About Jean Cauchy

Someone sent me this link on Facebook…

It is about Jean Cauchy whom I have met two years ago.


December 1944: An “Alouette” Christmas story

December 23, 2019

By Second Lieutenant Rachel Brosseau, with Lieutenant-Colonel Jody Edmonstone

It was Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944. Flight Sergeant Jean Cauchy was the pilot of a Halifax bomber making a bombing run on Dusseldorf Airfield in Germany.

Hit by flak, the Halifax lost one of its engines. To make matters worse, there was still a bomb in the bomb bay that hadn’t released during the attack. Despite wanting to get to their home base for Christmas, and the Christmas concert in which he and many of his crew were scheduled to sing, he diverted the crippled, dangerously loaded aircraft to a new location, all while still being targeted by flak.

Remembrance Day 2019
Jean Cauchy, born in Lévis, Québec in 1924, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942. He was 18, and had just learned that his brother Louis, serving with the Royal Air Force (RAF) as an air gunner, had been shot down during a bombing mission over Fortress Europe.

He received his pilot wings after a year and a half of training and, in January 1944, was transferred to Royal Air Force Station Tholthorpe in Yorkshire, England, to fly with the 425 Squadron—the “Alouettes”. He flew six missions on the Halifax Mark III Bomber during the Second World War before also being shot down on January 5, 1945. He and his crew were captured by German forces and spent the remainder of the war at Stalag Luft I as prisoners of war until the camp was liberated by the Allies in May 1945.

After the war, Flight Sergeant (retired) Cauchy returned to Canada and released from the military. He maintained close ties with 425 Squadron, and served as their honorary colonel from 1998 to 2001.

In 2019, he was unable to travel to Bagotville, Quebec (the home base of the Alouettes) for the annual Remembrance Day service, so Lieutenant-Colonel Jody Edmonstone, 425 Squadron’s commanding officer, Master Warrant Officer Gino Coté, Captain Matt Stokes and Mr. Richard Girouard, the squadron historian, travelled to Quebec City to mark Remembrance Day with the 95-year-old Alouette and 60 other veterans at Maison Paul Triquet, a veterans’ residence where Flight Sergeant Cauchy lives.

After the service, Lieutenant-Colonel Edmonstone asked Flight Sergeant Cauchy if he had ever experienced an engine failure while flying bombers during the war. Over the next two hours, an amazing story unfolded.

Christmas 1944
Christmas was quickly approaching at Tholthorpe, explained Flight Sergeant Cauchy. The squadron adjutant called for volunteers to prepare some events for a Christmas Eve celebration. Knowing Flight Sergeant Cauchy was an avid singer, the adjutant asked him to assemble a squadron choir to sing Christmas carols during Christmas dinner and other festivities. A reporter from Radio Canada would be present at the celebration to record the choir and broadcast it in Canada on Christmas Day. Time was short, so without delay, Flight Sergeant Cauchy quickly assembled what he considered to be a rather decent 425 Squadron choir. They held a few practices and he was satisfied they would be ready for the event.

As Christmas Eve approached, Flight Sergeant Cauchy learned the squadron was tasked with a bombing mission on December 24. Most of the choir members would be involved in the raid. Fortunately, it was a day-time attack on Dusseldorf, which would allow them to return in time for the celebrations and, more importantly, their performance.

It was a cold and clear day with excellent weather for the raid. The formation of six Halifax bombers were able reach their target without opposition and drop their bombs at 2:55 p.m. Their raid was successful, leaving heavy damage on the enemy airfield. The 425 Squadron operations record book records that the target’s “runways severed in bomb bursts . . . Target area smoking. A good trip. Bombing concentrated and marking good.”

A few minutes later however the successful mission took an unexpected turn for the worse.

The formation route was planned to avoid known areas of anti-aircraft artillery fire—known as flak. At 3:02 p.m., Flight Sergeant Cauchy’s aircraft was targeted by an enemy battery, taking heavy damage to the right wing. They subsequently lost one of the four Halifax engines, but the aircraft was still able to fly and maintain altitude, although at a reduced speed. To make matters worse, the crew reported that there was still a bomb in the bomb bay that hadn’t released during the attack. The crew was now at risk of the bomb going off if they manoeuvred too aggressively or took further damage.

At the controls, Flight Sergeant Cauchy began weighing his options: return to Tholthorpe or divert to another base. The bomber formations always tried to maintain formation integrity so the gunners could better defend against enemy fighters. But now his Halifax was losing speed, and they were left behind—vulnerable to enemy attack.

In the chaos, Flight Sergeant Cauchy’s navigator, Flying Officer J.J.P. L’Esperance, came on the aircraft’s intercom, giving him a new vector (direction and speed) to divert to RAF Rivenhall, the closest base. It was often used by aircraft needing to divert after bombing raids. After consulting with Flying Officer L’Esperance again, and despite wanting to get everyone home for the Christmas celebrations, Flight Sergeant Cauchy realized that diverting to Rivenhall would likely be the safest option for his crew and aircraft. He turned the damaged bomber toward the divert field.

They were still being targeted by flak occasionally as they approached the English Channel and Flight Sergeant Cauchy manoeuvred his aircraft evasively to avoid any more damage—despite protests from the navigator and other crew. They were all very concerned about the unreleased bomb going off. If it was jostled loose in the bomb bay, they would all be done for! The crew shouted over the aircraft’s intercom that Flight Sergeant Cauchy should minimize manoeuvres, and he subsequently turned off the intercom off to silence his anxious crew. He needed to remain focused on flying the plane as smoothly as possible so as to not jostle the hung bomb and set it off prematurely—all while avoiding be hit by more flak. It was a perfect Catch 22.

Clearing the European coast and the flak batteries, he faced his next challenge of landing the Halifax without setting off the bomb. It had to be smooth or, again, they would be in big trouble. In the words of Flight Sergeant Cauchy, he lined up to the field and made the best landing of his life and “greased it on” to the grass runway at Rivenhall.

The control tower had him taxi far away from other planes and buildings due to their hung ordnance. Breathing a sigh of relief, Flight Sergeant Cauchy shut down the remaining three engines and the crew left the aircraft. Everyone had arrived safely.

Safe in Rivenhall for Christmas
The crew made their way into the station and realized there weren’t a lot of people around as many were on leave for the holiday. There was a pub near the base that was open, however, and they went there with several crews from other formations who had also diverted.

After a very stressful mission, the crews were happy to be served by the proprietor, described as “a beautiful red-headed English woman”. The crews enjoyed a few drinks until Flight Sergeant Cauchy and Flying Officer L’Esperance decided find a midnight Christmas mass. They wandered around until they found a nearby Roman Catholic Church. They knocked on the door despite the blackout conditions—which meant that all building, window and other lights were hidden or extinguished to prevent targeting by enemy bombers at night. A priest answered the door and asked what the two were doing there. They asked if there was going to be a midnight mass. Dumbfounded, the priest laughed and explained that they were under blackout conditions and haven’t had midnight mass in years, and that there wouldn’t be one that night either.

Resigned, the two aviators made their way back to the pub to rejoin their friends. Given there were no kitchen staff or meals available, some of the base duty personnel had been working to find food for the diverted crews. After an exhaustive search, the only thing they could come up with was Spam from ration packs. Far from the Christmas feast they had been hoping for, the crews made the best of their Christmas Eve at the pub with in the presence of their red-headed benefactor, some good English ale and not-so-good Spam.

A few days later, Flight Sergeant Cauchy and his crew made it back to RAF Tholthorpe. He quickly tracked down the reporter from Radio Canada, and asked if the choir had been able to sing without him and some of the other members—and how the recording had gone. The reporter told him that at the last minute an ad hoc choir had been assembled; they attempted to sing the carols but unfortunately they were really not very good. On top of the poor vocals of the makeshift choir, the acoustics of the room made for a terrible recording. As a result, Radio Canada didn’t air the Christmas performance back home in Canada.

Always an Alouette
At the end of Flight Sergeant (retired) Cauchy’s wonderful story, the Alouettes had a tremendous laugh. No one would have thought the question, “did you ever experience an engine failure” would result in this remarkable story of wartime Christmas spirit and aviation excellence.

Editor’s Note: In 2011, Flight Sergeant (retired) Cauchy received a Minister of Veterans Affairs commendation for his dedication to “encouraging remembrance among youth” and for his commitment “to improving the well-being of Veterans in his community”.

Looking for the crew of Halifax III LK 798 KW-A

This photo has three members that were on the Halifax III LK798 KW-A.

Operations Haine St-Pierre on May 8/9 1944. The Halifax came down in West Vlaanderen 2 km SE from the center of Courtrai.

Far left is F/S J. W. R. (Ray) Lefebvre RCAF and lies in Wevelgem Communal Cemetery. Next to him is WO2 Albert Alexander Cormier. He evaded and was hidden in Reckem and joined the resistance. Next is G. St-Pierre, Windsor Ontario. Next is L. R. Tremblay, Quebec City. Far right is Sgt J. A. A. Aubry, and by the picture he used the initial A.

Does anyone recognize any of these men? Trying to find a clue as to Aubry’s full name. On that flight Sgt. Aubry, Sgt J.E. M. Beluse and F/S J.H. Chant were all captured and sent POW camps. Out of the crew of eight I have found information on five of them.

Agnes Cormier, daughter-in-law of Albert Alexander Cormier

Excerpt from this book

book cover

pages 73-74

On 7/8 May 471 sorties were flown to France to bomb five airfields and ammunition dumps and a coastal gun position. Twelve aircraft including seven on the raid on an ammunition dump at Salbris by over sixty Lancasters and Mosquitoes failed to return.

The following night, on 8/9 May, rail yards, an airfield and seaplane base and gun battery positions in France and Belgium were bombed in 452 sorties. Once again twelve aircraft were lost; seven of them Halifaxes and four Lancasters. The largest operation of the night was an attack by 123 aircraft on rail yards at Haine-St-Pierre between the towns of Charleroi and Mons in Belgium, who ran headlong into fighters of IV/NJG1 from Sint-Truiden/Sint-Trond and I/NJG4 at Florennes. Six Halifaxes and three Lancasters were shot down. Several Canadian Halifax and Lancaster squadrons bore the brunt of the losses and 431 ‘Iroquois’ and 432 ‘Leaside’ Squadrons RCAF each lost two Halifax IIIs and 405 ‘Vancouver’ Squadron RCAF at Gransden Lodge were missing two Lancaster Ills.

Halifax III LK798 ‘A-Apple’ on 425 ‘Alouette’ Squadron RCAF at Tholthorpe piloted by Flying Officer Larry White USAAF crashed at Walle-‘t Hage (West Vlaanderen) two kilometres southeast of Courtrai. The American pilot was killed – six of the seven crew bailed out and two subsequently evaded.

Halifax LW583/L on 432 ‘Leaside’ Squadron RCAF flown by Flying Officer Thomas Russell Martin RCAF crashed at Posthoorn (West Vlaanderen) two kilometres southwest of Courtrai.” Hauptmann Adolf Breves and 24-year old Oberleutnant Georg Hermann Greiner, both of IV./NJG1, each claimed Viermots near Courtrai. Breves took off from Sint Trond at 0317 hours in a Bf 110 and using ‘Schrage Musik’ attacked what was probably White’s Halifax. The port wing burst into flames and the fuel tanks exploded. However, the defensive fire from the bomber’s gunners was so intense that Breves was forced to turn away. At this point he lost control of the 110 but he eventually regained control and landed safely back at Sint Trond where he put in a claim for the first of his 17 victories.

Greiner’s 26th Abschuss was most likely that of Flying Officer Martin’s Halifax. The pilot and two other crew members were killed; two were taken prisoner and Flying Officers D. A. D’Andrea RCAF and L. Panzer RCAF avoided capture. Panzer was captured on 1 August and incarcerated in Sint Gilles prison in Brussels for a time but both he and D’Andrea escaped to England in September.

 

Bernard Racicot DFC (1924-2018)

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:

Bernard Racicot équipage

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.

Halifax Mk III

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!

Halifax1

menof425crash

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.

2014 Update

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.

Bernard Racicot 1

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.

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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…

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