Re­serves in Ac­tion

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Eng­land in a con­voy the pre­vi­ous week. He dozed now and then only to jump awake be­neath his grey wool blan­ket at the sound of a dropped wrench, an ex­plo­sive blast of com­pressed air or the pound­ing of a ham­mer. Around him lay the other pi­lots he’d met on the freighter Em­pire Con­rad. He could tell by the glow of their cig­a­rettes in the shad­ows that they too were rest­less. He’d been chat­ting past mid­night with Flight Sergeant Hugh MacPher­son, a fel­low Cana­dian who had come down from Wales with him and who now sat in the Spit­fire ahead of him. Nine of the 28 pi­lots on Em­pire Con­rad had been Cana­dian and it com­forted David to travel with them. Two other Cana­di­ans who were in this group on Ea­gle, Flight Sergeant Bob Mid­dle­miss and Pi­lot Of­fi­cer Henry Wal­lace MacLeod, would be­come icons in the Royal Cana­dian Air Force—MacLeod as the RCAF’s high­est scor­ing ace of the Sec­ond World War and Mid­dle­miss as an ace and fu­ture great of the Sabre years.

What they all had to do when the sun came up had kept them from the sleep that young men who may die tomorrow de­serve. Ex­cept Johnny Plagis—the Rhode­sian’s steady breath­ing could be ob­served even in the shad­ows where they lay. Plagis had not been with them as they sailed from Wales, meet­ing up with them in­stead on Gi­bral­tar the day be­fore yes­ter­day. He, along with “old” Malta hands Squadron Leader Bar­ton and Flight Lieu­tenant Peck, had flown in on a Hud­son from Malta to help guide the 28 men of “Op­er­a­tion Style” from Ea­gle across the sea and into Takali air­field. In all the air­craft de­liv­ery oper­a­tions to Malta, this was to be the one and only time that pi­lots would be guided by ex­pe­ri­enced Malta veter­ans. The young Sergeant pi­lots and Pi­lot Of­fi­cers hung on Plagis’ ev­ery word.

HMS Ea­gle had left the busy naval or­der and the com­fort­ing shadow of Gib just yes­ter­day, 2 June 1942, slip­ping smoothly from her moor­ings in the com­pany of the cruiser HMS Charyb­dis and the de­stroy­ers Ithuriel, Par­tridge, An­te­lope, Wishart and West­cott. Once out to sea, Ea­gle and her es­cort worked up to her max­i­mum speed and made steady rev­o­lu­tions through the Alb­o­ran Sea fol­low­ing far off the coast of Africa through­out the re­main­der of the day and into the dark­ness. His fit­ful pas­sage through the night was marked by a half wak­ing-half dream­ing state, that of­fered up ghostly im­ages from his past life and flit­ting un­shaped im­ages from his un­cer­tain fu­ture. He saw his mother clearly, a pinched wor­ried look on her face. He was the widow Gertrude Rouleau’s only child and she shrank from the pos­si­bil­ity of the aw­ful sac­ri­fice her son David had asked her to make. At his Wings Pa­rade at No. 2 Ser­vice Fly­ing Train­ing School, Uplands in Ot­tawa she had stood on the re­view­ing stand, happy for his achieve­ment but sick for the enor­mity of the ac­tion that her son had set in mo­tion when he told her he was go­ing to en­list in the Royal Cana­dian Air Force.

As David lay awake at 3 A.M. on the 3rd, three thou­sand miles away his mother was get­ting ready to re­tire early on that late spring evening along the Rideau Canal. Her fear had not abated and her worry for him was like be­ing un­der­wa­ter. She prayed a lit­tle and watched the sun set­ting from the bed­room win­dow at the back of her fa­ther’s house—the same sun that would rise over the mid­dle sea in a few short hours. By the time it would come back to her, her only child would be dead, though she would not know it.

Now David could feel the list of Ea­gle as her cap­tain brought her around into the wind, he could feel the speed come up. He watched the shad­ows of the is­land and its ugly crow’s nest-like fore­mast sweep across the deck and over the backs of rat­ings for­ward of the is­land. He watched as the shad­ows at the edges of his in­stru­ments thinned out and as the sun daz­zled from their glass faces. The sun, cross­ing over the pre­vi­ously invisible discs of the pro­pel­lers ahead, made them flash like saw blades. It sig­naled the be­gin­ning. He took a deep breath to steady him­self.

Of the 31 Spits to launch to­day, only the nine of Plagis ’ group were left. David was in one of the two Spit­fires at the stern of Ea­gle’s flight deck. Both were so far back on the mas- sive round down at the stern that their tail wheels were well be­low their mains. It felt as if they were al­ready climb­ing for the sky. From his left he watched rat­ings ahead scam­per­ing away with chocks. He was con­scious of keep­ing the power up so as not to roll back­wards down the con­sid­er­able slope when the chocks were pulled away.

Look­ing over the long oil-stained nose of his Spit­fire, he could not see Plagis roll down the deck. De­spite the creep­ing fear of rolling back, he was happy for the ex­tra length of deck af­forded by be­ing al­most last. Ea­gle’s deck was only 660 feet long and in or­der to get into the air, the Spit­fires re­quired take-off flaps. Spit­fires un­for­tu­nately had none and only one set­ting for land­ing flaps and that was 90 de­grees. The so­lu­tion was to insert a wooden wedge be­tween the flap and the wing, lock­ing them half­way down. The tech­nique was to lower the flaps fully af­ter take-off al­low­ing the wedges to drop into the sea, af­ter which the flaps were re­tracted fully. David wor­ried whether those wedges would fall out as ad­ver­tised. He wor­ried about the fact that he had never flown a “Trop” be­fore. Over his nose he caught a glimpse of Plagis ris­ing above the hori­zon, bank­ing to port and claw­ing for al­ti­tude over the sunny and choppy blue Mediter­ranean. He watched his di­als, watched his gloved hand shak­ing on the brake. His legs be­gan to shake.

He saw the color of snap­ping sig­nal flags, saw the deck hand run be­neath him and ap­pear again drag­ging his chocks. He walked his throt­tle up a few steps. He could see his tem­per­a­ture gauges run­ning close to the red, but the fear of rolling back won out over fear of over­heat. One by one, five Spit­fires rose into view be­fore him to fol­low Plagis.

Then he saw MacPher­son’s air­craft to his left lean for­ward against its brakes; saw the speed come up on the pro­pel­ler. Next to it, a rat­ing leaned into the wind and af­ter only a few short sec­onds it lurched for­ward, the tail lifting smoothly a few sec­onds later. It was lost be­hind David’s Mer­lin for an eter­nity, but even­tu­ally rose over his spin­ner. This was it.

David had prac­ticed this in Eng­land in the few short weeks af­ter he left 131 Squadron for his as­sign­ment with the RAF in the Mediter­ranean. But he al­ways had runway ahead if he needed it. Now he would take off from an air­craft car­rier in a Spit­fire with­out the aid of cat­a­pult or ex­pe­ri­ence. In just a few hun­dred feet he would have to have enough air flow­ing over and un­der his wings to sup­port the weight of a loaded Spit­fire. If he didn’t, he would sink down to the sea, ditch­ing his fighter with the 22,600 tons of Ea­gle bear­ing down on him—a steel is­land pushed at flank speed by four ghastly bronze pro­pel­lers thrash­ing the sea into a white foam. David was by na­ture a quiet, shy man, but he was about to do a very bold thing. Look­ing to his right he saw the rat­ing hold up the chocks and turn to look down the deck. He then looked back at David sig­nal­ing him to go.

David walked his throt­tle as far for­ward as he dared while his hand gripped the brake han­dle ever harder. He wanted the Mer­lin to be putting out as much horse­power as pos­si­ble when he re­leased his brakes but he had to be care­ful not to use so much throt­tle that when he re­leased the brakes the torque from the pro­pel­ler sent him curv­ing im­me­di­ately to the left. He didn’t want to screw up again. Back in Wales in late Oc­to­ber of the pre­vi­ous year he had landed too hard and dam­aged his Spit­fire II at Wrex­ham. It was his third at­tempt to land the Spit in a strong cross­wind. He had bounced, drifted and caught a wing tip, shear­ing the land­ing gear. The board of en­quiry called it an “Er­ror of Judge­ment” and it stung him deeply. This time he would do his job to per­fec­tion. He man­aged to keep the tail down but the temps were in the red and it was time to depart.

No more thought now. Just do as he was trained to do. Off came the brake while the throt­tle was opened smoothly and the Spit surged for­ward, ev­ery­thing scream­ing in­clud­ing him­self. In sec­onds he pushed the stick for­ward gen­tly to bring the tail up half way. He looked only for­ward along the left side but sensed the high twin stacks of Ea­gle flash by his right shoul­der, sensed the eyes of the crew watch­ing him on ei­ther side. The roll was like all the oth­ers he had done in Canada dur­ing the win­ter of 1940–41 and through­out his Op­er­a­tional Train­ing at 61 and 53 OTU at RAF He­ston and with 131 Squadron, only there was no land around him, no trees or build­ings, nowhere to land but the end­less sea. He kept the Spit­fire run­ning down the deck for as long as there was deck.

In less time than it takes to say so, David Rouleau reached the end of the steel is­land that was Ea­gle. He felt as though he had jet­ti­soned the car­rier, feel­ing the im­me­di­ate lift from the bow wave. His ela­tion lasted but a sec­ond when the Spit­fire seemed to sag be­neath him. He shoved the throt­tle hard against its stop and re­sisted the urge to pull hard back on the stick. The Spit­fire Mk V Trop (fit­ted out for hot and dusty trop­i­cal cli­mates) se­rial num­ber BR 358 rose as she was de­signed to do and David Rouleau found his senses re­turn­ing to him as he set­tled down to fly the air­plane he loved so much to fly. Now in his el­e­ment he banked to the left, low­er­ing his flaps and looked over his left shoul­der to check that the wedges had dropped. He could also see back to the fast re­ced­ing deck of Ea­gle. He caught sight of the last Spit­fire start­ing its take­off roll, saw the long wake mark­ing Ea­gle’s jour­ney into dan­ger. Go­ing back was not an op­tion. In 30 sec­onds Ea­gle would make her turn to a course that would bring her and her es­cort back to Gi­bral­tar. Within two months, HMS Ea­gle would be sunk by 4 tor­pe­does dur­ing an­other ferry mis­sion.

David climbed as in­structed to form up with the gag­gle led by Plagis who cir­cled to the east with the oth­ers clos­ing up well. It was a lit­tle af­ter 8:30 in the morn­ing.

Nearly a year of fly­ing Spit­fires with the Royal Air Force’s 131 “County of Kent” Squadron had given David Rouleau the con­fi­dence to re­lax in the cock­pit and that’s just what he did. With the terror of the car­rier launch be­hind him, it was just an­other flight, al­beit over an an­cient sea that had claimed

thou­sands of air­men be­fore him. But David had crossed big wa­ter many times be­fore on fighter sweeps and rhubarbs over the Chan­nel, shoot­ing at what­ever they could find in France that looked wor­thy of lead. He’d flown es­cort to small con­voys mov­ing through the Ir­ish Sea to Wales and felt less stressed about fly­ing over wa­ter than he had been the first time. So long as his Mer­lin ran smoothly, he had no con­cern. And she was brand new. Within ten min­utes David had closed the dis­tance with the loose gag­gle of fighter air­craft as they headed east and then south­east to Takali air­field on Malta. The sun was not in an ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion and the Ger­man air­field at Pan­tel­le­ria lay in their path.

Look­ing around him he was elated by the sight of the beau­ti­ful Spits in the sun­light with scat­tered puffs of cloud well be­low. The shad­ows of the clouds rode over a hard, blue sea specked with white for as far as he could see in any di­rec­tion. The light at al­ti­tude is like noth­ing on the sur­face. Its bril­liance and clar­ity is like spring wa­ter is to tap wa­ter, like fresh snow is to week old snow. David felt im­mense joy—the kind that comes from sur­viv­ing risk, blended with the kind that comes from do­ing some­thing he was proud of and do­ing it well. David had flown plenty of ops over the past 10 months—so much so that he was work­ing on his sec­ond log­book. He only wished his neigh­bor­hood friends Blake, Ike, Bill, John and Ash­ley, his univer­sity chums from Trin­ity Col­lege and all the girls he ever had crushes on could see him now, fly­ing over the sea like an aveng­ing wraith in a Spit­fire, the most charis­matic air­craft of all time, bound for the res­cue of the stal­wart and good peo­ple of Malta from the terror of fas­cist bombs. For a Spit­fire pi­lot who had missed out on the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, Malta was it—an even big­ger bat­tle where, un­like the myth of the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, the odds were well and truly stacked against the RAF.

Ev­ery pi­lot in this group­ing of nine had sto­ries like David’s—young, em­bold­ened, in love with fly­ing, old be­yond their years, rest­less to show their met­tle and very, very far from home. David Fran­cis Gas­ton Rouleau was an Ot­tawa boy, raised by his mother and grand­fa­ther af­ter his fa­ther’s death in 1929. They lived along the last half-mile of the Rideau Canal as it makes one fi­nal lazy turn to the Ot­tawa Locks at Par­lia­ment Hill. He at­tended Lis­gar Col­le­giate around the cor­ner, played hockey on the frozen canal, spent his sum­mers on the Que­bec side at Wake­field and Kirk’s Ferry, golfed at Lar­ri­mac, sailed on the Gatineau River and dis­played a quiet open dig­nity. David was rated at his El­e­men­tary Fly­ing Train­ing School at St-Eu­gène as “Ex­cep­tion­ally good type. Com­mis­sion ma­te­rial. Me­thod­i­cal and steady”. But to his fam­ily, es­pe­cially his cousin Peggy Gis­borne, he was sim­ply kind and wide-eyed. To his grand­fa­ther, he was ev­ery­thing.

It had been a long time since his first flight in a bright yel­low Fleet Finch on a bright white day in De­cem­ber of 1940. His wings pa­rade on 1 April co­in­cided with the 17th birth­day of the RCAF. Three of his class mates, Ge­orge Keefer, Ian Orm­ston, and Wal­ter Con­rad would be­come aces. Those early days fly­ing around his beloved Ot­tawa Val­ley were now so dis­tant in his heart. He was less wide-eyed. He squinted more. His face had lost its round­ness, re­placed by the hard­ened edge that made all men at war so hand­some. He needed a rest. They all did.

There was no talk­ing on the ra­dio. There was a re­port at break­fast that a Hawker Sea Hur­ri­cane pa­trolling from Ea­gle had chased off a JU-88 re­con­nais­sance air­craft af­ter sun­rise. Strict ra­dio si­lence was the or­der. Ev­ery man was alone with his ma­chine and his thoughts. David was cold. They were at 20,000 feet and he wished he had the beau­ti­ful leather fly­ing jacket that he left be­hind with the 131 Squadron stores Johnny. They trav­elled on as the sun rose.

Around 1045 hours, 12 Messer­schmitt Bf-109 fighter air­craft rose from the dust and heat of the is­land of Pan­tel­le­ria which lay in the path of Plagis and his men. They were the “Pic-A”s (Aces of Spades)—a band of highly ex­pe­ri­enced pi­lots from II Grup­pen of Jagdgeschwader 53 and led that day by Ober­leut­nant Ger­hard Milchal­ski, one of the great Ger­man “Ex­perten” of the Sec­ond World War. Milchal­ski would be­come the high­est scor­ing ace in the Malta cam­paign on ei­ther side. They rose steadily into the sky climb­ing for al­ti­tude and ad­van­tage. They climbed with cer­tainty.

At 1050 hrs, as they passed Pan­tel­le­ria, David Rouleau and ev­ery­one else in his group spot­ted dis­tant specks in the sky above and to the south of them. His throat was now dry as dust, and his heart started to race. Low on fuel, they all flew on not really know­ing what to do. They watched as the specks al­tered course as if cir­cling and watch­ing. Sharks siz­ing up a school of fish. They watched as the specks turned to­ward them and grew into 109s. They flew on.

Then some­one re­called a pi­lot in a Spit­fire with the let­ter code “T” shout­ing over the ra­dio “They’re at­tack­ing!” Im­me­di­ately, Johnny Plagis did what any ex­pe­ri­enced Malta hand with th­ese odds would do. He rolled over and dove for the sea. He left the oth­ers on their own and with­out his ex­pe­ri­ence. The fast mov­ing 109s swung round from be­hind and shot “T” right out of the sky. His Spit­fire caught fire, pulled up and then rolled over, spi­ral­ing to the sea. A sur­viv­ing pi­lot wit­nessed the man fall­ing for­ward in his cock­pit. At this, it was ev­ery man for him­self and all the oth­ers rolled and made for the sea. There was a run­ning gun bat­tle past the is­land and all the way to Gozo, the is­land north west of Malta. Spit­fires were be­ing chased every­where, zigzag­ging over the sur­face of the sea, Ger­man lead slic­ing past, rip­ping up the sea. But not all their rounds found just the sea. Af­ter “T”s death, three more Spit­fires were shot down. One of the pi­lots (an NCO ac­cord­ing to Malta ace Fly­ing Of­fi­cer Daddo-Lan­gois) was seen float­ing on the sea near Gozo. “Daddy-Lon­glegs”, as he was called by his friends, spot­ted him in the wa­ter af­ter the bat­tle was over and cir­cled for an hour over­head, but no help came. Later they would find an empty dinghy.

Of the 31 pi­lots, only 27 would make it to Malta. By all ac­counts, the 9 of Plagis’ group bore the brunt of the at­tack. It seems that the four shot down were in that last group. David’s group. His new found friend Hugh MacPher­son was also lost. I can­not be­gin to recre­ate the last min­utes of that day and what hap­pened to David Rouleau, but he was in­deed one of the four who did not land at Takali or Hal Far. He was one of the four that were never seen again.

I can­not tell you what hap­pened to him. I can­not write a fac­tual or fic­tional ac­count of his last mo­ments. Of this I have learned noth­ing, nor would I be able to imag­ine it. If the man in the dinghy was an NCO, and one can’t imag­ine how Dad­doLan­gois knew this, then he was not David who was a Pi­lot Of­fi­cer. So in the death of “T”, we may have wit­nessed David’s last mo­ment. A one in three chance. If it was him, then David Fran­cis Gas­ton Rouleau died at 1056 on 3 July 1942 in his 24th year. If it was him, then David was shot down by Un­terof­fizier Hein­rich Sedlmeier 60–65 km south­east of Pan­tel­le­ria. It was Sedlmeier’s first air­craft shot down. He also shot an­other down 10 min­utes later. He might have been so un­for­tu­nate as to run into the great­est Malta ace of them all—Milchal­ski. He might have spent his last hour in a small rub­ber dinghy in a rough sea be­ing cir­cled by Daddo-Lan­gois—an­other ace. We will never know.

Did he prove his met­tle? Yes. Did he put up a fight? Most likely. Did he give some back to the Ger­mans? Pos­si­bly. All of this dis­ap­peared into the swirling white wa­ter around his Spit­fire and fol­lowed him to the silty bot­tom. In many ways, David Rouleau’s story seemed to have died with him. He was an only child. There were no sib­lings to tell his tale. Af­ter the war, his mother mar­ried an ar­chi­tect named Har­ris, changed her name and took her son’s story with her. We do know that for the rest of the war she fought a des­per­ate and poignant bat­tle with the RCAF to have her son’s ef­fects re­turned. She re­ceived them at the end of the war from stor­age in Egypt, was de­nied his pen­sion and was left with her bro­ken heart. Ac­cord­ing to the gran­ite me­mo­rial to David’s fa­ther at Beech­wood Ceme­tery she died in 1984 at the age of 99.

Her agony at her beau­ti­ful boy’s death, her life with­out him, her pain and David’s per­sonal ef­fects in­clud­ing a jour­nal,

two log­books and a cam­era have gone into the mists. The story of an or­di­nary Ot­tawa boy who gave ev­ery­thing he had, who ac­com­plished the great­ness of sim­ply be­ing a fight­ing Spit­fire pi­lot, who died with­out hav­ing seen his mother or beloved Ot­tawa again, was lost.

There is no doubt that the story just told is fac­tual as far I can tell. I have made up a fic­tional ac­count of what David might have done on the ship, what he felt and what he saw. Per­haps he will understand if I try to bring life to a story never told be­fore—even to his mother. If it’s not right, it’s cer­tainly not wrong.

David Rouleau’s story is ex­tra­or­di­nary in its or­di­nar­i­ness. He was not an ace nor a brag­gart or a self-pro­moter. His was one of many, many thou­sands of sto­ries never told— one of the great ma­jor­ity whose es­capades and skits will never make the text­books, web­sites (un­til now) and mem­oirs. He is the Royal Cana­dian Air Force of the Sec­ond World War.

When think­ing of David Rouleau and all the young air­men like him from this gen­er­a­tion I was con­stantly re­minded of the words of Fred­er­ick Forsythe in his haunt­ingly sim­ple ghost story of an air­man fac­ing death—“It’s a bad thing to die at twenty years of age with your life un­lived and the worst thing is not the fact of dy­ing, but the fact of all the things never done.” The au­thor would like to thank the fol­low­ing peo­ple for their help in making David Rouleau come to life—Ju­dith Burns, Howard Cook, Ken Cowan, Tim Dubé, Steve Fochuk, Norma Geg­gie, He­len Gille­spie, Hugh Hal­l­i­day, Gra­ham Hughes, Carolynne Irvin, Ted Latham, Pat MacA­dam, An­drew Pent­land, Mike Pot­ter, Harold Pretty, Carl Vin­cent, Chris Terry and above all Jim Cob­ley, Pat Hall and Peg Christie.

Two 4-inch naval guns were tem­po­rar­ily em­placed at Sey­mour Nar­rows in 1914. In WWII this was the ex­am­i­na­tion bat­tery for John­stone Strait, armed with two 6-inch MK7 guns on MK2 mounts (orig­i­nally from Stan­ley Park Bat­tery, Van­cou­ver), which had re­placed two 4.7-inch quick-fir­ing guns in 1942. The ex­am­i­na­tion gun was a 6-pounder Hotchkiss gun. Two 40mm Bo­fors AA guns were here 1942 - 1945. Three search­lights were em­placed here. The gun em­place­ments and searchlight po­si­tions still re­main. This bat­tery pro­tected the "back­door" north­ern ap­proach to Van­cou­verand Vic­to­ria. Lo­cat- ed off of the north­ern shore of Hard­wicke Is­land.

Spe­cial thanks to David Mor­gan and Robert Zink of the Coast De­fense Study Group for pro­vid­ing info on the Coast Ar­tillery De­fences of Bri­tish Columbia.

LS Kent Boudreau & AB Richard Bourne of HMCS Te­cum­seh as­sisted Calgary Stam­pede pa­tron suf­fer­ing seizure July 6, 2015

The Greek-Rhode­sian Flight Lieu­tenant Johnny Plagis was al­ready an old Malta hand when he met David Rouleau in Gi­bral­tar. He would go on to claim 11 vic­to­ries in Mal­tese skies. This would be the first time that pi­lots from a Maltabased squadron would be em­ployed to guide re­place­ment pi­lots and their Spit­fires into Malta. It would also be the only time that they were in­ter­cepted, lead­ing some to spec­u­late fore­knowl­edge.

Lead­ing Sea­man Chris Rob­bi­lard of Cam­bridge (left) and Lead­ing Sea­men Re­becca Charlesworth of Ab­bots­ford had sum­mer duty act­ing as sen­tries at Ot­tawa’s Tomb of the Un­known.

A very boy­ish David Rouleau poses in a win­ter flight suit be­fore he makes his first flight in a Fleet Finch at No. 13 El­e­men­tary Fly­ing Train­ing School at St-Eu­gène, On­tario, just 60 miles due east of his home in Ot­tawa. The pure joy and ex­cite­ment can be seen on his young face. Many made the same first flight and many thou­sands paid for this joy with the supreme sac­ri­fice. Photo via Peg Christie.

HMS Ea­gle un­der full steam on a choppy sea. Photo via Howard Cook

a short drive from his Ot­tawa home. David’s mother Gertrude and his grand­fa­ther Dr. Fran­cis Gis­borne were most likely in at­ten­dance. Photo via Peg Christie David Rouleau re­ceives his wings in­doors at No. 2 Ser­vice Fly­ing Train­ing School, at Uplands where to­day Ot­tawa’s In­ter­na­tional Air­port lays. Rouleau had the unique good for­tune to do both his El­e­men­tary Fly­ing Train­ing on Fleet Finches and his Ser­vice Fly­ing Train­ing on Har­vards just

A group photo of Rouleau’s Course Mates taken at Ot­tawa’s No. 2 SFTS. David Rouleau is fifth from the left in the sec­ond last row. Some of his course mates be­came well known aces and in­di­vid­u­als in the RCAF: Wally Con­rad, Ge­orge Keefer, Ian Orm­ston, Frank Sut­ton (an Amer­i­can who was killed on 7 De­cem­ber 1941, the U.S. named an air­field af­ter Frank ‘Stuffy’ Sut­ton in North Carolina), Stu Buchanan (whose fa­ther was a Wing Com­man­der in Ot­tawa when th­ese boys were train­ing in var­i­ous parts of Que­bec, On­tario, etc.), also Joe Crichton, Don Edy and Creighton Lowther. Pi­lot Of­fi­cers Don Edy, Don Lush and Creighton ‘Crabby’ Lowther, all in this photo, all served to­gether with RAF No. 33 Squadron as Hur­ri­cane fighter pi­lots. Don Edy, Don Lush and Joe Crichton also all be­came pris­on­ers of war to­gether at the in­fa­mous Sta­lag Luft III, in Sa­gan, Ger­many, dur­ing the era of the Great Es­cape. Don Lush passed away in 2005 in Scar­bor­ough, ON. Joe Crichton died in 2011 and had served in the desert in 112 Sqn, and was also POW at Sta­lag Luft III. As of Jan­uary 2012, Don Edy, 94, sur­vives. Photo via Barb Edy

A couple of years af­ter writ­ing this story, I came across this story in an on­line copy of the 11 July 1941 edi­tion of the Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen. Rouleau would spend the next year as a front line fighter pi­lot based in Eng­land. Photo: Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen

If you needed proof that Ea­gle and her gal­lant crew were sail­ing into ex­treme dan­ger on th­ese oper­a­tions, wit­ness Ea­gle sink­ing two months later on “Op­er­a­tion Pedestal”. Here her for­ward stack bleeds white steam as her port cat­walks dip be­low the sea.

A Spit­fire launches from the deck of HMS Ea­gle dur­ing a sim­i­lar op­er­a­tion two months ear­lier. At the rear Spit­fires have their tails rest­ing well be­low the mains on the long round down. Photo via Howard Cook

A num­ber of years af­ter writ­ing this story, I came across a pho­to­graph of five air­men lean­ing against a 131 Squadron Spit­fire (NX-Q, se­rial num­ber AD554). Im­me­di­ately, the face of the young man sec­ond from the left leapt out of the pho­to­graph, seem­ingly call­ing to me. I can­not be cer­tain, but the hairs stand­ing up on the back of my neck tell me this is David Rouleau. The photo filled in a void of more than a year be­tween his wings pa­rade and his death. He seems con­fi­dent and re­laxed. Photo: RAF

The great Malta ace Ger­hard Milchal­ski of­fers up a few nuggets of his ex­pe­ri­ence to the rapt at­ten­tion of his fel­low pi­lots. Some of his ex­pe­ri­ence was gained at the ex­pense of David Rouleau’s life. Photo via Howard Cook

A Messer­schmitt Bf-109 of 11/JG 53 sits in the sun on Si­cily a few months be­fore the at­tack on Rouleau’s flight. “Yel­low 2” as it would have been called also sports the “Pic-A”’s Ace of Spades em­blem on its snout. When David looked over his shoul­der in his fi­nal mo­ments he would have seen an air­craft like Yel­low 2. Photo via Howard Cook

When read­ing, pho­tograph­ing and as­sess­ing the myr­iad of doc­u­ments in Rouleau’s ser­vice file, there was a for­mal­ized bu­reau­cratic litany of Gertrude’s de­spair in the form let­ters from the RCAF. Cer­tain words jumped from the pages—here are but a few that tell the story. De­tails from Rouleau’s files cour­tesy of Li­brary and Ar­chives Canada

The ac­tual tele­gram that a stunned Gertrude Rouleau held in her shak­ing hands two weeks later. Now a gift to the col­lec­tion of Vin­tage Wings of Canada from Peg Christie

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