Shropshire Star

Tragic final twist in doomed wartime romance

A researcher intrigued by the story of a doomed wartime romance between a handsome French-Canadian airman and a young married Shropshire woman has discovered a heartbreaking final twist to the tale.

Henri Legault, who was killed in action shortly before his Shropshire daughter was born.

Flight Sergeant Henri Legault was 23 when he was killed in April 1944 when his Halifax bomber was shot down over The Netherlands. Just a few weeks later his Oakengates lover gave birth to his daughter.

In 2021 his great niece, Annie Benoit, began looking into his background and discovered the existence of his daughter from his military service file, raising the possibility that there was a Shropshire branch of the family which was not in touch with their Canadian relatives.

After some soul-searching about whether to take things further, she was swayed by the knowledge that many European children conceived during the war were even now trying to connect with their Canadian families.

As a result the Star carried a story which did not name the mother but carried enough clues to help the Shropshire side of the family put two and two together and, if they wished, re-establish a link with their unknown Canadian relatives.

No family members or people with direct knowledge came forward. But the riddle did intrigue genealogist John Paul Jeffels, from north Shropshire.

Sadly his research has shown that the daughter died as an infant, aged somewhere between six and nine months.

Annie, who is from Magog, Quebec, said: "So many thanks for tying up the strings concerning the daughter.

"Our family was sad to learn of her premature death, yet grateful to have these details of her brief life.

"In addition to all the adversities related to living through World War Two, I can't imagine the mother's additional trauma of losing her lover in April, giving birth to his child in June, then losing their infant a few months later.

"We can add to that being harassed by the Canadian army to return Henri’s belongings to his father, although he had changed his will briefly before he died for her to receive his belongings in case of death."

Annie is now planning to get a copy of the child's death certificate to find out how she died.

Henri was an air gunner serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force with 425 "Alouette" Squadron, a French-Canadian squadron based at RAF Tholthorpe in Yorkshire.

His service record does not show any postings in Shropshire during his time in England, so how the couple's paths crossed is a puzzle.