The Military Museums

Francis Lefaivre

Francis Lefaivre was a Navigator/Observer stationed in Northern England during the war.

Francis Lefaivre

Francis Lefaivre was a Navigator/Observer stationed in Northern England during the war.

Francis Lefaivre

At one point during the war, Francis Eugene Lefaivre was stationed in a town on the north east coast of Scotland called Petershead. One day, on the way back to the base, he and his pilot decided that they would like to get a close up view of Glamis Castle. This is the castle in which Queen Elizabeth was brought up.

The best way to do this would be to fly as low as possible over the roof of the castle. As you can imagine, the roar of the plane passing overhead for anyone in the castle would be deafening... not to mention the fact that they would probably think that they were being attacked.

They made their pass (or passes) and headed back to the base. Shortly after landing, both Francis and the pilot were called to see the Commanding Officer (CO). As it turned out, the CO had just been contacted by a rather irate King George VI. The King had provided the CO with the type of aircraft as well as the identifications numbers.

Luckily for Francis, although the king had identified them based on their Aircraft ID numbers, he had provided the incorrect plane type. Francis and his pilot quaked in their boots as they awaited punishment.

Much to their surprise, the CO said... "Well of course that could not have been the two of you because you were flying in another aircraft today." The next thing you know, he told the two of them, "You are dismissed." As the two of them were passing through the door to exit the office, the CO called out "Don't do it again!".

Recollection's of Francis Lefaivre, by his son Tim Lefaivre

In a pile of photos taken by my father during the war, we came across a photo of the Firth of Forth Bridge located just north of Edinburgh. Scotland's Forth Bridge over the Firth of Forth is a steel cantilever railroad bridge designed by Benjamin Baker. It was the longest bridge in the world when it was completed in 1890.

I showed the photo to my father, and he told me that some of the pilots in his group would fly under the bridge. Dad said, that may not seem like much until you see the bridge itself. In order to fly under the bridge, it meant flying only a few feet off the water!

HMCS Warrior

During part of the war, Dad was a navigator/observer stationed on an aircraft carrier called the Warrior. Much like on the modern carriers of today, aircraft are launched off the end of the ship using a very powerful catapult. The aircraft wheel of the aircraft was locked onto a hook, the flaps down, the stick back; engines at full speed and the brakes on. Once everyone was ready, the flagman gave the signal, the brakes released and the catapult accelerated the aircraft from 0 to over 100 mph in a few seconds.

The G-force of this rapid acceleration was staggering. Without the advantage of modern day flight G-suits that keeps the blood from rushing from one part of the body to the other, it was all a person could do to stay conscious.

One particular pilot that Dad flew with would consistently lose the battle with extreme G-force. As he and my Dad were being shot off the deck of the ship, the pilot would consistently Grey-out. Since the flaps of the plane were fully extended and the stick pulled back, the start of the flight would look normal. However with a semi-conscious pilot and my father without controls the plane would slowly start to drift down towards the water. Dad tells me that "We would be in the back of the aircraft saying a few quick prayers" as he waited for signs of life from the front seat and the pilot to regain control of the plane.

Wartime aircraft did not have all of the navigational instrumentation of modern aircraft. Navigation was done with pencil, paper and a couple of hand-held navigation aids. On one particular mission, my Dad set the navigation tools on the front dash as he got into the aircraft. Unfortunately, he forgot to remove them and properly store them before takeoff. As the catapult was released and the plane hit them in the back, Dad's navigations tools accelerated past him at over 100 MPH … narrowly missing the side of his head.

This near death experience would be a story in itself... but it was not over. The tools traveled all the way to the tail of the aircraft, well out of my fathers reach. He was forced to navigate the entire mission without any of his navigational aids. He did not tell his pilot until they had landed that he was guiding the two of them using nothing more than notes on scrap paper, a watch, and a whole lot of prayer.

To this day, landing an aircraft on the deck of an aircraft carrier is an extremely difficult proposition. The captain turns the ship full speed into the wind and the pilot does his best to land the plane on a deck that is less than 1,000ft long. In heavy seas, as the pilot approaches, the deck of the ship will be heaving up and down with the waves. Incorrect timing on the part of the pilot could result in the ship knocking the plane out of the sky as it is forced upward by the waves. Once on the deck, the pilot attempts to snag one of many self-centering cables stretched across the deck with a rather small hook that extends from the tail of the aircraft.

If all of the cables are missed before the plane comes to a stop, the last chance before tumbling off the front end of the ship is a large safety net. As a kid, Dad showed me several photos of crashed planes that had either missed the cables and slid into the net, or had been forced to ditch into the ocean due to the fact that they had run out of fuel. Dad told me this had nearly been his fate on one occasion.

The seas were very heavy... the pilot had made several unsuccessful attempts to land. They were circling around one more time to make a final attempt. If that attempt failed, they would be forced to ditch the plane into the open ocean since they were nearly out of fuel. Between prayers, Dad took a photo of the carrier in the distance as they circled around on their final attempt. That day, luck was on their side as they touched down with only fumes left in the gas tank.

Flight School

While Dad was in flight school, one of the things that they were forced to practice was getting out of the aircraft and parachuting over water to safety. They would be strapped into a parachute harness and forced to jump off a tall tower. They would slide down a zip line into a pool of water. Before hitting the water, they would be released from the cable and would drop into the water.

At this point, they were supposed to inflate their "Mae West" (a horse-shoe shaped life vest), deploy and inflate their life raft, climb inside, and zip up the door. It was about this time, that the trainer would come along and flip the raft upside down.

This was done to simulate heavy seas. The victim would then crawl out of the raft turn it over and climb back in. Once inside, the trainer would again flip the raft.

This was a terrifying and exhausting exercise for all who went through it. The terror was magnified for my father due to the fact that he did not know how to swim. After that training, he always kept a few breaths of air in his Mae West as a safety precaution.

Post War

My father loved Mexico and traveled there well over 100 times in his life time. The first time he ever went to Mexico was after the war when he docked in Acapulco on an aircraft carrier. He described the now popular tourist mecca as a rather sleepy town with pristine beaches and sand drifting over the town square in front of the Cathedral. On that trip he purchased a set of photos from a shop along the town square that still exists.

Earlier on in that trip, his carrier had passed through the Panama Canal. He described to me the extreme heat within the vessel as the dark hulled ship passed through the blistering heat.

Very early in his naval career, Dad was on a mine sweeper duty stationed out of Prince Rupert. He told me that it rained constantly. He and his best friend were almost going crazy. They would try to come up with ways to get transferred out to a more pleasant location. This is when they came up with the idea of going to Officers College. By the end of his career, Dad was Lieutenant Commander.

In order to stay sane, Dad and his shipmates would play pranks on each other. One day they decided to play a prank on a young fellow that had been having problems with sea sickness. They pulled the eyes out of a large grouper (large cod type fish) and carefully placed them into the fellow's mashed potatoes when he was not looking. Needless to say, this did nothing to help his sea sickness. Tim Lefaivre, son of Francis Lefaivre

An Account of the Military Life of a Good Man, Francis Lefaivre, recalled by his brother Paul Lefaivre

Born in Edmonton in 1922, Francis or Fran as he was generally known was the first child of William McCormick Lefaivre and Eugenie Linn Pineau. Fran was raised in Calgary where he lived for most of his nearly 85 years. His dad came west from Ontario and his mother of Acadian lineage from Prince Edward Island. They arrived in 1912 to teach school at Riviere Que Barre. Very proud of his 9th generation Canadian heritage, Fran was decidedly devoted to Calgary where he grew up, found employment, joined the navy, married and together with his wife Marjorie raised a family of five children, all of whom graduated from the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

A child of the depression, he caddied at the Calgary Country Club and through his connections there obtained his first full time job when he graduated from Western Canada High in the spring of 1940. In early 1942 while working with the Royal Bank of Canada in Cochrane, he told his employer his desire to join the Navy but as relief, but considering there were only two bank employees as the time, his enlistment was delayed until a replacement could be found.

However, shortly thereafter a solution was found! His younger brother by fifteen months, Paul, also with the Royal Bank was in the process of being transferred from Cranbrook to Calgary. So without permission or knowledge at bank headquarters, Paul relieved Fran for two days while he went to Calgary to enlist in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR).

Of course the whole process was pulled off with the blessing of the manager, Mr. A. O'Kiefe, whose eyesight was badly impaired thus resulting in the necessity of the junior branch officer holding all of safe combinations for cash, securities, etc. Such were some of the civilian problems in war time, it just would not happen today!

Following his call to active service on HMCS Tecumseh in the early summer of 1942, Fran took the usual seamen’s training and was then selected to take a course as a coder at the RCN's Signal School in St. Hyacinth, Quebec. This was about a two month program dealing with coding and decoding messages and understanding confidential books and signals. Upon graduation he was drafted to the West Coast for further service. It should be acknowledged here that virtually every sailor wished for a West Coast draft as all had learned of the reputation Halifax had gained over the years.

In any event, Fran arrived at HMCS Givenchy before being drafted to HMCS Courtenay, a Bangor class minesweeper commissioned in 1942 and then based in Prince Rupert. The Courtenay spent her entire service life on the West Coast alternating between Esquimalt Force and Prince Rupert Force patrolling the coast and offshore islands. It was while serving in Courtenay that Fran was recommended for a commission to the upper deck and so in the fall of 1944 he was off to HMCS Kings in Halifax for officers training. Kings was on the campus of Dalhousie University.

While there he was reunited with his brother Paul, a Navy Visual Signalman who had returned to Canada after serving in combined operations and who was for a few weeks attached to Kings, teaching visual signals to the officers in training. On a Saturday make and mend while at Kings, Fran, one of his fellow probationary Sub-Lieutenants, together with Paul had been having a bit of a party on Barrington Street in the seedy end of downtown Halifax.

They expected to encounter a shore patrol which could be especially bad for somewhat tipsy young officers. The three decided to discretely visit Snows Tattoo Parlor with both Fran and Paul getting the same tattoo honoring their mom and dad. Being an officer type, Fran was smart enough to acquire his tattoo where it was not visible wearing a short sleeve shirt. Enough said!

By the time graduation from Kings came around the war in Europe was winding down and the call came to people to carry on the fight against Japan. Fran again volunteered but soon thereafter was chosen to take further training as a member of the Navy’s Fleet Air Team. He was off to Trinidad and then the United Kingdom from where he won his wings as an Observer/ Navigator.

During training he flew in different types of aircraft on and off carriers and subsequently saw service aboard the HMCS Warrior, Canada's own aircraft carrier. Choosing to remain in the Navel service after the cessation of hostilities in 1945 he retired from active service in 1947 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander but continued as a reservist for several decades thereafter.

Successful in business, dedicated to his family, his church, his city and his country Fran kept a legacy of good works and passed away on April 22, 2007. Paul Lefaivre, brother of Francis Lefaivre

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