True or false? Roland Garros was a famous tennis champion.
False! When you hear the name Roland Garros, you probably think of the tennis tournament (or the stadium) in Paris, but Garros had nothing to do with tennis.
He was a talented French pilot and war hero. Garros joined the French air force and shot down multiple German aircrafts in just a few weeks while firing straight from his cockpit, a novelty back in the days. He was also a world record holder. In 1914, Garros set the then-world record for the highest flight, reaching an altitude of 4,250 meters.
And there’s more: on April 1915 he was flying low over Flanders in an attempt to attack a German train, when his plane was shot by the Germans. He was forced to make an emergency landing in Hulste, a small town in the west of Flanders. He set his plane on fire so the Germans wouldn’t find out about the revolutionary military plane he had designed. Belgian farmers helped to hide the pilot from the Germans, but eventually they found him and he was captured.
In 2015, 100 years after Roland Garros landed in Hulste, a commemorative statue was placed in front of the town’s public library. There’s even a Roland Garros walk that takes you from the statue through the lovely countryside of Hulste, right to Hoog Wallegem, the spot where Garros landed his plane in 1915.
Oh, and in case you were wondering what happened with Garros: he managed to escape three years later, in February 1918. He rejoined the French army to continue fighting the Germans, but in October 1918 he was killed in action in the Ardennes in Northern France, a month before the war ended.
After his death, in 1928, the new tennis stadium in Paris was named after him. The famous tennis tournament that takes place there every year in May and June also carries Garros’ name, although most English speakers know this Grand Slam tournament as the French Open.