A MEETING has taken place at a prestigious Mayfair club to draw up plans for a celebration of a Worcestershire mansion’s WW2 links with Free French soldiers.
The owners of Ribbesford House met a French delegation, including one of General de Gaulle’s original cadets who trained there ahead of the D-Day landings in 1944.
René Marbot, aged 96, president of L’Association du Souvenir des Cadets de la France Libre, said he was delighted the Anglo-French connection is to be preserved.
The French party hosted a lunch at the Cavalry and Guards Club in London for multi-millionaire property entrepreneurs Samuel and Russell Leeds, who bought Ribbesford in May last year. Their operations manager Sara Taveira also joined the gathering.
Two sons of Free French soldiers, Pierre Moulié and Patrick Lemoine, flew in specially for the event. They were joined by Armel Dirou, Attaché Défense Adjoint (Terre), historian Basile de Lamenardière and Brigitte Williams, déléguée de la Fondation de la France-Libre.
During the meeting the Leeds brothers outlined their plans to renovate the country house, dating back to the 16th century, and said they were committed to celebrating its ‘fascinating’ past.
Charles de Gaulle, who led the French Resistance against Nazi Germany in the war, visited Ribbesford, with its two distinctive octagonal towers, several times to see the cadets in training.
When the group of around 200 trainees first arrived, most were under the age of 18 and had already overcome many obstacles to reach England. They became the Cadets de la France Libre and joined the British invasion forces in the battle to liberate Europe. One in four of the young soldiers subsequently died in the fighting.
A comprehensive renovation programme has been put together to restore Ribbesford House to its former glory. Over the years the Grade II* listed building, near Bewdley, has become dilapidated and in is urgent need of repair. Previous owners had converted the house into apartments. The project will include new luxurious apartments, plus a small number of holiday lets in the eight acres of wooded grounds close to the banks of the River Severn.
The new owners reassured the French delegation they are keen to preserve its important architectural features, as well as its historic connections.
Samuel Leeds, chairman of Midlands-based Property Investors, the largest training company of its kind in the UK, said: “We have a budget of around £2m to make Ribbesford magnificent again.
“We are passionate about this project. Work has already started on clearing the site of knotweed, but the renovation will begin in earnest in the summer. It will include a new roof, which Ribbesford has long needed.”
Property Investors CEO Russell Leeds added: “We’ve been working closely with conservation officers and the relevant authorities to ensure a sensitive development. We informed the French party of our plans and they were delighted. We also told them that we would consider any proposals they might have to keep Ribbesford’s connection with the Free French alive.
“There is a plaque in the grounds to the French Free. We would be happy to have an annual event centred around this memorial to remember these very brave men who stood should to shoulder with the British forces to defeat the Nazis.
“It was a particular privilege to meet René. The building means a lot to him and I can understand why. Our aim is to be good custodians of the house and give it the care and attention it deserves.”
Speaking on behalf of the Free French association, Brigitte Williams said: “We were impressed by the attention to detail and the care that Samuel and Russell are giving to the physical structure of the building. We were also encouraged by their enthusiasm to find out more about the Free French and recent history linked to our two countries.
“It seems very important to them both to maintain that link and to provide future activities around our shared history. The meeting made the ‘young’ cadet, René Marbot, a very happy man.”
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