The Airmen's Stories - P/O H A C Gonay
Henri Alphonse Clement Gonay was born on 21st July 1913 at Theux and joined the Belgian Air Force in November 1931. He was promoted to Corporal on 24th May 1933 and posted to the 2nd Regiment de Chasse at Schaffen (Diest), equipped with the Fairey Firefly (pictured below). An exceptional pilot, he was transferred as instructor to the Flying School at Wevelghem in November 1938.
Gonay was transferred as Adjutant to the 3rd Escadrille at Deurne (Antwerp) when the Germans invaded Belgium. His unit left the country three days later and went to Tours (France) and later on to Bordeaux. After the capitulation of France Gonay and his colleagues Phillipart, Dieu and Buchin deserted and boarded the Dutch ship Queen Emma at Bayonne. It sailed for England and they arrived at Plymouth on 23rd June 1940.
Gonay was commissioned in the RAFVR as a Pilot Officer on 12th July and went to 5 OTU, Aston Down to convert to Blenheims. He would be known by the nickname Moustique (Mosquito) during his RAF service.
Gonay joined 235 Squadron on 5th August. He shared in destroying a He59 off Cherbourg on 8th October. He was posted away on the 23rd to instruct at the French-Belgian Flying School at Odiham. On 23rd June 1941 Gonay was posted to 58 OTU to convert to Spitfires.
Promoted to Flying Officer, his next postings were 123 Squadron at Drem followed by 64 Squadron and then 131 Squadron at Atcham on 28th September where he became commander of 'B' Flight, this was composed entirely of Belgian pilots. By then he was an Acting Flight Lieutenant.
He was awarded the Croix de Guerre (Belgium )(gazetted 21st July 1941).
On 14th October 131's commanding officer, Squadron Leader JM Thompson, moved with twelve Belgian pilots, Gonay amongst them, to RAF Valley. There they formed the first completely Belgian fighter squadron, 350 Squadron.
Gonay next went to 232 Squadron at Atcham on 17th April 1942 and was awarded the Croix de Guerre (France) for the Dieppe operation on 19th August. He was posted to command 129 Squadron on 31st August as a Squadron Leader and led it until September 1943.
After a course at the Central Gunnery School he converted onto Hawker Typhoons and took command of 263 Squadron on 24th February 1944 at Beaulieu.
On 14th June 1944, whilst leading a formation of 8 Typhoons, his plane was hit by flak whilst attacking 2 armed coastal vessels off Jersey. Gonay was killed trying to force land on the north western part of the island. A house was destroyed in the ensuing fire, but the occupants, realising the approaching danger, escaped.
He was buried in the St Helier War Cemetery. His remains were exhumed and reburied in the Brussels-Evere Military Cemetery (below) after the war.
Gonay's award of the DFC was gazetted on 2nd July 1944, the citation stating that he had completed 138 operational sorties.
Photos and additional research courtesy of Andre Bar at www.bamfbamrs.be/RAF/index.htm
In 2014 a previously un-named road in the Jersey parish of St Ouen, close to the crash site, was named Rue Henri Gonay after a campaign by local resident, Bernie Morel.
Present at the ceremony were Gonay's daughter and grandson, the latter wearing his grandfather's wedding ring. This had been found at the scene of the crash in 1944 and hidden from the German occupiers until it could be returned to the family after the war.
Photograph courtesy of Bernie Morel via Geoff Simpson.