F/L Duff Couillard, Rear Gunner (standing at left) and three of his No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron, RAF crewmates at RAF Mepal, May 1945. Mid-Upper Gunner Denmee is on the top right, while Wireless Operator Bates and Flight Engineer Charley are kneeling from left to right.Duff Couillard
Duff Couillard (on right) and his good friend Jack, Calgary, Alberta, 2004. Mr. Couillard and his friend served together as the only two Canadians on No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron, RAF.Duff Couillard
Mr. Duff Couillard's medals, from left to right: 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (CVSM); War Medal (1939-45); Bomber Command Medal. Note also the Air Gunner Wings above the medals, the Royal Canadian Legion crest, and the Fern Leaf presented by the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).Duff Couillard
Flying Officer Duff Couillard (left) and his father pose outside the family home in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan in December 1945. Mr. Couillard's father, a veteran of the First World War, served in The Veteran's Guard during the Second World War.Duff Couillard
"One of the groundcrew called and said he counted 125 holes that you could put your fist through. Whether that’s right or wrong, I never went out and bothered counting. I had enough of that one."
I got posted into the RAF [Royal Air Force] and I’ve always referred to that, once you leave the Canadian group [No. 6 Group, Royal Canadian Air Force], you’re the forgotten air force because nobody, no one knows what the hell we did. We had no idea what squadron we would be posted to, other than that we knew we were flying in [No.] 3 [Bomber] Group, [Royal Air Force] Training Command. And so when our posting came through, we learned that we were being posted to the [No.] 75th New Zealand Squadron which we had no idea what it was, other than it was a New Zealand squadron.
The only raid that really stands out in my mind was the raid that we were on on March the 2nd, 1945. That raid was really horrendous for us. We were bracketed by three ack-ack [anti-aircraft] shells. One went through our right wheel and tire, and up through the starboard inner [engine]. It took out the motor and, of course, it took our wheel right off. The tire was gone and everything was gone there. We also lost all our hydraulics. Our pilot was wounded. He got a piece of flak [anti-aircraft fire] in his neck and the doctors told us afterwards that had it gone any way but the way it went in, he would have died instantly either from lack of blood or from having his windpipe cut. We were lucky. We turned over and went straight down for, oh, about 17,000 feet. Our flight engineer unfortunately caught a package [was hit by offensive fire] and I don’t remember, I think it was his left leg, just below the knee and I understood it cost him his leg because that was the last trip that Gibby, our flight engineer, made, that’s Al Gibby, Al Gibson.
I can remember flying up the Ruhr Valley going south and by that time, we had got down to about 3,000 feet; and Jack Jones, our bomb aimer said, you know, Cologne [Germany] is coming up, and I want to target the cathedral. And he was all set to drop the bombs. We had one 9,000 pounder onboard and we had nine 500s [pound bombs]. He wanted to drop the bomb in the middle of Cologne and see how good he was.
Anyway, somebody said, "you know, we’re going the wrong way;" and our pilot said, "what the heck’s the matter, you know?" And he turned around and we started flying back. But, in the meantime, Jack had tried to drop his bombs, but, of course he found out, because all the hydraulics were gone and a lot of electrical circuits were gone, that he couldn’t drop his bombs. He couldn’t even open the bomb door.
So we turned around, started back north and we knew we had the bombs onboard; we knew we couldn’t land with them because, and we knew we couldn’t land on one wheel, so we had to get rid of them. So we got out over the North Sea eventually. Well, we got a fighter attack before we got out there and I had to call to go into corkscrew starboard and that was going in to our dead engine, but our pilot followed instructions and we flew a corkscrew; and both Jack and I opened up on the fighter. I never saw what happened to him, but he took off, went straight up, Jack said, so I guess we scared him a little bit. We went on out over the North Sea; and our bomb aimer came back and chopped holes in the floor where the bombs were, where the manual releases were because everything was jammed back in there. We had flak through us. One of the groundcrew called and said he counted 125 holes that you could put your fist through. Whether that’s right or wrong, I never went out and bothered counting. I had enough of that one.
But Jack opened the bomb doors. Jack took and dropped the 9,000 pounder bomb and tripped that one. When that 9,000 pounder hit the doors, the bomb doors, it popped both doors open. Of course, once they’re open, they’re not going to be closed again. And then dropped that bomb; and we had by that time gained almost 10,000 feet. It dropped on safe. He dropped one after another of the 500s and only one of those bombs exploded. Eight of them dropped safe and one dropped exploding.
We eventually got back to our base; we were late, hours and hours. My mother had even received a telegram because our flight saw us go through the clouds with smoke and flame pouring out our back. After getting rid of our bombs, we got back over our drome [aerodrome: airfield] and how are we going to land, that’s the next step. We got one wheel down. The left wing wheel came down all right, but the right wing wheel, all there was was the stub or the oleo [shock absorber] leg that was sticking down. And we knew that once that leg caught the ground, we were going to go spinning. Anyway, we suggested going in with the wheels up and the leg up and just ripping our doors off, but he didn’t think that was a good idea; and he was captain and he made the decisions. He said, "we’ll go in and I’ll put it down on the left wing wheel and the tail wheel, and we’ll keep that right wing up as long as possible. When it drops, get ready because it’ll be a snap." And so that’s how we landed.
In my position, a rear gunner, I turned my turret right around so that I was facing that side of the aircraft because I knew if that leg went down, we would pivot the other way and I didn’t want to get thrown out. I flew with my doors open always because, I think, on the third trip over there, I got a piece of flak jammed into my channels on the door and I couldn’t get my doors open. I flew that way until I got home and then the groundcrew had to come up and pry my doors open. So after that, I flew with my doors open, my back exposed to the wind, but nevertheless, I always felt safer that way. If I had to get out, I knew I could roll out.
And so that’s the way I turned my turret around so I was facing to the right side of the aircraft; and we proceeded to come in. We were coming in very fast because we had no flaps and when we touched down, we just settled on that one left wing wheel and eventually the tail wheel came down; and then when the right wheel dropped, of course, we were immediately snapped into ground looping. At that instant, I was so hyper I guess that it hurt, but there was more important things to get was, and it was to get away from that aircraft in case it blew up. So I jumped right up and I must have went, I’ve always figured about 20 or 25 feet when I collapsed again. And people from the ambulances and that come running out, grabbed me and pulled me over to where they were, where the ambulance was and the fire trucks, etc., etc., the lorries and what have you. And I think what had happened when I jumped and the parachute was locked behind my knees, it was like a nutcracker and it just popped my knees out. And then when I jumped up, I put them back in because there was a medical man that came to examine me because the fellows that had pulled me over there got him, and what his designated title was, I have no idea, but he was with the ambulance. And he come over to me, well, my flight suit was all tore down the left side and he just put his hand in through my, what was my trousers and went down on my knees, checked my knees, both my left and right knee; and said, "oh," he said, "I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse than that." He said, "you’ll be fine in a fortnight or two."