French/American/Canadian – RCAF Mid-Under Gunner
Donald Alfred Doucette was born in Portland, Maine, 24 April 1922, whose parents who were French/Canadians, Joseph and Rose Doucette [nee Guinard]. In 1920, his parents moved to Maine, U.S.A., seeking employment, and then returned to Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1929. Donald was born an American citizen, but in those days received no citizenship papers and his parents requested none. Americans and Canadians crossed the border from country to country without any questions being ask or documents being shown.
From 1929 to the beginning of World War Two, Donald believed he was Canadian, but that all changed when he attempted to enlist in the RCAF in February 1942. He was posted to Edmundston, New Brunswick, where he trained as a RCAF airframe mechanic, receiving $7 per week, however he was not issued or allowed to wear the RCAF uniform. If he wished to serve in RCAF aircrew, Don was informed he would first have to become a Canadian citizen, which he agreed to do. Next posting became No. 1 Manning Depot in Toronto, Ontario, where he arrived in June 1942. This was followed by two days of paper work, signing his immigration request and last a swore oath to the Queen of England. He was now a member of the RCAF and posted to Three Rivers, Quebec, where he received three months Commando training. During this training period he received leave and attempted to return to Maine, where the U.S. customs refused entry, due to the fact he had no papers to prove he was American and he was not yet a Canadian. Don was a man with no country, an American born citizen, wearing the uniform of the RCAF. He completed his first posting and reported to No. 3 Initial Training School, Victoriaville, Quebec, then completed his airframe mechanic training at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.
At the completion of training he was accepted for gunnery training and reported to No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School, Mount Pleasant, Prince Edward Island. He began his gunnery training on 17 January 1944, and completed the course on 7 April, with promotion to Sgt. R112434 Doucette. His log book records total flying time and 303 cal. flight training was 16:20 hrs.
Sgt. Doucette departed Halifax for overseas, and after two days at sea the ship Capt. announced the invasion of Europe, “D-Day” 6 June 1944. His ship landed at a channel coast town and over one hundred air gunner’s were paraded in front of an RCAF Officer. This Officer read fifty names from a list and had then fall-out and reform on the right of the other group. The group was informed they would be trained for a new gunner position called “Mid-Under’. The Officer then read out five names, including Sgt. Donald Doucette, and they were instructed they would be posted at once to an active RCAF squadron as ‘spare’ gunners to fly as Rear, Mid-Upper or the new Mid-Under gun position. Sgt. Doucette was posted to No. 425 [Alouette] squadron on 14 June 1944.
Until August 1943, the usual German night-fighter tactics were to try and approach the RAF target bomber from slightly below. If the night-fighter was seen during this approach, the bomber would usually go into a corkscrew evasive manoeuvre, and the German pilot had to make the best attack he could under the circumstances. If the bomber was flown by skilful pilot, even the best German fighter pilots had difficulty hitting the target, and the bomber normally escaped. This all changed on the RAF raid on Peenemunde on 17/18 August 1943, when a new night-fighter was introduced by the Luftwaffe. A squadron of Bf110’s were fitted with two 20 mm cannon in an upward firing installation called “Schrage Musik.” These night-fighters were also equipped with new SH-2 radar which had a range of four miles, and could not be jammed by the British use of window – “thin strips of aluminium foil dropped in bundles of a thousand, at one minute intervals.”
This new Schrage Musik allowed the German night-fighter to fly low under the bomber normally never seen by the bomber crew. The usual aiming point now became the wing close to one of the engines, for there lay the inflammable fuel tanks. This new tactic was called “Zahme Sau” and it reached its peak on 30/31 March 1944, when German night-fighters using this method brought down the majority of RAF bombers lost. On this raid the RAF bombers suffered the worst single disaster of the war, when 96 of 795 aircraft dispatched to bomb Nuremberg failed to return, or 11.8 percent. No. 6 [RCAF] Group dispatched 110 bombers and 13 failed to return. March 1944, became the worst month of the war for Bomber Command when 283 bombers were shot down, including 29 Canadian.
To combat this new dangerous threat the Canadian Halifax aircraft in No. 6 Group were being equipped with a new 50 cal. gun position which was named “Mid Under Gunner.” Sgt. Doucette recalls he received two days of instruction on the new 50 cal. gun but no operational training. The single 50 cal. machine gun was mounted in the belly of the Halifax, pointing downwards, and it was aimed between the gunners knees. The ammo feed came from the right, where four ammo boxes held 4,000 rounds each.
Sgt. Doucette flew 31 operations in Halifax aircraft in No. 425 squadron and 28 were flown as Mid-Under gunner, three as rear gunner. His first operation was flown on 9 August 1944, in Halifax B. Mk. III, “O” to Foret de Nieppe, France, “Old Bill” as rear gunner.
On 10 August 44, a veteran Halifax bomber serial MZ674 was transferred from No. 429 Squadron to No. 425 and she came complete with nose art, and name “Honey Chile”, along with the names of the first 429 squadron crews girlfriends or wifes.
The ladies names were painted over but the nose art lady and name “Honey Chile” remained.
On 14 August 1944, Halifax Mk. III, serial MZ672 became the aircraft of the Pilot/Officer Angus Hutcheon.
[top row L-R] Doug Phelps, rear gun, Ted Smith RAF, Flt/Engineer, Angus Hutcheon, pilot, [ground crew ?] Bromberg, Navigator, [front row] Cassels, Wireless, D.O. Bromovitch, Bomb Aimer, spare Mid-Upper gunner ?, and Don Doucette, Mid-Under gunner.
On 14 October 1944, Sgt. Doucette flew in MZ672 “Honey Chile” with pilot F/L St. Jean, this was a 1,000 plane raid to Duisburg, Germany. The crew flew their 31 operation and last [12th] in Honey Chile on 6 November 1944, to Gelsenkirchen, Germany.
This was the last photo taken by Sgt. Doucette of his Halifax “Honey Chile” which had completed 35 operations, and her combat days are over. She has proudly served her French/Canadian squadron and now she will train new aircrew of the RCAF. On 9 November 44, she is transferred to No. 1666 Heavy Conversion Unit and then again on 1 December 1944 transferred to No. 1664 H.C.U. where she flies until 7 May 1945. Sent for disposal at No. 45 M.U. on 15 May 1945 and later scrapped.
Last photo taken by F/L Lindsay in mid-May 1945, then scrapped.
I first met Donald Doucette at a 1996 event held in the Nanton Lancaster museum.
Don had overcome a number of health issues and one had cost him the use of his voice. He spoke with a voice box, which he placed to his throat and then a mechanical voice answered your questions. He was very proud of the fact his initials spelled “DAD’, which he truly was, a warm peaceful loving father and family man. I learned he had become a railroad engineer at Port Cartier, Quebec, in 1962 and later moved to Calgary, Alberta, where he retired. He loved the west, hand built his own fishing boat and enjoyed gardening. I would also learn something very special about Don and his many hours spent woodcarving beautiful nativity scenes, which he gave away to his friends.
With the ending of World War One, a number of Calgary individuals came together and began planting a tree for each fallen soldier of the Great War. The first tree was planted on 11 May 1922, by Calgary Mayor Adams, and this continued until 1928, when 3,278 trees had been planted. Metal discs were placed on each tree, inscribed with date, donor’s name and a tag number. The original trees were planted on Sunnyside Boulevard which was renamed Memorial Drive to honour Canada’s soldiers killed in WWI. The majority of these trees were Populus wobbstii, commonly called the western poplar. In the year 2000, these trees were coming to the end of their lifespan and many were being cut down by City of Calgary parks. Don was very proud of his French roots, being a Canadian in the RCAF and never missed a Remembrance Day Celebration in Calgary or Nanton. He was saddened by the fact the old memorial trees stood for a fallen WWI soldier and now they were being cut up and thrown away. Don drove down to the cutting operation and loaded his car trunk with bark from the Memorial Drive poplars. In the following years he spent many enjoyable hours carving his creations and thus preserving the memory of the soldiers killed in WWI. Today the City of Calgary is full of nativity scenes carved by Don, and that tells it all.
The story of Don Doucette appears in my 2001 nose art book and I was honoured to give him a copy the following year. Don then surprised me with one of his Populus wobbstii carvings which became my Christmas gift from a true friend. His carving was in fact the images of Father Christmas, “Pere Noel” which became the Canadian Santa Claus. My last meeting with Don Doucette came in August 2005, at a Nanton Museum event. I was ask by independent video producer Jim Blondeau to conduct an interview with my friend and today this is all on film. I wonder if it will ever be shown?
Don passed away in East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook, B.C., on Tuesday 8 January 2013.
Merry Christmas Don