Even before the United States entered the Second World War, Americans joined Great Britain’s war effort – among those who volunteered was Capital District native Eugene E. Chouiniere.
Chouiniere was 19-years-old when he died in a British Royal Air Force (RAF) mission to Germany. The crew included three Brits, two Canadians and three Americans. Letters to the families of the crew from the RAF stated that “it must be regretfully accepted and officially recorded that he [Eugene] does not have a known grave,” and thus their aircraft was “lost without a trace.”
Now independent historians think they know where the aircraft, a Avro Lancaster R5695EM-C Bomber, rests 80 years after it went down.
Eugene Chouiniere was part of a large Franco-American family from the Iberville, Quebec area. From 1870 through the 1890s, his grandfather moved back and forth from Cohoes, in Albany County, NY, North Adams, Massachusetts and Iberville. Eugene’s parents, Alfred Chouiniere and Rose Bonneau, married in St. Joseph’s Church in Cohoes on February 17, 1895. They settled in rural Waterford where Eugene was born on April 11th, 1923, the youngest of the 14 children who lived beyond infancy. Eugene was 5 years old when his father died and 15 when his mother died and his older siblings took responsibility for his welfare.
On the 1940 US Census, Eugene was reported to be living at 8 Lansing Lane in Cohoes with his oldest sister, her husband and their two daughters: Elizabeth and Lea, who was just six months younger than her uncle Eugene, and also her childhood playmate hunting, fishing, and roaming the farms, fields, and woods on the outskirts of Cohoes and Waterford.
In 2010 Lea recalled that Eugene attempted to join the war effort at a recruiting station in 1941 but was denied and told to finish high school and reapply. According to Lea, Eugene instead got the idea to join Canadian forces and a few days after his 18th birthday Eugene “jumped on the train to Montreal” where he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The RCAF interviewer noted he was “rather young, immature and lacking in experience,” but was also “sincere, willing and determined to fly and fight” and “should improve with training.”
Soon Chouiniere was training at the Mountain View British Commonwealth Air Training Station in Ontario, now known as Canadian Forces Detachment Mountain View. His training included operating a wireless radio and as an air gunner. After training, but before he was sent to England, he visited the families of his brothers and sisters in Waterford and Cohoes. Remembered as handsome in his RCAF uniform he was showered with his family’s attention. This would be the last time the family saw Eugene Chouiniere.
After additional training in England, Eugene was billeted as an air gunner flying missions in RAF Squadron 207 based at the Langar Airfield outside Nottingham, England. The crew flew several bombing missions in 1942. After one raid to Dusseldorf, Germany, Chouiniere was interviewed by several war correspondents, including for a story published in the San Francisco Examiner under the headline “Dusseldorf Raid Thrills U.S. Flyer.”
In another story he was described as “freckle-faced with steel rimmed glasses and a mild manner.” “It was one of the best shows I have ever seen,” he was quoted as saying. “When we left there was one tremendous fire keeping high and visible from the Dutch coast.”
Eugene completed 13 missions in 1942 while in the RAF Bomber Command:
- July 23rd, Raid on Duisburg
- July 31st, Raid on Düsseldorf, 630 bombers participated in this raid, 29 losses.
- August 5th, Mission laying mines
- August 9th, Raid on Osnabruck
- August 15th, Raid on Düsseldorf
- September 8th, Frankfurt – September 10th Dusseldorf, Bombing Raid (this was the occasion of the (“They Went To Dusseldorf” photo essay by RAF photographer) 479 aircraft mission, 33 aircraft lost.
- September 13th, Raid on Bremen. 446 aircraft, 21 aircraft lost.
- September 23rd, Raid on Wismar. They were unable to release their bombs but attempted several passes at 800 feet during a thunderstorm. Plane was caught in searchlights and targeted. Part of their right wing was shot away.
- October 17th, Raid on Le Creusot, Burgundy, France.
- October 22nd, Raid on Genoa, Italy
- November 19th Raid on Turin, Italy.
One Final Mission
On the night of November 25, 1942, things took a deadly turn. Five Avro Lancaster bombers from RAF Squadron 207, each with a crew of 7 or 8, took off for five separate locations over Germany. Three safely returned, a fourth crashed returning to the airfield in England with none of the crew surviving.
The fifth Lancaster, with Eugene Chouiniere; Pilot Alfred Joseph Parkyn (USA), William John Vandervoort (Canada), James McGregor Allan (Canada), Jack Slater (England), Windsor Webb (England), James Guichard (USA), and John James Gallimore (England) never returned. There had been no radio contact after leaving the airfield.
Until the mid-1950s families received letters from the RAF usually informing them that there wasn’t any new information about Avro Lancaster crew. In the years following the loss, immediate family members were never to learn the circumstances surrounding the mission. Parents who lost sons, siblings who lost their brothers and at least one wife who never remarried, were always wondering and hoping for information that never came. They lived and died without knowing the circumstances of their loved ones deaths, nor where they lay.
Eighty years later Michael Parkyn, a retired U.S. Marine Corps pilot and the nephew of missing Lancaster Pilot Alfred Parkyn, believes the world is closer to knowing their fate. He recently spent a week in British archives and his research strongly suggests the aircraft and crew rest on the floor of the North Sea off the Dutch coast, most likely having been hit by German anti-aircraft fire.
Michael Parkyn is planning a memorial service to mark the 80th Anniversary of the loss on Nov. 25, 2022. His team is reaching out to any family and friends related to the crew. If you are one, contact Mary Beth Mylott at FrancoAmericanGravy@gmail.com for more information.
Photos, from above: a British Lancaster Bomber; Eugene E. Chouiniere surrounded by his family; and a photo of Eugene Chouiniere at RAF Syerston airfield in England in Sept. 1942.
Mary Beth Mylott is a Family Historian at FrancoAmericanGravy.blogspot.com.