I was born into a very loving but not very well-off family in 1917. I will try and describe the origin of the Benner family and the original history of Pongakawa.
Historian, Joe Blaymire, has covered the very early days in two books, and his son Cedric did most of it in the School Centennial Book in 1992. I did the balance.
My family dates back to Sweden as Baaner, then Von Benner in Germany. The group was split through some religious problems; some went to Holland some to England and my ancestors to Ireland. My Grandfather, the youngest of 12 came to New Zealand, where he joined the Post Office and spent most of his life as Postmaster in small country branches. He was at Maketu in 1886 when Tarawera blew up.
My father was born two months later. Granddad kept in touch with Sir George Grey with his clickety morse machine during the eruption. In these small places he usually lived over the premises. I may be wrong but I think he was paid £75 per annum, with a meagre expense allowance. He travelled by horseback, and on one occasion he delivered mail to Te Kooti at Paengaroa. Although he carried a revolver, he felt a bit nervous when surrounded by savages with their war paint still on even though they had been pardoned.
The family moved to Waihi when Dad turned 13, and started working al the Gold Mining Office. Granddad moved to Patea and Dad crashed in a hut for the next 5 years until he came to Pongakawa where he took up a very raw block of land at 10/- per acre on deferred payment. He worked on the roads and acquired a wagon and two horses, and carted cream and general produce. The land was scrub and undrained swamp, so we were still not affluent when I was born in 1917.
The eldest Benner, John Henry, was in the British Regular Army at Gibraltar, and had married a Spanish lady. At age 40 he came to Pongakawa in 1890, with his family of four daughters and four sons. Their block was of 500 acres and good quality. Most of the blocks were that size. The photo of the Domain Board in 1960 has some ol the second generation of the original pioneers. We nearly got out of the poverty situation through my grandmother.
She was born Martha Munro, daughter of Captain Munro of the famous 58th Regiment, India Army. When her parents died she was sent to her Aunt and Uncle in Auckland. The Uncle died, but the Aunt, known as Aunt Poll, lived until 1924. She was so mean she only allowed one match to be struck each evening. Gran married Grandfather in 1880 or thereabouts. Gran was the only living relative of Aunt Poll who had amassed a fortune of £24,000 invested in some 50 houses. Unfortunately in the last few hours of her life she was prevailed upon to sign a prepared Will leaving all her money to the church, so Gran dipped out.
Granddad was a fitness fanatic and spent the last 15 years of his life at Maketu where he swam winter and summer until he was in his eighties.
Gran was rather rotund and was happier on the tar seal. She lived with her daughter, in Rotorua. The daughter Vera, was librarian for about 40 years. In those pre-war days even winning the £2000 Art Union could set you up for life, but it did not always work that way.
Two young lads with push bikes and shovels won first prize in 1935. By the time their friends had finished bludging off them they only had a Hillman car left. A few months later someone let a cigarette slip behind a seat and they were back to bikes, cleaning the Benner drains.
My earliest memories were in the early twenties, when the farm was giving meagre sustenance for 40 cows, and Mum and Dad took three hours to milk them with an antiquated machine. We were never hungry during the depression as Mum made bread with home made yeast, which had its moments. Milk and butter of course, were plentiful and we had a good vege garden and fowls.
By mid-twenties most of our neighbours had cars, Model Is or Model A's or Chevvies and a few other makes. We only had the buggy until 1932 when it gave up the ghost. On Te Puke day it was my job to take a wheel off and soak it in the drain overnight. The wood swelled and the metal rim didn't come off on the trip.
Another chore I didn't like was going down to the gully and hand pumping water to the house when our little Jumbo engine packed up and we could not afford another. I was always glad to see rain, to fill the tanks. My parent's only way to get to Te Puke was on the cream lorry, and home on the mail car. Neighbours helped when the could.
One day Mum was in the lorry when a sow with 14 full teats stood in the road. A farm hand on the truck said, "Stupid pig". Mum said, "Don't be too hard, after all he is the gentleman who pays the rent". The boy had not heard that expression and looked at her open-mouthed. To think that a farmers wife could not tell the difference. The driver was very amused. My sister Judith and I were very conscious of our circumstances as children are, and scorned the buggy. We both had good horses, which could be bought very cheaply in those days. We followed the Hunt and on some occasions rode the 20 miles to Papamoa Beach, hunted all afternoon and rode back at night.
The Buggy with three generations of Benners
I enjoyed my six years with the Auckland East Coast Mounted Rifles, which are described in the next chapter. The horse sports were wonderful. I won the tent pegging for three years in a row, due mainly to my good horse Robbie. The photo of four of us jumping was part of a contest where we hurdled, and then three dismounted, while the fourth rode one horse and led three over the hurdles while we fired at an imaginary enemy. We then all raced over the hurdles.
At the time of writing only two of us are still here; Roger Curran and myself. Jack Fagan, Albie Hughs and Tappie Tapsel are gone. The only time I did not enjoy life in spite of the food, was when we had a big storm and were flooded out and spent the night in the Grandstand of the Rotorua Racecourse, being washed every time a gust blew the rain in. In 1940 I exchanged my kit bag for a parachute and never looked back.
Mounted Rifles. Me on the right From left: Roger Curran, Jack Fagan, and Albie Hughes
My earliest memories of flying were with kites, and Dad who was more of a farmer than a handyman, built good strong ones. I can still see him running back and forth with the kite just above head height. They never flew but he tried hard.
Some time later I had the urge to build a model plane, but there was nowhere to go for tuition. I gathered bits of light timber, and Dad suggested cobbler's wax to hold them together. I used elastic, as I had no knowledge of rubber bands. Surprisingly, my creation of some 60cm wingspan flew, but when half way across a gully, something gave and it dived back to the hillside where it hit with a loud crash. Every cobbler's wax joint gave and as the elastic was not unwound it tied the wreckage up like a cricket ball.
Soon after this sad episode a cousin came to stay who was an expert on models. He introduced me to "Modelair" the Auckland Company who is still in business today. I made the R.O.G. "Rise off the Ground Peanut". Only a stick for a body but what a wonderful flier. I designed a plane with a faired body like a flying wing only to be told an Italian had already invented it 20 years earlier. My next try was with a full sized plane of some 15 feet wingspan. It was a bamboo frame roughly the shape of a plane with wings and tail. Underneath was part of a pram with wheels.
I had no knowledge of aerofoils, and it was just covered with opened manure bags. My aim was to rush to the edge of a hill and hang underneath as it glided across our big gully. My parents kindly came along to witness the spectacle. By the time I had tumbled head over tail several times, I was black and blue, and trying to keep a stiff upper lip. Mum and Dad were very kind and wished me better luck next time.
Around 1936, from memory the papers were carrying the story of a middle-aged Frenchman who had built a small plane called the Flying Flea. French name was something like Le Pou De Cille. An Auckland company got the agency for kitsets, and the frame was about £100 and the engine £60. My parents came to the party even though there was not much money around. Fortunately for me it was found that there was no way to get it out of a spin and it was banned in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Then I was at High School, in 1932, a barnstorming Tiger Moth came to the then Show Ground in front of the present Te Puke High School. Rides were 10/-. I had no money but two of my friends squeezed into the cockpit at 5/- each. In 1929 Smithy came to Te Ngae Paddock near Rotorua. As determined as usual, I hitched a ride with a cream lorry that took a roundabout route and arrived in time to see the Southern Cross fly by. I was informed that it was his last flight and he was on his way back to Auckland. What a heartbreak.
About that time the NZ Herald ran a scholarship for £1, and the prize was tuition to gain a private pilot licence. I tried, but a lady won it. I worked on the farm for pocket money for 9 years helping in keeping the farm afloat. The depression bit deep but we survived.
My years at Pongakawa 1922 ó 31 had moments. Here is a report I made in 1990 for the New Zealand Daily Exporter.
Rural Schooling and Training Pongakawa School : 1922 -30
Pongakawa would be typical of most country schools during the period I attended, from 1922 to 1930. At the start, there was one room and one teacher, a large horse paddock, and an adequate strap or cane. There would have been about 25 children on the roll when I started and possibly 80 when I left. Times were hard but there were moments of humour.
Our first teacher was Miss McMillan (Mackie). She was firm, but not cruel, and was definitely eccentric. Though elderly, she rode a horse bareback like everybody else, and quite often she would get in such a rage with the standard 6 children that she threw every book on her table at them. She would then tell them to start repairing the volumes, leave the class, get on her horse and ride off at a full gallop. Some time later, she would return like Dick Turpin, still at full gallop, with the horse puffing like a dragon. She would re-enter the room completely calm, and resume teaching as though nothing had happened. At the time we did not realise her actions were rather unusual, but we smaller children never back-chatted her.
Different seasons brought different pastimes. The marbles time came round regularly. Sometimes we played for fun, but more often it was `keepsies' and many a Mum complained that her little darling was getting robbed of his or her marbles while the good players swaggered around with bulging pockets. Most of us had catapults, and some boys were so adept they could bowl a sparrow at 30ft.
Bird nesting had its season, and a few minor climbing accidents were the result. With large oak trees at the school, acorn fights were part of our life. Some kids could throw an acorn so hard that it 'buzzed' going through the air. We were always covered in bruises, but by the grace of God no one ever lost an eye. A nearby farmer's pigs always arrived with the acorns, and we used to chase them away with sticks. These pigs were tigers for punishment and kept coming back. They must have made streaky bacon when killed.
There was only one tank, fed by rainwater, and as the school had bees in the loft, several inches of dead bees were always in this tank. When the entrance blocked, we would clean it out and pray for rain. In those days, schools did not have cleaners. The children did the lot. Girls as monitors did the tidying and dusting. Boys did the sweeping and boiling of cocoa in winter.
We had a few bricks in the playground and a kerosene tin. With the fire went the toast making. We made fearsome great toasting forks. Our parents must have enjoyed the toast season, because we only needed a few thick slices of bread, butter and honey for lunch.
A craze that lasted for some years was knife making. Many a Dad must have wondered where the old crosscut saw went to. We made big sticking and skinning knives, to which we riveted ornate handles. These knives had a practical use in many homes. I used to knock calves on the head and skin them when I was quite small. Skin was worth 9 pence to 1 shilling and 6 pence for a Jersey, and possibly 2 shillings for a Shorthorn. We dragged the carcass over the hill for the pigs to eat.
The bobby calf trade ended all this. The one and only wood and skin dealer in Te Puke was a man with a great thirst, and he could rarely be found at his stinking depot. You usually met him in the street, and just told him what you had left, and he gave you the money. We were all pretty honest in those days and I don't think anybody ever cheated.
The horse paddock contained 30 horses and perhaps a dozen push bikes. On a wet day, it was advisable to keep one's riding sack under the desk. The bikies used to steal them and fold them to make a cape. Has any reader ever ridden a wet horse without a sack?
We had primitive sporting equipment. For quite a while we only had a calf's bladder for a football. It sufficed until a big girl called Bella stood on it. Soon after this tragedy, a local farmer gave us a proper ball. Our hockey sticks were usually made from peach or plum branches. The thick piece was the head and the thinner offshoot was the handle. It is a miracle nobody ever got a cracked skull.
Though life was rough and hard, we had fun compared to the children today who have a school bus and chlorinated water, paid learners and highly qualified teachers. We used to have glorious fights with our horses, and no one ever got trampled. The aim was to pull the other jokers off their horses. After Mackie, we had a sadistic teacher. Children used to be lined up each morning for caning: 1 spelling mistake 2 cuts, 2 mistakes 3 cuts, and so on. Even today I can still see the faces of the small girls as they stood sobbing in line.
In those days there was a saying that you spared the rod and spoiled the child, but this woman went too far and was removed.
The next teacher was a lovely lady and she stayed for over 20 years, and died last year in her 90's. She was Mavis L Bell, and she loved gardens and all things beautiful. If she had a cane, she never used it and we all loved her. Though Mavis was gentle, she was no fool. One day we were playing footie in the nearby domain. There was a stiff southwester blowing and we only just heard the bell ringing. After a quick huddle, we decided to play on for a bit. We swore black and blue that we had not heard the bell. Later in the afternoon, Mavis approached a fat boy known as Ham.
He was teacher's pet and Mavis knew he was our weak link. She cupped his face so he could not look away and said "Ham, you must have heard that bell". Ham, looking into those large blue eyes, was a goner. He started to shake with silent laughter, and said, "Just faintly, Miss". Mavis gave us a scathing look. I cannot remember whether she said it or just looked, but the message was plain: "You lying hounds". We all had a good laugh, and Mavis rose in our estimation.
None of the original buildings are left, but I remember exactly where the horse paddock was and where we each had individual vegetable plots, and where my mate and I used to empty the latrines each Friday night. We were the highest paid of all. The monitors and sweepers got a pittance, but we received 10 shillings at the end of the year. A young friend told me that when he inherited the job in the mid- 1930's the pay was 13 shillings, so I guess that was the start of inflation.
Dart throwing was always popular. We squeezed the pen nibs under the desk seat and made a 2-edged dart that the pen designers never intended.
We had wonderful horse races to and from school. There was a 2-chain road with plenty of wattle trees to hide in and ambush each other, and rotten duck eggs for ammunition. Many times I went miles past my home. When you have no stirrups, it is not easy to stop a horse that is enjoying a race. The roads were either grass or sand, so it was no big deal if you fell off. On tar seal roads we would need crash helmets. All this is about events that happened 60 to 70 years ago. A lot of our activities would not be permitted today, but we were gentle as well as primitive, and I wish the youth of today could be trusted with huge toasting forks and knives as we were. Perhaps the pendulum will swing again.
As the years rolled on in the thirties there were many changes. I had acquired a young brother born in 1930. Dad was slowly paying off a stock loan loaded with 8% interest, which he was caught with in 1929 when his bullocks bought for £10 per suddenly worth 10/-, when the slump came suddenly. By 1935 we were still unable to sell our produce overseas, and I remember the best cream cheque in December being £36. The bank reluctantly lent us £50 to buy 20 springing Jersey heifers to refresh our rather grubby herd, and many returned soldiers were turfed off the farms because they had no means of paying their interest. In those days moneylenders expected to get their pound of flesh regardless and that included the Government. Mickey Savage and Walter Nash took over the reins of power with the theory that there was no need to starve amidst plenty even if the rest of the world was broke. They printed money and got state housing and forest planting underway, and a few other things as well. The war clouds were becoming more ominous and when the axe fell in 1939 it was a saving grace for Nash as he had almost run out of credit. A little money went a long way in those days. I was with the Mounted Rifles from 1934 till I transferred to the Air Force in 1940. We used to have fortnightly camps each year at Rotorua, Ngaruawahai or Narrow Neck. The civilian caterer was allowed 4 pence per day for our food. The horses were well fed with oats and chaff but we had terrible porridge and bread and cheese for breakfast, and more bread and cheese for lunch. Dinner was stew made from mutton flap and brisket, floating in fat, and rice with a lump of jam for sweet. For some reason we never saw butter, and it usually took another couple of weeks to get the fat out of my system. People who were lucky to ride out the Depression usually remained thrifty for the rest of their lives, by habit. The first time I saw toilet paper was on the train going to High School. Everybody used squares of NZ Herald or whatever. We had no school buses in those days, and I was one of 30 children who rode horses to primary school. To get to the Te Puke District High School I rode 2 miles to either catch the train or a cream lorry, and came home either on the Taneatua Express or a freight train. Before High School I had spent two years in what was known as Standard 7. A girl and I sat together and the teacher gave us work to do. I was 12 years old. Folks matured early in those days. An elderly neighbour had alone, driven a wagonload of maize from Pongakawa to the railhead at Rotorua, with 300 pigs in convoy. The pigs regarded the wagon as a mobile home and food bank. It took several days but they arrived safely. That one year of High School stood me in good stead when I came up for selection in the Air Force.
Last days of Peace
I will always remember my Mother's face when war was declared. We were at the pictures in Te Puke when the news came through that the Germans had marched into Poland. Her brother had done 4 years of hell in the trenches, was wounded twice, the second time fatally, just before the Armistice. She looked at me and said, "They took my brother and now they will take my son". We all went home rather shaken and had coffee. The English lad working for us enlisted immediately, and was killed on Mt Olympus even before I got into the Air Force. I bought a Velocette motor bike from a lad who had joined up. It was a 350cc and a lovely bike. Mother always worried when I was out; either I would kill myself on the bike, or do worse things in the back seat of the family car. I had an accident free year until I traded it for a Baby Austin in 1941 when I got married. It was 1931 vintage and we named it "Little Audrey"
Our Wedding Day
Our first car "Little Audrey"
I mentioned earlier that the family was without wheels when the buggy folded in 1932. It was in 1936 that a dealer called with a 1929 Plymouth for £125. Dad said there would be a pig cheque in a few months for the £25 deposit, and the balance would be paid over the year. The bloke left the car, and we were away. I learned to drive on friends' cars, and taught the rest of the family. I don't remember ever having a driving test, but have completed 64 years of accident free driving and an almost accident free flying career. It was in the hayfield one day that I mentioned that I wanted to join the Air Force. A lad helping us advised me to write to a T A Barrow, Head of Air Dept for many years. I got a reply that informed me that I needed Matriculation for the Pilot course, 2 years for the Navigator and 1-year post primary for Air Gunner. I had no wish to be a passenger, but applied anyway. I had no knowledge of trig or algebra etc. I was interviewed by a very nice gentleman, who I am forever grateful to, and when I told him I was flying mad for as long as I could remember, he put me down for the Pilots course, but warned that I would have to study hard. I went back to milking cows, digging drains and haymaking but with a new purpose in life. It took two years of hard slog, with the well known 21 Assignment correspondence course, even finishing it on my honeymoon. That was not easy but with the help from my good wife, I made it. One episode in my childhood that I am not proud of, is the way my schoolmates and I behaved at Sunday School. A very earnest Brethren gentleman took the lessons. I never missed a session as he allowed to steer his car on the way home. He was quite a psychologist. We always arrived with the best of intentions, but our leader, after telling us how the Lord made the Earth in six days and how naughty Eve stole the apples, went on to prayers. After each sentence, his off-sider would give a grunt of approval. Sometimes this fellow would doze off, and a little horror, Bobbie Ross, would do his grunt for him. That would set us off with the giggles, no matter how much we tried, we were undone. I am ashamed to this day.
Levin and Whenuapai
During my two years of study, I met my wife Renee, and for the first time ever was absolutely certain that this was exactly what I wanted, and pursued this lady with the same vigour used in my quest for wings. At the time of writing we are in the 60th year of happy marriage, and have been fortunate enough to raise five healthy sons. Three of whom have had flying experience, and a grandson who flies gliders and is longing for the day when he is old enough to go solo. I boarded the train in July 1941 with my army kit bag heading for where it had come from, and myself bound for Levin ITW (Initial Training Wing). It was initially a Borstal Institution, and was well equipped. The food was as good as at a quality hotel, none of this 4 pence a day in wartime. We were fitted with smart uniforms, with the white flash in the cap denoting Aircrew under Training, commonly call "Pupes". In addition to long hours of study, there was much drilling and marching. Sgt. Robbie a red headed tyrant, slowly made us into a disciplined troop, who could turn on a Wing Parade to be proud of. We pulled his leg a lot, but our biggest laugh was when he was trying to line up New Zealand's first intake of WAAFs. He did not know what part of them to take a line on, and they certainly varied in size and shape. One skinny little thing kept getting squeezed out of line. Robbie knew we were watching him and was not amused. I heard many years later that Robbie eventually tried to be a flier himself, but after failing the three Aircrew courses went back to the bullring. Many of the trainees were straight from University, but for a 23-year-old farmer, life was not easy. We often worked into the small hours, asking each other questions. My course was 20C, and after six weeks we were posted to EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School). I went to Whenuapai No. 1, with its huge hangars full of bright yellow Tiger Moths, all stinking of dope. I can still remember the excitement tinged with fear that the smell of dope engenders. Some of us were suitable for the job, while sadly others, through no fault of their own, fell by the wayside. One boy was only happy when he was back on the ground, and another fainted for quite a long period in the air. Fortunately he had an instructor with him. It was nice to run across him later at Ohakea where he was a Link Instructor. The Link was a flight simulator; 'very realistic, but safer than flying if you crashed. There were may funny sights at Whenuapai, which was only a grass addock, but there were no serious accidents while I was there. My nstructor F 0 Paterson, was not an effuse fellow but very patient, and did not swear at me much, as I tacked down the runway like a yachtie with over corrections. He looked relieved when he got out and said it was all mine. It as easier to see where I was going without his head in the way.
When it came for my flight test with the Flight Commander, I thought I did a good job, only to be bawled out for coming in too low over the parked Tigers. He sent me off again and in case he was still watching, I came in rather high and the boundary fence loomed up in front of me. There are no brakes on a Tiger, and my only choice was to go around again. Unfortunately I left it a bit late and hit the top wire, scattering battens in all directions. The Tiger kept flying, but it earned me the nickname of "Crash Benner", and that name stayed with me until I was renamed "Killer Benner" at Ohakea. I got that name because I was slower than others at landing into wind, and kept crossing other peoples flight path. I never hit anybody, but my mates had to be agile. The last thing we had to do at Whenuapai was a cross-country, and mine was to Whangarei, keeping careful navigation notes on the way. One thing I learned was to allow for wind. One day I was sent to do aerobatics. The plane flew like a bird to the Manukau Heads. I arrived back from my half-hour exercise very apologetic and an hour-and-a-half later. On the return trip the wind speed and my airspeed were almost equal and opposite.
Course 20C ó July 1941
Ohakea ó F T S and A T S
F T S
After six weeks of thrills and spills, we moved to Ohakea for initial training on Hawker Hinds and Harts. That was mainly to learn to fly the things and then another six weeks of advanced flying which was mainly gunnery, bombing and fighting tactics. The Hind was a wonderful plane to fly, rather like a powerful sports car in the air. The only problem was that they were 1932 vintage and ex-Desert, resulting in frequent motor problems. We were wisely trained in forced landings right from the start. Very soon after I had mastered the things, which were massive compared to the Tiger Moth, I had two exciting incidents. I was sent up to do aerobatics, the cloud with a base of 1,000 ft was solid to 10,000 ft, I had just broken cloud when there was a loud bang and my motor stopped. I came back to the reciprocal course, and to my relief Ohakea was within gliding distance. The huge 14ft prop stood up like a telegraph pole as I slowed up. It appeared that a seal blew on the supercharger and the mixture was blown into the air instead of into the engine. The other episode was when I was returning from a high altitude exercise rather fast when I got sudden severe pains in my head. Afraid that I might lose consciousness, I gave it heaps, banged the plane down and rushed to the Medical Centre. I had done the wrong thing ó my sinuses had not kept pace with the rapid decent and subsequent change in air pressure. The whole course was assembled next day, and my predicament was explained, so pilots only had to go up a bit until their air pressure could equalise. My wife and several other women in the same situation used to come to Palmerston North to stay at times, in a private Hotel. We could stay weekends for 10/-. I used to do my aerobatics high over the City and then glide back over the Hotel and wave to the girls. Some people were very ready to complain about low flying aircraft, but I found that as I kept engine noise down, I could get away with anything. I had an Aunt in Hunterville, and visited one day to show how good I was. I could see her waving on the lawn, and as I came down low after the show, I forgot to close the massive radiator. I opened to fly away and the motor spluttered and farted, taking me closer to the hills than I liked. I rang Auntie that night to learn that I had entertained a lady five miles away, so I had to repeat the performance next day remembering to close the radiator this time. My Instructor was Flt Lt Linklater, the C 0. He was well known in the area, having a sheep farm nearby. I believe he had donated the land for Milson Airfield. About once a week Link would choose me, as a farmer, to fly him around his stock. He would take over and scatter his sheep from a very low altitude. The routine was always the same. Over Wanganui he would get out for a comfort stop, I kept the motor running as the Hind had no self-starter, and we would go home, scattering some more sheep. The Oxfords had an inertia starter, where a flywheel was sped up and then engaged with the motor. The Hind operator would wind a handle very fast; this turned the motor at a snails pace. At the right moment a special ignition device would release a shower of sparks right into the combustion chamber, and virtually light the engine. It worked very well. After six weeks of aerobatics and formation flying, we moved to the Advanced Flying to complete our training.
The Hawker Hind
This comprised gunnery, dog fighting tactics and bombing with practice bomb racks, and night flying. This took us to the 10th January, and the Japanese threat was very real. With only 36 hours on Hinds I was doing night readiness. We resurrected some queer looking first war bombs from some tunnels, and fitted them to our practice bomb racks. We had one machine gun that fired through the prop, sometimes literally, and when a rumour came that a Jap Aircraft Carrier had been sighted near Napier, we were expected to go and sink it. Thank God it was not sighted a gain. We had now completed six months training and passed our Wings exam. I came 140th out of 200, which I was satisfied with considering the 9 year break in my education. There was no formal Wings presentation as some outfits have. They were not even called Wings, just Flying Badges. We were given a chit to take to Stores, where a surly AC2 gave us our Wings and chevrons "stripes", or arm stripes if commissioned. Twenty-five percent were commissioned. I had been late back once or twice on the course and became a Sergeant Pilot, from whence I rose slowly through the ranks until I was eventually commissioned and rose to Flying Officer in the latter days of the war. We were sent on final leave, and during that short period, Renee and I and my parents spent a few days in a cabin at Mount Maunganui. Dad had always been a good tennis player, and I decided to try and beat him in case I did not come back. I chose the hottest time of the day and set to it. When I conceded with the games at 38 to 24, I was exhausted and he was just getting into his stride. Renee and I went to Auckland where the Shaw Saville "Waipawa" was getting loaded with the largest load of butter to leave these shores. Each day our group went on board and came off again. The departure time was highly secret. I never dared to look back each time. When the wharfies wished us good luck, we knew the boat was full and we would not go ashore again. As the last bit of New Zealand disappeared over the horizon, we really felt it. When I saw a big burly chap shedding tears, I was able to let go. I never shed another tear although I wanted to until I got mail three months later, then the floodgates opened.
Renee and I half-an-hour before Embarkation In Queen Street
It was actually 0725 in the morning with Auckland sleeping under a light haze when we slipped away. The "Waipawa" was a cargo liner, which normally carried 12 passengers. By doubling up to four to a cabin we were 25 in all. The Captain did not like New Zealand mainly because hotel staff and others did not show respect to persons of his standing. He treated us quite well. The "Monowai" and the "Orion" sailed with us for three days then disappeared. Second day out we crossed the International Date Line making it Saturday again. We saw nothing but flying fish and albatrosses for the next 18 days. We were kept busy with submarine watch and getting to know the 9 machine guns for anti-aircraft protection. There was a 6-inch field gun mounted on the stern. We shared duties on that. I was No 7, and my duties were to load the projectile into the breech, then help the ramrod man push it well in. Then he put the ramrod into the hinge of the breech while I put the cordite charge in. It looked like a pile of cricket wickets. His action was to prevent the breech shutting my hands inside in the heat of battle. We enjoyed our gun drill, which culminated in a practice shoot at a raft. When the raft was 3,000 yards away the expert gun layers let fly. They were good, either blowing it out of the water or close to it. When that gun was fired, the whole aft end of the boat was a huge sheet of flame. We travelled south to very cold waters, to avoid possible submarines, then cruised up the coast of South America to the Panama Canal. As we approached Balboa, one of the boys yelled, "I can see a woman", and we all piled up on deck. The lads were a bit hungry after three weeks of only male company, and there she was black and comely, like the Queen of Sheba, two axe-handles across the beam, and working on the wharf! We took a bus to Panama City, and engaged in much haggling with shopkeepers. It was terribly hot and the place smelled like a blend of a florist shop, a bakery and a lavatory. The shops stayed open into the small hours and we were offered various exchange rates from $2.70 to $3.00 for our Es. One boy sold a El to an American soldier as a souvenir for $5. The canal trip was an education, the huge locks, which filled and emptied in minutes was great to watch. We arrived at Colon in the evening. It was much cleaner and more modern than Panama City. The dues for a 12,000- ton boat were £3,000. Very few Americans had heard of New Zealand, but they were very friendly when they knew we were on their side. Two of our boys got themselves on the radio, and when the announcer said, "Here are two boys from Noo Zilland". The lads up to their gunwales with gin sang, "We are the boys from way down under". It won terrific applause. If we got a little bit oiled, so did the boat. Cura Sao was the usual refuelling base but Jap submarines were sinking anything that went there. At the time they were actually shelling the oil installation. Our boat got underway in the early morning and we really did submarine watch from then on as there was a lot of debris from ships sunk either in front of or behind us.
A few days later we ran into a violent storm, it gave us a respite trom submarines, but the waves were so high that I wrote home saying that the troughs were as deep as a big gully on our farm. It was about 80 ft deep. After we rode out this storm a submarine was sighted. The Skipper did not argue whether it was friend or foe. Never mind the economical 23 knots, he opened the taps and the old girl shuddered and shook on a zigzag course for the next 24 hours. We hove-to off Bermuda, for what reason I do not know, and we were ferried by launch to a British outpost ó Fort St George, on the opposite end of the Island to Hamilton, the capital. We did gunnery practice there. Our boat did some necessary repairs due to storm damage; we were lucky to have made it. Many boats were sunk either from the storm or from submarine attacks.
Fort St George Bermuda "Waipawa" is in the distance
One day we saw some Americans in the distance marching along the beach, they had a base there. One of the Brits remarked, "Here come the cock suckers". I wondered why he used that term, but when I got to England I learned why. Everything was either a "Gard damned son-of-a-bitch" or a -Carksucker". The water was so clear that one could see a hundred feet down. Some people got vertigo climbing out of a boat. The entrance to St George harbour was so narrow; I wondered how the destroyers and submarines there had got in.
After a safe but cold crossing of the Atlantic we berthed at Belfast on the 8tn March. We were luck to have made it. Belfast was a bit of a shocker. There had been a very hard winter and piles of frozen snow were everywhere. It was not at all like Auckland. I have learned since that the sister ship "Waiwera" was sunk about that time and the lads spent a week in lifeboats. I took a photo of some of the lads on the trip and recently showed it in the righter Pilots Magazine. A pilot on that trip ó Roy Hayward ó who I did not Know very well, as he was Course 19 and now living at Katikati produced one almost identical.
I cannot remember taking that photo, but must have taken it on his camera at the same time. In my photo Roy is looking to the side, and on his camera he is looking right at me, probably saying press the knob at the top. It was great meeting again after 58 years.
Taken in January 1942 Both photos reunited after 58 years
On "Waipawa" ó taken with Roy Hayward's camera
On "Waipawa taken with my camera
Bournemouth and Harrogate
Belfast looked like Te Puke saleyards on sale day. There was mud everywhere, dogs were barking and Irishmen were whistling and yelling as cattle were herded into pens or onto boats. As we did not have gumboots we kept out of the way. We boarded the channel ferry and crossed to England, then by train to Bournemouth ó No 3 Personnel Reception Centre. Our quarters were Bath Hill Court and the Officers were in Royal Bath Hotel. The latter stretched for a long way down a slope. I had never seen buildings like that before. It was my first experience of houses stuck together. Apparently each owner owns half the dividing wall We had lectures galore but there was plenty of time to explore the town. Here we met the first example of English class distinction. The CO rounded up our Officers and told them that they had been seen fraternising with Sgt Pilots and back-slapping in the streets and it was to cease forthwith. Their responses nearly gave him a heart attack. On another occasion we were to have been addressed by Lord Trenchard, Marshall of the RAF. He was unable to attend and a second dickey took his place. One of the first things he said was that a Pilot that always saluted an Officer when he saw one would be a better Pilot than one who did not. As to be expected it was an Aussie who yelled "Bullshit". The man turned purple and left. The meeting ended in uproar. I am reminded of a Pommie Senior Officer who complained to our Tiny Freyberg that some of his men did not salute him. Tiny replied that he always waved to the boys and the usually waved back. I waited here several months and was then sent to 7 PRC Harrogate. Although war has some lighter moments, there are some very sad events. Very soon after my arrival my taxi driver who was heavily scarred and only had enough fingers to drive his taxi, told me he had lost his home, wife and children. He was cheerful and said he wanted to do what he could still do for his country. On another occasion when in hospital an 18-year-old naval rating was brought in. He had stood on a land mine and had both eyes blown out. He was still in shock and was frightened of the dark, and begged the nurse not to leave him alone. Another time an Irish lad who knew no English had come to England and contracted TB. We knew no Gaelic and could only show him photos ó he died with tears in his eyes. We were billeted in the Harrogate Hotel, a huge place. There were lectures, but we spent more time playing golf than attending them. The Club supplied us with clubs and balls because they knew we had no money. My pay was 11/- per day and 4/- had to be sent home. I kept 4/- and sent 7/- home, and as a result was always short of cash. When I arrived in Britain beer was 8d a pint. When I left it was 1/4d and my pay was 22/- but I still only collected 4/-.
The Harrogate Hotel
We seemed to have been forgotten at Harrogate, so we approached a Liaison Officer and he got things in motion. I was posted to 17 A.F.U. Watton in Norfolk. It was a very flat place and in a perpetual haze and very easy to get lost. Watton had a satellite station five miles away in Bodney Wood, concealed in trees. The visibility was so bad that it was hard to find it. The owners of Bodney had also scarpered to America and left their estate to the Defence Dept. We lived in Nissen huts heated by the well-known Dover stoves. There were many chestnuts in the wood and we enjoyed cooking and eating them. The planes we flew were Miles Masters. Master Mk1 had the Kestrel, same as on the Hawker Hind, the Mk2 had the Bristol Mercury, and the Mk3 had the Pratt and Whitney, well known in the Harvards. They were really a wooden version of the Harvard, and had very wide undercarriage, which gave the impression of great speed on the ground. The Spitfires by comparison had the wheels so close; they felt like one wheel. I landed my first Master so hard it had to go for inspection to see if the undercart had been damaged. The Instructor asked what I had trained on. When I said Hinds he understood. When you level out in a biplane without motor it responds. A monoplane turns up its nose and keeps going down. I did a high-speed stall.
Miles Master MKIII 22
Nothing very exciting happened at this Station, except that we got lost a lot. There was one Pilot I remember very well, he was the life of the party and very interested in sport. Each time the six week course ended, he developed some ailment and had been there for quite a while when I came along. It was his desire to spend the war there. The Doctor said the next time he would go even if on a stretcher. His posting was to the Orkneys. That place was the Styx in people's eyes. I can still see his face as he said, "They cannot do this to me", but they did. My posting was to 58 OUT Grangemouth in Stirlingshire, Scotland. This was one step nearer to my goal to fly a Spitfire.
Up to now my career had been interrupted by bouts of illness. I was recalled from sick leave to take this posting. When you leave a Station there is the onerous task of getting clearances from every section, to make sure you don't owe money or have equipment that needed to be returned. Having two Airfields miles apart, I had to trudge or hitch back and forth in my not very fit condition, getting these clearances. The last was from the Doctor. He refused saying, "When I send a man on sick leave, he stays on leave", and sent me away for some more holiday, on returning I had to go through the same procedure again. I had learned a lot about the Mother Country during my stay in England. There were a lot of beggars and barrel organs. I could not but wonder why these blokes worked hard turning a handle when they could buy a simple wind-up device as used in gramophones. All English towns had a church in the middle, and if the town was big it would be a cathedral. Navigation was not easy, as they all looked the same and often the only way to identify was by looking at the number of double track railways, and possibly one town had a solitary single track rail. That would be the only difference in two towns five miles apart. The names had all been obliterated for obvious reasons. Most of the land was owned by descendants of William the Conqueror's Lieutenants who were granted huge blocks of land, and the reason these huge estates have remained intact by is the simple means of leaving them to the eldest son. After King Harold got an arrow in his eye the English were virtually landless and in the 19th century any of them caught taking a rabbit, pheasant or trout got a free trip to Australia. Most farmers were on rental land and were known as tenant farmers, and they also had to pay tithe taxes to the Church of England regardless of their faith. The cities were very upmarket, but you only had to go into the country to find no electricity and village pumps. Of the people themselves most were very hospitable. New Zealanders had a very good name and were readily accepted into homes. They were without envy and this is possibly why they had never had a revolution like France or Russia. The Americans had high pay and would stay at good hotels and pick up any girls they wanted, whereas the Tommies made do with fish and chips and sixpenny cinema tickets. They just shrugged and said America is a rich country. Almost all Counties had their own version of the English language, which is perpetuated because housing and education is run by Councils, and teachers are recruited locally as against our national system. George Bernard Shaw said, "Why don't the English learn to speak". A few do speak the Queen's English but many are difficult to understand. Once I asked a Cockney the way, and a Canadian had to interpret for me. Scotland was slightly different. The Pubs did not open on a Sunday anc when I first went to Scotland I asked where there was a billiard saloon, whicl-was, the only pastime we could afford, to be told, "There are no billiarc saloons open in Scotland on a Sunday". I arrived in Grangemouth in heavy fog, which did not lift for a fortnight There were no barracks; we were billeted with private families. It waE December 1942 and mid-winter when I started finding my way around. The snow had turned to ice, and riding my bike on the uneven surface waE dangerous. I had to find my way around in the murk to three places ó the Mess, Lecture Rooms and the home of Jack and Margaret Wilkie. They were like a mother and father to me, which was lovely as I was so far from home. They were paid 114d per week for wear and tear of linen. They were well ofi and did not collect it. They always insisted on me joining them for supper. When supper was over there was no coffee and biscuits like here. It is a meal and usually between 10 and 11pm. I could never understand why the Sgt's Mess had the evening meal between 6 and 7pm as in New Zealand, but the Officers had tea and biscuits and the main meal at 8pm. It suited the old First War chaps, but young Pilots who wished to go out in the evening and getting into the grog on an empty stomach is not the best. My first encounter with a beggar was when I was sitting on a seat looking at Buckingham Palace. An elderly gentleman sat beside me and informed me that the King was away, and that was why the flag was not flying. A few minutes later he branched out on how he had not eaten for several days and could I give him some money. I gave him a precious two bob and away he went, I presume for liquid refreshment. In London one day a chap asked if he could take my photo. I said I was not very important but he was welcome. He handed me a scruffy polaroid image and said, "That will be two shillings". I was learning. London Bobbies were marvellous. One chatted to me and asked if I know Wellington. I said I had passed through once of twice and he said, "You must know my brother, he has a shoe shop there". The Scots have their own version of English. The Edinburgh accent is sheer music, but the Glasgow accent is terrible. Both English and Scots seem to put an R into most words, like, "The fart dog barks at the bark of the farm". One girl I took out declined chocolate `because it made her fart' ó after an awkward pause she also declined and ice cream for the same reason. She did accept a cigarette ó 'it did not make her fart'. Only then did I realise that she was concerned about putting on weight. English girls were more frank about personal things. It was quite common to say 'they were flying the red flag'. The gallant airman would indignantly say that he was not after her body and continue with the date. He would say something quite different under his breath. We were always given free rail passes when going on leave, and we would make our destination either Inverness or Lands End. Some railway officials got stroppy when we were well off the direct route. When I first arrived in UK three of my closest mates and I went to the clean Granite City of Aberdeen. I still have the hotel bill for "4 New Zealand Lads", and just a few pounds for five days.
Margaret and Jack Wilkie Home away from home ó Scotland
Spitfires at Last
After two weeks of fog and sub-zero temperatures, the sun suddenly came out to reveal large hangars and Spitfires scattered around the drome. My dream was coming true at last. After a check dual in a Master III I was sent off in a Spitfire. Our planes were only Mk I and II, but the fundamentals were much the same as later models, except that the Mk I had a hand-pumped under-carriage. As these planes were so sensitive in the controls, it was easy to porpoise when winding up or down. The Spittie was well up to my expectations. It flew naturally, freely with no vices that I could ever detect. The Scottish countryside was very like our South Island with lots of mountains, and lakes known as lochs. I guess I flew over Loch Ness but never saw Nessie. The Wilkies took me to church where I encountered an unusual custom. After prayers and a hymn or two the parson would make his way to the high spot to deliver his sermon. I was aware of a rustling sound and Mrs Wilkie passed me a paper lollie, known as a sweetie. Everybody was unwrapping one of these as they settled down for the sermon. It was a home away from home after years of artificial living. The Wilkies told me an amusing story about a lad who had been there before me. It was customary at Airports to have a duty pilot in flying control even if flying was impossible. One night in terrible winter weather this boy was spending the evening by the fire reading a book. The weather office kept ringing to see if it was snowing. They said it was snowing everywhere else in Scotland. He kept saying no but eventually got up to have a look. He could not open the window; it was blocked up with snow. When it snows it is so quiet it can creep up on you. For some reason, although the Hurricane possibly did more in the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire has always been the glamour aircraft. It was nice to fly, and flew correctly unless you made it skid when there were bullets coming up your stovepipe. The Hurricane skidded readily, possibly because there was no dihedral in the wings. The Hurricane was the more versatile, and was used for bombs, rockets and 40 M1 cannon for tank attacks. As there is only one driving seat in a fighter, one is prepared on a trainer with similar performance, in our case the Miles Master. The Spitfire was so beautiful to handle; I can only compare it with the North American Mustang and the Hawker Tempest, which I flew later on in the war. Our exercises consisted of formation flying, aerobatics, navigation exercises, and air to air, and air to ground gunnery. We only had one serious accident while I was there. A Canadian instructor arrived and took me formation flying. There was patchy cloud and he kept flying below the tops. I told him that if he did not go up I would leave, so we went up. Next day he took one on each wing, an Aussie and another Canadian. He flew them into a mountain. The two Canadians were killed but the Aussie hit heavy snow and survived. A shepherd's dog found him suffering from hypothermia and double pneumonia. He was back a few weeks later. Another New Zealander arrived while I was there. He was Ken Salt from Opotiki, and is now retired in Tauranga. Ken and I learned to skate at the local rink. At first it took about six Scottish lassies to keep us vertical but soon we were able to zoom around on our own without injury to others or ourselves. I have never skated since, but if it is like riding a bike, you don't forget. At 82 I will leave it at that. There were some incidents that happened in my flying career, which I cannot remember after 60 years, just where they happened. I think it was at Grangemouth that I was sent up to do air to air gunnery. On the book cover you will notice the door is down to help the Pilot to get into the cockpit, when up the top forms a runner for the canopy to close. On this day I forgot to close it and the air rushed in and blew the canopy off. It took a hunk of flesh off my shoulder and dented the tail-plane. As I climbed the bleeding stopped, and the blood froze. I competed the assignment and when I came down I had to make haste to the doctor to be stitched up. The plane damage was minimal and I was not penalised. Grangemouth had a satellite station, Balado Bridge, on the shores of Loch Leven. We used to go there for night flying practice. My night vision was not the best but I managed the course, but got an endorsement saying that I was not considered suitable for night flying. I also had an endorsement saying that I was not suitable for tropical service because of a delicate skin. As a result of all my flying was in the UK. There were two places I can remember as rest homes for pilots suffering from stress. One was Dutton Homestall, owned by the whisky giants "Dewars". It was in the open country, and there was skeet shooting, rabbit shooting and lovely walks in the woods. I was there for a spell after a hectic spell of flying.
Dutton Homestall Rest Centre 28
The other was Blackpool. In peacetime it was where the working man spent his year's savings on a fortnight by the sea. The Defence Dept had commandeered many of the boarding houses. The owners were very resentful because the pay was peanuts compared to what they had soaked people for in the past, and were not very friendly to us. Our landlady insisted we were in by midnight, and when we were over that time it was the Sallies or whatever was offering. We used to ruck up the beds next morning but she did not fall for that. She said she knew the difference between a bed that had been slept in and a bed that had been rucked up. She did not like us and we did not like her. Blackpool is famous for the Tower and big wheel. The wheel was not used in the war for safety reasons, but the Tower had everything from dance floor, huge billiard saloons and theatres and much more. Swimming was out because the beaches all over England had been mined. One of my friends had a barbecue in a Kittyhawk in the Middle East and as he glided into a forced landing, he saw a sign 'Minefield". He knew why some Aussies on the scene did not come to his rescue. I am reminded of the story of a chap who had some of his rump grafted on his face. It gave him a thrill every time his mother-in-law kissed him.
Ken was posted to the NZ 485 Squadron and I was posted to 501 County of Gloucester Squadron RAF, which was resting at Ballyhalbert in Ireland. The term resting means that when a Squadron has had heavy losses it goes to a remote station where the remaining pilots train new blood. Most places are called Bally, which like Ham in England means Village. For some reason this Station was more dispersed than front line Stations. It was miles between mess, billets and the planes, which were dispersed all around the Station. They were never guarded in any Station I can remember, and I never heard of sabotage. Of course anybody caught interfering with a plan would be shot on sight Ballyhalbert village was the most backward place I ever encountered. The houses were small and had no running water. There were pumps about 50 yards apart in the street. Being a farmer I did some calculations and told one of the residents that I could put in a pumping station and have water to their front gates for E1 per house. He liked the idea but the whole village was owned by an absentee landlord, who took their 5/- per week, but was not interested in any improvements. I would not be surprised if the situation is the same today. I left the villagers to sort out their own problems and was glad our billets had hot and cold running water. We were set to work smartly and the most interesting assignment was being sent to Eglinton to do convoy escort. Eglinton was next to Londonderry on the border with Eire. It seemed incongruous that their being neutral, there was no rationing and German submarines could refuel and we could do nothing about it. We pilots could travel there in civilian clothes but carried out 1250 Official Identity Cards. I found a distant relative in Belfast. There was a large multi-storey building with Frank E Benner written across the top. It was a City Market, rather like our Turners and Growers. He was going to take me down to Eire to meet his mother who was clued up on family history, but I had a spell in hospital and missed out. Our jaunt to Eglinton was for five days, and included two convoy jobs. The first was to cover a lone ship. It was either the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth. She travelled alone as no other boat could keep up with her. She looked huge. The other job was a convoy at least 10 miles long. Each boat had its balloon and the viz was so bad it was difficult to know when we were at the end and it was very easy to lose them altogether. At the time I was not bothered that I was relying on one engine with no hope of anybody finding me if I had trouble. I was getting a boil in my nether regions when we went, and the trip back was terrible, sitting on one cheek in the small cockpit of a Spitfire. The Spitfire had a main tank holding 90 gallons, and used 35 on economical cruise so our shifts were short. That tank was about two feet in front of me, and a Pacific Pilot told me that in Corsairs there were 270 gallons in front. If there was a direct hit from flak it would not make much difference. A cup-full put on a fire can cost you your eyebrows. Ireland also has Lochs, but the difference from Scotland was that Ireland has a lot of peat bog, hence the term 'Bog Irish'. Loch Neagh was about 10 miles away but with the right wind it stank. Although Eire was neutral Irishmen love a fight, and there were thousands scattered through all the Forces. After a few rigorous weeks of training, the time came to put your money where your mouths were, so to speak There were not enough Spitties to go around, so it was my lot to be passenger in the Squadron Tiger Moth. I found out later that Henderson was such a bad pilot that nobody would fly with him. I was the mug. We were a bit overloaded with our gear and the CO's radio, but the plane was flyable in the right hands. This bloke got a bit out of wind in take off, and instead of having another go he persisted until we were down-wind and below stalling speed. We spun in from about 100 ft, landing on the nose and one wing tip. The other wing sheered off. I was in the rear seat and was well held in by a bag of clothes on my lap. Henderson the pilot had not moved I reached down and tapped him on the head and said, "Are you alright?" He moved slightly. I yelled, "Get out, the bloody thing will go up in a minute". That got him going and he hit the ground before I did. We were banged into hospital for examination. My pulse rate was 140. By the next day it was down to 120, and by the third day it was normal. The following day I came out in a rash all over my body. I had already had mumps and measles during the year. I was told it was a shock rash, even though I did not feel I was all that shocked. I have not mentioned the skirmishes we had with a Sunderland Station. We would arrange to attack them. Individually we could not shoot them down, and for that matter a Spitfire could not shoot a Tiger Moth down with its fixed guns. These blokes would wait till we were almost within range and turn in on us, and take a squirt at us as we went by with their cinegun. It was like the greyhound and the hare. These things were like a flying house doing 120 mph but unless there were two of us they were safe. I travelled to Westhampnett in a Harrow transport with the ground crew. It was turbulent and the poor boys were terribly sick. They used the five-gallon oil-cans for vomit bowls. The stench even affected me and I was as near to being airsick as I had ever been. Goodbye Ireland.
Westhampnett was the satellite station of the famous Tangmere. All the south east of England was in 11 Group, the front line area where the Battle of Britain was fought. There is always a lighter side to the terrible carnage and suffering of war ó here are a few titbits. An airman who left his aircraft for obvious reasons was floating down in Wales when he spied a reception committee of Welsh farmers with pitchforks in the inverted position. As he neared the ground he became alarmed and let fly. The pitchforks were put down and he got a friendly reception. He asked why they had changed their attitude. One said that no self-respecting German would have said what he did. They figured he was either Australian or New Zealander. He was a Kiwi. The other story concerns a Kiwi pilot, (and it was not me) who met a young lady in a Pub. She assured him that her husband was overseas. They often said that when hubby was only a short distance away in camp. All went well until 5am next morning when hubby arrived home unexpectedly on leave. The wife let him in while our boy dressed and left by the window. NO Kiwi likes to miss breakfast so he knocked on the door and told the soldier that he had come in on the early train, seen his light and wondered if there was anywhere he could get a feed. The soldier greeted him warmly, and said he and his wife were cooking breakfast and would he join them. I could never be that cheeky. We settled into Westhampnett and our belongings followed in due course. It was 3rd May that I did a sector recco. We went on a concentrated gunnery course until 18th May, then a bit of convoy patrol. We were a short time at Martlesham Heath and then Wood Vale with our belongings trailing well behind. The flying was mainly dawn and dusk patrols, a few scrambles and convoy patrol. On 28th June 1943 we settled at Hawkinge on the cliffs above Dover and Folkestone. I was there until Christmas and the Squadron was there much longer. Contrary to public belief Pilots were not like Biggles, fighting with other planes every day. Once the Battle of Britain was over, German fighters were rarely seen except for quick dawn or dusk raids, usually done by two aircraft. It remained that way until the Normandy invasion in 1944. We lived in very civilised conditions, and you were very alive or dead, and the transition was usually very swift. During my training there had been casualties, starting with an Oxford which went out to position x, and never returned to Ohakea. One Master doing night circuits and bumps at Watton stalled on approach and burned. It was 2am and I saw the pilot leave as I started my night flying supper of bacon and eggs. When I heard the sickening thud, his plate was still on the table, with his own special jam. He reckoned the Air Force stuff was not fit to eat. The WAAFs were all crying and it was very upsetting. Most times people just went missing, and we never saw them go. When a plane crashed on the drome there was always a rush to salvage perspex. We used it for making ornaments. Of course we usually got the crew out first. I lost three room-mates in 501 and later with the ferrying Squadron. One was killed when the whole Squadron was flying line abreast. There was to be a safe distance between the two flights, and it spread out a bit and the right hand man of the team at the left and the left-hand man of the right flight converged and collided. Each was looking the other way. One plane flown by Stuart Nichol a New Zealander landed with half a wing but my mate landed heavily and he was trapped. A farmer tried to save him but the plane caught fire and he was burned. I flew over the spot next day and saw the burned out outline of the Spitfire. It upset me more than usual. The next one was when two boys were returning from a flight at sea level. It was customary to fly abreast about 50 yards apart and gently move the head from side to side, guarding each other's tail. The bloke on the left looked left and when he looked right his mate was not there. We never found out what happened. Spitfires don't float My third mate was a Pole. He and another Pole arrived over the drome in Typhoons and a little sparring turned into a serious dogfight. Poles are very intense people, Vlodaski pulled his Typhoon in so tight it spun out and crashed right in the middle of the drome. He loved England and was determined to marry an English girl as he figured the Germans would have ruined all the girls in Poland. As mentioned earlier, you rarely saw them go, they were just not around anymore. For some reason, when I was part of a close escort mission nothing much happened except that we were enveloped in ground fire, but if I was on day off, the boys would often come home rather dishevelled with a few gaps. One spectacular crash at this time has remained fresh in my memory. A young Frenchman call Fifi had his motor quit on take off. The plane shed its engine; wings, tail and most of the body as it cartwheeled and rolled. About six feet of body around the cockpit with Fifi inside was all that was left. He climbed out, dusted himself down and walked away. Next day I asked him how he was. In his quaint English he replied, "I feel fine Monsieur Benner, but my chest hurts a bit when I laugh". What a man! Years later I related this story to Tim Wallis and he said he was glad to hear of someone else who could break a plane into six pieces and live.
501 Squadron August 1943
501 Squadron August 1943
Enjoying a day in the Sunshine 1943
Map on hardboard carried in Flying Boots
Hawkinge Flashback to Grangemouth and Balado Bridge
It was nice to be settled at last. Previously our laundry and belongings followed at a distance and when we got a half-hour notice to move we flew out and ground crew was sent along to collect our gear. As we were often two or more to a room, it took some time to sort out our individual possessions. Hawkinge had been a fighter drome in the First World War, and was just an undulating paddock right on the edge, some 25 miles from Calais. There was an Air Sea Rescue flight and a Norwegian and Australian Squadron right opposite us. As we always kept below Enemy Radar, which meant 50 ft or less, we used to almost scrape the cliffs and for fun almost scrape the Aussies. They did the same to us. Although I was subject to plenty of ground fire almost every time I was airborne, I never fired my guns in anger. We had many gunnery courses that actually started at Grangemouth, when we spent a week at Balado Bridge. Apart from the tiny village of Kinross, we were miles from civilisation. Each Saturday night a bus took us to Perth, where we had a lovely evening drinking and dancing in the ballroom of the Salutation Hotel. The country around us was wild and lonely, yet I will never forget flying in the moonlight over Loch Leven, with the glistening mountains reflected in the dark water. We flew night and day, had furious air battles, shot towed and ground targets as well as a few old ruins on the sly. By the end of three weeks we were ready for the job for which we had been trained. Some days were uneventful whereas others more than made up for it.
My Diary reads ó 15 Feb 1943 ó Today has been rather eventful. We have had a gale of 40 ó 50 mph and been flying in it. This morning Jack Burton and I were sent up to have a dogfight at 25,00 ft, and it was as cold as charity. Later it was fun watching Kites trying to land in the strong crosswind. Mud Fulford (Australian) mowed down the flag at the ACP (Air Control Post) at the end of runway. Ken Salt was ACP and he grabbed his Verey Pistol and ran. The flagpole was 4" x 3". Mud mowed it off with his wing. Never seen Ken run so fast in my life, and never laughed so much either. Tuesday 16. Today I have broken a record. I have done over 7 hours flying, including 1.15. hours night flying. Also I had more things go wrong than ever before. I flew too near a convoy and got bollicked (reprimanded). Then I took up the wrong Kite and got bollicked again. Then I made a bad landing on the wrong runway. Got fined half-a-crown for attempting to land and another for actually landing on said runway and another half-a-crown for taxiing in with my flaps down (causes overheating). I only had eight shillings to last till payday. Last but not least I fired a squirt on wrong drogue and hope to Christ I did not hit it. (Bullets had different coloured paint on the tips). I am very tired tonight and ready for bed. The next day was unsuitable for flying, so we had a lecture by a Doctor on high altitude flying and use oi oxygen. Rest of day was spent assessing films. By the use of instruments we would assess how many bullets actually hil the target. On becoming airborne it was customary to take a sighter burst on some definite target. When the film was put in the projector, the projection of that object is lined up with the centre of the screen. As the film goes through, the operator stops at intervals, when a good deflection shot appears. By using the speed of the target plus the angle of deflection, it is possible to tell whether the bullet would have connected with the target aircraft. The guns may have been fired a half-mile ahead of the target aircraft, but if the aim was too high or too low they would have missed. Similarly, if the deflection was too much or too little the bullets would have passed behind or ahead of the target. In watching the film, if the target appeared to fly to the centre dot, if it missed the dot, then the bullets would have gone above or below. If it flew to the centre, then it was the only way of estimating the speed of the enemy, deduct what was necessary for his angle of flight ó e.g. straight across would be full speed, whereas dead astern would be no speed, and measuring the distance by his wingspan. The RAF was very meticulous in assessing the number of planes shot down, probable or damaged, and invariably the German figures tallied very closely with our claims. The Americans on the other hand shot down the entire Luftwaffe every three weeks. We had some wonderful parties in our lonely huts with food parcels from New Zealand and Australia. Flight Lt Welch told us an amazing story of the early days of the war. He was flying one of 9 Boulton Paul Defiants on a raid to Holland, extreme range for those aircraft. The Defiant was rather like a Hurricane with a rear firing machine gun, which was fatal for the enemy who did not notice the difference, and came in too close. Welch ran out of petrol in Holland and landed in a field. Willing hands got him some fuel from a nearby garage, and he took off again without the Germans noticing him. Arriving back at base, he apologised for being late. They said it was all right, as he was the only one to come back. Now back to Hawkinge. I cannot remember where the Officers Mess was out ours was an elegant old house in Reindene Wood. Once again the porners had discreetly departed to the safety of America and let the Defence Debt have their estate. Folkestone was only a few miles away and the Natives were friendly. As usual we all drew bikes, and sometimes the boys riad the slack habit of taking the next door bike if there was a flattie, to go to e had a Belgian pilot called Tiny Kelbech join our already racial mix of eery thing except German and Italian. Tiny was well over six feet and big 'with it. It amazed me how he could squeeze in to the small spitfire cockpit. One day when we were well on with lunch Tiny arrived sweating profusely and said, "Look here you Pilots, I went to get on my bike and it was not there. I find it here. It will not happen again". Whenever anybody borrowed one he made sure it was not Tiny's. One night he came home well oiled with a six-pound axe. We treated him with caution. He said we were always short of firewood and he had bought a "bloddy" axe. Unfortunately he did not have a clue how to use it and it was my lot as a farmer to do the cutting. We always had a standing patrol at dawn.
Reindene Woodó Cutting wood with Tiny's 6-lb axe
One murky morning, this was the popular time for a pair of FW 190's to pay us a visit ó two came along. They would come roaring in at ground level. On this occasion on of our boys Locky Licburn, from Ireland, swung his plane round so violently that it did a half spin and he let off, accidentally, a burst of machine gun and cannon fire. At the same time one of the Bandits hit a power pylon. The story was big news in Folkestone and from then on a basket of fresh fish arrived every few days. We kept quiet about the exact circumstances. There are three stages of readiness on a Fighter Station: ï Half-hour - meant be on the Station within range of a phone. ï Five minutes - meant in the Crew Room but not in Mae West etc. ï Instant ó was dressed and ready ó and when the whistle blew it usually took 90 seconds to run to the plane and get airborne. )>. The final state ó was "Sitting in". That meant sitting in the plane. It took 15 seconds to leave the ground It was very unnerving to be strapped in when the Aussies were scrambled as they had their fun coming close. We almost scraped the cliffs when on a mission. Under 50 ft was not detected on radar, and the last thing we wanted was a reception at the other end. Desmond Scott, the famous Typhoon Pilot described us as a Jim Crow Squadron, which was very apt. Our "Milk Run" was from Ostend to Dieppe and we zoomed up to look into each harbour on the way. Ostend was usually quiet but the other beggars were waiting for us. Boulogne had the heaviest flak but Dieppe was the most accurate. Our task was doing close escort for American day bombers. They flew in close formation at 12,000ft. As one would get shot down, another moved in to fill the gap. The flak was always heavy, and the brown puffs that drifted by looked harmless. They would be at the one height and stretched for miles. We also did Rhubarbs ó quick sorties to shoot up trains, Army vehicles or whatever. This was stopped while I was there owing to heavy losses. We also covered air sea rescues by the Flight that was based at the station. They had several Spitfires and the faithful Walrus Amphibian. We also did searches on our own using the square search method, where after making due allowance for wind, we would do increasing courses so we could cover every inch of the ocean which all looks the same, starting from where the Mayday had come. Sadly I never found anybody, but I have often wondered if some poor bastard saw me and cursed me before he died. Only once did I see a wonderful rescue. A Flying Fortress was sitting like a huge duck on the calm water. Spitfires were circling above, and the Walrus was heading to it at a steady 70mph. Two crash boats were converging on it, one from Folkestone and one from Dover at great speed, throwing a great wake known as a rooster tail The Walrus was a strange plane. It was a biplane with a pusher prop driven by a huge naked engine on top, which made it look as high as it was long and made the most amazing spluttering noises which gave it the nickname of the "Farling Duck". It could land on fairly rough seas, but would often have to taxi back to base, sometimes taking a whole day. One night this thing arrived back late with a dead pilot on board. The crew was so tired that they left the poor fellow on board and went off to get some sleep. It was quite common for airmen and WAAFs to use the comfortable cabin to get to know each other better. On this night the couple was doing fine until the WAAF realised there were more arms and legs than there should be. She had to be treated by the Doctor for hysteria. It was at Hawkinge that I had my first blooding. The Flight Commander took me on the "Milk Run". While looking in on the first harbour the Bofors red tracer was coming up in a steady stream, and I was far from happy. Tim Lenton pressed his button and said in a bored casual voice, "Friendly lot of buggers aren't they Ben". Thanks to that man I was often scared but never petrified as I was then. If we spotted any shipping in the Ports we called in the troops, so to speak, and sometimes met Scottie and his Typhoon boys on the way out. Scottie did ëa rest period as Station Commander while I was there. I was doing six weeks in Flying Control with a burst ear-drum and he used to come in each day and roll a smoke from my packet of Silver Fern, but as he was a Wing Commander and I was a Sgt Pilot it was not what you could call a close relationship. I would have liked to meet him again but as he was in Christchurch and I in Te Puke, it never happened. It was rather embarrassing that although he spoke to me he would ignore the two regular men. Flight Lt Haywood had lived in New Zealand for some years, something Scottie did not know, and was a very good guy. Tact was not Scottie's middle name, but he was an exceptional flier and gunner.
He was once taken to a meeting of very high-ranking personnel who were discussing tactics. Most were of First World War mould. After some discussion, the Leader said in his cultured voice, "Squadron Leader Scott, you are what we call at the coal face, what do you think of the suggestions so far?" Scottie in his Kiwi voice said, "All the suggestions so far are a load of cock!" His mentor hustled him out the side door. , Scottie was a good bloke but he did not suffer fools lightly. People like him were one of 5% survivors, whereas people like me were some 50% survivors. The blokes who trained with him were all dead before he even got to Typhoons and became famous. I have always given the Americans full marks for courage, but their navigation and aircraft recognition left a lot to be desired. Anything with a radial engine must be a FW 190, and an inline engine was a ME 190. One day a Squadron of Thunderbolts passed nearby. Their Stars were clearly visible, as our roundels must have been. There was plenty else to watch out for in the sky, and the next thing we knew they had sneaked up from behind and picked off our two outside men. One the same day they dropped the CO of a Czech Squadron and claimed two 109's and a 190. Things got so bad that for a while an imaginary line was drawn across France and God help anybody who crossed it. It did not last for long, as the Yanks did not seem to know north from south. The Bomber Boys, usually Mitchell's and Marauder's and sometimes Douglas Boston's worked in a tight box. As one bomber went down another would move into to take its place. There was a master navigator and a master bomber, and when he dropped his bombs everybody did the same. I never knew what would happen if these two were shot down. The only thing more dangerous than Yanks were the British Coastal Batteries. They fired at anything that crossed the coast. Once when our CO complained in very rough language, the polite answer was that they never saw any Spitfires but did take a squirt at a couple of bandits. He gave up. On 9th September 1943 the Allies launched a dummy invasion which proved an absolute flop. Hundreds of landing craft left the English coast north of where we were, and were to head for France, and to turn back at half way. The Germans were to think it was the second front starting. Every serviceable fighter in the country had black and white stripes painted on it and converged on south-east coast dromes. Hawkinge had five Squadrons jammed in and looked like a lot of wasps. On one occasion Squadron Leader Barth∞Id, our CO and I were returning from France and using radio silence as usual. We were flying either just above or below cloud and he would just say "Up" or "Down" when we lost contact with each other, but arrived home separately. A piece of shrapnel had cut his radio cable and when he lost contact with me he called base and found he was on his own. As the weather got colder there were fewer days that we could fly. One foul day I was alone in the Mess, mainly because I was broke as 4/- a day did not go very far even in those days. The CO rang from Dispersal and asked for various pilots in turn. Each time I assured him the subject was somewhere around. Eventually he said, "You are just a lying bastard Ben, I know they have all pissed off to Folkestone and you and I had better do the same". I doubt if my first name was ever used or known during the war. We used either altered surnames or nicknames ó Smithy, Jonesy etc. I was known as either Ben or Bennie and if the only New Zealander ó Kiwi. With such brief knowledge of my mate's names I could never hope to trace them. I had only one near go at Hawkinge. We were on a distant mission, and were using 90-gallon drop tanks on Spit 9. I had just switched to drop tank when my motor cut. I was going flat out on the deck at about 300mph. I came back on the main tank, sent out a Mayday and climbed to 2,000ft preparatory to baling out. A Spitfire does not ditch very well. I had pulled my radio plug so as not to hang myself and was unstrapped and halfway out when the motor started up with a roar. What a relief. I have never contemplated baling out for fun I am too cowardly, but on this occasion I felt no fear. My Canadian mate was comforting me and telling me that he would stay with me until the "Fading Duck" arrived. Before pulling my plug I had told him to "shut up, I was not a baby". What a mate to have. His name was Smith and of course, he was Smithy. I never knew his first name. We had already lost two planes over France with this problem, so I kept the tank on and did the most gentle landing of my life. The mechanics solved the airlocking trouble and we lost no more planes. There were two very distinctive characters in our Squadron for a while. One was Colin Hodgkinson ó as legless as Douglas Bader, but not so well known. He had developed arms like a wrestler, and used to get irate when ve tactfully gave him the nearest plane for scrambles. Colin ó known as 'Hoppy" wrote an excellent book after the war and I made contact through :he publisher and we kept in touch for a while. The other character was a small New Zealander with 9 crosses on his plane, gained in the Middle East, who had a flow of language that would educate a bullockee. He was Ray Hesslyn ó "Hess", and he died a few years ago. I never met him again. On nicknames ó I can understand Chalky or Snow White and Rabbit ,',./arren but could never figure out the origin of Nobbie Clark. It was just' before Christmas when I made my last flight with 501. An English pilot who had more money than I did was too drunk to fly one day. We could not even wake him. I was off with a heavy cold, but as usual keen to get every flight I could. I volunteered to take his place. It was a high v.'eather recco deep in France. Right at the extremity of our trip Control scvised us that we had been intercepted by 30 plus bandits. When you are deep in enemy country and outnumbered by at least 15-1, it is not the time to pick a fight. My mate Nippy Knight and I hit the deck and came home in the treetops. I was none the worse for my trip until sometime the following night, I woke in great pain with blood pouring from my left ear. I was rushed to hospital and the next five days were hell. I was in pain, could not sleep or eat. Suddenly I went to sleep and when I woke I was starving and thirsty. The girls kept bringing me sandwiches and cups of tea. I had a medical and was given permission to fly up to 6,000ft, so had to leave the Squadron. It was while doing six weeks Flying Control that I met Des Scott as mentioned before. I had the choice of posting ó either test pilot, which is not as glamorous as it sounds, or to join No 1 Air Delivery Flight, based at Croydon. The main work was delivering new aircraft and taking old ones away when the pilots found them unflyable. That is a story on its own. My spell in Flying Control was very educational. Hawkinge was one of the crash dromes for crippled bombers. Some were minus an engine or one leg, and on one occasion a bomber came in on one engine roaring flat out and when it hit the ground it fell off. Once a Mitchell flew over and then decided it could not make base and came back. Five crew baled out but it then dropped like a stone taking the pilot and navigator with it. There was a large crater but nothing left of the crew. The Squadron Doctor was a keen photographer and always grabbed his camera when he picked up his bag. I really learned to fly with ADF. In the Squadron as a junior pilot I just flew from A to B as Number 2, using radio for navigation, but here, as there were so many frequencies, we flew entirely without radio and in all weathers. It was either on dead reckoning in cloud or following the railway, or just map reading. I also learned to fly many types of aircraft. Normally we had a six week conversion course to go onto strange aircraft, but here we just read the Air Transport Auxiliary Handbook and hoped for the best. The ATA was a civilian organisation, which worked in with us. Pilots were sometimes surprised to see a young blonde step out from the driving seat of a Lancaster. I was sad to leave Hawkinge but lucky to have got such an excellent posting. I made new friends and was glad it was not drogue towing or similar mundane jobs. We were fortunate to have the NZ Forces Club in Charing Cross Road to keep in touch with other Kiwis and the Overseas League got us tickets to shows that would have cost a month's pay to attend.
Croydon was similar to Hawkinge in appearance. It was just a grass paddock but in this case surrounded by Greater London. It was 10 miles from the City centre but was built up area all the way and beyond. The large Croydon Hotel was our Mess and Billets. Very handy all round. We had a fleet of two Dominies, two Proctors, an Anson and a Miles Magister. We took turn about carting each other around the country and often clocked up several hours a day as passengers and only had a half-hour or less to go into our logbooks.
We became so blasÈ that we simply went to sleep or read a book instead of looking at the view. If we got bored we would throw something at the Pilot. He would retaliate with manoeuvres that guaranteed airsickness. As mentioned earlier we relied on the ATA Manual for information on aircraft. It was just stalling speed and where things were. On one of my first Typhoon deliveries I was flying on the two wing tanks and one was emptying faster than the other. Would I suck air when empty? I kept going, and found later that it sealed on becoming empty. What a relief! It is only in retrospect that I realise how much power I had as compared to being a junior in the Squadron. I could authorise my own flights, fly anything I felt I could manage, make priority one phone calls, usually reserved for Station Commanders. I could take a plane with me when I went on leave, visit old friends and then hop on the train and go home. I could fly anywhere I liked as though I owned the place, the only restriction was that over a built up area we must fly at a height that in the event of engine failure we could glide clear to open country. At that time every home in London had a fire in almost every bedroom and it was known as 'the big smoke'. Flying over the industrial towns, even at two miles high we could smell the smoke, in fog or near smog. I developed my own method of navigation in the hope of staying alive. Anybody who knows Britain knows that it has an artificial climate due to the Gulf Stream, but the Arctic Current has an adverse effect and that causes fog. We had to fly in conditions that would be considered impossible in New Zealand. I used to set course on the wind given me by the Met and after about five minutes I would check the drift with a known landmark, then double the correction for another five minutes and then halve it. That brought me back on track and I had a new course. I often flew as far as Scotland on this dead reckoning method in fog or cloud and always came down in the right place or I would not be here now. One of the silliest things I was ever forced into was when three of us were ground hopped to a drome in an old Blenheim to shift three Typhoons. The viz was barely across the drome. I said 'no way', but the Russian said he would give it a go and the Norwegian just went to his plane. I had no choice. At 300mph there was only about two seconds viz in front. Somehow I made the strange drome; the Norwegian was there just ahead of me but no Russian. We drank to his demise that night, but next day we got a call from Occupied France ó he dodged a chimney and lost the ground, never saw the Channel and landed in the right place in France. My first trip to Scotland nearly ended in disaster. Being new to the job I ran out of maps and had to do the last 100 miles on memory and guesswork. I was flying up the West Coast of Scotland, which is similar to Fiordland in New Zealand. The viz was bad as usual and it was hard to know which was mainland and which was islands. When I figured the time was ripe, I climbed into cloud and crossed the mountains to the East Side where the Station "Ayr" was. I was lucky enough to come down on flat land not far from the drome. I never made the same mistake again. One day a group of us set off for Scotland in Spitfires. We stopped off at a Polish Station to refuel. One of our number Jimmy Ketchem was delayed starting and before he could get his gas, the Polish Squadron arrived, and had to be refuelled. When we had finished lunch we were told our planes had been fed. The Poles always said 'yes' to everything. When Jimmy pressed the button on the fuel gauge to get a reading the thing read empty. He was over the mountains. By going on to full lean and economical cruise he made his landing safely, but when he gave it a burst to taxi in the motor gave a blurt and stopped.
One of our Spitfires
Gatwick, Redh ill and North Weald
We were forced to leave Croydon after a few months because we were surrounded by balloons and that was dangerous. We moved to North Weald near Chichester. It was here that our same American Jimmy Ketchem was commissioned. The CO was the Duke of something, and Jimmy's last words when he left the Sgt's Mess were - "That he was not going to take any crap from a Phoney Dook". The story goes that the first person he met in the bar seemed a decent joker and after a few drinks they were great friends. I don't need to tell you who this bloke was. Jimmy was bolshie like me, but a good flier and good friend. It was an interesting and exciting life, even if our casualties were high at times. I might set off in the Dominie, then shift to a Tiger Moth, then a Typhoon or Mustang and back to the Dominie while it went around gather up the flock. My first Typhoon gave me some worry. I was flying on wing tanks and the port tank was running dry. I wondered if it would suck air but it self-sealed on becoming empty. The second Typhoon nearly killed me. I took off when I felt it had flying speed and climbed at 145mph. I levelled off and the speed was still the same. I dived with the same result. The speedo was just not working. No pilot would ever knowingly take a plane up without that most important instrument. I chose the Manston crash runway. It was 5 miles long and was used by crippled bombers. I came in at about 200mph and instead of holding off until it stalled, I was stupid enough to try and wheel it in like one does with a Spitfire. The Spitties wheels are halfway back, whereas the Typhoon with its snub nose has the wheels at the front. Every time I touched the ground it hurtled back into the air. Eventually the bounces got less until it sat down almost at the end of the five miles. Then a main tyre blew. Any earlier and it would have cartwheeled. These massive machines had an H-type engine, that is two horizontally opposed six-cylinder motors joined by a single crankshaft. They were 2,000 plus HP, used 85 gallons of fuel at economical cruise and 280 at combat revs, 24 cylinders and 48 spark plugs. Typhoons had a nasty habit of losing their tails under stress. Once I was in a country pub when I heard two coming in from the coast. They dived to do a victory "Vertical" roll. One made it; the other lost his tail at the bottom of the drive. I got outside in time to see the pall of smoke as he crashed and the tail was fluttering down like a sycamore leaf. There was another spectacular crash near Croydon. A Lockheed Lightning came down from the usual operating height of 40,000 ft, possibly due to oxygen failure. It made a terrible wailing sound and we went to have a look. It was spread over miles, and every bit was burning. A farm yokel who joined us made the comment "E won't chew no more gum". The only prang "crash" I had in my career when I was a pilot was with a Boulton Paul Defiant. This was an obsolete aircraft that had been used as a fighter-bomber early in the war. It resembled a Hurricane, but had a machine gun fitted in the rear cockpit. It spelled doom for a few Jerries who did not notice the difference and came in to close for the kill and met the machine gun. I picked this thing up from a Maintenance Unit, which had a very short landing strip. I tried several times to get off, but could not get anywhere near enough speed up. Eventually I got the boys to back me into a corner and nold on tight while I belted the motor up as far as it would go. They then gave me a push and we were off. This time I felt I might make it and could not abort. I took the wheels up and by the grace of God the under-powered thing flew. My destination was St Merrits in Wales, a Fleet Air Arm Station. I did not notice this and when I saw a sealed runway I figured it was a bomber station, I came in fast and when I applied the brakes there were not any. There were a lot of buses at the end of the runway, and it was a bit dicey to go over them, so I turned off onto the alternative strip. It was pretty short also, and it was a ditch that stopped me. There was not much damage but the engine separated. I was taking the thing to be broken up anyway. The Matelots liked to have a crack at the Air Force and gave me an adverse report. It was bad flying, I admit. I pleaded unfamiliarity of type but the answer was a backhanded compliment that a man of my experience should not be bothered by type. In due course I was sent to Group Captain Maxwell the leader of 11 Group to be dealt with. My mate flew me some distance in the Dominie; a Jeep picked me up and took me to the great man's secret headquarters. He was a charming fellow, and we had a pleasant talk as man-to-man and a cup of coffee. At the end he said, "I know you blokes don't break aircraft on purpose". He wrote, "Admonished" in my logbook and ! was returned the way I had come. What an autograph, and what a cost to the taxpayer. I had a problem with a Spitfire one day. The wheels are hydraulic but the flaps and brakes are operated by compressed air. I was coming into land at Westhampnett when there was a loud bang and my plane dropped like a stone. I thought the tank had burst but Colin Grey had the same trouble as mentioned in his book. It was a seal that gave way and my flaps blew up. I gave it all the gun I could and just managed to keep off the ground. I chose the long runway at Tangmere, and when my legs had stopped shaking I landed safely. I was surprised how the plane kept rolling on the seal. I could have walked beside it. It was one of the episodes I call shaky doo's, because 't makes one shaky especially in the legs. I only had two miserable experiences With the Proctor apart from the time I was teaching a bloke to fly it. The brake lever in the middle is like a car brake with a press knob at the top. You pulled the lever to brake, and left the knob alone as it locked the brake. This bloke applied brake and was desperately trying to release it by pressing this knob. Our tail was up and the prop was almost on the ground when I forcibly yanked him off it. The first high drama was when I had to take some engine parts up north. I stopped to pick them up and just as I was leaving an adverse weather report came. There was severe thunder ahead. The Control fired a Verey cartridge but my tail was up and I did not see it. Very soon we were in the thick of it; I had the WAAF fitter on board. She looked after the Gypsy Queen motors on the Proctors and Dominies and the little motor on the Magister. I don't know if she also did the radial motors on the Anson. Ground crew always appreciated a ride. On Bomber Stations it was customary to take crew up after a major overhaul, to put their money were their mouth was, so to speak. Right in the middle of the storm, our motor began to splutter. I put down as soon as I could and it was on the American Station. While we had lunch the RAF boys came from a nearby Station and sorted our problems. It appeared the previous pilot had put 120 octane into the tank instead of the usual 87 octane and burned out the plugs. It always amazed me how Yanks could put away ice cream. We were given chunks like a pound of butter. I only managed half, but Yanks were going back for a second helping. I cannot remember whether we made our destination, but we arrived back at Croydon in fog and almost dark. I was circling what I thought was Croydon, and an old Handly Page Hambden was also in the circuit. Suddenly it dived, so I charged to where it had gone down and there was a minute chink in the murk. We managed to put down but it was so dark by then that the Jeep had to come and guide us to the Hangar. The other occasion was my last flight with ADF. I took two blokes down to Cornwall to pick up some planes. It got murky on the way down as a front was moving in. The planes were not ready so as we did not want to be stuck in a dump like that, we decided to come home. The front had moved in quite a lot by then, but I knew the way and pressed on. I knew the valleys fairly well. The Frenchman began to panic, saying, "We prang". The Pole drew a knife and said, "He would cut his bloddy throat if he did not shut up". We got back safely but I often wondered if those two ever flew together again.
The Proctor with the Pole and Frenchman On that dramatic trip
I often had to abort a trip because of conditions. Once I tried to land at Squires Gate near Blackpool, but the fog was so thick, I circled the drome and Control fired many rockets and several mortars, but I saw none of them and landed elsewhere. I heard later that I was right over the drome. That Station had the worst food of the many I visited. They all had the same rations, but I could tell at a glance how much good was being siphoned off to the 'black market'. There was not even milk available. The little bit that had not been stolen was stirred into the porridge. Gatwick was one of the Stations we used later on. It had an annoying problem, the railway was opposite our Dispersal, and in take off we would fix our sights on a train, which then moved and gave us the impression we were skidding. The British trains were very smooth. Once I was in a train at a station when we started to move. We were what I thought was full speed when the scenery stopped. My head nearly fell off. It was the other train that had moved off. We were very innocent in those days, and illicit drugs were virtually unknown in our circles. I often wondered why girls with Yanks were so biddable although did not appear to be intoxicated. They moved when the Yank moved and looked right through you. The word stoned was something I had not heard of. We told stories about Nancy Boys and their lisping and mincing walk but it was in the crew room one day that one pilot said bluntly exactly what Poofs did. I did not believe that humans could sink so low and said so. Several others agreed, but another said it was true. The subject closed with one bloke saying that he hoped nobody was after him as he kept his Luger under nis pillow. Most of us know less of the finer points of sex than the average school child of today. I never heard of Lesbians and wondered why some girls danced together when there were plenty of men available. We sometimes used to break them up, but the naked hatred in their eyes made us let them go, and they would go back together again. Aircraft were subjected to a daily inspection, known as DI. The log was signed by each tradesman, and then the senior man known as Chiefie would sign the final spot and put in the date. The Poles and the Czechs had a bad -abit of leaving the date until a ferry pilot arrived. When you find a plane with a flat battery and a flat tyre, and blackberry growing on it, the fresh DI does not make sense. We used to get the plane operational and run it up to see if ï -,ad enough power to take off. There were amusing incidents from time-to-time. One friend visiting old tends did the usual beat up on leaving. Having had a little more to drink than usual he made a good job of it. Later in the day he felt he might have oi,erdone it slightly, and rang to apologise. The Exchange girl said she could not put him through to Flying Control as some maniac had beat the place up and cut the telephone wires. He said it was not important and hung up.
On another occasion a Czech pilot was bothering the Met to let him go and visit friends. The weather was too bad to fly. Eventually they said, go and kill yourself if you want to. He held the plane down and just skimmed the Admin. Block. The CO was in his office when the light was blotted out by a Spitfire, and the roar gave him a terrible fright. The Pilot was duly on the mat and as usual pleaded not much English. He said the weather was bad, and he was just lifting off then he saw "Boolsheet Castle". The CO did not buy that and he was grounded for a week. When I had a plane to deliver, I would sign for it and it was my responsibility until I handed it over to the new Operator. With a Spitfire I signed for the plane valued at £12,000 and a clock at £10. They were good bedside clocks and tended to go missing. The second half of 1944 was spent at these Stations. All over Britain there were signs saying "Careless talk costs lives". Back at Hawkinge we used to have two Americans at a time, to learn how we did things. They were usually a Captain and a Major. One Major used to call up his old Station and ask on the open line, where the boys were going to bomb next day. I have often wondered how many lives that cost. On 9th September 1943 the RAF turned on a grand scheme to decimate the Luftwaffe in France and Belgium. A well-equipped raiding party left Britain, with troops and landing crafts. They were to go halfway across the Channel and then turn back. At the same time every possible fighter plane was mustered and painted with black and white stripes for quick ID and go over and shoot down hundred of Jerries. There were five Squadrons jammed into Hawkinge. That is 60 planes in addition to the regular ones. They looked like a swarm of wasps. I don't know whether the Yanks were responsible for a security leak, but the Germans got to hear of the plot. This 'Anal Armada' set off in fine weather. The Jerries hid all their planes in trees and hangars and took a day off. One plane was shot down. I believe a trainee pilot who had lost his way was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were more successful back in 1940, when a German raiding party tried to land in Britain and do some commando-type damage. The Brits did not have the means to counter this force in the normal manner, so thought up an original idea. When the Germans were about halfway across, hundreds of drums of petrol were spread all round and set alight. There were square miles of flaming sea. It was rather cruel, but I did not think it was worse than bombing and strafing. When you have your backs to the wall it calls for drastic measures. The public were kept in the dark, but people who were there and saw the result at first hand told me that dead Germans were washed up on the high tides for quite a while in the hundreds. Back in 1944 the Allies were building for the Second Front for some time. We could see the numbers of vehicles stowed in woods all over the South of England. We only discussed what we saw in our bedrooms. It was 6th June that General Eisenhower launched the biggest military crusade the world has known since recorded times. I saw it all from the air. All the roads leading to Portsmouth were full of traffic. It reminded me of blood running through arteries. It was so well organised that there were no traffic jams, just a steady flow. At Portsmouth itself there was virtually a bridge leading towards Normandy. The boats were cheek by jowl, and the air cover was massive right up to the Lockheed Lightning's at 40,000 ft, with just their vapour trails showing. It was a savage scene and the only other time in my life that I was so moved was when the Americans let off an atomic bomb in the atmosphere in 1964. I happened to go outside and saw this great orb in the northern sky with its tentacles spread right across to the horizon. After the invasion started we were so busy that I never had a shave for 10 days and was too tired to write anything in my diary. About this time I decided to have a go at flying twin aircraft. I chose the Anson, a very stable and safe aircraft. It carried 8 passengers in peacetime, but our machines were modified to carry 12. The CO arranged the flights so I would do the first leg solo to get the feel of it. However things got changed around and when I got to the plane there were 11 people sitting there waiting for the pilot. I flew it all day without mishap. In the mess that night one of the regular pilots remarked that he did not know that I flew the Anson. I can still see his face when I said I had never flown any twin before and he was one of my passengers.
Shortly after a dozen Mosquitoes came in to be shifted. I put my name down, but perhaps fortunately the first one that took off with an experienced Czech pilot lost a motor just as if left the ground. He could not correct in time and it rolled and crashed. It was spread over miles and nothing was left of him or the plane. I said to the boss that it might be better if I got a few more hours on the Anson.
At this point I could perhaps comment on how the British love pageantry and fancy dress. Bell hops and gatekeepers wore the most elaborate uniforms, and in this book I have included a fishmonger who operated a mobile stall. He wore a top hat, swallow tail coat, riding breeches and wither gaiters or flying boots.
Fishmonger in Stamford, England ó Top hat and all
London was full of foreign troops and some of them wore very colourful uniforms. A porter and a Polish General looked much the same. One day two men in Luftwaffe uniforms were let loose in London. It was a week before a sharp-eyed Military Policeman spotted them. Towards the end of 1944 I got my full flying grading back and was commissioned. At the same time my repatriation papers came through, as I had been three years overseas. I paid one of my last visits to Kiwi House run by Lady Hewitt in De Vere Gardens, just past the Albert Hall. The Brits could not understand how Officers and NCO's could share rooms and meal tables at that place. We never even gave it a thought, and it was a lovely place to go for weekends. I said goodbye to the fine people at ADF and was sent to Brighton.
The Author 1944 Identity Card
There was a wait of several weeks for a boat. I came home on the "Empress of Scotland", formerly "Empress of Japan", but the name change was for obvious reasons. I met my 2.5-year-old son and was glad to have a loving wife to come home to. The day after I got back to the farm I was drafting sheep as though I had never been away. My father was in failing health and he had bought me a saddle and a Border collie dog, so my fate was sealed. I would have liked to continue flying but my wife had been through enough, and I was a bit old at 28.
Renee ó Who waited for me
Home at last
There were jobs coming up but mainly for pilots with multi-engined experience. Strangely enough while I was away, my previous life was like a dream, but the moment I came home, my flying days became a distant memory.
My farming days ó Buster and Konaki
After 35 years of dairy farming I branched out into sheep and cattle and then 10 years of citrus growing, followed by 10 years of semi-retirement and finally two years of town living, which I am enjoying at the time of writing.
V1 Doodle Bugs and V2 Flying Bombs
Before starting on Flying Bombs that became known as Doodle Bugs after the American version of Dodgem Cars, I will recall some of the unusual things I encountered in London. The locals used to say France for Frenchman, Germany for Germans anc London for any silly old bugger who comes there. As I have mentioned HydE Park orators are known world wide and other well known characters were thE newspaper sellers who walked around between 11 pm and midnight with e few stale papers in a bag. When they were near anybody, the said softly -French Letter Sir". That kept them within the law. We often hear how soldiers who became disorientated due to shell shock were either shot in the field by Officers who kept behind and only carried revolvers, hardly the guns to shoot Germans, and others who were tried and shot for cowardice. As their minds had been blown they were probably not aware of what was happening, but it was an injustice that can never be put right. Their accusers were mostly men with bought commissions and had not been in the field of battle and never knew the circumstances. In the Air Force we had a different problem known as being flak happy. If an Airman flew too hard and for too long he became reckless and was a menace to himself and others. The cure was a week in London or at Dutton Homestall a retreat. I was sent there once and it was very restful. I had not reached the flak happy stage, but I had lost so many friends in such a short period that I felt I had as many friends on the other side of Jordan as those still living and was starting to get reckless. In the Second War shell shock was recognised and when a man started going around in circles he was taken from the front line. Now to Doodle Bugs. It must have been around September 1944 that I was awakened one night by the sound of a very sick bomber returning. Suddenly there was silence and then the sickening thump as it went in. I though "poor Buggers", and went back to sleep. Soon after the same thing happened again, and by the third, I felt there was something funny going on. By morning there were stories of Robots, and Flying Bombs, but the name Doodle Bug came later. These were indeed flying bombs. With a 12-foot wingspan and a one-ton bomb in the nose, and these things were programmed to fly to somewhere near London. At this point the elevators dropped and the machine bunted and went straight down. The motor cutting was not intended. When the craft bunted the fuel went to the top of the tank and the motor starved. These things kept coming over night and day for months. They were timed to stop :eople from sleeping. When one went in another could be heard coming. I was building a model aeroplane and it was hard to concentrate.
The bugs looked like a dagger flying backwards with a sheet of flame behind twice its length. They were of very simple construction. Just a fuselage like a plane, with stubby wings. Mounted on a tower, was what looked like a cannon facing backwards; at the front end was a radiator like opening where air was sucked in with the fuel mixture. A hot plug ignited and it pulsated 30 times per second. It sounded like a heavy aircraft. They travelled fast and only Mosquitoes and Tempests could catch them. Even then they took a lot of punishment being made of steel. I chased one in a Spitfire one day but was too late in my intercept, and fired some rounds after it although out of effective range. The ground fire was a bit late and most of the flak was around me. I let him go, but it was fun getting a squirt at him. Perhaps I should explain how the bug kept going. When it fired, the vacuum left inside sucked in another charge. When I was with 501 we often looked at supposed launching sights, but they were well concealed and the things I saw bore no resemblance to subsequent pictures of the sites. They came charging out of a hill on a railway line. They were so inaccurate; they were spread all over a 50-mile radius around London. The V2's were quite different. They went up 70 miles and came straight down leaving a trail like 'Jack and the Beanstalk'. There was naturally no warning. I saw many come down but was fortunately in another part of London at the time. The V1's sometimes misbehaved. I once heard one coming low when in a shelter and led the way up to have a look. It hit the ground not far ahead and blew us all back down the steps To round off I will recount how careful one has to be in a foreign country. An airman on the run in France about to cross the road looked right and then left. An off-duty German Soldier having coffee across the road decided that this chap was from the other side of the Channel and arrested him. A German on the loose in London signed the Hotel register as Georg, the German way of spelling George. We were always told to go to a peasant's house in France if in need. He would bound to be a patriot, whereas a big house was likely to be a collaborator. The only two people to trust were Priests and Prostitutes. Fortunately I was never put to the test. After D-day the Doodle bugs did not last long.
Air Pageant Gore 1968
Some Wartime Pilots returned to their previous occupations when hostilities ceased some mainly multis joined Airlines, and others did spasmodic flying with Aero Clubs. An ageing father and the family farm decided my fate. I did a little flying but never got to the stage of getting a licence. Here are a few highlights. Soon after coming home I took my sister for a flight at Rotorua. At about 500 ft, she looked over the side and said, "Won't this thing go any faster?" In a Tiger she would have known how fast we were going. Many years later from the same drome, my son who was a keen flier, took me up to have a look at Mt Tarawera. The only plane available was a beat-up Airtourer. We had not gone very far when the control panel fell out into my lap. I had to lift it up from time to time so the lad could read speed etc. In the war years I very rarely thought about the fan stopping, and in fact it only happened once when there was an airlock in the drop tank. On this trip I kept looking for smoke in case we had to drop down. We had a good look at the long crater in the mountain and it looked no different to what it must have been after the eruption. In the sixties I joined Tauranga Aero Club, but did not participate much in Club activities until 1968 when I joined a party to go to the Annual Air Show at Gore. That was my swan song in flying. We had been having lovely \veather for weeks, and I had dreams of flying down to the Southern Alps in sunshine. Came 7th March and there was a cyclone coming down from the North, and a cold front coming up from the South. I looked in at the Club and to my horror the weatherman said conditions would be all right. In the UK tiveather came from the Continent and was easy to predict. Here it comes from the ocean and is much harder to predict, but even under those circumstances, this decision was hard to understand. I had spent the last Pear of the war ferrying without radio, and over there forecasts were always spot-on. About five planes took off. I never felt quite comfortable with the casual atmosphere in the Club with :art-time pilots as against the regulated professionalism of the Air Force. The two pilots filling out the flight plan were having difficulty, until I pointed :Jt that one was giving the wrong courses and the other was writing them in -.7e wrong column. When you have done that job almost every day for a year Ft is like riding a bike, you never forget the technique. The weather was starting to get boisterous, and the turbulence was the worst I had ever known. Of course in a lap belt it is not the same as being strapped into a fighter, but our maps were hitting the roof. I was in the back seat and out of force of habit kept map reading as we went along. Down in the middle of the Island, the pilot and his mate said they were not too sure where we were. I said that if they kept to the same course we would be over Taihape in eight minutes. We were, and soon after we reached Paraparaumu. We spent the night on hard boards in the Aero Club, with people walking over us all night. About 11 pm a bloke brought a Dakota in and for some reason left the motors idling for about half-an-hour until somebody yelled out, "Turn that bloody thing off". He did that and apart from being walked over we spent the night in fitful sleep. Next morning the weather was getting worse with very low ceiling. I suggested that we could make it to Nelson if we kept down to about 50 ft. One of the young blokes giving me a pitying look said, "We don't do that kind of thing nowadays". One of our planes had slipped over the Strait the night before and he was there for a fortnight. We headed North in poor visibility and shocking turbulence, thought about putting down at Waiouru, but the lonely unmanned drome was not very attractive. I was holding the handle on this leg, and followed the huge pylons towards Taupo, at about 500-ft. When the murk turned into solid cloud I looked at the Skipper and nodded. I turned around and headed for New Plymouth. Soon after that the turbulence got to me and although I had never been airsick before, I could fly no longer and wanted to die. When we got to New Plymouth I was too miserable to ring my eldest son who was working in the Wales Bank at Waitara. I think some of the boys took on food there, and we made it to Hamilton. My wife had already decided that she was a widow. I could not communicate because we did not know where we were going, or whether we could get to where we wanted to go. We were all thankful to be safely on the ground, and no longer had thoughts of floating above the Southern Alps in bright sunshine. We hired a mini bus and came home. It was two weeks before we could bring the planes back over the Kaimais. That was my swansong for flying and I felt that someone up there was telling me that I had pushed my luck long enough. I have had a few flights since but nothing big. Old age has to be met with dignity, but it is nice to have 'been there and done that'.
Non Flying Memories
Most of the lads in that theatre would remember Ma's Bar. Ma Sullivan an an eatery in Charing Cross Road and for some reason had a soft spot for Kiwis. We always were served at one end of the bar and were given ,vonderful food, while lesser mortals only ate baked beans and spaghetti. One day I mentioned to Ma that I was going into hospital the next few days for an operation. She pulled out a fruitcake weighing several pounds and nsisted I take so I would not starve to death. I refused point blank as I did not want to be under obligation to this old lady that I hardly knew. When I left became aware of Ma walking beside me. She said she would stay with me until I took the cake. I gave her a hug and took it. I was very glad of the extra food, as the civilian hospitals were a disgrace. think most of their rations went to the black market. Even the main meals ,vould be practically nothing. I encountered the same thing when ferrying in the last years of the war. Although all stations received the same rations it was obvious at a glance how much fiddling was going on. Military hospitals had better rations, but one quaint custom stays in my memory. When the Doctor came around it was like the Second Coming of Christ. A fellow would announce the doctor's imminent arrival and we were ordered to lie at attention, no matter how sick we were. It meant lying on one's back with the arms stiffly at the side. We kiwis would get under the blankets and pretend we were asleep. I spent about six months in hospitals and sick bays so gained a fair knowledge of the conditions. One stay was self-induced. I was almost ready :o leave a sick bay when I decided to do a good deed before going. We were short of firewood and there was a large dead tree nearby. I borrowed a six-foot saw and an axe from a farmer, and by the end of the day it was all in twelve-inch blocks. Next morning my right arm was in plaster. It was two years since I had done manual work, and my muscles had fused to their casings like a two-stroke motor without oil. I was there for another six weeks. As Brits had a thing about class distinction, and as mentioned earlier regarding Lady Hewitt who was a Kiwi by birth, and could not understand their attitude. After all we came from the same background, and a Sgt Pilot today was usually a PO or more tomorrow, unless clobbered in the meantime. Another interesting lady I remember was Blanche Davis. She was sister to Sir Earnest Davis, once Mayor of Auckland. She had a huge flat in the most shionable part of London, and used to invite groups of Kiwis to dinner. ,Vhat that place was worth then or now, I shudder to think. On one visit to London we went to the House of Commons. Their premises had been bombed and they were using the Lords Chambers. It was the height of the Greek campaign, and I saw Anthony Eden in full cry-. Winston was not there that day. We went on the House of Lords where bearded old men were discussing home rule for the Gold Coast. Some of them were asleep and I was told some were imbeciles with their keepers to give them something to do. I doubt if any know there was a war on. Hyde Park is a place that stands out in my memory. It is known as a safety valve for radicals. One bloke known as Mad Mac used to walk round in circles, raving about 'down with the ones who were up, and up with the ones who were up'. He was unintelligible, and purple faced. When he had done enough he simply got off his soapbox and walked away like a normal person. The great disparity between British and Commonwealth Service Personnel and the American rates of pay caused a little friction, but in the main the Brits took the philosophical attitude that America was a rich country, and English had been bled dry with three years of war, and just accepted the situation. Those were tough days and life was often short and sweet and the bombs and later doodle bugs became part of life, but in spite of all the mayhem around girls could travel to work at all times of night or day in the blackout without fear of being molested. There was one case of a WAAF being raped by an airman who had just joined the service. The event and the Karl HuIton murder made headlines in the National Newspapers. It was just as well the police got to that airman first. It is sad that in New Zealand today rapes, murders, muggings and armed robberies are daily occurrences. What has happened to discipline and respect? told you earlier of the Wilkies in Scotland who gave me a home away from home, and when I was in England I had "Aunt Rose", who would have been my real Aunt if my Uncle Harold had not been killed in the last few months of the First World War. He had been wounded once in his four years of hell in the trenches, but was patched up and sent back to France. The second time he was wounded, he was sent back to England and succumbed to pneumonia in an English hospital and is buried in Brockwood Cemetery. Rose Apted, aged 62, never married and lived in Dartford, 20 miles up the Thames from London. Rose and her companion Mrs Bloyce always gave me a home away from home and attended to any maintenance on my clothes, and always saved their meagre rations to feed me. Fortunately my parcels from home equalled the score. On one occasion in the trip to Dartford at the height of an air raid I saw 7 flamers shot down. Most were shot by ack-ack fire but on some occasions the guns stopped when the search lights had the victim, and a night fighter completed the job and then shone his navigation lights for a moment. There were no lights on the train, so I had a good view of the operation. One night at her nephew's place, there was a fierce raid on. The little boy and girl were in the Morrison Shelter. There were two types of shelter ó the Anderson Shelter, which was a hole in the garden with a roof over it, and the Morrison ó which was just a reinforced, and the children were underneath. These two frightened kiddies were there, and the next time I saw the boy John was when he visited me in 1996. He was in his fifties by then, and told me he had vowed that if ever he came to New Zealand he would come and see me.
Aunt Rose and John My second home from home in Dartmouth, UK
Noel James came in to my life twice. When I came home there was a new chemist in Te Puke and when I visited the shop we looked at each other and said the same thing ó "I know you, you bastard, but were from?" It took six months to solve that one. I went in one day and he said ó "I've got you". He showed me his logbook, where FO James took LAC Benner night flying in a Hawker Hind in 1941. Noel went on to fly in the Pacific, and as Wing Commander James and led a Squadron of Grumman Avengers. They were dive-bombers. Noel remained in Te Puke for at least 30 years, and was such an understanding person, he was known as Dr James. His wife died some years ago, and he later married Kath, a widow of another well loved person ó Pat Hannay. Noel is now retired in Whitianga and like me, his memories of flying and chemistry are a distant memory. Two of my closest mates in the war were sadly both killed. Owen Sutherland of Mount Maunganui was posted to a Tiger Moth instructing job much to his dismay. He conned some mates in a nearby Bomber Squadron to take him as an extra on a raid to Berlin. Need I say more? The other mate was Pete Lory from Putaruru. He went out East from Britain, and was shot up one day. He baled out but sadly his chute was also shot and he was killed on impact. On the average about 50% were lucky and 50% were not.
My two closest mates Owen Sutherland and Peter Lory ó both killed
Johnny Houlton as mentioned before, founded the Fighter Pilots Association and in 1994 was sent to England for the Normandy re-enactment, where he was lucky enough to be reunited with his old Spitfire, which had been restored. He also met his old ground crew after 50years. That machine is one of only three still flying and is owned by a lady pilot. Johnny stayed with me for a few days in 1996 and died soon after. They say old soldiers never die, they just slowly fade away.
Johnny Houlton visiting me in 1996
We did what needed to be done and by the grace of God some of us are still alive, some only just. It is time to pass the baton.
Peacetime After my aborted trip to Gore, I decided it was time to quit thoughts of flying, and concentrate on farming and raising a family.
Top Photo -The younger Benner Boys -David, Gary, Stephen, Maurice and Tony Bottom Photo - The older Benner Boys -Tony, Maurice, Stephen, Gary and David
In 1992 after all of the boys had left home, I sold one of our properties and bought a boat, and traded our caravan for a motor home. It was a six-berth ex-Maui Van only three years old in new condition
Our Motor Home
We went around the North Island many times and in 1998 did the South Island in 70 days. With a motor home one could travel very cheaply. Spreading the Strait crossing over 70 days the total cost of food, rent, drink and diesel it was $50 per day for everything. The central object being the first Wanaka Air Show. There I had the pleasure of meeting the legendary Tim Wallis. We parked out Van at the Airfield and had a wonderful time. Sadly the Spitfire had not arrived for the show, which gave us an excuse to come back in 1990. Both shows were wonderful, about 14,000 people attended the first one, and 28,000 for the second. It is gratifying to hear that numbers have increased to over 120,000 at the recent show. Tim let me climb into his Mark V Spitfire and get the feel of it. As it was worth about $1million he did not suggest that I took it for a burn! Perhaps that was just as well as it was 45 years since I had flown one.
Me getting into Tim Wallis' Spitfire
The Mark XIV that was his undoing was not an easy plane to fly. I can only say that it was over-powered, like a 12-ft runabout with a 200hp motor. If the motor was used coarsely the anti-roll trim could drag the tyres of their rims. In Tim's case, my theory is that when he felt his wing dropping he gave more power to bring it up, the result was to increase the problem and the plane went into a roll. Only a very experienced pilot could have seen what was happening. It was good that Tim survived, but it ended his flying career. We went for a flight in the Warbirds Dakota which was thrilling but just as we were moving out for takeoff the pilot asked his rousie if he had removed the control locks, he had not, and also some of the things in the cockpit were tied up with winder twine. Not like Air Force days. It saw the Sea Fury for the first time. It was the successor to the Hawker Tempest. I thought the Beaufighter engine was big, this thing was bigger. The whole show was awe-inspiring. The ancient engine show run by Tim's brother had a steam truck, a single cylinder tractors and quaint old engines I had never heard of. This year with the added attraction of the Bleriot plane and the little Russian fighters it must have been some show.
A beautifully restored Tiger Moth at Wanaka
Fighter Pilot's Association
About 1986 Johnny Houlton, one of the last Commanding Officers of the New Zealand 485 Squadron and a well known Ace decided to form an association so former Pilots could find each other for comradeship in the declining years. He formed the Fighter Pilot's Association, which meet every year at the Officer's Mess at Whenuapai. I first became aware of this Club in 1993, and attended two Luncheons. I felt that Whenuapai was a bit far away for our ageing Members in the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Rotorua and Taupo, so suggested to Dick Ashton, the Secretary, that we form a branch down here. He agreed and made me official organiser. We had 28 members and by having an inaugural meeting at my home, the word got around and we built up to 80, in spite of a few casualties due to age. We have had a luncheon every year since and some half-year luncheons as well.
Report of First Annual Luncheon of BOP Chapter of the Fighter Pilots Association.
The first annual meeting of the Bay Of Plenty Chapter met for a luncheon at the Cosmopolitan Club, Mount Maunganui on Monday, 19 September 1994. About 68 attended which including wives and guests attended and including the National President, Warren Schrader and Mrs Schrader from Auckland. Well known World War ll Fighter Pilot Johnny Houlton, DFC, was guest speaker. He was the official New Zealand representative at the recent Normandy Re-enactment. He gave an interesting account of his experiences, and what it was like being reunited with his old Spitfire OU-V, which had been salvaged and restored several years ago. He also met again his old ground grew from No. 485 New Zealand Squadron, and the lady who was an ATA Pilot and delivered this plane to Johnny in 1944. The BOP Branch of the Fighter Pilots Association was the brainchild of Vern Benner who felt that Whenuapai and Ohakea were getting too far away for many elderly members, including himself. He was appointed official organiser for BOP, Rotorua, Taupo and Waikato. The response has been terrific with an increase of 50% in membership. Sadly some members were unable, for health reasons, to attend, but they will receive a report of the meeting. The catering staff deserves a special mention for providing a truly excellent meal at a very competitive price, and the management for their great co-operation with the project. Retired Commodore Stewart Boys ó Vice President of the Association, was a natural choice for the leader of this Chapter. He is ably assisted by Stan Browne, with Cedric Young of Maketu as treasurer. 1 he tourth member ot this team, which will be known as either :he Gang of Four or the Bay Boys, is Vern Benner, Secretary-organiser, although he is also called a hustler and a stirrer amongst other things. Stew Boys welcomed the guests, and thanked the President for coming from Auckland for our launch. Vern Benner spoke briefly, explaining why the Branch had been formed and thanked members for their great response. He read a message of goodwill from Ace Pilot Colin Grey, who is making good progress after a stroke. Sir Kenneth Hayr, the Patron was unable to be present as he is still in the UK. Some members met old friends that they had not seen or heard of for over half a century. A good time was had by all, and :he general feeling was that it does not matter how big they were in 1944, they were all equal in 1994, and needing friendship and love.
Air Commodore Stewart Boys at Reunion Lunch
Wartime Kiwi Jet Pilot to address USAF Staff College.
Wing Commander Warren Schrader was Commander of the only Wartime _ et Squadron to see combat, No. 616 RAF Meteor Squadron. He had been recently invited to address the United States Air Force Staff College at the annual gathering of Eagles at Maxwell AFB at Alabama. Warren (Smoky) Schrader who also flew and evaluated an ME.262 and lives in retirement in Auckland, having concluded his flying career as an Airline Pilot with Air New Zealand. Joining Mr Schrader as one of 20 "Eagles" invited to the event will be Diether Lukesch of Germany, the first man to pilot a jet bomber in combat. '.'arcel Albert, of France a quadruple ace and hero of the Soviet Union, Peter Twiss of the UK, the first man to fly faster than 1,000mph, and Sabiha G 3kcen of Turkey, who in 1937 became the first female fighter pilot. The next year I arranged to have Tim Wallis as guest speaker. The day came, but by lunch time there was no sign of Tim. My son Gary who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, got to work with his cellphone and located him at Christchurch, just back from Russia where he had been buying planes and was delayed. He was very embarrassed but said if he had 20 minutes he could do our talk. Gary hooked up the phone to the Club public address system, and Tim gave us 50-minutes as if he was in the room. What a relief for me. In 1998 Gary again, being a Whiz kid, set up a big screen and brought along a simulator, where pilots could sit in a chair and use a joystick to make a plane do anything. It went down well. Way back in 1988 we were at the Wanaka Air Show. The planes were lined up for refuelling when the only pump broke down. This same lad was at that time experimenting with petrol pumps for remote readings, and was right beside the pump. A few adjustments and a kick and it was away. He advised getting a new one. In 1995 Dick Ashton said he thought he had been Secretary for long enough and was there any talent in the Bay. By great good luck Brian Cox ó ex Fighter pilot in the Pacific and author of two books concluded nearly 20 years running a Flying School at Ardmore, and had retired to Tauranga. He is now Secretary, Treasurer and author of our Newsletters. Several years ago I suggested that as we were an ageing group, it would be good to have Association Members comprised of keen young airmen. It became a reality and we still have 70-80 people for our luncheons. It is a great brotherhood and we hope our club will continue for a few years yet. John Houlton wrote his post war experiences in our Newsletter several years ago ó here it is.
ANTHOLOGY OF NZFPA ARTICLES
From the time NZPFA came into being, early in 1986 it has always been the chief objective to gather enough material together from members to produce a book or collection. The rationale behind this thought is that we are all familiar with interesting, or even spectacular tales of happenings during our service days; and how many times we have said, "I wish he would write it all down", and how many times has someone said to each of us "you should write it all down". The original idea was to just produce articles from our members for the interest and amusement of the members at large. Which means those of us still allowed out alone, and slowly the reluctant scribes have fronted up. Or at least to prove that they know the nib from their butt, and with this great contribution from Vern Benner, I've had a rush of the red stuff to the little grey lump, and would very much like to have a lick at this project before our members all melt away like an ice block on a hot day. But I propose something a bit different from the drudgery of simply driving a pen for the critical acclaim or otherwise of the greater mass of our people who will sit on the sidelines in the time honoured way...No! What I suggest is that as our tales ó Tall tales and true, have proved to be of some interest to civvies and other outsiders, then such a collection must have a certain commercial value. Most of us have been approached or otherwise pestered by self-appointed historians sniffing around for anecdotes etc, and my personal attitude is that they can get lost. If anyone is going to get the benefit of financial profit from our predicaments and antics, then it should be the NZFPA teller of the tale. Jack Rae, who has been hiding himself in Kerikeri, planted this idea several years ago when he commented on what a smart stroke Laddie Lucas had pulled when he produced WINGS OF WAR, which had extremely high sales. Indeed as Jack said, Laddie Lucas persuaded each of the 'big boys' to write and contribute his own chapter, while all he had to do was nail the copy together, edit it and have it published. So what I am suggesting is a similar exercise using contributions from you blokes, but with the essential differences that the royalties are allocated on a fair and business-like basis to the NZFPA contributors. If any contributor does not need the money, is there any such plutocrat amongst us?? His share would stay in the pool, for the benefit of the less fortunate. For my part I would expect a reasonable slice of the cake.
RED FACES AND RED INK Copyright J A Houlton
While I managed to avoid the dreaded red ink entry in the log book, like everyone else, I did get into some strife now and then with the odd bod with more braid on his arm, and apparently acquired a reputation for being a bit bolshie. Quite untrue I should add, as in my opinion, I only did what any bloke should do, by telling it like it was; and I developed a sort of homespun philosophy, which assumes that if somebody proved to be a prize bastard while he's alive; he's unlikely to be any different when he's dead. During my time with the RAF this was not much of a problem, as the Brits, probably learning from the experience of World War 1, seemed content to let the rough colonials get on with things, in the operational sense, and did not as a rule go out of their way to make life difficult by insisting on formal parades and so on. In fact, with one exception, the only parades I attended in the RAF were pay parades, and the odd funeral. Even in the earlier years as Sergeant Pilots we enjoyed a great deal of tolerance, and as long we were there at the right time to fly, we were left very much to ourselves. I did run foul of a few pains in the arse, both before and after I was commissioned but by jumping up and down at the right times, and some pretty footwork, I was able to keep on the track I wanted to follow, and I don't think that is being bolshie. We did hear horror stories of the antics of some of the brass back in New Zealand; and we could afford to smugly be a bit sorry for the average pilots like ourselves who had to put up with the performance of some self-appointed frogs in little pools. Then I joined the RNZAF in 1951 to fly with 41 Transport Squadron at Whenuapai. As the Air Force, quite rightly, gave no credence to the Flight Instrument Rating I had acquired while flying with SAFE AIR, I was first posted to Wigram to undergo an Instrument Rating Course. Only by gaining a service instrument rating could I go on to fly with 41 Squadron. As it was an all day bus trip from Nelson to Christchurch, I travelled in grey flannel trousers and a matching roll neck jersey, with the old blue uniform and battle dress in the suitcase. Arriving by taxi at the Guard House at 1630 I was surprised when the Duty Guard Sergeant insisted I was to report to the OC Flying IMMEDIATELY on arrival. When I said I would hop into the mess and get changed into uniform he was adamant that I was to go straight to Flying Wing HQ. That was the instruction he was ordered to pass on to me, so off I bowled to HQ, a little mystified but thinking perhaps they had the red carpet out there for me. Perhaps an informal chat with the boss and a couple of drinks from the VIP cabinet as a welcoming gesture. An amiable young post war navigator named Jimmy Simpson was doing penance as Flying Wing Adjutant, and he directed me through a door with a plaque advertising the presence of Wing Commander S G Quill DFC OC Flying Wing. This was a cold-eyed character in immaculate Number One blues. There was no offer of a drink from the VIP bar, neither was there a handshake nor any invitation to be seated. So I stood there while he read me my rights in spades, taking all of five minutes to tell me not to expect to get away with the sort of slack behaviour we pampered people had indulged in the UK. He would have his eye on me and God help me if I stepped out of line, and did I have anything to say? All in the best tradition of a hanging judge. So I told him I had thoroughly enjoyed my five years in the RAF, and that I had been looking forward to rejoining the Air Force here in New Zealand. The irony was lost on him, so he snarled at me to report back, with logbook at 0900 in the morning. So I trudged back up the road, lugging the suitcase to check in at the magnificent mess, where I noted all present were in their number one blues and ready for din dins. After a long day I was ready for a drink so changed into my shabby old uniform, which seemed to have shrunk a bit, and headed for the anteroom. Burying my nose in a tankard, I felt a bit better, till a Squadron Leader character (a stores officer disguised as the PMC), chewed me up the having buttons that were less than shining. Being basically tactful and ready for another snort, I agreed with him, and said I would have to give my batman a rocket, which made him a bit happier. There was no instrument rating course running at the time at Wigram; so I was shunted from one instructor to another, as they were available. First I was checked out in the awful Oxford, and after a brief dual session was off solo for half and hour. From then I was 'under the hood' which involved the use of a device new to me, known as two-stage amber. Amber perspex screens round the cockpit with the pilot wearing dark blue goggles, which effectively turns the brightest day into shades of midnight. Getting to handle the Oxcart under these conditions was a bit of a battle; but possible, until they started cutting engines on me at the most awkward times, which evokes some caustic comments from the polished professional in the right-hand seat, as I wrestled with the beast it keep it right side up and going in the right direction. Jimmy Simpson proved to be an affable and amusing ally. A couple of days after my red carpet reception Jimmy had solemnly warned me, over a beer in the Mess, to watch my back. After some prodding he told me that the day after my arrival Stan Quill had tabled a letter addressed to Air Department for the Station Commander's signature; which said that my recruitment to the post at RNZAF was a mistake and urging that the appointment should be terminated forthwith. The justification for the axing was that I had reported for duty improperly dressed; and was unlikely to be an asset to the service. The Station Commander was Group Captain Barry Nicholls, who had been CFI when I was on my Wings course at Woodbourne in 1941. According to Jimmy when Quill slid this letter across the desk, Barry Nicholls went into orbit, bawling out his OC Flying in a tirade that echoed throughout the HQ building, then ripped up the letter. The instructors who laboured to turn me into a qualified instrument pilot included Senior Instructors Clarry Berryman, Harold Bennett and Allan Woods ó all highly qualified from the NZ CENTRAL Flying School, and all had served with distinction in the Pacific theatre. While not exactly effusive, and rightly a bit scornful of my ignorance on the secrets of instrument flight, they manfully persevered with me; I think on the basis that an ignoramus such as myself was a challenge not to be ignored. Just as painful as the flying programme was the amount of swot needed to master the required basics of weather interpretation, icing in all its forms, homing and let down procedures and so on; on which a formal examination had to be passed, as well as reaching acceptable flight standards on instruments. That exam also required an accurate knowledge of all the panel instruments, their construction, operation and limitations, and for the first time I came to resent the laxness of the ground instructors we had allowed us to sleep through the lectures on the Wings course at Woodbourne. Station Commander Barry Nicholls came into the mess one night, came over and bought me a drink then quizzed me on my service history, showing a good understanding of what went on in UK, and quite clearly not holding that background against me. He was certainly amiable, and after several snorts I rather grumpily told him he had given me, after my wings test, the only poor assessment I'd ever had. He roared with laughter and then paid for the next round, so in mitigation I told him I had been his first victim after an alleged late night in the officers mess, he said that probably explained it, he must had had a hangover, which was inarguable. Having ventured into Christchurch with Jimmy Simpson one Saturday night for a meal of bluff oysters, 2 dozen raw followed by 1 dozen fried, five bob each, then to a film, we arrived back in the mess about midnight. Barry Nicholls was there and told me that there had been a phone call from my wife Vicki in Nelson, to the effect that our youngest was in hospital. He had George Washington there in the anteroom and said, `George is going to fly you home in the morning in one of the Devons. Stay 3s long as you need to, then George will come and pick you up again, when you're ready". I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed at his kindness, for which I've always been grateful, as it also took away most of the resentment arising from my reception back into Wigram. After six weeks I managed to convince the instructors that I was competent enough to be issued with a white card instrument rating. A 41 Squadron DC3 collected me for the flight to Whenuapai and on the day I left the Station Commander shook my hand and wished me well; but the OC Flying was not around. Checking into the Station Adjutant's Office at Whenuapai, his assistant Flight Officer Mabel Haase told me to go straight into the Station Commander's Office, "He had been expecting you for a couple of weeks, and wants to see you straight away". So I was greeted by Dick Webb who I had last seen when he left 485 Squadron bound for the Middle East and his rapid rise in that theatre. We talked for an hour, catching up on who was where and so on. He asked me if I minded doing the off station jobs, and I ended up as Entertainment Officer, Officer I/C the Corporals Club and ditto for the Hobbies and Archery Clubs. None of these duties caused any problem and, in fact, were enjoyable. Passing back through Mabel's office on the day of my arrival she said with a happy smile, "By the way you are Orderly Officer tomorrow", which proved to be the standard treatment for all new arrivals. So I took over the arm band and list of duties next morning, and doing the rounds with a chatty and informative Orderly Sergeant was a good way to find one's way around, and after saluting while the flag was lowered at 1700 and again as it went up at 0800 next morning, I concluded this duty was a breeze. Six weeks later I copped a full weekend duty and we got side tracked on Saturday night at a thrash in the Sergeants Mess. As we tore ourselves away about 0200 on Sunday morning the Duty NCO groaned at having to surface again for the flag at 0800. So I said "lets put it up now", so we did, and I wavered at the salute as the flag climbed up against the stars, while the Duty Sergeant hauled on the lanyard; but he spoilt the solemn moment by getting the giggling hiccups with the flag half-way up. Compulsory Military Training was in force in those days, and some weeks after my arrival another CMT Course was in the barracks. I gave them no thought apart from cursing the salutes one had to answer from these temporary airmen who were used as slave labour to polish the aircraft, until the next time I was Orderly Dog and turned up at 0800 to supervise the hoisting of the flag. I was shattered to be confronted by a bugler and a flight of shiny faced CMT ó each complete with musket, under the control of a drill corporal who snapped off a salute, and told me the Colour Party was all present and correct. Before I could ask him what I was supposed to do about it, he cravenly bolted round to the rear of the flight and left me standing there like an idiot. I got the first part right and told the bugler to blow the 'Still', whereupon all movement halted around the square, and fifty pairs of eyes, including those of the Station Adjutant watched the performance of this simple duty. My knowledge of the protocol involved was next door to nil, and the appropriate rifle drill commends from my school cadet days simply fled from my quavering brain. After standing mute for at least 60 seconds I snarled "CORPORAL!" out of the corner of my mouth, and he obligingly popped up in front of me, "How do you tell them to put their muskets on their shoulders?" With a look if disbelief he told me the magic words, then disappeared again. "SLOPE ARMS" I bellowed in triumph and click, click, click went the rifles to the shoulders. AHA, I know the next bit all right ó "GENERAL SALUTE. PRESENT ARMS", and slap thud went the hands and the heels as the flag wavered up the pole and I quivered at the salute. Again I went blank, while the blasted Duty Sergeant stared at me from the base of the flagpole. Turning round I called again to the Corporal and he popped up again like a genie from the bottle. "Take them away, I told him, so he turned them right and quick marched them out of my vicinity, after I reminded him to get their muskets back on their shoulders again. The Adjutant had some rude things to say, and quite right too, as it was surely a dismal spectacle, and I'm glad Dick Webb was late in the office that morning. After the Admin Officer had had his say I got a shot in myself, pointing out that every bloody aircraft in the service was equipped with a full check list for the benefit of the dumb pilots like myself, so instead of pulling a fast one like this on the unsuspecting dual purpose pilot; what's wrong with handing out a check list for all this bullshit with the Orderly Officers armband, if they were not going to take the trouble to instruct us in the procedures. The Admin Officer agreed that something could be done but no checklist ever appeared (at least in my time). The solution arrived at was to post me on to the next Officers School Course. This was known as the knives and forks course but was in the process of transition towards becoming the RNZAF Staff College. I learnt that it was more or less mandatory to get through this course to have any show of progressing on up the ladder in the post war service. So I went along with a good grace to check in at the famous school, which operated from a cluster of wartime, prefab buildings at the back of the Officers Mess - 'Goodoh', I thought, can wander across from my room in the mess each morning'. But, oh dear no, I had to move into the accommodation in the school buildings. The school was headed by a Wing Commander Agar, a tall bloke of mournful countenance, who was not known to laugh or smile, and seemed to take himself and his job very seriously. Always in immaculate uniform with pilot's wings but it was a bit of a mystery what use they had been put to. There were two Squadron Leader Deputy Commandants ó Al Parlane, who had done very well in the Pacific Theatre and was gonged up ó he did mix with the troops on the Course to some extent, and could be most interesting. The other Deputy was Nelson Bright, who also had an impressive Pacific background. Nelson was a great mixer, and seemed to enjoy the good-natured banter which went back and forth in the off duty periods, and was much respected by all Course members. The Course Adjutant was George Beban, an Administrative Flight Lieutenant who was, in fact, very good at his Job, and likeable as well. The first snag arose when El Commandant informed me I was the Senior Student on the Course and would be held responsible for behaviour and discipline among the 30 odd course members. When I protested that I thought I'd joined an Air Force and not the bloody Gestapo, he was unmoved and said as mine was the oldest dated commission I was stuck with the position. On assembling in the lecture room my place was a desk at a back corner and ranged on my left were the other four wearing pilots wings ó Hap Harrison, once of 485 Squadron who rose from Sergeant to Squadron Leader in the Middle East, who had been clobbered over Yugoslavia and expended some of his hard-nosed energy fighting with the Partisans; Colin Papps, who had had an exciting stint on fighters and PRU Spits; and a tall chap named Peters who had operated on long range Coastal Command aircraft from West Africa. The other qualified pilot was Dan Cotton, who had trained at wars end and was a physical fitness buff. The balance of the course consisted mostly of people commissioned from the ranks, and included three newly created WAAF Officers. If they were looking to me and the other old lags for leads on decorum and so on, I'm afraid they must have been a bit disappointed. In a rambling address the Commandant dwelt on the merits of tidy and accurate records leading to administrative bliss, and the duty of all officers is to keep an eye on the tricks of the troops and be willing to throw the book at the drop of the hat. The rumblings along the back row were not all that subdued, and a rude voice muttered, "What is this joint? Is it Colditz or Belsen?" The Wingco ended by asking for questions or comments. A little voice in one ear told me to keep still and say nothing; but the other one in the other ear was more insistent, so climbing to my feet I told our would-be mentor that those of us at the back of the room could not agree with the role he saw for us. That it reminded us of the stores officers lament, to the effect that it was a great Air Force until pilots were allowed to fly aircraft, breaking and wearing out parts, which messed up the shelves in his store. As far as we were concerned the Air Force existed for the sole purpose of providing an efficient fighting force against a time of national emergency. All efforts should be devoted to getting pilots and aircraft into the air, and keeping them there. In the language of the politicians it could be said that the fundamental differences of opinion had been identified between the parties. The course lasted six weeks, and I must admit I did learn a lot that proved useful later on, like some of the Air Force law. As the course progressed there were a few more brushes with the brass, and it was interesting to see most of the newly commissioned people come out of their shells, developing attitudes and opinions of their own. There was one rowdy evening in the mess, which led to a game of mess rugby. For the first and only time in my life I was a rugby captain, scoring ten tries and converting half of them. The ball was a half-pint pewter tankard, presented by an Army officer some time before. A month later my right big toe nail finally fell off.
With the exams behind us came the Course dining-in night when, as senior student, I made the shortest speech ever. Next morning came our individual interviews with the Commandant to get our reports. He passed mine across his desk and I was surprised and gratified to see I had a B-Plus pass, the second highest possible. Then my eye lit on the comments at the foot of the page. "A very good academic result, but this officer show a remarkable lack of tact, which at some future date, is certain to offend a senior officer". As I fumed, The Wingco pushed his fountain pen towards me and said, "Sign, as having read this report, you know very well you must sign any sort of adverse report". Stuttering with rage I gave vent to my own views and grabbed an ordinary pen, loaded it with red ink, and scrawled SIGNED UNDER PROTEST across the bottom, speared the pen into his nice clean blotter and walked out of the office. I was to learn some years later that this report and my comments did me no harm at all in the eyes of the Air Staff Officers of the time.
This story written mainly for family and friends, will I hope revive some memories among the old pilots, and in places be informative to younger people. There must be many snippets of humorous events that I have left out, but as I am relying mainly on memory, that is to be expected after 60 years. One little bit of information that old pilots will remember is the height that the body cries enough and decides to equalise air pressure. It varied a little but in my case I did not have to look at the altimeter to see that it was 10,400 feet, the amount of air was unbelievable. It is gratifying to know that due to the Atom Bomb, which saved millions of lives by enabling the fanatical Japanese to surrender without losing face, a global war will never happen again. If it did it would be Armageddon. My generation and my parents' generation were all touched by war, with the loss of thousands of young lives. Now my children and grandchildren are safe and apart from tribal and religious small wars, that will be the pattern for the future. I have often thought that for anybody like me, mad on flying, the forties were the right time to be around. One could learn to fly for free, which was the only way for many of us, and planes at that time were at their best for sport flying. In the First World War they were very much in their infancy, and now they are so sophisticated that it is not funny anymore. Pilots have to dress up like a Christmas tree with tummy pads to protect one from the pressures of supersonic flying. We could do our job in shorts and sandals in hot weather. The Germans in 1915 had parachutes, but the British High Command forbade their use. The theory that a chap in a tight spot would jump out and waste a valuable plane. Hand made planes were more valuable than chaps were, so the pilot had to stay with it and fight and perhaps die with it. By the thirties planes were getting more reliable and solidly built. The Hawker Hind that I trained on was like a sports car in the air. By 1941 when I flew them they were a bit worn, and Hawker had moved to the Hurricane which was similar, except that the top wing had gone, and the motor had gone from the 750HP Kestrel to the 1,000HP Merlin, and the speed was a lot more. The Spitfire that evolved from the Supermarine Racer was being mass-produced. It went through many stages with each new model being more powerful. My favourite was the Mark IX, which had the two-speed supercharger and at 20,000ft became a new aircraft, as the second blower came into action. Hawker moved into the Typhoon and then Tempest and North America produced the Mustang, which once fitted with the Merlin was a force to be reckoned with. In the twin range Mosquitoes and Beaufighters were equal to anything the Germans put up. The Vickers Wellington as a light bomber was legendary; its basket-like structure enabled it to fly when riddled with holes. In the heavies the Avro Lancaster stood out a country mile. The 1,000 bomber raids did a lot of damage but usually 100 were shot down and 1,000 men died. I have.loften been asked what was my favourite plane. I only flew the Spitfire operationally, but can say definitely that it was the most foolproof plane ever invented. Designed like a seagull, it flew naturally, and only flew unnaturally if require to do so to avoid enemy fire. It was a short-range aircraft suitable for defence only. The wonderful thing about the Hurricane was its versatility. It was a fighter, bomber and torpedo carrier, and also when fitted with 40 M1 cannon was a tank buster. It was not a natural flier like the Spitfire possibly because there was no dihedral, and had a very silly system for undercart and flaps. Most planes had everything on the throttle quadrant operated by the left hand. The Hurricane had flaps and undercart down by the right foot, which meant changing hands. The normal quadrant had throttle, pitch, mixture and undercart with a wheel on top, and a flap lever with offset top like a flap. It was impossible to confuse the two. The Hurricane had the undercart and flaps operated by the right hand. It was an H type quadrant, with cart on left and flaps on right, with a neutral spot between up and down. As flaps were the last thing to go down when landing, one had to remember to bring the lever back to neutral, otherwise in an overshoot instead of the undercart coming up the flaps would come up. At low speeds loss of flaps spelt disaster. Otherwise it was not bad to fly. The Mustang like most American planes had all mod cons and a roomy cockpit. It would be trimmed to fly hands off for a long time. It had a safety device that locked the tail wheel except when the stick was right forward, and that was the position for taxiing. I was caught once when flying a Mkl. It had a separate switch and on landing, I spun around like a top, to the amusement of onlookers. It was beautiful to fly and the only difference to the Spitfire I can remember was that in a dive it went like a rocket, very handy if chased, whereas a Spiffire was not so keen to dive. It was a long-range aircraft, and although only the size of a Spitfire, looked pregnant and carried a massive amount of petrol. It could escort to Berlin and have enough fuel for a scrap and return home. On the ground it had to be respected whereas a Spitfire could be hurled around like a motorbike if there were patches of soft or bomb craters to be avoided. The Typhoon and the Tempest were wonderful in the air, but required a lot of skill at all times. I flew in a Mosquito as second pilot but never on my own. Like all fast twins there was no room for error at all times. The Anson's and Dominies in our fleet were slow and docile and very stable. If you were in a hurry they were wonderful to fly. When with 501 I was about 25 years old, and considered old. Hence I was confidant to many of the youngsters in the teens. Men matured quickly in those circumstances. We were briefed in procedure if caught in France. We had small silk maps, which often went unnoticed in a search and various types of compasses. My choice, which as far as I know was never rumbled to, was the pencil clip. If balanced on the tip of a pencil it pointed North. I never carried my revolver on sweeps as it was considered safer to be caught unarmed. The legendary Chalky White gave us a talk on his escape one-day. He got through France without any help from Partisans and a smuggler took him over the Pyrenees to Spain. They had to shoot a German on the way. He had a bit of trouble with smug British Embassy types and when they did not believe that he had travelled through France alone, he let them have it in true Kiwi fashion. He was taken off a flight to England to make way for a VIP (Very Important Person). Whether this person was targeted or it was coincidence we do not know, but the Mitchell blew up in the air soon after take-off. Chalky came home on the next plane and lived to fight again. Many of my wartime memories have been lost in 60 odd years, but I will always remember the sad scenes at Railway Stations as young people said their goodbyes usually for the last time. I was glad I only had one goodbye for the duration. I have survived the many dangerous situations during the war and after. I rolled the tractor in 1950 and was lucky to survive. We have five fine sons who will get a surprise when they see this book. To my fellow Airmen and others, I hope these pages bring back some memories, and the younger folk will enjoy reading of how things were.
The following are a few memorable photos
Two Trans-Tasman boats and "Samoan Clipper" Piloted by Captain Musick. The photo was taken in Mechanics Bay
Musick Point in Auckland was named after Captain Musick, Skipper of the "Samoan Clipper" - famous for pioneering the route from America to New Zealand and was sadly lost on the way back to America, no one knows what happened.
Renee at Golf
Me at Golf
Me and the cat in repose
Renee's Mural for Pongakawa School Centenary 1992
History of my Life at my 80th Birthday