Veteran Stories:
Jean Clermont

Air Force

  • Camp Life in France, 1944

    Jean Clermont
  • Jean Clermont before going overseas, 1941

    Jean Clermont
  • Armour Department in Holland, 1944

    Jean Clermont
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"So then we would do our infra-red scan to see what they were up to and what they were building."

Transcript

My name is Jean Clermont. I served as an aviator from 1940 to 1945. I was overseas for 40 months. I was in different countries; for a while I was in England, and then I arrived in France in July, then I was in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. I was supposed to return to Canada before but the people who were going to replace us were shot down in a plane by the Germans. So I had to …I came back to Canada in March 1945. So we could count from 1940 to 1945, you know, far away from home. My real profession was as a gunsmith, but this was because they didn’t have enough machine gunners. The others flew above Berlin, but we took pictures of what we were attacking, the Lysanders, you see on the iron there. The planes had big wings above with cameras, and they were about this long. And then they lent us some because we knew about weapons, we were in the back with the machine guns. And they didn’t take very long, you know. When I took pictures, they made, among other things, what we called mapping, maps, you know. They took pictures on a hilltop, and then you could see the whole area in infra-red and you could see what was below. It eliminated the green so that you could see what was below. The Germans did that you know; they pretended that there was grass there to hide the tanks. So then we would do our infra-red scan to see what they were up to and what they were building. I wasn’t doing anything myself, it was all automatic. Personally, I was never any good at taking pictures. I didn’t even own a camera during the war. I would have gotten one another way. So it was a special automatic camera, and then we went, say for example, to Portsmouth (??) on the waterfront to see what the Germans could see. The Germans also sent planes with cameras. We tried…but we couldn’t do it all the time, we also had other responsibilities. Us, in the morning, the planes…Who handled the bombs? Well we did, we handled the bombs, the machine guns and it was also us who cleaned the machine guns. The rifles went in and then the bombs went in last. Because in our airfield, there were four squadrons. There were Typhoons, Mustangs and even Spitfires! We followed them. The worst day for us was New Year’s day 1945. The Germans took advantage of the fact that it was freezing and came and bombarded us. I missed it since where we were set-up in Canterbury (??), we took turns making the morning tea. It was my turn that day. So I was making the tea while everyone else took off in the planes. Then all of a sudden I heard the machine guns going off. I wondered what was going on so I went outside and then dropped on all fours! It didn’t last long. Behind was where we threw away our old engine oil. Once, I fell in and swam around for a bit. It’s in a history book. A couple of years ago, I was reading a history of aviation book and it mentioned me. I can’t remember anything else, except that I fell in the oil and they got me out. I don’t remember anything else. We were the first Canadians to go to Paris. I saw Paris when the lights were out. There was a nine o’clock curfew because there were still Germans around. Some French women were going out with Germans, and they hid them. Then, in the evening, they got out their guns and if they saw a soldier, they would shoot. Except for at nine, everyone had to be off the streets. We spent quite a lot of time there. We went out to get some meat and they let us ahead in the line. We were liberators. I really felt like eating a steak, since I hadn’t had a steak in three years. So, a fellow gave us some steak since we were seen as liberators. In the squadron, in addition to taking pictures, we destroyed trains and things like that with Mustangs. They called it the Air Reconnaissance Wing.

On another occasion, we went to Belgium. Everyone was saying: we’re going to Belgium! When we arrived, we didn’t know anybody. There was a place called Falaise. I had never heard of such a place! A big battle took place there. We surrounded some German troops and then they retreated. Then we set-up there. This is where the Americans passed us with a truck, setting off a mine in a field! I fell over and barb wire cut my entire face up. My fellow soldiers stayed there. I was the only one who was hurt, so I was allowed to leave! One day in March they said, Jean, you’re going home! I was so happy! So I left. They flew us to London and they we got off the plane and went to our hotel to sleep for a bit. I always stayed in the Lancaster Gate Hotel in London. That was my place. Each time I had leave in London, I always stayed at the same hotel. So, I checked in and then went out to get a steak. I was in Soho. Soho was a pretty remote place, you know? So I went there. After eating, all of a sudden the Germans dropped a V2 that landed only 1000 yards away from where I was. I was lucky. I found safety under a table for a while. Then, I went to a place called Manchester, this is where they sent us in preparation to head back by boat, in Greynut (??). I travelled back on the Brittania (??) it was one of the dirtiest grey boats. It has four funnels. That’s how boats worked, with funnels. A small boat had two and a big boat had four. The bigger a boat was, the more funnels it had. Mine only had four. It was something like the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth. Anyway, I arrived and then they gave us 2 months leave. My mother and my sister welcomed me home, that’s it! I had been away for three years. She said: “I can see that little thing coming, that can’t be Jean!” I wasn’t big; I was 5"7 tall and weighed 132 pounds. So I told her, “Yes, it’s me!” She couldn’t believe it; she said “You won the war, my little one!” I said, “of course”!! If I hadn’t have won the war, it would have been bad! (Laughs) I thought that was funny!

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