The farm life with all its chores and hard work were a part of Emile LeBlanc's early life. Rural communities
always seemed to have activities which the young men took part in when the days work was complete. Along with
his four brothers and five sisters the young Emile took part in softball, swimming, skating and hunting.
Work and the games built a muscular young man who was very much a part of his community.
When time came to enlist he
along with his cousin James left the rugged and beautiful landscape of Cape Breton Island and headed for
enlistment centers in the larger cities of Nova Scotia. Both young men excited at the prospects of becoming pilots.
Emile proved to be an excellent student and must have taken to flying from the start. When he completed his pilot
training he was offered
the chance to become an instructor. He chose to go overseas and take an active part in the war which at this
point was still not going well for Britain and her Allies.
(Seen above with a Fleet Finch trainer)
Fresh wings pinned on and smiles as wide as the skies they would fly. Shown here middle of front row LAC LeBlanc
his Pilot's Wings in plain sight. To the right of LAC LeBlanc
another future 419 Pilot LAC Clayton MacCallum who would arrive at 419 a week after Emile. (MacCallum became a POW
on May 8th after the Wellington he was on was lost. He was 2nd. Pilot at the time.)
Leave Before Embarking
Before he left for his overseas posting he was granted Leave. His Leave and others were for some reason was
not the full fifteen days, instead he had only five days. A sign perhaps of the urgent need for pilots needed
by the RAF.
Five days would be a short time to say goodbye to so many he knew and grew up with. Looking at the photos of those
five days it shows the pride the family had in the young man and his love for them and the land he grew up in.
The time to say "au revoir" came early in the morning and as he walked around their rural farm lamp in hand saying his
goodbyes a family member, George AuCoin awaited with a truck to take him the 25 miles to the Inverness station to
catch the train that would
eventually take him to Halifax. It must have been an emotional time for everyone as he drove off. What would be unknown to the family
was the message he gave to George. And
for two years George kept secret what occurred out of sight of the family as
Emile kissed the soil of his beloved home and turned saying "George, this is my last good-bye
to my family and Cape Breton soil, I shall not be coming back."
419 Squadron More Training
As Emile LeBlanc began his time with 419 Squadron many changes were happening within Bomber Command. The Commands
demand for more and more pilots to man the planned additional squadrons and replacement pilots lost or
having completed Tours was not moving quickly enough. It was decided that bomber crews would no longer consist of
two pilots. A new plan of one trained pilot and another crewman trained enough to bring back the crew if the pilot
was unable to was what laid ahead for bomber crews.
The training of pilots would now be longer and more intense with the view that with all the training the pilots were
better prepared for the changing war in the skies over Europe.
The starting date for this "New Deal" in training was set for March of 1942 and Sgt. LeBlanc would be within the last group of front line pilots
who would fly bombers with two pilots as part of the regular crew. From his arrival in late March until his first op. with his own crew he
would fly as 2nd. Pilot.
Flying with experienced crews and Captains was a style of on the job training which benefited the new crews
and especially the new pilots. Here he could be part of the crew performing tasks in actual combat conditions
that he as Captain would face when it came time for take part on sorties with his own crew.
During this time Leblanc would also be taking his own crew on cross country trips, performing navigation and bombing exercises with the
squadron around England. It would be these exercises that would bond the crew into a working relationship
and build trust in each others abilities.
First Sortie With Crew
The night of May 30/31 was like no other night for Bomber Command. They were to put together the biggest force
of aircraft ever staged before. The Command could normally put into service less than 400 bombers. The effort
to put into play Millennium involved not only Bomber Command but also Coastal Command aircraft. There would also be
bombers from the training bases using instructors and the more senior students.
There was in fact more then 1,000 aircraft using every type of bomber available gathered. All headed to one target.
For Sgt. LeBlanc and his crew it would be their first operation together and the first of many sorties to come on
Wellington X3359. The raid on Cologne would be one for the history books and LeBlanc's log book.
A Dangerous Target
During the months the crew flew sorties together one city, Essen, would reoccur once too often. On the first operation
Sgt. LeBlanc and crew aboard X3359 and 169 other bombers headed to Essen and the giant Krupps armaments factories.
This June 8/9th. operation did not go as planned the target was not
properly identified and the operation did little damage. Which meant that the forces of Bomber Command would again be sent to
destroy the Krupps works, and eight nights after their first attempt Sgt. Leblanc and his crew would be on their
way again to Essen for the third time this month.
June 16/17 1942 - Essen
Sgt. Emile LeBlanc had written in his log book before he took off that night, "Unlucky 13".
A thought that would pass
through the mind of most airman as they started on their 13th. sortie. However looking back to the remarks
he made before leaving Cape Breton some months back and the events that would play out this night the entry
makes it all the more poignant.
The actual events of the loss of Sgt. LeBlanc can best be given in the few lines of
MI9 reports completed by two of his surviving crew members Navigator P/O John Watson and his rear gunner
Joseph Angers. In addition to these reports is a letter written by Watson to Louis Patrick, Emile's eldest brother,
the three combined provide true eyewitness accounts of the events inside Wellington X3359 that night.
Both men mention only a few insights in their reports of what happened before going on into detail of their own
evasion from capture. Angers mentions that they were returning from a raid on Essen, he does not mention if they
had reached Essen only that they were "returning" . He goes on to mention that one of the engines failed and they
lost height very rapidly. The aircraft being picked up by searchlights and the order given to bail out was given
were his last bits of details of that night.
In a single sentence found on Watson's evasion report he mentions that the engine was overheating before being hit
hit by flak. Whether he meant the engine was hit by flak or some place else on the Wellington he does not mention
in the short explanation of the loss.
It is in John Watson's letter to Louis Patrick that other facts appear to give more light to what happened.
Watson mentions everything was going fine and they were flying at 17,000 feet near Limburg when the starboard
He continues on saying that "Under ordinary circumstances we should have returned to England safely but icing
conditions were so severe that within seven minutes we were down to 4,000 feet going through flak at Antwerp".
His mention of Limburg places them East of Antwerp and flying towards the heavily defended harbour city, this along with
the time given by Angers of 0103 for the bailout order is evidence that Sgt. LeBlanc had taken his crew to Essen
and were on their return to base.
And so it was that June night Emile LeBlanc stayed at the controls of his aircraft while his crew members
escaped the crippled Wellington. Watson the last to bail out reported that "the front gunner ( Bradley)
and wireless operator (Eric Winkler) bailed out at Emile's orders" followed by rear gunner Bruno Angers.
Together Watson and LeBlanc stayed with the Wellington hoping to make it to the coast. Watson left the plane
at 1,000 feet ...
" I fully expected Emile would follow me, but evidently, he decided he did not have enough altitude and tried
to make a crash landing". From information I received later he made a perfect landing but since he wasn't strapped
in his seat his skull was fractured" , Watson went on in his letter to Emile's brother "He was a great favourite on the
squadron and I had the utmost confidence in him as a pilot".
The youngest of 419 squadrons pilots to be lost, F/S Emile LeBlanc was just 19
at the time of his death.
The German soldiers in the area provided the escort and proper military funeral for Sgt. Emile LeBlanc.
(Later promoted posthumously to Flight Sergeant.)
A Cousin seeks out the Grave Site
Emile's first cousin Charles was with the Canadian Army serving in Holland and after the Liberation of the Antwerp area used his
two day pass to attempt to find the grave of his cousin. Charles had asked permission of Emile's brother to represent
himself as Emile's brother hoping in this way to avoid difficulties in gathering information.
Checking first with the Red Cross who had gathered information on among other things missing people and burial
locations from German records.
The information they had given him proved to be wrong but he was not going to easily give up. He either headed for the
outskirts of Antwerp on his own or this was where the Red Cross had sent him, here he located a girl who spoke
English and French. Still posing as a "brother" he asked the girl if she had any information on the crash of Emile's aircraft.
Charles luck had changed, not only did the girl know about it, she was the one who had initially found the crashed
It was her recollection that the burial site was only seven miles from where they now were. He was invited to
dinner and during that meal the girl told the story of what happened that night two years ago. How at around four thirty
in the morning she,
and the local policemen heard the crash and then found the crashed aircraft and found Emile's body inside. They removed
him from the damaged aircraft and found he was already dead.
in the morning. The Germans arrived and took over the crash site
removing any documents and articles from the body and aircraft.
The three of them noticed the rosary which the Germans had removed and went to see the local priest. The priest
insisted that the Germans allow him to bury the airman's body in the Roman Catholic cemetery. The Priest was allowed to perform the
ceremony and the German's gave the man who the villagers only knew as "LeBlanc" a high military funeral.
After the dinner Charles and the girl still unnamed cycled to the grave of "LeBlanc" the girl had told of how her brother
had helped in making the coffin and that others had made the crosses. Charles then sought out the priest and thanked him for what he had done.
Charles knew he had to return to his unit soon, but the girl mentioned that her brother may know more and so he
decided to wait until the morning when the brother returned. Again Charles, playing as Emils's brother had good luck
although the girl's brother did not know any additional details instead he went about asking others in the area and by chance
found someone who had copies of the photos taken by the Germans of the funeral.
The priest who celebrated Mass at Emile's funeral had unknown to him ties with the LeBlanc family. He and a first
cousin Father Charles AuCoin were ordained at the same time. The priest had even remembered father AuCoin and sent
photos of Emile's grave to Father AuCoin mentioning that a Canadian Pilot named LeBlanc, "most likely an
Acadian, killed on June 17, 1942, You might be able to locate some of his family."
The family Charles had been talking to had asked for a photo of Emile, the name the people now knew to be the Canadian airmanís name. In this
Charles sent home with all these details he has discovered he also requested that the family send a photo of Emile
to the family who had been so helpful to him. The letter also included one other detail
the remarks given by the Commanding Officer of the German military funeral.
"Leblanc the day before yesterday was our enemy. Today we are burying him as a comrade."