During October 2013 a Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 flew a party
of both New Zealand and Australian veterans of the North African campaign to Egypt for the international
commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of
the Battle of el Alamein. In the party were two RNZAF veterans; their stories follow, along with comments by
the mission commander and from the support party.
The Commonwealth War Cemetery at el Alamein; 1100 New Zealanders are
buried there and 859 with no known grave are commemorated on the Memorial. Note the resort town of el Alamein in the background; in
1942 that was all open desert with supply dumps, artillery batteries
and sangars for the 8th Army
Wing Commander Leanne Woon, HQ Joint Forces New Zealand.
“During the 11 day trip there were plenty of opportunities to
get to know the veterans and hear their stories. The ready smiles, the
twinkle in the eyes and vivid memories from the war belied the veterans’ ages of 88 – 96 years. It was humbling to hear
their experiences spoken with such honesty and selflessness. For many it was the first time they had told their story. I had
read about the North African campaign, but meeting the
veterans and learning about their experiences made it far more
significant and real."
“Although it sounds clichéd, being selected as mission
commander was definitely an honour and privilege to support
our 23 veterans on their return to el Alamein."
Flt Lt Stewart Frame DFC. “It was a marvellous trip. We
were all well looked after. I was the oldest in the party and
perhaps because of that was called on to be the wreath-layer
at the New Zealand service—which was at 4pm [the day
before the International service]. It was all most moving at the Commonwealth Cemetery,
“The flight out to Egypt was well planned. I spent a lot of
time in the cockpit talking with the crew and observing a couple
of landings. The Wellington bomber that I flew had barely a
dozen instruments; the 757 has so many!
“On the memorial I found the names of three friends; one
of them was Kingi Tahiwi, who had (before the war) worked in
an office with my sister. He came to england soon after me
and while training (near Blackpool) we played rugby together. He was in the desert in a Baltimore squadron and one evening
before he flew a mission to Tobruk we had the time for a long
talk. But he never returned from that mission.”
Flt Lt Alan Peart DFC also said it was an excellent trip. “The Air
force was absolutely superb, the food served on board was Masterchef standard! We were all treated with great care from
all who took part, the VANZ team, the defence force personnel
and the Air force crew. It was a well planned and well executed
trip, with no apparent glitches. Everybody stepped in and
helped out as far as the veterans were concerned.
“I really appreciated the opportunity of seeing how the
aircrew flew an aircraft of that size. They were consummate; it
“My experience was in North West Africa—Algeria and Tunisia—not Egypt, but I had a cousin, Lt Col Jan Peart of 26 Battalion who was killed in the battle of Alam Halfa, and my
father-in-law was in the divisional Artillery there.”
Wing Commander Woon: “In true Anzac spirit, 18 Australian veterans
and their support team joined us for the flight from Dubai to
el Alamein (and return) which added to the significance of the
commemorations. With only four spare seats the flight was
almost maxed out!
Flying Officer Mike Borek, mission support team. “The Commonwealth Cemetery at el Alamein, where the
commemorations were held, is impressive and quite sombre—
seeing the memorial wall and all the headstones marking those
who lost their lives. Our ceremony was short but had a distinct New Zealand flavour with our Maori cultural group singing
impressively. After the ceremony, we took some veterans to
find the head stones of their fallen mates, at each one they laid
flags or poppies. Many of the veterans visited the museum and
the railway station, which brought back memories and more
stories of the war. The veterans said they were glad to have the
opportunity to visit and pay their final respects."
Wing Commander Woon. “I am incredibly proud of the efforts of the 40 Sqn crew and 209 Sqn’s baggage team, who
ensured our mission of deploying and supporting the el
Alamein commemoration was accomplished and the RNZAF's reputation was enhanced.
“With many stopovers, numerous hotels and buses,
different time zones, hot humid weather, and other nations’
officials, there were the inevitable logistics challenges to
overcome. Patience and flexibility were needed; working
alongside other personnel from across the New Zealand Defence Force made this a
‘trip of a lifetime’ for me.”
Flying Officer Mike Borek. “I felt honoured when I was selected to
be part of the mission control team for the 70th Anniversary
of the battle of el Alamein, and I also felt connected to the
veterans, as my grandfather had fought in the 8th Army as a
‘Desert Rat’, in 7th Armoured division.
“Before the trip we met the veterans in Takapuna; they all
seemed very sprightly for their age, and were very open to
talking about their experiences. the trip to el Alamein was long
for us, so must have been a hard trip for many of the veterans.
“The experience allowed me to have an understanding of
the conditions that our veterans had fought in. I can better
appreciate the hardships they faced, the conditions of heat,
lack of water and being so far from home.
“Those who are left are a testament to the big impact our
small nation can have. It was a long time ago, but the men who
fell in North Africa will not be forgotten. Today in the RNZAF,
we continue a legacy of support to other nations throughout
Wing Commander Woon summed up: “For me this trip reinforced
the tremendous sacrifice made by the (then) young men and
women who served our country. While we all know the phrase
‘lest we forget’, this trip was one way to ensure we don’t.”
Flt Lt Stewart Frame DFC
My flying training was at New Plymouth and Ohakea—I got
my wings in my 25th birthday, and got married too! Twelve
days later I sailed from Auckland in the Awatea. I was posted
to England and I was keen to get into flying boats, so put my
name down for Coastal Command. But I trained on Wellingtons
and never did get to fly in a flying boat!
In April 1942 I was posted to 221 Sqn in Eqypt and flew
out via Gibraltar with a fuelling stop in Malta. But the squadron
had a detachment in Malta and one of their aircraft had just
gone missing, so we stayed in Malta nearly three months. The
island was enduring three bombing raids a night and it was just
after the George Cross had been awarded to the whole island. And then the first Spitfires arrived. None the less we lost some aircraft and a
number of fellows from our squadron.
On 01 July we flew to Egypt and I was given my own crew. We had radar-equipped Wellingtons; we would fly over the sea
at night looking for enemy ships or submarines. We would use
the radar [fixed aerials] for two minutes to scan ahead for 100
miles, then for one minute each to port and starboard. Three
of the crew shared the radar duties, changing over every half
hour or so—the WT [wireless] operator, the radar operator and
the tail gunner.
We went into the drink one night [22 July 1942]. We had
overload fuel tanks for a sortie north of Crete, but just off
the coast of Egypt one motor stopped and we had time to
radio a Mayday before we hit the water. We all stepped out
into a dinghy and she went under. We fired a flare (to attract
attention from an aircraft overhead) but it was seen by a naval
motor launch on patrol. They rescued us and took us back to
In 1943 I returned to Malta and we flew a lot of missions from
Stewart was awarded the DFC in may 1943 for completing over
50 operational sorties with 221 Sqn. He returned to England to
instruct on Beaufighters—one of his favourite aircraft—before
returning to NZ in 1944 and joining No.40 Sqn flying passengers
and freight to the Solomon Islands.
Flt Lt Alan Peart DFC
I had trained in NZ and got to the UK in 1942, joining 610 Sqn, commanded by Johnny Johnson. I flew a few ops,
including Dieppe which was my first exposure to combat. I
was quite a sprog; it was quite terrifying until you learned the
ropes. They called for volunteers to go to Malta; I swapped
with a married man who had been picked. Two of us were sent
to Gibraltar, but because I had flown Hurricanes, I was kept in Gibraltar to fly their only night fighter Hurricane, which was
painted overall black.
We assembled and test flew Spitfires by day and then I was
on night duty. But the Germans never attacked, even though
the spies in Spain must have seen what was going on.
Soon after the Torch landings [the Allied invasion of North
Africa, 7/8 november 1942] I joined 81 Sqn flying Spitfires
from an airfield west of Bone. It was a hell-hole. The Germans
had reacted violently to the landings and we were under air
attack from Sicily and Tunisia.
We had to protect the port of Bone which was the main
supply point for the British First Army. Our airfield was bombed
and strafed by day and the port bombed each night. That
winter in North Africa [1942/43] was cold, wet and miserable;
we lived among mud, slush and bomb craters. When not flying
we shivered in slit trenches.
The Germans were flying FW 190s and Me109 Gs, both
better than the Spitfire V. We got massacred. The Mark V was
not up to scratch against the Germans; we lost a lot of pilots. We were pulled out and re-equipped with the Spitfire Mark lX, it
was a wonderful aeroplane. Colin Gray took command and the
equation changed; we soon gained command of the air.
In May 1943 we moved to Takali airfield on Malta; there
were still raids going on but with the influx of fighters we
flew sweeps over Sicily. I flew through the whole of the Sicily
campaign and flew over Salerno [the Allied landings were in September 1943] where I was shot down and had to force land
on the little air strip that was still under German shell fire.
Soon after, I was hospitalised with hepatitis and when I got
out my squadron was at Bari in Italy. Our ground crew were
sent to India by ship and we collected new Mark Vlll spitfires and
flew them out to India, where I flew in the Burma campaign.
Alan Peart was awarded the DFC in June 1944 for his
operations with 81 Sqn RAF; by the end of the war he was
credited with shooting down over 7 enemy aircraft.
Sources: airforce.mil.nz, personal sources in New Zealand. Photos:courtesy airforce.mil.nz
For additional material on the Desert Air War, see Gerald Schwartz Archive on this site
Further extensive New Zealand material on this site is here