Shropshire Star

Bid to restore broken family link over the Atlantic after tragic wartime romance

He was a handsome young French-Canadian airman. She was a married woman from Shropshire. Theirs was a romance against the backdrop of war.

Air gunner Henri Legault was killed a month before his daughter was born in Shropshire

It is a true tale of love and tragedy from nearly 80 years ago.

Flight Sergeant Henri Legault, an air gunner serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force, died along with most of his crewmates in a Handley Page Halifax bomber when it was shot down in The Netherlands during the night of April 22 and 23, 1944. He was 23.

Air gunner Henri Legault was killed a month before his daughter was born in Shropshire

The month after he was reported missing, a daughter was born to a Shropshire woman. Henri was the father.

A child, then, who could still be alive, unaware of, or at least not in touch with, her Canadian relations, one of whom is Annie Benoit, from Magog, Quebec. Henri was Annie's great uncle, and it was in 2021 that she started researching his background and was to discover in his military service file that he had fathered a child in Shropshire.

Further delving has uncovered the name of the mother and her exact address in Oakengates – it is an area which no longer exists.

And with that has come a dilemma.

"Thinking this child perhaps does not know about her actual biological father, I decided that it was not up to me to disclose a potential family secret and disrupt her life.

"However, when I recently learned that there were many European children conceived during the Second World War still attempting to connect with their Canadian family, I realised she is maybe one of them," said Annie.

"I now think it’s unfair to keep this information to myself. I must also admit that, from a very selfish point of view, I’d be so elated to meet her and her family, and to have the incredible opportunity to learn about their lives, their history."

With these being delicate matters, we shall not name the mother, but Annie is hoping that a few clues will help the Shropshire side of the family put two and two together and at least give them the opportunity to re-establish a long-lost family link. Of course, there is no guarantee that they still live in the county.

Anyone who wants to follow up can contact Annie at, or alternatively and the information will be passed on.

Annie's researches have shown that Henri disembarked in the UK on August 11, 1943, and was to serve on operations with 425 'Alouette' Squadron, a French-Canadian squadron based at RAF Tholthorpe in Yorkshire. He spoke both French and English.

The young French-Canadian died with most of his crewmates on a Handley Page Halifax bomber.

Annie has turned up a letter dated July 16, 1944, stamped 'Confidential', from the commanding officer of RAF High Ercall to the Royal Canadian Air Force headquarters in London. He tells the RCAF that the Oakengates woman has asked for his help in finding the address of Henri's parents.

In his letter he explained that she was being divorced by her husband, and had been associating with Henri for some time before he was reported missing, and gave birth to a child of which he was the father.

"There is every indication that (she) and F/Sgt Legault were much attached and he intended marrying her when she had received her freedom. It is understood that from time to time she received gifts from F/Sgt Legault's parents, but she does not know their address and she now wishes to get into touch with them."

A letter from the commanding officer of RAF High Ercall seeking help in putting Henri's Shropshire lover in touch with his family in Canada. We have obscured her name and exact address.

The response was an offer to forward a letter from her to Henri's father, who lived in Magog, Quebec. Whether this happened is unclear.

The romance was clearly much more than a fleeting wartime liaison, as Henri had made a will leaving all his goods in England to his Oakengates lover. She however flagged up a number of items of sentimental value from his personal effects to be sent to his father in Canada, for whom it would have been a doubly heartbreaking time as his wife Laura had died only a day or two before Henri went missing.

Among the items she kept were letters and photographs, and a rosary.

A further twist to the story is that a group of authors in Canada have been working independently on a historical novel based on Henri's life, the French version of which is being launched this month.

Annie said: "Briefly, the novel is inspired by a love letter written by Henri to his fiancee in Canada in 1942 which was bought unopened many decades later in a flea market in Quebec, Canada.

"One of the collaborators is the grandson of a woman, who was then 14-years-old, who lived where Henri's plane crashed in The Netherlands in 1944. He said he has been looking for Henri's relatives for many years. My daughter Laura and I recently contacted them – it was an emotional discussion, we were able to share information from our distinct research efforts.

"These authors know there's a child from another woman, and this grandson said he had made one unsuccessful attempt to contact a person he thought might be the lady from Oakengates a while back."

Incidentally Henri's service details do not reveal any link with RAF High Ercall, and it is unknown why the Oakengates lady might have written there, unless of course it was simply because it was a local RAF base which she thought might be able to help.

Similarly his service record gives no clue as to how their paths crossed – it must have been very soon after his arrival in England – with much of his training being done at RAF Pershore and with no Shropshire postings.