Ltn. Jean-Pierre ‘Leon’ Bourjade – French Balloon Buster 1889 / 1924
Bourjade was born at Montauban, France. It was his childhood dream to become a missionary. When the war began he was studying theology in Switzerland, Instead of continuing his studies to join the priesthood he returned to France and enlisted in the Army.
Bourjade served first in the Artillery and later with a Mortar unit where he nurtured an hatred for Observation Balloons especially when used for Artillery spotting. He remembered the times in the trenches when a bombardment was in progress. Far from happy memories.
He transferred to the Aviation Branch in 1917, receiving his Pilots Brevet on 17th of June, he was then sent on for advanced training at Pau. From there he joined Escadrille N152; He would soon become its highest scoring pilot. Originally he flew a Nieuport with his own personal marking, a Sacre – Coeur banner flying from behind his headrest.
He scored his first victory on the 27th March 1918, after his unit had re-equipped, flying his newly acquired Spad X111 to shoot down a German Observation Balloon. With one exception all of his victories would be over Observation Balloons, he considered it just revenge, for all he and his comrades in the trenches had suffered because of them.
Bourjade scored another victory in April and two in May. He then went off duty for three weeks to attend gunnery school. After his return, he became an Ace on the 25th of June with the first of his four kills for that month. His seventh victory was over a Fokker DV11, the only one not involving a balloon.
In the remaining four months of his career, his victories were seven in July, One in August, Four in September and eight in October, he ended the war with a victory list of 28, 27 Balloons and one Aircraft.
A grateful France made him a Chevalier of the Legion d’ Honneur and in 1920 raised this to Officer de Legion d’ Honneur.
After the war Bourjade continued to train as a priest and went to be a missionary in what we now know as Papua / New Guinea. He died there of an infectious disease in 1924.
(C) Damian Grange 2018