Joseph Hector Gilbert
June 3, 1922 – December 31, 2013
Montmagny, Québec, Canada
Flying Officer (F/O)
Royal Canadian Air Force – 425 Squadron
BEFORE THE WAR
Gilbert “Gilles” Boulanger was born on June 3, 1922 in Montmagny, Québec, Canada to Emile Boulanger and Dauray Lepage who had a total of ten children. Gilbert’s mother passed away when he was only 8 years old. His family has Normand roots as, in 1663, Gilles’ ancestor, Claude Lefèbvre-dit-Boulanger, whose mother was from Rouen, set off for New France.
In 1938-39 Gilles finished nine years of study at the Frères du Sacré Coeur College in Montmagny. Since his father was raising his ten kids by himself, he did not have the financial resources to pay for their university education. Gilles was therefore enrolled at Québec’s Ecole technique but only stayed one year (1939-40) as he did not like his studies there. He had always wanted to fly. Upon turning 18 years old, Gilles volunteered in the Air Force joined the Air Force. Curious by nature, Gilles nevertheless continued increasing his general knowledge as an independent learner.
ACTIVITY DURING THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC & THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
In June 1940, the same month as France surrendered, Gilles enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. His three months of training in Canada included attending Flight School N° 7 in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. Since he was missing one year of studies to become a member of the flight staff, he became a gunner. In November 1942, he went to Mont-Joli, Québec, where he was trained on the ground with Vickers machine guns (dating from the First World War) and in the air on Fairey Battle Light Bombers.
EXPERIENCES IN GREAT-BRITAIN
Following this training, Gilles was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He left his country in December 1942. He boarded the Queen Elisabeth I in New York to cross the Atlantic on route to Greenock, Scotland. He received his final training on Wellington planes at Operational Training Unit (OTU) in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England and then at Ferry Training Unit (FTU) 311 in Moreton-in-Marsh.
Gunner Boulanger then transited though Gibraltar, Morocco, and Algeria to finally join RCAF 425 Squadron in Tunisia. A tragic accident left him without a crew so he became a replacement, permanently having to adapt to new crew members.
In October 1943, he returned to England. In a Yorkshire station he trained on Halifax planes and was then sent on successive missions. Throughout his war years, he visited many countries and met with the locals. In December 1943, he met Marie Eileen Rees a RAF Wire Services Operator who was originally from London. They married on May 6, 1944 in London.
D-DAY & BATTLE OF NORMANDY
At 01:30 am during the night of June 6, 1944, Gilles was on board a Halifax. He made his way to his machine gun emplacement on the belly of the plane. Sitting in his ‘glass bubble’, he could see the Allied fleet firing on the coast of Normandy as his Halifax flew over the Channel. In an emergency, he knew that it would take a miracle for him to have enough time to get out and jump with his parachute. After his Halifax bombarded a German gun battery near Houlgate, France, Gilles left on another mission, this time on June 6 at 21:30. On this second raid, the target was a bridge in Coutances, France. This is followed by a mission over Achères and on June 10, over Le Mans, Gilles’ last mission. Between each raid, he joined his wife in England as she was expecting their child. He recalls having the impression of constantly alternating between hell and paradise.
After 37 bombing missions over Italy, France, Belgium and Germany, he was promoted as Liaison Officer responsible for recruiting Francophones in RCAF 425 Squadron.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on September 1, 1944.
AFTER THE WAR
Gilles Boulanger went back to Canada on May 10, 1945 and his wife joined him on June 15, 1945. They became the parents of Marianne, Gaston and Philippe.
In 1946, Gilles got his private pilot licence and would devote the rest of his life to civil aviation: air transport, building of twin-engine planes, and the creation of an association called ‘The Daisy Mowers’. He is still a member of several aviation associations as well as a member of the Association of the Descendants of Claude Lefèbvre-dit-Boulanger.
Marie Eileen Rees passed away on December 9, 2001. Gilbert Boulanger often returned to Normandy and since June 5, 2010, Courseulles’ Elementary school bears his name.
This account is based on Gilbert Boulanger’s book L’Alouette affolée – Un adolescent à la guerre (1939-1945) published in 2006 and re-printed in 2010.