Flight Sergeant Joseph Louis Osias Primeau
Joseph Louis Osias Primeau was born 12th May, 1920, in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, Canada. During his Initial training for the RCAF, it was noted that he was:
“One of a large family who has had to work hard for what he got.”
Joe certainly had come from a large French-speaking Roman Catholic family. He was the fifth of twelve children born to Philias Damase Primeau and his wife, Marguerite Olympe Primeau ( nee Paquette). Both of his parents were born in Eganville, Ontario – Philias was an engineer – in 1940, he was working as foreman of a planing mill.
Joe Primeau went to school at St. Joseph’s Separate School from 1927-1935, and did his Junior Matriculation at Sturgeon Falls High School, graduating in 1940. He played hockey, softball and rugby at school. Joe enlisted on 19th November, 1940, and worked part-time in a hardware store until he was called by the RCAF to begin his training. From the beginning, he was assessed as “intelligent, quiet, steady and polite”.
He commenced his Initial Training on 24th March, 1941, at No.3 Initial Training School, Victoriaville, Quebec, where he was assessed as, “straightforward and trying hard”. He completed his course in April and was passed on to No.12 Elementary Flying Training School, Goderich, Ontario, starting Course 29 on 28th June, where he proved to be a “somewhat above average” pilot but with a tendency to be careless. On the ground he was a quick learner and continued to study conscientiously. Joe was finally awarded his ‘wings’ on 13th September, 1941, after completing Course No.32 at No.1 Service Flying Training School, Camp Borden, Ontario. His hard work had paid off and he had developed into a keen and dependable pilot.
His posting overseas must have come through almost immediately, as he departed for England on 28th September, 1941. On arrival, he was posted to No.3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth before joining 50 Group (Pool) at RAF Staverton at the beginning of November. In 17th February, 1942, Joe was sent to No.59 Operational Training Unit – the final stage of his preparations to become a fighter pilot. Finally, on 1st May, he arrived at Fairwood Common to join his first, and only operational unit – 402 Squadron, who were in the process of being re-equipped with Spitfires. Primeau must have arrived to find everyone involved in aircraft tests, as well as patrols and occasional interceptions. The pilots were trying to work in as much leave as possible before the squadron moved south to Kenley.
Joe made his first training flight after joining 402 on 4th May – half an hour of ‘circuits and bumps’ in Spitfire AB963, in the morning and then 45 minutes of local flying at 5pm. Over the next few days, he mainly did formation flying practice, before being sent on his first operational convoy patrol with Pilot Officer Scott on 8th May, at 6.35pm.
The squadron moved to Kenley on 14th May, but Primeau wasn’t one of the pilots who flew their Spitfires to their new home. His first opportunity to fly from Kenley came on 23rd – a local formation training flight in the morning, followed by a patrol of the Dover area in the afternoon. Three days later he flew another operational patrol with F/Sgt. Orlan Roderick Brown.
At the beginning of June the squadron moved to Redhill and Primeau’s training flights continued. On 5th June, Primeau took part in his first large bomber escort ‘Circus’ operation, which turned out to be uneventful, but the rest of the month was taken up with formation practice, cloud flying, air to ground firing and camera gun practice, as well as the occasional patrol.
During July, he took part in six patrols and one large ‘Rodeo’ operation on 28th, led by Wing Commander Kingcome, though no enemy aircraft were encountered.
At the beginning of August, 402 were converting from Spitfire Mk.V’s to Mk.IX’s, so the pilots were busy with aircraft and cannon tests. On the 3rd, the squadron went to Martlesham Heath for firing practice in their new aircraft and returned to Redhill on 9th. The squadron moved back to Kenley on 13th, but not before the Officers and pilots threw a party in the airmen’s mess for the ground crews who had worked so hard to get their Spitfire Mk.IX’s operational.
In the 17th Norman Bretz took over from Squadron Leader R. E. Morrow as Officer Commanding, and 402 took part in a Circus to Rouen. Primeau, flying Spitfire BS130, returned unscathed, but Flight Lieutenant Trask was posted ‘missing’ – he had been taken Prisoner of War.
Two days later, the Squadron were kept busy with Operation Jubilee – the ground crews were at dispersal straight through from dawn until well after sunset, supporting the pilots through four sweeps over Dieppe with no losses. Primeau took off at 5.20am, providing high cover for a patrol and was part of the squadron’s third sweep at 12.25pm.
The following day Primeau took part in a scramble to Beachy Head at 1.40pm, followed by Circus 206 to Amiens; no enemy aircraft were encountered. His final operational flight was a scramble to Hastings on 21st August, with Orlan Roderick Brown.
The next week passed with air-firing practice and flights in the squadron’s Magister until the 28th, when Primeau took off from Kenley at 15.35pm for a cannon test in Spitfire BS151. The operations book recorded:
F/Sgt. Primeau took off and when engine failed he crashed into some trees at the end of runway. He died en route to hospital.
Fellow pilot Allister Skinner noted in his diary that the cause of the crash was, “motor trouble.” Joe was deeply unconscious and bleeding freely from the nose after the accident. He passed away 10 minutes later, in the ambulance on the way to hospital, and was brought back to Kenley. A Court of Inquiry held on 29th, attributed the cause of death to a fractured skull.
Flight Sergeant Primeau was laid to rest in Brookwood Military Cemetery alongside his fellow Canadians.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.