When I undid the pants and saw that my leg was smashed, I took my cigarette lighter and burned the cords off my parachute and made a tourniquet and that’s all I could do.
Stuart Vallières served with 427 Squadron, RCAF as a gunner on a Handley Page Halifax bomber over Northwest Europe. On 28 June 1944, Mr. Vallières and his crew went on a mission to bomb the city of Metz, France and were shot down. He was wounded in the leg and eventually captured and taken to Reims, France.
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The well-defended targets were so lit up with searchlights and anti-aircraft fire that you could smell the cordite in the aircraft. You could hear the shrapnel bouncing off the body of the aircraft, and all that time as a gunner, you were really focused on trying to pick out fighter aircraft to fend them off. So you were so busy that it’s over before you know it.
Over Frankfurt [Germany], was the first time that we saw the jet aircraft, and of course, they have flame at the back, so we just thought it was a rocket, it was so fast. It just looked like a rocket. And, we saw a few of them on this particular target and reported them as rockets when we came back, because that’s what we thought it was.
When we flew, we flew mostly night raids, we only flew a few daylight raids after the [June 1944 D-Day] invasion, and we flew in weather that was bad and poor visibility. That tended to keep the [enemy] fighter aircraft on the ground and at least eliminated some problems for us. If they did get off the ground, they had a hard time to find us, and of course, it was hard for us to see them too.
Well, I guess we were flying along, we had just changed course, and had leveled out and bang! And it happened so quickly, that, well, we couldn’t see, we didn’t see – I didn’t see the fighter, I didn’t see anything but obviously, he had been under us, and we were on fire and the aircraft was going down. We were trying to, the flight engineer was trying to get the flames out and so was the pilot, we were trying to dive and you know, blow them out and then straighten out. That wasn’t working and I knew that I was hit but I saw no fighters. And, then eventually, we were given the order to abandon aircraft and so that’s what happened, we assumed positions. It was difficult to get out. I was flying in the mid-upper [machine gun] turret at the time and one of the shells hit the seat and it made the seat very difficult to lower and get out of the turret, at that time. And that was it, we were told to get out and eventually we did.
When I undid the pants and saw that my leg was smashed, I took my cigarette lighter and burned the cords off my parachute and made a tourniquet and that’s all I could do. And, eventually, I knew that if someone didn’t find me, that I’d probably bleed to death. So I just started lighting cigarettes, and we were lighting cigarettes with 20 pound notes because we were on our way to go on leave. Instead, we weren’t supposed to fly that night, and I didn’t want the Germans to get the money, so we had some expensive cigarettes.
I felt I was being interrogated and they were asking really what my blood group was because I needed a transfusion, of course. And I kept repeating my name, my rank, my number, and the Geneva Convention. And, apparently one of the orderlies got frustrated with me and he spit in my face. And I hit him in the face. And that was when the [German camp] commandant came in. And, so he wanted to know what the upset was and I told him that they were interrogating me and I gave them my name, my rank, my number, and he says, “Well, they want your blood group.” And I pulled out my dog tags and I showed them my dog tags and your blood group is listed on them and so I remember him saying something about dummkopfs and then [asking] what was the other business. And when I told him that this guy had spit in my face and I hit him, and if he wanted to try again, I think I can manage one more shot.