The Honourable Gilles Lamontagne in Quebec City, Quebec on June 3, 2010.Historica Canada
"We each jumped out one by one. I jumped last. I descended with my parachute."
I participated in the raid on Essen [Germany]. The Germans hit me. They came back three times. The first time, they fired and wounded my rear gunner. We finally managed to put out the fire – we had caught fire. He came back a second time. He really got us that time and my navigator was wounded. The plane was really on fire, it was a torch. The greatest fear that I had as a pilot and captain was that the plane would explode. I had to get everyone out before I could leave myself. The most dangerous thing in a plane during an attack is the explosion. If the plane explodes, it’s over. It didn’t explode but it was aflame. How did that happen? I don’t know.
My rear gunner turned his turret and managed to free his parachute, and he jumped. But the wireless operator was really injured. We opened the hatch below that was blocked and we pushed him out. Fortunately, it opened. After that, we each jumped out one by one. I jumped last.
I descended with my parachute. We were over Holland. It happened just before we got to the Zuiderzee, the big lake. I landed in a field and I buried my parachute and Mae West just as we had been instructed.
I looked around and saw a farm that was not very far away. I decided to go and hide in a half barn. I didn’t know what to do. I decided to wait until morning because it was two or three o’clock in the morning. Dawn would come and I would decide what to do. I lay down on the hay.
Early in the morning, two children, about four or five years old, came in and saw me. They ran to get their parents. I didn’t know what they were saying. I couldn’t understand anything since they didn’t speak English or French. They only understood Dutch. The father arrived with a huge hunting rifle. I said hello but he didn’t shake my hand. He motioned for me to stay where I was. He could clearly see that I was one of the fellows who had been flying overhead the night before. He came back with some cheese which he gave me to eat. I thought that maybe I would be lucky. About a half an hour later, I heard cars approaching and the sound of doors slamming. I thought I was done for. Some Germans came in. Raus und schnell! That means get up, and fast! They put me in a car. They took me to Amsterdam about a hundred miles away and put me in jail. That was the first place I went to.
In the 1980s, I received a call from Dutch ambassador. He told me that the sons of the farmer wanted to receive me as their guest. I went. They had decorated the village. They were happy to see me again. It was not the same welcome I had received back in the day. I understood; if the Germans had found them to be helping me, the entire family would have been shot. There were no trials. I understood. I would have saved my two children instead of some louse. It was extraordinary.
After the jail, we took a train. We were about six or seven prisoners. They called it the “the corridor of death” in Holland. We arrived pretty much always the same way. The hunters were waiting for us. They had called it the corridor of death. That’s how it happened.