France honours Dundas war veteran
Louis Woodcock flew in Lancasters over Germany and France in Second World War
A Second World War veteran of Bomber Command from Dundas has been awarded the highest national military honour of France.
Louis Woodcock, 95, recently received a medal and plaque indicating that he had received the Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.
The award has five degrees of distinction, with the Knight (Chevalier) being the highest. The French in recent years have been making a special effort to recognize Allied veterans for their efforts liberating France from German occupation.
Woodcock was first notified of the award last fall with a letter that said the award “illustrates a profound gratitude that France would like to express to you. It is an award in recognition of your personal involvement in the liberation of our country during World War Two.”
Asked what he thought about the award, he quipped, “I guess it’s what they say, ‘Once a knight, always a knight.’”
During the war, Woodcock flew 30 missions aboard Lancaster bombers over Germany, and another five over France before the D-Day raid in June 1944, dropping leaflets to French citizens.
“We were informing French people of the coming invasion,” he said.
“The leaflets showed pictures of what our troops looked like and what our tanks and armaments looked like, so they could tell the difference between the German and the Allied forces.”
Those missions, he said, were particularly dangerous.
“We had to fly in very low and of course we got shot at all the time. I thought it was going to be any easy thing, but it turned out to be rough.”
Bomber Command — with planes from the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force — flew relentless nighttime bombing missions trying to break the Nazi hold on Europe. Hundreds of planes would be sent at a time.
The missions were horribly dangerous for flights crews. More than 55,000 died. Almost half of all aircrews never made it to the end of a 30 sortie tour of duty.
“The worst thing was the search lights. We were flying at night and they’d turn on search lights over these cities and once they caught you in a search light they could direct their fire right at you, and the German fighters could find you easily as well,” he said.
“We had trouble getting home a couple of times. We had holes in the plane, but we were never actually shot down. I guess we were lucky.”
Woodcock worked as a navigator as part of seven-man crews on Lancasters. He sat behind the pilot and flight engineer. Navigators seldom left their station because they needed to constantly plot the aircraft’s course and make adjustments for wind and other factors.
Interestingly, he said, he’s never had a desire to take a flight on the restored Lancaster owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. He said he contributed some money to help with the restoration effort, but that was the extent of his interest.
Woodcock grew up in Cobourg, but has lived in the Hamilton area since 1960. After the war, he worked for Department of Labour (now called the Ministry of Labour) investigating complaints of unjustified firings.
We had to fly in very low and of course we got shot at all the time. LOUIS WOODCOCK KNIGHT OF THE FRENCH NATIONAL ORDER OF THE LEGION OF HONOUR