Photo by Melissa Kamphuis
Vintage Wings of Canada dedicates all of its aircraft to famous and no-so-famous Canadian airmen whose lives are inextricably connected to the aircraft types which bear their dedication panels. One particular aircraft, our North American Mustang IV (P-51D), is in fact dedicated to two men: one famous and one of equal courage, but lesser known.
The Robillard brothers, Larry and Rocky, were born and raised in Ottawa only a few kilometers from the Vintage Wings of Canada hangar facility in the city of Gatineau, Québec. Much of their immediate neighbourhood, called Lebreton Flats, was considered a blight to snooty federal district planners and was bulldozed in the early 1960s to make way for future urban development. However, the part of the rough and tumble neighbourhood which nurtured them still exists today, as does their original home on Elm Street and their next home on nearby Booth Street.
It was Larry's little brother Roger or “Rocky” who had the longest attachment with 442 Squadron and who flew the Mustang on ops in Europe. In fact, Rocky flew Mustang RCAF Serial KH661 (the Vintage Wings Mustang) many times while pushing the Germans further and further back towards Berlin at the end of the war. Rocky would share the destruction of one enemy aircraft with another 442 Squadron pilot. Like Arnold Roseland, another 442 Squadron pilot we honour in a similar fashion, Rocky flew Kittyhawks in the Aleutians and the west coast and was transferred to Britain in late 1943, at the age of just 19, to form the new 442 Squadron.
In researching the lives of Larry and Rocky, it became apparent that the older of the two, Laurent “Larry” Robillard, a Second World War ace and squadron commander, would have a greater presence of the web. His story was well documented with anecdotes and images. It was his younger brother, Roger “Rocky” Robillard, whose story and photographs would prove to be far more elusive out there in the ether, for Rocky entered the main stage European war in the final years of the conflict. He would fly Spitfires and Mustang IVs with 442 Squadron post D-Day through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. We could only find a couple of very poor images of Rocky on the web, and these were blurry and cropped from squadron group photos. The man squadron mates would call “Rock” or “Rocky”, for all intents and purposes, remained elusive and enigmatic to us.
Recently however, his face and a bit of his story has found its way through the mists of time and into our possession, thanks to one of our subscribers and a No. 2 Service Flying Training School classmate, Fred Mahler of Waterloo, Ontario. On seeing images of the Robillard Brothers Mustang leading a formation of RCAF jets at Cold Lake this summer, Fred contacted us and then sent us two very simple but emotionally revealing photographs of Rocky Robillard, the elusive younger brother. For us at Vintage Wings, this was manna from heaven. Now we not only had a photo, but we had an image that spoke to the character of Rocky.
Of Rocky, Fred remembers little after nearly 70 years. Thinking back he says: “It seems like a long time ago now. I remember that he was under the hood and I was in front keeping a lookout for other planes during training. We were friends but there were a lot of others too.” He went on to say: “Sorry I don’t remember more of Rocky but I remember we shared a beer or two. I went on to the OTU at Bagotville, Québec on Hurricanes but I believe Rock went out west.” Rocky Robillard, as Fred correctly remembered, went on to the West Coast where he joined an RCAF squadron flying P-40s. He would be dispatched to the Aleutians before finally making it to Europe to fly the Spitfire and finally the Mustang.
Though he can recount only a faded memory of Rocky or “Rock” Robillard, we are grateful to Fred for sending us these two images and the memories he does retain. It helps us connect with a man we admire but know little of. If you have any images of either Robillard brother, we would love to see them too.
A group photo of Rocky Robillard and Fred Mahler's course at No. 2 Service Flying Training School at Uplands, Ontario captured in July of 1943. The young men stand in front of the aircraft they would qualify for their wings on - the North American Harvard 2. Photo via Fred Mahler
A close-up of the previous photo. Rocky Robillard is at the far right in the back row, while Fred Mahler is on the far left in the same row. The eager, proud, and already-accomplished young men are about to begin one of the greatest phases of their lives. One wonders how many did not make it back home. With everyone wearing their white aircrew trainee flash in their caps, this was taken before their graduation. Photo via Fred Mahler
A positively wonderful image of Rocky Robillard sitting on a snowbank during his training days at No. 2 SFTS, Uplands. One can read a certain confidence, kindness, openness, and good humour in this young man's face. Rocky still wears his Leading Aircraftman (LAC) flash on his left sleeve and the white flash of an aircrew trainee in his wedge cap. Given that both Fred Mahler and Rocky would graduate by July of 1943, this image must have been taken in the late winter or early spring of that year, judging by the sunlight and the dirt-encrusted – an indicator of springtime. Photo by Fred Mahler
The boys of 442 Squadron pose with a Spitfire just before transitioning to the Mustang IV. Rocky Robillard is crouching in the front row, second from the right. Photo via http://www.flyingforyourlife.com
Today, the Robillard Brothers Mustang IV flies in the very same markings (Y2-C, Serial No. KH661) of a 442 Squadron Mustang known to have been flown by little brother Rocky. This past summer and for the near future, the Robillard Brothers Mustang will remain warmly housed in the Firefly Aviation facility at the Springbank Airport near Calgary, Alberta. Photo by Andrea Kormylo
Vintage Wings of Canada West Leader and board member Todd “Pepe” Lemieux holds station on the Robillard Brothers Mustang somewhere near the Rocky Mountains where the P-51 lives now. Photo via Todd Lemieux
Immediately after publishing this piece, I was contacted by Bob Candy, a former RCAF pilot who told us a great story about Rocky which spoke to his character. Because it speaks volumes about the man we are trying to know, I have asked him is we may include it.
I read your article on the Robillard brothers with great interest. I read all your articles with great interest, but this one was special because I knew Rocky Robillard. Many years ago, when the earth was green and I was a fresh-faced boy pilot, I was nailed for low-flying during my flight training at RCAF Centralia. I thought I was for the high jump and would be “CT’d,” but the CFI decided instead to punish me by setting me back a course and sending me to serve the two months purgatory in the Link Section.
Flying Officer Robillard was the OC and he assigned me to work under his corporal. The corporal was an old-timer and had a then-typical old-timer’s disdain for flight cadets. In short, he set off to make my life a living hell, scrubbing floors, cleaning toilets, etc. Realizing if I remained under the corporal for the full two months that I wouldn’t last, I decided to bare my soul to F/O Robillard. I think he must have empathized with my plight because thereafter he used me as an instructor on the Link for the duration of my sentence. If he hadn’t done that, it is certain I would not have graduated.
The caption on one of the photos describes Rocky as displaying a “certain confidence, kindness, openness and good humour” in his face. It’s a long time ago, but those words describe the Rocky Robillard I worked for during my penance in the Link Section at Centralia 61 years ago. I didn’t cross paths with Rocky again, but I will always remember him and be grateful to him for saving me from the unemployment line as a washed-out RCAF trainee pilot.
Another letter, this one from Robert “Kirk” Kirkpatrick
Dear Vintage Wings
A note of appreciation to the folks at Vintage Wings. I enjoy your frequent e-mails and stories. Particularly this Rock of Ages.
I received my wings in June 1943 at Uplands, # 1 Squadron. Robert Kirkpatrick , J27206. While in the RCAF, can't remember when, but possibly during my time at Uplands, I had heard about an evasive fighter maneuver, the “Robillard Roll”. The following is from a housebound 90+ year old whose memory is often questioned. However it seems that the “Robillard Roll” consisted of a feint vertical bank to the left followed by full stick forward, like a bunt when straight and level, followed by a roll to the right, back to a vertical left bank. Apparently this could end up with the pursued becoming the pursuer. Has anybody heard of this or performed it ? Anyway, thanks to Vintage Wings, keep those e-mails coming.
If anyone can answer Kirk's question, let us know.
Andy Thomas wrote and sent us a couple more images of Rocky Robillard
Thanks for the sight of this piece on Rocky R. Many years ago I was sent some negs taken at Digby (not far from where I am writing this!) of 442's Mustangs, including the a/c flown by him in the combat he shared a 190 with F/O Les Wilson. I did a short piece based on the notes collated for my book on RAF Mustangs a couple of years ago and this is attached for your interest. Feel free to use if you wish.
Might there be any chance of getting a hi res copy of the group photo and perhaps the lovely one of him sitting in the snow so as I may make prints for my file? I can scan the pics of the a/c too - they came from A J Mallandaine and I suspect you may well have seen them
All the very best, Andy Thomas
Rocky Robillard sits at right on wing with F/O Len Wilson. Flight Lieutenant Vince Shenk stands on ground at right with Squadron Leader M. Johnston.Finally, a proper scan from that album. Photo John Mallandaine via Andy Thomas
A Close up of Rocky on the wing in the above photo. Photo John Mallandaine via Andy Thomas
A great Red Section, 442 Squadron photo of Rocky (standing on the right outside of the truck) as they seem to be heading out to the pub. Photo John Mallandaine via Andy Thomas