Revisiting the Past

This is what I have been doing here on this blog since 2010.

Yesterday someone shared this picture on Facebook.

He took it with his cell phone.

The photo is part of his father’s souvenirs at RAF Tholthorpe. RAF Tholthorpe was where RCAF No. 420 Snowy Owl and RCAF No. 425 Alouettes were stationed. Flight Sergeant John Rawbon was attached to these two Bomber Command’s squadrons. His collection of photos is most impressive.

 

This small photo though really made my day yesterday…

Mosquito PZ313
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A pilot visited RAF Tholthorpe most probably after VE-Day. I don’t believe it was an emergency landing since RAF Tholthorpe is not anywhere in the vicinity of RAF Little Snoring. Any emergency landing would not have been made at RAF Tholthorpe by a RAF 23 Squadron Mosquito.

This being said who would be visiting after VE-Day RAF Tholthorpe who had the only French-Canadian squadron of the RCAF stationed there?

A French-Canadian Mosquito pilot with RAF 23 Squadron?

Eugène Gagnon DFC

I guess we will never be sure…

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The End of the Beginning

This is post no. 384, and the end of the beginning of this blog about RAF 23 Squadron.

I will repost for you the first  article I wrote in 2010 so you won’t have to search for it…

This blog about RAF 23 Squadron wasn’t  meant to pay homage  only to a French-Canadian  Mosquito pilot from Bromptonville, Quebec,  a small town in the Eastern Townships.

Eugene Gagnon

Eugène  Gagnon DFC

Since  2010, a 84 year-old man had been  trying  to convince  the  people of Bromptonville to pay homage  to Eugène  Gagnon, a hometown boy,  who had died  in a plane  crash near Windsor Mills  on October  21st, 1947. Eugène had never talked much about what he did in the war with the RCAF let alone with the RAF.

Eugène Gagnon was like a brother to Marcel Bergeron.

In 2010, Marcel asked for my help to find more about  his war hero when  he was just 14 years-old. At first he didn’t not have much information to go on, only Eugène’s discharge papers…

And a knock on the door of a World War Two veteran.

This is really how this blog started. A knock on a door!

First post April 5, 2010

This could be the start of the amazing story of the airmen of a forgotten squadron in Little Snoring.

Please leave a comment…

Little Snoring - June or July 1945

Picture taken in 1945 before the squadron was disbanded (Courtesy Tom Cushing via Peter Smith)

Squadron 23

No. 23 Squadron formed at Fort Grange, Gosport on 1 Sep 1915 under the command of one of the RAF’s most experienced operational pilots – Captain Louis Strange. After a brief period attempting to counter German airship flights over London, the Squadron moved to France with its FE2Bs initially employed on escort duties. By early 1917, Spad single-seaters had arrived, and were being used on offensive patrols. By the end of the War, the Squadron had converted to Dolphins, and flew these until disbanded at the end of 1919.

On 1 July 1925, No. 23 Squadron reformed at Henlow with Snipes, but these were replaced shortly after with Gloster Gamecocks. In 1931, the Squadron was tasked with carrying out trials on the new Hawker Hart two-seaters, taking the production version, known as Demons, on strength in 1933. It wasn’t until late 1938 that the squadron received its first monoplanes in the form of Blenheims, and these were used as night-fighters in the early days of World War II whilst based at Wittering. In 1941, Havocs replaced the Blenheims, and these were used with great success in the intruder role, until themselves replaced by the Mosquito in mid-1942. At the end of the year, the squadron moved to Malta in support of allied operations in the Mediterranean before returning to the UK in 1944.

In September 1945, the Squadron had disbanded, reforming a year later at Wittering with Mosquito night-fighters. By late 1953, Venom night fighters had joined the Squadron, before Javelin all-weather supersonic fighters replaced these in 1957. In 1964, the Lightning replaced the Javelin, and it was with this classic aircraft that the squadron continued until Phantoms were received in late 1975, this coinciding with a moved to Wattisham in Suffolk. After the Falklands War in 1982, the Squadron occupied Port Stanley airfield until reduced to a Flight of four aircraft in 1988, reforming at Leeming with Tornado F3s. Defence cuts following the end of the Cold War saw the unit disbanded in March 1994. No. 23 Squadron was again reformed, this time as part of the Waddington AEW Wing in 1996, sharing not only the aircraft with the already established No. 8 Squadron, but operational duties in Europe and the Gulf.

The Squadron was officially disbanded on 2 Oct 2009.

This Squadron has been virtually reformed…

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If you have any information about 23 Squadron and you wish to share what you know, you can contact me using this form.

La médaille de l’Assemblée nationale du Québec

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On November 11th, 2016, this medal was awarded posthumously to Joseph Achille Eugène Gagnon who flew 33 operations with RAF 23 Squadron.

Operational record 004 modified

Eugène Gagnon never received any recognition from his hometown of Bromptonville except when he died on October 21, 1947.

Early in 2016 I had received a phone call from Clément Gagnon, a man who was looking for veterans to honour with a medal given by l’Assemblée nationale du Québec. On November 11, 2016, Jacques Gagnon, Eugène’s nephew, received the medal from a member of the National Assembly of Quebec.

When Maxime Laporte, the President of the Société St-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, mentioned the fact in his presentation of the medal that Eugène Gagnon had flown 33 night operations mostly over German airfields, murmurs were heard from the people attending the commemoration.

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When Jacques Gagnon heard those, he felt a tremendous pride as well as a profound humility when he received the medal.

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How It Really Started – Take Two

Note

This was written in 2010.

Marcel is now 89…

***

Marcel Bergeron is 82 and he is not a veteran Mosquito pilot nor is he a war hero.

Marcel went to see someone, a veteran air gunner of No. 425 Alouette. He asked for his help in finding more information about Eugène Gagnon. You see Eugène Gagnon was his hero when he was a youngster. In a sense Marcel is also a hero because he wanted to keep Eugène’s memory alive.

Marcel told me this anecdote.

Eugène died in a plane crash in 1947.

Marcel Bergeron at the crash scene

Collection Marcel Bergeron

Eugène’s sister moved to the United States. She came back to Canada where she had lived before. She threw away in the garbage all Eugène’s medals and also his precious logbook.

She did not know how valuable they were.

Marcel had kept a few mementos of his hero.He has his RAF wings and a button with a small compass hidden inside in case Eugene had to parachute over enemy territory. He also has a piece of the jacket Eugène wore when he died on October 21, 1947.

Those mementos are the most precious things he has of his hero.


Eugène Gagnon DFC

(Courtesy Mario Hains)

Marcel had also copies of his discharge papers.

Discharge papers page 1

 

Discharge papers page 2


But Marcel wanted to know more about Eugène’s service in the RAF… and he asked someone’s help who, in turn, asked me to help him.

To learn more about this search you will have to read my other blog titled Lest We Forget.

Click here.

This is the article I wrote in 2013 about my search for Eugène Gagnon.