Pilot Officer David Rouleau Plaque

Municipality/Province: Ottawa, ON

Memorial Number: 35059-166

Type: Plaque

Address: 29 Lisgar Street

Location: Memorial Hall, Lisgar Collegiate Institute

GPS Coordinates: Lat: 45.42068   Long: -75.68845

This memorial is dedicated to the memory of Pilot Officer David Francis Gaston Rouleau, RCAF and Lisgar Collegiate graduate.

The memorial includes a short biography of Pilot Officer David Rouleau, including the pilot training he undertook and the circimstances of his being shot down near Malta. The inscription also tells the story of how his leather flight jacket came to be in the possesion of Englishman James Cobley and its return to Canada and the Rouleau family, some 66 years after Pilot Officer Rouleau's disappearance.

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David Rouleau was born in Ottawa, lived along the still waters of the Rideau Canal, attended Lisgar Collegiate and summered along the logging route known as the Gatineau River. He attended the University of Toronto where he earned a Bachelor of Arts. David Rouleau’s life would have been one of happiness assured a college graduate in a quiet town, one of family roots and children to come and of success- perhaps as a teacher. He was young, shy, wide-eyed and innocent in the way that good young men were in 1941. However, his barely-underway life was swept up in the massive fire storm of the Second World War. A boy who loved swimming, badminton and paddling on the Gatineau River, whose family loved him for his brightness and kindness became serial number J15348 and went forth from the bosom of his family to learn to fly and kill men just like him whose leaders had chosen a dangerous path.

His is the story of all Canadian airmen of the Second World War; one of duty and honour to be sure- but also one of excitement, fellowship, the thrill of flying and the pride of being counted among the finest warriors Canada had.

Rouleau enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force taking elementary flying training at St. Eugene, Ontario- just to the east of here. He then went on to No.2 service Flying Training School at RCAF Uplands in Ottawa never more than a short drive from his family. After earning his wings, David Rouleau most likely enjoyed a short leave with his family, was then swept away into the maelstrom of war- never to return- until now.

Rouleau sailed across the Atlantic to train on Spitfires. After his operational training, he joined 131 Squadron, RAF as a Flight Sergeant, flying with them for 10 months before he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. A week after, he left 131 to join pilots sailing for the defence of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, reaching Gibraltar before June of 1942. On June 2nd, he sailed aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle with fellow pilots and their Spitfire fighters. On the morning of the 3rd, 31 pilots including Rouleau launched from Eagle’s deck, formed up and headed for Malta. Close to the island fortress, they were attacked by 12 Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters of II/JG 53 led by legendary Luftwaffe ace Gerhard Michalski. Four of the 31 Spitfires were shot down by the Germans including that of Pilot Officer David Francis Gaston Rouleau. He was never seen again.

 

James Cobley

James Cobley grew up during the Second World War. His father Fred worked for (?) Steel, building fuselages for the Avro Lancaster bombers of Bomber Command. Immediately after the war, Fred purchased a RAF leather flying jacket from a war surplus store for £3. He wore it for several years to work at the factory, but in 1950 gave it to his teenaged son Jim, who had secretly wanted it since his father brought it home. Jim would wear the jacket as he walked to work at the same factory where his father worked. Jim loved the way he looked in that jacket, the way it attracted attention- especially from the girls. He wore it to all the football matches he could attend- and that was a lot as Jim was a great fan.

In 1952, Jim joined the Royal Air Force for his National Service and was deployed to Singapore. After returning from duty, Jim took various jobs but excelled eventually as a toy salesman. Throughout all this time, Jim continued to wear his flying jacket whenever he could- especially to football matches to watch his beloved Oxford United side. The “Fan in the Flying Jacket” was seen by hundreds of thousands of people as Jim travelled to away games across England.

It wasn’t until 1984 that Jim, at the suggestion of a friend, had a close look at the faded label in the jacket. Close inspection revealed the faint pencilled lettering with the name “Rouleau” and a service number- J15348. It was then that Jim’s abiding curiosity set in motion a search for the story of “Rouleau” that would last a quarter of a century, involve dozens of people and cross an ocean- a quest that would bring his beloved jacket home.

That search led Jim to the jacket’s owner- Pilot Officer David Rouleau- who had died during  the war trying to get to Malta. Several times the search for more about Rouleau reached a dead end. But persistence on the part of Jim and his friends in England and in Ottawa led Jim not only to the truth but in the end to the family members of David Rouleau. The quest brought to light considerable information about the last days of David Rouleau’s life that his family had never known. Now some 66 years after his disappearance, his family has learned the truth, come together to celebrate his life and touched the jacket that their beautiful son once wore. It will now be proudly displayed close to his home in the Vintage Wings of Canada library along with other artefacts from his personal effects- all because of one man’s curiosity and kind-heartedness.

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