Greg Pigeon’s respect for his father Percy Edgar Pigeon continues to deepen as he learns more and more about the role his father’s squadron played in the Second World War.
Percy was an airman with the famous Royal Air Force 617 Squadron that became known as the Dambusters after it conducted historic raids on Germany’s hydraulic dams during the nights of May 16 and 17, 1943.
“I wish I had talked to my dad about the war more,” Greg said. “But I didn’t really get involved until after he passed away and I started reading books and learned more about the Dambusters.”
Greg’s mom Betty saved photographs, newspaper clippings, and letters that make up an album that Greg is very proud of.
Pointing to one of the newspaper clippings, Greg said 617 Squadron was formed in Scampton, England in March 1943 with hand-picked crews.
Referring to photos of a dam before and after it was bombed, Greg said the German dams were heavily armoured and the allies lost more than 60 per cent of their planes trying to fly over them.
When British scientists and inventor Barnes Willis invented a skipping bomb, the Lancasters could drop them when they were flying only 50 feet above the surface.
“A skipping bomb was necessary because there were torpedo nets in front of those dams,” Greg said.
“If you torpedoed it, you could get caught up in the net and just blow up and not even touch the dam.”
The bomb would skip across the water, hit the dam, sink down 50 feet and then blow up.
A few years ago, Greg donated his father’s logbook to the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alta.
Dave Birrell, the museum’s director of the library, archives and displays, said the museum is honoured Greg entrusted it with such a significant item.
The logbook begins with Percy’s first training flight, goes through the 55 operations he flew, including the Dambusters raid, and his post war flights.
“The dam raids gets a lot of attention,” Birrell said, “but the operations the squadron flew afterwards before Percy and others were taken off the squadron in July 1944, were all special types of operations.”
Percy flew on the same operations with some of the most distinguished officers in bomber command including Joe McCarthy, Birrell said.
Aside from the mandatory information required in the logbooks, Percy included little notes about some of the operations.
There’s a note in the logbook signed by Leonard Chester, Wing Commander of the 617 Squadron who received the Victoria Cross at the same time that Percy and three other men from B.C. received a Distinguish Flying Cross.
“After Pigeon’s last combat operation, Chester wrote: ‘Pigeon has completed a very distinguished second operational tour,’” Birrell said.
The 617 Squadron trained for about a month to do a special diversionary tactical flight on the night of D-Day that had to do with making it appear on radar that there was a large invasion force coming to the shore south of where the D-Day landing was.
The planes flew back and forth and dropped material that created a diversion.
In his logbook Percy wrote: “The creation of a tactical surprise to support landing of troops on the opening of the second front believed successful.”
Three days later he noted: “Railway tunnel at Samur. France one times 10 Tallboy, 10,000 feet successful.”
He was referring to the 12,000-pound Tallboy bombs which were a big deal as well, Birrell said.
“617 was one of only two squadrons that dropped those gigantic bombs and it was to block a tunnel that reinforcements were using to fight the allies as they landed on the beaches.”
After Percy retired from the Canadian Army in June 1962, he brought his family back to Williams Lake where he was born June 3, 1917.
He and Betty moved to Alexis Creek because Percy was going to take over the Pigeon General Store which his father Eddy Pigeon had started in 1945.
Betty remarried and later passed away in 2004.