These days, you wouldn’t exactly be wrong if you said that young people know little about the Second World War or the sacrifices their grandparents made during those awful years. You would be right to assume that there has been a severing of the lines of communication between the Greatest Generation and the generations that followed. You would be right if you thought there existed a disconnect between the men and women who gave all and lost much and, 70 years on, the society they fought to preserve. This society, our society, has changed in many ways. Its complexion, and 70 years of intervening immigration, mean that many, if not most of Canadians, do not have a parent or grandparent who fought in that war. Our country is a bigger and more complex place and yes, there has been a decades-long trend towards a society of consumption, entitlement and vanity. But to say that younger generations have no respect for or no sense of the sacrifice of their grandparents is to paint with the same brush a great number of young people who do, in fact, hold their grandfathers and grandmothers in an embrace of love, respect, and awe. My own two daughters speak of their Grampa Jones, a BCATP flying instructor and Spitfire pilot during the war, in terms etched in pride and great kindness and tinged with an emotional concern for his wellbeing (when he was alive).
My youngest daughter Merrill, 32, has expressed her proud bond with Grampa in the way many young people do today—a tattoo of a Spitfire. Her best friend and work colleague these days is a lovely and kind young woman by the name of Steph Beaune. Over the past year or so, Steph has become sort of a third honorary daughter, as her family lives in London. Any young person who thinks to bring a cold bottle of Sancerre to my house for dinner, automatically gains great respect!
At our monthly family Sunday dinner, Steph joins Merrill, my wife and son Kit and repasts devolve into a very enjoyable evening of intelligent conversation, beaucoup laughter and a growing respect in me and my wife for our younger generation. As is my wont, I sometimes guide the parlour talk to historical topics and I find these fine young people joining the conversation, not with theory and thesis, but rather with simple expressions of respect for history and the people who populate it—in particular their Grampa or Pepé. Young Steph surprised me on the first evening by her deep-felt feelings of love for her “Pepé”, or grandfather. Her Pepé, she explained, was a Lancaster pilot with the Pathfinder Forces of Bomber Command. She had me at “Lancaster pilot”.
Steph’s grandfather was Flying Officer Raymond G. Beaune, a native of Windsor, Ontario and a Royal Canadian Air Force Lancaster pilot and aircraft commander with two different Royal Air Force squadrons of Bomber Command—Nos. 90 and 7 Squadron, Pathfinder Force. Though a man who brought a harvest of destruction upon Germany during the Second World War, Beaune was, for Steph, a kind, humble and strong, yet gentle, man. I never asked Steph if these were his qualities, but the way she said his name, with a softening of her eyes and touch of loss in her voice, told me all I needed to know. As Merrill wears a Spitfire to honour her Grampa, Wing Commander Fred Jones, Steph wears a tattoo in honour of Flying Officer Raymond Beaune—a red poppy, carried on her wrist, where the Beaune family blood pulses with modern energy.
Steph told me that her Pepé had, in the latter years of his life, written an unpublished memoir of his wartime experiences. These experiences, which were most certainly the most powerful memories of his life, were ones that reformed his character and, in many ways, created the man that would become father and grandfather. Encouraged by his son, and Steph’s father (Dave), and backed up by his logbook, Beaune set out to put down on paper his adventures, losses, joys and journey from enlistment to demobilization. He did not do this to gain fame or regale the world with his exploits, but rather to share his most cherished memories with his children and grandchildren, so that they might better understand those days and the man who emerged from them. He published only a few copies for his family.
The memoir is a unique way to understand history, for it allows us a glimpse of the passions, emotions and stresses of war service. It is rare for a memoir to delve into the grand tectonic shifts of armies and political gambits. A memoir tells the story of the war as it was experienced and seen through the eyes of a participant and not through the hindsight and analysis of a historian. For me, the great books about the conduct and strategy of the war (by authors such as Anthony Beevor, Richard Ovary, Rick Atkinson, William Shirer and even Winston Churchill) are like the trunks and great limbs of the story tree. The personal memoir, like The War Years by Raymond Beaune are the leaves— the colour, the smell, the transformations, the emotions, the multitudes and the symbols of a people at war. While the great historical tomes are necessary to understand the immensity and spread of conflict, the memoir is the way to understand how war effects ordinary people (our Grampas and Pepés), how it makes them different from the people they were, and why we need to build a world of respect around our veterans who were, as Beaune says in his closing words, “on the firing line”.
I received in the mail a couple of weeks ago from Dave Beaune, Steph’s copy of The War Years. Inside, in Beaune’s shaky but wilful handwriting, it says “To Steph, from Pepé”. I felt very honoured to be allowed to share this family treasure, and devoured it in one long sitting in the gazebo at the cottage. It is, considering Beaune is not a writer, a compelling piece of writing from a man who knows full well who he is. It is strong-willed, unpretentious, and to the point, but it reveals in astonishing simplicity the high risks accepted and played out by men like Beaune. There was quite simply a thousand ways to die in Bomber Command and they were all in play on every mission. All around him men fell, bombers burned or disappeared in a blinding flash. And still, they pushed on, propelled by duty and the love for their crews.
Beaune highlights missions that stood out in his memory, and after reading you realize that nearly every mission over German-held territory, and even over England, gave birth to a memory or a wound. With the kind permission of the Beaune family, I have extracted only a small fraction of The War Years to share with readers. These are the most memorable missions for Beaune of his service with No. 90 Squadron, RAF and No. 7 Squadron, RAF Pathfinder Force. With Dave Beaune’s permission, I have reordered them so that they are in chronological order, but it is clear that Beaune simply wrote down the stories as they came to him, prompted by reading his logbook. Each comes to the light like a man released from prison. All are astonishing. Some are word paintings of vivid beauty, others a matter of simple yet harsh fact.
The War Years covers all of Beaune’s experiences from enlistment and flying training to POW camp life and the terrible and dangerous forced march west in the late winter of 1945, as the Germans moved prisoners away from the Soviet onslaught. It is short as a memoir goes, but far too long to offer up in its entirety here. Here now, transcribed from lovely Steph’s copy, is a but a small collection of remembered action from The War Years, by Raymond Beaune, a gift to us from his family. A family that remembers.
Dave O’Malley, Editor, Vintage News
The War Years – 90 Squadron operations
Left: A young Leading Aircraftman Raymond Beaune stands on the sidewalk outside 825 Belle Isle Avenue, his parents’ home in Windsor, Ontario. He proudly poses for a family photo in his new uniform with its white aircrew cloth flash sewn into his cap. This was likely during his time at No. 6 Initial Training School in Toronto. He was posted there in November of 1942 and was granted leave for Christmas at home in Windsor, 370 kilometres to the southwest. The photo on the right is LAC Beaune in his winter flying kit, back home again during his Elementary Flying Training at No. 12 EFTS Goderich, on the shores of Lake Huron. Photo via Raymond Beaune Collection
Leading Aircraftman Raymond Beaune leans proudly from the left seat of Avro Anson 7557 at No. 9 Service Flying Training School at Centralia, Ontario during his training on multi-engine aircraft, which started in April of 1943. Beaune was fortunate in that all of his training from ITS, through EFTS to SFTS, all happened within a few hours’ train ride from his home in Windsor, Ontario. This enabled him to visit his family on his leaves. Anson 7557 survived the war as did Beaune—it accumulated 2,185.25 hours of flying time and was struck off charge in August 1946 and likely scrapped. Photo via Raymond Beaune Collection
Beaune was promoted to Sergeant after his successful completion of Service Flying Training at Centralia. This photo shows him likely leaving for the next stage of his training, saying goodbye to family and friends, possibly forever, yet he beams with pride and youthful excitement for the task ahead. Photo via Raymond Beaune Collection
“On 18 July, we went on a night mission to Aulnoye [Northern France near the border with Belgium]. It was on this mission that I received an “Endorsement regarding an avoidable flying accident”. This operation was typical in that it involved a lot of anti-aircraft fire over the target area. We flew over the target area and we were pummelled pretty hard but could not discern any major problems or damage to the plane. We dropped our bombs then headed for home. When we arrived back at base and dropped the wheels for landing, the flight engineer notified me of a loss of brake fluid pressure indicating a leak in the lines. We landed and I thought we had sufficient fluid left to control the plane so I could taxi off the runway towards our dispersal area where planes were parked. I headed to the spot where the plane had been parked prior to our takeoff. It was the first spot on the left of the entrance to the dispersal area. I thought I had sufficient control to enable me to park the plane, shut off the engines, and then report the problem for repair. However, the night was dark with limited visibility. As I turned into my parking spot, I noticed another plane parked there. I put on the brakes hard and the remainder of the brake fluid leaked out and I could not stop. I rammed into the other plane and now we had two disabled planes. The C/O was really pissed off as he required all the planes for operations. I and the flight engineer had to appear before a court of inquiry the next day. We both gave good accounts of the incident, but the C/O, to cover his backside, had to issue a citation for carelessness. I still have that citation in my logbook. It did not prevent me from flying as there was a shortage of experienced pilots. In fact, two days later, I was on a mission and was promoted to Flying Officer within the month (the citation had a lot of errors).
Another unusual mission occurred on 20 July. The target this night was Hamburg. Our takeoff time was late, approximately 11 P.M. We took off as planned and proceeded on our own with no other planes visible in the darkness. Shortly after crossing into enemy territory, I saw tracer bullets crossing our nose. I immediately took evasive action as we were taught (I did a corkscrew). We returned to height, apparently having lost him during the manoeuvre. We concluded our bombing mission, and then headed for home. As we approached our base, we got a radio message that a bandit was in our area and shooting down planes as they descended for a landing. This bandit, or bogey, was an enemy fighter who had come over to England with the returning group of bombers. He could not be picked up on radar as radar does not distinguish friend or foe. Everyone was instructed to keep a sharp lookout while I made preparations to land. I went lower than the prescribed height when making my circuit to prevent the enemy from getting below me. When I was on the downwind leg of my circuit, the plane ahead of me who was on his approach leg was shot down. They crashed into an adjacent field. I continued on and went into my approach and landed without incident. The plane behind me was shot down on approach. As he was falling, he clipped the roof of the control tower before crashing. We parked our plane in our dispersal area then took the lorry towards the intelligence hut which was a couple of hundred feet away when a third plane was shot down. This plane crashed directly on a hangar which had two planes inside. On impact, one of the plane’s engines bounced over our heads and landed some distance away. Then all hell broke loose. The resulting fire caused 50 mm shells to start exploding and bullets flying all over the place. We ducked down behind a cement bloc hut and had a cigarette and waited until the firing stopped. The ground crew then went in and extinguished the blaze. Again the angels had looked over us.
Twice I flew to Kiel on bombing missions. The first time was on 23 July on a night mission. The weather this night was closing in on England. Low rain clouds were coming in but the weather was going to be clear over our target area. On all night flights, we did not rendezvous or join other squadrons. Each plane was on its own in the dark. We took off from base in the dark and started climbing slowly as we went. On all long missions, fuel conservation practices are adhered to due to load capacity. We kept engine revs to a minimum and climbed slowly. At about 17,000 feet in the clouds, I could not climb anymore and started to lose response to the controls. I knew immediately that we were icing up. The only thing to do was to go back down below the freezing level and melt the ice off the plane. So we headed back down toward sea level. We got down to about 5,000 feet before the ice disappeared. Then we started climbing back up to operational level. We got to the target area on time and dropped our load without incident, then headed for home. As we headed home, the sun started to rise on the horizon. Below us was an endless stretch of white fluffy clouds. I dropped the plane into the clouds with only the cockpit sticking out above the clouds. Any enemy planes that would come looking for us would find it difficult as the clouds hid us effectively. As the sun came up at the correct angle, the clouds all around us turned into a beautiful gold colour. It was absolutely fantastic. All of the crew came forward to see this phenomenon. I have commented on this beautiful scene many times over the years. I have never seen anything as nice before or since. That gold colour lasted ten minutes. We flew in the clouds until we reached England. This left us with a feeling of security and calmness as we flew home.
“I dropped the plane into the clouds with only the cockpit sticking out above the clouds. Any enemy planes that would come looking for us would find it difficult as the clouds hid us effectively. As the sun came up at the correct angle, the clouds all around us turned into a beautiful gold colour” – excerpt from Ray Beaune’s memoir, The War Years. Photoshop image by Dave O’Malley
The mission to Stuttgart on 24 July provided several interesting incidents. The longer you spend over enemy territory, the more things you run into. On this mission we saw planes trapped in the glare of searchlights, we saw planes destroyed in the air and on the ground. There was flak in several locations. The first indication I had was when I saw tracer bullets directly in front coming from below me. I went into a corkscrew—no hesitation. This manoeuvre is intended to lose your enemy on your tail at night. It is a quick turn right and down 2,000 feet, then corkscrew back up left and to get back on course. It is bad enough doing this in daylight but doing it on instruments with a full bomb load is difficult and dangerous as shearing off the wing is a distinct possibility. However, I pulled it off and we had lost the enemy plane. We reached the target, dropped our bombs and headed for home. On the way home, Mac, our tail gunner, saw an object approaching us from below. It had a red glare and was closing in fast. The two gunners started shooting at it while I did evasive manoeuvres. They succeeded in doing it. We did not know what the object was but in hindsight, it was probably a rocket missile [V-1]. We knew very little of missiles at that time. We reported this to intelligence and forgot about it. This trip was very tiring as we had been to Kiel on the previous night. I had to wake up the crew after we reached our dispersal area and I parked the plane.
Probably the closest call I ever had when flying occurred on 29 July during an air worthiness test. This brush with death occurred in the following manner. This day was a stand down day when no operations had been scheduled for the squadron. Our relaxing activities during such days were playing cards and drinking. During the afternoon when I had been drinking for several hours, the CO came into the officer’s mess. He looked around and then came over to me. He told me to gather my crew and take a Lanc up for a flight test. I was slightly inebriated but felt I had full control of my faculties. Such is the confidence of a 21-year-old pilot. I searched out my crew and decided to have only the flight engineer, wireless operator, navigator and myself take the plane up for the test. We proceeded to the plane where we learned that extensive repairs had been done and needed to be tested for airworthiness before being declared ready for operations. We took off and climbed to 10,000 feet to begin our tests. This was a mistake of enormous proportions. I should have been at 20,000 feet for the trials I was putting plane through. The plane handled well for the normal manoeuvres I put it through. However, I then tried a violent corkscrew to the right which meant putting it into a speed dive. I soon found out I couldn’t pull it out of the dive with the normal procedure. As we got closer and closer to the ground, I sobered up fast and felt as if I was sweating blood. All my training now paid off. Emergency training procedures compelled me to apply full power to the engines to try and raise the nose. This worked and I was able to pull out of the dive at tree top level. We were no more than 100 feet above the ground. We were all badly shaken up by this event. I should have known better. I should have been at the higher altitude before trying any violent manoeuvres. The alcohol-induced confidence was never again repeated. I landed the plane and returned it to the maintenance engineer with the comments to indicate it was not ready for operations.
On 30 July we were sent on a mission to Acquet [northeast of Abbeville]. This was a day mission bombing ahead of the invading army. It was a normal mission for us but the squadron list two planes on this operation. We had the usual flak and returned home without damage. We completed intelligence interrogation, and then went to the mess hall to await the arrival of all planes in the squadron. It is a tense time when planes are overdue. Everyone on the base knows what planes are late arriving and they know what crews are flying them. If the planes have landed at another base, we hear about it immediately. We got no news and after three hours overdue, we knew that they had been shot down. The drinking gets a little out of hand. All of a sudden a water fight started from a glass of beer then to fire extinguishers, then to fire hoses. The mess was six inches deep in water and everyone was soaked, so we headed to barracks to go to bed. We left the mess for the staff to clean up. I tell this story to illustrate the freedom we were allowed to relieve the tensions of operational flying. No one ever got chastised.
On 1 August 1944, an operation was scheduled for Coulonvillers. The mission was to drop bombs ahead of our troops and thus catch the German Army in a concentrated area. It had to be a visual drop where the bombardier could see the target clearly. When we arrived over the target area, we saw that it was covered with 10-10 cloud. This meant a solid cloud base. We dropped through the clouds along with several hundred other bombers. This is very dangerous as we are flying blind in cloud. The chance of collision is very high. We broke through the clouds at 600 feet. I dropped to 500 feet as I didn’t want another plane breaking through the clouds and crashing into me. We soon saw our target ahead of us. We opened the bomb bay doors and began our bomb run. When a bombing run is started, the bombardier directs the pilot on course changes. He will say “5 degrees starboard” or “5 degrees port” or “ Steady, Steady, Steady” if we are right on target path. As we were in our final run, Mickey McGuire [his given name was Louie, but he was called Mic or Mickey] looked up and saw a plane above us making the same preparations for dropping his load. He was approaching the target from a slightly different angle. Mic could see that our paths were going to cross, so he shouted a warning to me. There was nothing I could do as we were too close to take evasive action. Also, we were in the process of dropping our bombs. The bombs from the plane above started falling at the same time. Two bombs fell on each side of the fuselage between the wing and the tail, right alongside Mickey who was our mid-upper gunner. If either of the bombs had landed on the plane, they would have landed on him and broken the back of the plane and we would have all perished. Louie often said he could have reached out and touched both bombs as they fell alongside. Never again would I be on a lower level in the target area. Another lesson learned the hard way.
Mic and Mac. Beaune’s two air gunners were best mates and similar in many ways, not the least of which was visually. Sergeant Louie “Mic” McGuire (left) was from Windsor, Ontario, Beaune’s hometown, while Sergeant Walter A. “Mac” McWilliams was a farm boy from Manitoba. On 6 October 1944, Mac failed to bail out of the flaming Lancaster and was killed. Mic was grounded due to a cold, but when his crew did not come home, he cried deeply all that night. Photo via Raymond Beaune Collection
There were several bizarre missions. These were bizarre as unusual circumstances made them so. One such mission was on 4 August, which took us to Bec Domes [Bec d’Ambès] near Bordeaux. This was a daylight mission. We were assigned to bomb oil installations. Each squadron had a particular location to drop their load. This trip was our longest flight as the target was in southern France. We were instructed to take off and fly at low level all the way to the target as we did not want to alert the Germans who could have spotted us on radar if we flew at any height.
We were to fly out over the Atlantic Ocean out of sight of land so we could not be seen. Shortly before reaching the target, we were to climb to our assigned height, drop our bombs, then return to base, again flying low level over France.
We took off early in the morning and we remained at treetop level, making our way to the ocean. It pays to be alert because over England, I could see a hill in the distance, which I tried to go over by pulling the plane, but due to the heavy load we were carrying, I could feel no response. I had to give the engines full throttle to clear the hill and just missed the tops of the trees. We continued out over the Atlantic, and then turned south towards our destination. The mission was on a hot sunny day. The interior the aircraft became very uncomfortable due to the sun, heat and low altitude. We were about two hours out from our base when Mac, our rear gunner, shouted over the intercom “A plane just went into the drink!” We could see planes all around us so I instructed everyone to look for enemy fighters. This was our first thought of probable cause. We never spotted any enemy planes. Soon, he reported another crash into the ocean, then another, then another. On that leg of the trip, 14 planes were lost in the ocean. It dawned on me early on that probable cause was [that] the pilots were nodding off to sleep due to the sun and heat in the cockpit. When flying 50 feet above the water, it takes but a second for the nose to drop, hit a wave and crash into the water. Determined not to let that happen, we kept up a continuous conversation on the intercom. I also had Gord Garvie and the flight engineer take turns standing next to me and ensure my head did nod into sleep. It was a tragedy to lose over 90 men due to pilot error.
We reached our target area, climbed up and dropped our bombs. Pictures later indicated we scored direct hits. We went back down to treetop level and headed back for base. On the way back, we saw a plane down in a field. It had crash-landed and the crew was running away to avoid the Germans who would soon be there. I recognized the pilot as someone I had trained with. It was Dawson Wright from Windsor. We got back to base with no further incidents and reported to intelligence all aspects of the trip.”
The Beaune Crew. It is not known whether this crew photo was taken when Beaune was with 90 Squadron or later with 7 Squadron, Pathfinder Force. We can identify a few of the men from images in Beaune’s memoir, The War Years. Beaune is in the front row with cap. We believe that Sergeant Louie “Mic” McGuire, the crew’s Mid-Upper Gunner, is at the left in the front row, while Beaune’s Rear Gunner, Sergeant W.A. “Mac” McWilliams, stands at right. Bomb Aimer, Gordon Garvie was a Warrant Officer, so likely he is the one with his arm around Beaune. Beaune’s son identified the fellow standing in the middle as Flight Sergeant Archibald “Junior” Davidson (RAAF), Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. For the rest of the crew, their aircrew brevets are not clear enough in this image to tell who they are, but their names and positions are as follows: Sergeant Fred G. Etheridge (American), Navigator and Sergeant J. Forester, Flight Engineer. Beaune’s first Flight Engineer was named Jamieson (from Vancouver), but the 90 Squadron Operational Record Books (ORB) clearly show multiple times that the crew’s Flight Engineer was Forester. At some point early on, the man in that crew position must have changed. From the 7 Squadron ORBs, the entire crew was intact on the night Beaune’s Lancaster was shot down, except that Gord Garvie had left and was replaced by a Flight Lieutenant Milligan and Mic McGuire was grounded with illness. He was replaced that night by a Flight Sergeant W.A. Sweet. Photo via Raymond Beaune Collection
After five weeks of steady combat operations, Beaune and his crew had survived the odds. They were weary, but still willing. After much discussion, they made a change to Pathfinder Force in the hopes of extending those odds. In The War Years, Beaune outlines the result of those discussions:
“My career ended at 90 Squadron after 17 missions: 1 on Wellingtons, 4 with Sterlings, and 12 on Lancs. Why did it end? It was a result of many bull sessions with our crew and with other air crew. The factors taken into consideration were these:
1st – The average number of missions for Bomber Command that was expected before being shot down was 17.
2nd – Only 17 % of crews ever completed a tour of operations, which took 30 missions.
3rd – After one month at 90 Squadron, we were the only crew surviving from the original of five weeks ago.
4th – We felt the war had taken a turn for the better and would be over within a year, so we had better put the odds in our favour by prolonging the time between missions.
5th – We felt promotions would come fast if we lived.
So, we requested a transfer to the Pathfinder Force. We expected it would take a while to integrate us into the unit. The request was granted and we were posted to No. 7 Squadron at RAF Oakington.”
We pick up Raymond Beaune’s narrative later in The War Years. He is now on operations with No. 7 Squadron, a Pathfinder unit. He describes some memorable missions and the one that brought his Lancaster down.
“On 6 September, we were assigned the mission of bombing Emden in the Ruhr. This was an eye-opener. As soon as we reached the Ruhr, the shelling started and was more intense than anything we had previously experienced. We made our run into the target and dropped our bombs. After the bombs are released, the Pilot should keep the plane on the same path for 20 seconds to obtain an accurate picture of where the bombs land. It was during this run that our port outer engine got hit by flak. I had to feather the engine and fly home on three engines. This is but a minor problem as the Lanc can fly safely on three engines. In fact, whenever we flew alongside American bombers, we would cut off two engines and pull away from them. This annoyed them to no end. We landed no problem. However, I pledged that I would never again worry about pictures. As soon as the bombs were dropped, I leave.
The Nordstern Raid on 13 September saw the heaviest concentration of flak. I tried flying into the dark puffs left by exploding shells, theorizing that lightning never strikes twice at the same spot. We did not get a good run at the target so had to go around again. We went around again three times before we were satisfied and the bombs could be dropped. We returned home safely with no damage.
On 15 September we made our second raid to Kiel. This was a night mission. This was my first mission for dropping flares at night and circling the target area while the main bomber force dropped their bombs. This was an eye-opener. As we circled the city, we could see the bombs hitting the ground—explosions and fires all around. When we left the area, it was in ruins. No bad incidents for the crew or plane this night.
The other missions flown this month were routine, with us facing a lot of AA fire. On one of the Bottrop [a city north of Essen] missions, we lost two engines due to flak, but had no problem getting home. It was nice to have such a good plane.
In late September, we were in Cambridge in the park during late evening. It was getting dark when we heard a squadron of American B-17s returning from a mission. They always flew in formation. When they were almost overhead, they turned their wing lights on so they could continue formation flying as it started to get dark. They evidently were late in returning. All of a sudden, two German fighters started firing at them and planes started to fall to the ground. Over ten planes were shot down while we watched. Of course, we could do nothing but watch and we kept saying “Turn off your lights!” as they were sitting ducks for the fighters. This story is to illustrate that vigilance over England was as important as vigilance over Europe.
The Scholven [Hydrierwerke Scholven Buer] mission of 6 October was another matter however. For this mission, we were the lead plane [ORBs indicate that Beaune was flying Lancaster MG-X, PB241.] Being as the lead plane can be picked up accurately on radar, we expected to receive quite a pounding—which we did. For this mission, I was missing two of my regular crew. Louie McGuire (Mic) was sick with a bad cold and was replaced by an M.U. (Mid-Upper) gunner from a pool of spares [According to the 7 Squadron ORBs for that day, the M.U. gunner was Flight Sergeant W.H. Sweet.] Also, I had a new bombardier [Flight Lieutenant Milligan] as Gord Garvie had requested a transfer. On this day, and only this day, I had a premonition that disaster awaited us. I cannot explain this feeling of impending doom. That feeling was to haunt me for several months. We went through all the regular routines such as meals, briefing, ready for takeoff, which was about 1 P.M. The flight over friendly territory was uneventful. However, once we crossed into enemy territory and headed towards the Ruhr, the enemy batteries opened up at us. We started dropping our tinsel [known as Window, these were strips of aluminum foil] to jam their radar.
We were only about 5 minutes into the barrage when we received a direct hit. The shell explosion hit us amidships, next to the wireless operator station. The resulting shrapnel sliced my jaw open. I started to bleed profusely, but there was no pain. Shells were now exploding all around us. The M.U. gunner shouted on the intercom that the starboard inner engine was on fire. I immediately shut it down and feathered the engine. Then he yelled back that he meant the PORT inner, not the starboard. I shut that one down, feathered the engine and pressed the button to activate the fire extinguishers in the engine housings. I started the starboard engine, opened the bomb bay doors and jettisoned our load of bombs. I then turned west to head towards the Allied lines in France. I thought we could make it that far and then bail out.
The port outer started heating up, so I shut it down and activated the fire extinguishers. Meantime, we were losing height, but no smoke was coming from the engine area. I told the crew to prepare to bail out as I thought I might have to give the order. They all came forward to bail out of the front exit except for Mac [Flight Sergeant W.A. McWilliams – Ed], who would bail out of his rear gunner’s turret. After about five minutes of this, there was no sign of smoke from the engine area. I told the crew to go back to their stations and that we would be over Allied territory in 20–30 minutes. Five to ten minutes later, fire erupted from the port side.
This time, flames erupted into the cockpit, searing my legs so I could not put them on the rudder pedals. Instinctively, I knew we were now in danger of gasoline explosion. I gave the order to bail out fast. The following sequence occurred in about ten seconds. Mac bailed out of his rear turret, parachuted to safety, but was later shot and killed by the Germans. Four other crewmen bailed out of the front exit. The M.U. gunner decided to jump from the side door. I stood up and ripped down the curtain separating the cockpit from the rest of the plane and looked back for the M.U. gunner. I did not see him and assumed he jumped out the side door. I moved to the front exit and bailed out.
We were now about 1,200 feet from the ground. As soon as I was out and pulled the ripcord of the parachute, the plane exploded.
Four months later, I met the M.U. gunner in prison camp. He told me the plane exploded while he was still in it. The explosion blew him out and he was able to open his chute and land safely. I believe he had been too scared to jump. I later learned that our wireless operator, Flight Sergeant Davidson, never made it out of the plane before it exploded.
The explosion tore two strips off my chute. I was coming down faster than expected, but remembering my training, I put my feet together and prepared to roll as soon as my feet touched the ground. As soon as I was bracing myself for the landing, I hit the ground hard. It seemed I was 50 feet up one second and on the ground next. I jarred my back and had trouble standing up. The pain in my lower back indicated I must have damaged my vertebrae. Immediately a jeep with four soldiers was next to me with their rifles pointed at me. By the way, as I jumped out, my shoe came off and now I only had the right shoe.
They motioned me to get in the jeep with them and I complied.”
There ends the lifted parts from Flying Officer Raymond G. Beaune’s personal memoir, The War Years, which covers his entire experience from enlistment to imprisonment to demobilization. It is a wonderfully candid and understated bit of writing. Though the editor has had the privilege of reading the complete memoir, we are grateful to share with the world those parts which we have transcribed herein.
The No. 7 Squadron Operations Record Book has a simple entry for the Beaune crew on this day: “Missing – Nothing heard after takeoff.” The Aviation Safety Network, which lists all aircraft lost in battle or in accidents, describes in brief what Beaune remembers so well, with a different report on Mac’s demise: “Missing on operation to Scholven Buer, synthetic oil facility. Crashed at Wissel, 3 miles from Emmerich, 25 miles from Arnhem. Crewman Wireless Operator Archibald Davidson and Rear Gunner Walter McWilliams KIA. McWilliams’ body was found with the wreckage. Davidson was seen to fall to the ground with the parachute aflame and entangled in his legs. His body was found within a 5-minute walk of the wreckage. All other crew became POWs.”
A newspaper clipping from the Windsor Star carries a news item about several missing service men. Beaune’s photograph reveals the typically youthful countenance of the day. [Looking at this photo, there is no doubt that Ms. Steph Beaune is his granddaughter—the resemblance is astonishing. Clipping via Raymond Beaune Collection
In his 80s, Flying Officer Raymond Beaune got the chance to fly a Tiger Moth from the student cockpit one last time. Photo via David Beaune
A rather humorous and obviously altered photograph shows Beaune’s official RCAF portrait superimposed on a production still from the 1960s television hit series Hogan’s Heroes. Beaune spent the remainder of the war in Stalag Luft 3, the camp from which the Great Escape took place the year before. Beaune’s face replaces that of Colonel Bob Hogan, while the ridiculous Sergeant Schultz and the frustrated Colonel Klink give their signature expressions. Image via Raymond Beaune Collection
Recommended Personal Memoirs available for sale on line
A Thousand Shall Fall – the True Story of a Canadian Bomber pilot in World War Two, by Murray Peden
Over the Wire, by Andrew Carswell
Been There, Done That – Through Treacherous Skies, by Ron Butcher, DFC, CD
Sagittarius Rising, by Cecil Lewis (First World War)
Surviving Victory, by Philip Vickers
The Trepid Aviator – Bombay to Bangkok, by W.W. Frazer