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Jean-Pierre Léon Bourjade
Born (1889-05-25)May 25, 1889
Died October 22, 1924(1924-10-22) (aged 35)
Place of birth Montauban, France
Place of death Yule Island, Papua New Guinea
Allegiance France
Service/branch Artillery, flying service
Years of service 1914 - 1918
Rank Lieutenant
Unit Escadrille 152
Awards Legion of Honour, Croix de guerre
Other work Medical missionary

Léon Bourjade (25 May 1889 – 22 October 1924), born Jean-Pierre Léon Bourjade,[1] was a leading French fighter pilot in World War I, notable for being his country's leading balloon busting ace. He interrupted his theological studies to fight in World War I; post-war, he completed his studies and devoted the remainder of his life to service as a medical missionary to lepers.

Early life and service[edit | edit source]

Bourjade was born at Montauban, France. It was his childhood dream to become a missionary. In 1908, he entered the noviate of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Issoudun. By 1914, he had moved on to study theology in Switzerland.

Instead of continuing studying for the priesthood in the neutral country of Switzerland, in 1914 he returned to France to enter the army. He served as an artilleryman for nearly three years. His initial service was with 23eme Regiment d'Artillerie for the First Battle of the Marne.[2][3] In 1915, he transferred to the 125e Brigade de Bombardiers, which was a mortar brigade.

Aviation service[edit | edit source]

He transferred to aviation in 1917, receiving his Military Pilot's Brevet on 17 June. He went on to advanced training at Pau. From there, he joined Escadrille N152; he was eventually to become its highest scoring pilot.[2] Originally, he flew a Nieuport with his own personal touch - a Sacré-Coeur banner streaming from his headrest.

He opened his list on 27 March 1918, after his squadron re-equipped, flying his newly acquired Spad XIII to shoot down a German observation balloon. With one exception, all of his air victories were to be over balloons.

Bourjade scored another victory in April and two in May. He then went off combat duty for three weeks to attend gunnery school. After his return, he became an ace on 25 June with the first of his four scores for the month. His seventh, on 29 June 1918, was over a Fokker D VII, his only victory not involving a balloon.

In the remaining four months of his career, his victories totaled seven in July, one in August, four in September, and eight in October. Beginning in August 1918, he made it a practice to coordinate his attack on the balloons with other French pilots. August was the month he spent largely out of action, with three weeks in the hospital and eight days leave spent with his parents.[4]

He ended the war with a victory list of 27 balloons and one aircraft shot down, with a second airplane as an unconfirmed victory.[2] It was a total that left him second only to Willy Coppens of Belgium as a balloon buster.[5]

He was awarded a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. In 1920, he was raised to Officier in the Legion.

Post war[edit | edit source]

On 26 July 1921, he was finally ordained as a priest. In November 1921, he took ship to the Gilbert Islands, and eventually to New Guinea. Bourjade died in 1924, at the then leper colony on Yule Island, in what was then the Australian Territory of Papua (British New Guinea), of leprosy contracted while ministering to his charges. He was 35 years old.[2]

French warships visiting Yule Island would fire salutes in his honour.[6]

Citations for Decorations[edit | edit source]

Légion d'Honneur (Chevalier)

"Officer pilot of uncommon bravery and audacity. After brilliant conduct in the artillery, he has proven the highest qualities of courage by attacking numerous balloons and has shot down four. Four citations." Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur citation, June 5, 1918[2]

Légion d'Honneur (Officier)

"Officer of the highest value; pursuit pilot of heroic bravery. Specialist in the attack of enemy observation balloons, has rendered brilliant service, proven by the numbers of his victories and by magnificent personal examples. Fourteen citations. One wound." Officier de la Légion d'Honneur citation, June 16, 1920.[2]

Endnotes[edit | edit source]

References/External links[edit | edit source]

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