infantry in the trenches in the first world war had a higher fatality rate.
Yet veterans have complained that they have been officially overlooked, blaming government disquiet at the cost in German civilian lives caused by their raids.
Many are furious that the government only awarded them a clasp instead of a campaign medal after sustained protests in 2013.
Tom – awarded the Legion d’ honneur by France last year – said the sacrifice his colleagues made should have been more recognised.
He added: “I am very proud of the efforts we made in the war and my service with the RAF.
“But I do regret it took the government so long to honour the sacrifice made by bomber command and the 55,000 men and women who died should have been recognised sooner.”
Tom’s wife Katherine died in 2007 and he has two sons, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild – and still enjoys a fried egg.