This text below is not mine. It’s a vibrant homage to Bernard Racicot DFC written a few years ago.
The original is here.
A Canadian Halifax Story
Although the German industrial production rose toward the end of World War Two it did not rise to the level had there not been an allied bombing offensive. It dispersed the German industry and separated and reduced manafacturing processes. The reason that the Germans failed to produce an atomic weapon was because many of the physicists were either killed or forced to be broken up and isolated in underground research facilities.
Over 10,000 Canadians lost their lives on active duty flying on extremely hazardous missions with Bomber Command.
No 425 Alouette Squadron was formed at Dishforth, Yorkshire on June 25, 1942 and flew Vickers Wellington and Handley-Page Halifax aircraft on tactical and strategic bombing operations over Europe and North Africa. It was designated a “French Canadian” squadron for propaganda reasons and flew a total of 328 operational missions and shot down 7 enemy aircraft. It`s last mission was flown on April 25, 1945 from Tholthorpe, Yorkshire.
Some Alouette Men
The crew of Flying Officer Charles Bernard Racicot:
No 425 ( B) Squadron, Dishforth, Yorkshire, 1944
F/O Charles Bernard Racicot, Pilot
Flt Lt Roger Marc Aurèle, Navigator
Sgt Paul Panasuk, Flight Engineer
Flt Sgt Maurice Dépôt, Wireless Operator
Sgt Pierre Dumouchel, Bomb Aimer
Sgt Bob Gregory, Mid Upper Gunner (not in photo )
Sgt Raymond Leboeuf, Tail Gunner
……..and this is the aircraft they flew.
The aircraft depicted in the video are earlier B.MK V variants rather than the later model B.MK III Models Mr.Racicot and his crew flew. Oddly the B. MK V preceded the MK III entering service in June 1943 with the B.MK IIIs being introduced into squadron service in Nov. 1943. They were generally similar with he main diference in the B.MK III being the addition of more powerful Hercules radial engines which enabled it to cruise more efficiently at 20,000 ft. The tail section was also redesigned and incorporated a retractable tailwheel and the addition of the H2S radar, as can be seen from the side view and photo below.
A Remarkable Gentleman
Recently, I had the privelege to meet Mr. Racicot in the art room of a local church. After he climbed 2 flights of about 50 stairs each ( no small feat for a man of 85 years!) I was introduced to him by his son Bernard.
To tell the truth, I was expecting a man of tall tales & heroic deeds. A war hero. A knight of the air. But instead it was quite the opposite, I found myself being introduced to a humble man who was full of humility and sincerity. He brought some photos with him, including the one above, in addition to his framed Distinguished Flying Cross that he received for actions taken when his Halifax was shot down during a raid over Witten, Germany in March 1945 (see link for the official citation ). The story of his subsequent escape had never been officially documented so this was the one thing in particular that grabbed my curiousity and I think that it is worth relating here.
After his Halifax was hit by enemy fire, as the pilot and captain, Mr. Racicot was the last crew member to parachute out of the doomed aircraft holding it as steady as he could so the other crew members could get out safely. All managed to land safely although unfortunately the flight engineer Sgt. Panasuk was shot by the Germans because his Ukranian name sounded Russian. Mr Racicot explained that he himself was almost immediately captured by the Germans and was interrogated by an officer of the Schutzstaffel or SS , the most feared and ruthless of Hitler’s soldiers. From the onset he established a rapport with the SS officer who had actually visited the Province of Québec before the war. After the interrogation his ordeal continued as he was put aboard a train along with other POWs for transfer to a prison camp deeper in Germany. En route the train was strafed by American fighter-bombers so they were then forced to march on foot to the prison camp. Along the way they happened across some French forced-labourers working in a field. Because of their common language they were able to inform Mr. Racicot that the American Army was about 15 miles away. He and another prisoner decided to make a break for it and chose an opportune moment. They were able to make contact with the Americans who came to the rescue of the other prisoners. He was then repatriated back to England but couldn’t return to flying duties because as an escaper if he were to be captured by the Germans a second time he would have most definitely been shot. Of 91 Alouettes taken prisoner by the Germans, Mr. Racicot was one of only two who managed to escape.
Other recollections included flying under the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montréal during his flying training at St Hubert along with two other pilots. On D-Day he flew a diversionary or decoy mission over Denmark in a Wellington bomber (see photo below) to try and draw the German’s attention away from France where the allied invasion of Europe was getting under way in the early hours of June 6, 1944. He also indicated to me that they didn’t always fly the same aircraft as well as the fact that they didn’t paint up the noses of the airplanes like the Americans did. “We didn’t have time for that”, he emphasized. He was once ordered by his Squadron Leader to discipline his navigator, who in civilian life was an architect, for being too accurate on one occasion, arriving over the target too early. After refusing to do so he found himself out of the squadron but when the Wing Commander found out, he was back in the squadron !
Before looking at the photos below please read on. He also mentioned an accident he had with a Halifax that failed to take off. He made it sound like it was really nothing and explained it was a result of a faulty oil feed needed to activate the flaps. The mishap was not his fault because he had the correct flap setting but the aircraft wouldn’t respond because the flaps weren’t functioning ! It was a design fault that was soon corrected. Now, I was only shown the photos below by his son Bernard some weeks after hearing the story. My eyes just about popped out of my head! As you can see there is not much left of the airplane. In fact it doesn’t even look like an airplane anymore! There is nothing airplane about this!
The reason for the massive damage was that they were taking off for a day air test and the fuel tanks were filled to the brim. In other words, the aircraft was a flying gas tank and exploded. Notice that there is absolutely nothing left of the wings where the fuel tanks were located.The whole crew survived without a scratch as you can see from the bottom photo and Mr. Racicot talked about it like it was just another day at the office (well almost).
I walked away from my meeting with Mr. Racicot that day somewhat moved and a bit changed to say the least. Mr.Racicot’s unpretentious modesty set him apart. His son Bernard tells me that he doesn’t even participate in any ceremonies with the Air Force Association or Legion and that at one point even tried give his DFC back!
I remember Mr. Racicot’s parting message that day. He explained that at that point in history when he did his flying there was a war going on and he happened to be one of the young men who had to go out and get a job done without complaint. About his flight engineer being executed by the Germans, as tragic as it was, he thought it was a misfortune of war and I agree. Things happen during a war that would not normally happen. Now, sometimes when I want to fly off the handle over something trivial like a glitch in my computer I give it a second thought, get my head together and get the job done without complaint. I also reflect, that if it weren’t for men like Mr. Racicot and his crew, that we would be living in quite a different world today. I also discovered that one can still learn something regardless of one’s age.
I sincerely hope that you might have gleaned something from this section. I truly think that the world could be a better place if we all had half the acquiescence and demure possessed by this remarkable gentleman. I certainly won’t forget that brief but precious chance I had to meet him.
The drawing Mr. Racicot is holding up was drawn by yours truly and depicts one of the actual Halifaxes Mr. Racicot flew and the names of the crew penciled in on the bottom with their respective crew badges as well as the 425 squadron wartime squadron crest with the King’s crown.
This is a photo taken in May 2012 by Mr. Racicot’s son, Bernard Jr, of my drawing hanging next to Mr. Racicot’s campaign medals in his apartment in Montréal. His DFC is kept in a small case elsewhere in the apartment.
Mr Racicot 2013 Rememberance Day Talk
Above is a link showing local Montreal, Quebec news footage of Mr.Racicot speaking during the Rememberance Day (or in French jour de Souvenir ) ceremonies in November 2013 at the Ecole Nationale D’Aerotechnique located at St. Hubert Airport which is south of Montreal where his grandson, Joseph, is presently a student. It is highly regarded as a world class technical aviation school. Although the conversation is conducted in the French language by his son Bernard jr as interviewer, it is coloured with humour which is a universal language. On Mr Racicot’s left in the video is his grandson.
Ecole Nationale D’Aerotechnique
The St Hubert airport, opened in 1928 is one of the oldest airports in Canada and operates as a civilian airport these days (the 6th busiest in Canada in 2014 in terms of aircraft movements) It was at one time one of the most important Royal Canadian Air Force bases both during the Second World War as a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan training base and during the cold war as a CF-100 all-weather fighter base. The only military squadron which occupies St. Hubert in 2014 is 438 Tactical Helicopter Squadron of which Mr. Racicot was an honoured guest on the day of the Rememberance Day ceremonies. During the days of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Mr. Racicot trained on Harvard aircraft (pictured at top of section ) at St. Hubert before going overseas for further training. So I guess Joseph is carrying on a proud family aviation tradition.
I met Mr. Racicot three or four times. The first time was when his son invited me to meet him.
It wasn’t my first meeting with a veteran, but each time I came out with a feeling of admiration for those young men who had sacrificed everything to make the world a better place in the 1940s. It was this admiration that motivated me to write so much about the history of the Alouettes.
I didn’t know the story of Bernard Racicot DFC in 2010 as well as the stories of those Alouettes that I had met since, like the story of Jean-Corbeil who had told me about his crew and his admiration for his friend the navigator Pierre Gauthier.
Jean-Paul Corbeil and Pierre Gauthier
There are less and less Alouettes left. Little by little they take their last flight to join all those young men who never came back…