M. Frank LeBlanc in Gaspé, Quebec on July 12, 2010.Historica Canada
M. Frank LeBlanc (front row, second from right) with his fellow trainees at the No. 10 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) in Dauphin, Manitoba, 1941.Frank LeBlanc
M. Frank LeBlanc sitting on a German aircraft, 1945.Frank LeBlanc
M. Frank LeBlanc (second row on left) with his fellow airmen of 421 (Red Indian) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), 1944.Frank LeBlanc
"The minute they announced a scramble, the mechanics would come out and start the planes. When the pilot arrived, they would help him up onto the wing. Within three minutes, the plane had to be in the air."
We were in Quebec City for the manning pool, and then we went to St. Thomas [Ontario] for our technical training. Afterwards, we were transferred to Dauphin, Manitoba to the [No. 10] Service Flying Training School. My brother had enlisted at the same time as me; he was in Moncton [New Brunswick]. We got off the ship at Bournemouth, in the south of England. From there, they sent us to [Royal Air Force Station] Drem, about forty miles from Edinburgh in Scotland. We were both mechanics. He was an aero-engine mechanic and I was an airframe mechanic. We used to argue as to who was more important.
We did reconnaissance for the army. We had cameras and took photos of the territory that they wanted to capture. They located all of the enemy's defensive locations. That way, the army knew what it would be up against when it arrived. Anyways, they were fighter planes. We had Spits [Spitfires]. They came out with the Mk XIV. It was a special plane; it was a Spitfire but with a Griffon motor. The propellers had five blades. Each blade was the size of a canoe paddle. They flew at twenty thousand feet. They had three synchronized cameras. They would come back and develop the film… the cameras were that big. They weren’t armed but they were fast. If a German plane engaged them, all they had to do was flee. The photos were much more important.
We went overseas [to France]. At the time I was a flight sergeant. The army had left before us and we followed as advance party for the air force. We were posted to B2; that was the airfield number. It was an emergency landing strip that had been built in an orchard. They cut down the trees and laid down wire netting to make the runway. We even had imitation cows, black and white, made out of wheelbarrows that we would spread out here and there. That way, if the Germans flew over, they wouldn't see that it was a landing strip. We were there for two days before our squadron [No. 421 (Red Indian) Squadron, RCAF, part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, RAF] arrived. Then we proceeded on to Bayeux [France], B8. We spent a good amount of time there. We left Bayeux to go to Eindhoven, Holland. We stopped in Diest, Belgium on our way through. We spent the winter in Eindhoven, Holland. When they did the big invasion, we worked very closely with the army. We took a lot of photos.
Before taking off, there was always a daily inspection. The mechanics checked the machine. After landing, they did another inspection and refuelled; that was very important. When the Germans flew over the English Channel, we were on alert. There were always two or three planes on stand-by. The pilots sat on their parachutes. The minute they announced a scramble, the mechanics would come out and start the planes. When the pilot arrived, they would help him up onto the wing. Within three minutes, the plane had to be in the air. It didn't give us a lot of time. They would pull the plane to the end of the runway to heat up the motor. Before taking off, they would get the motor going. It wasn’t a bad set up, that preparation. When the plane came back, there would be another complete verification.
There was always a good rapport between the pilots and mechanics, except for one guy who was a Mexican. We were in Wales. He called the mechanics "pawns" which didn't go over well at all. One day, he took off and while he was flying over water, his plane stopped working and he had to jump out with his parachute. From that day on, he always respected the mechanics. Nobody knows what happened, if it was just bad luck. We were together and we lived together. Whether you were black or white, you were my friend. That's what you call camaraderie. When there wasn't any, things didn't go so well.
I was in London for V-E Day [Victory in Europe, May 8, 1945]. The war ended and I was in London. I can tell you that it was quite a celebration.