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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
Further data available at Allied Losses & Incidents database

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RNZAF Crest
15.10.1953 RNZAF Wigram De Havilland Devon NZ1811 / NZ1810 mid-air collision

Operation: Formation Flypast

Date: 15th October 1953 (Thursday)

Unit: No. RNZAF Station Wigram, New Zealand

Type: De Havilland Devon ST.I

Serial: NZ1811 / NZ1810

Code: Not known

Base: RNZAF Station Wigram

Location: Halswell, south of Wigram, New Zealand

Crew - NZ1811:

Pilot: Fl/Lt. Erling William Ziesler 70147 RNZAF Age 30. Killed

Pilot: Sq/Ldr. Sholto Russell Duncan MiD. AM (US). 130323 TAF Age 41. Killed

Engine Fitter: AC1. William Henry Sharman 76121 RNZAF Age 33. Killed

Radio Mechanic: AC2. Russell Woodcock 75331 RNZAF Age 20. Killed

Crew NZ1810:

Pilot: Fl/Lt. Edwin Pattison Booth Ebbett AFC. 70098 RNZAF Age 39. Killed

Airframe Assistant: AC1. Brian James Keogh 920969 TAF Age 21. Killed

Engine Assistant: AC1. Eric Melrose 920454 TAF Age 21. Killed

REASON FOR LOSS:

The 1953 London to Christchurch air race, the 'Last Great Air Race' was 12,300 miles (19,800 km) long, from London Heathrow to Christchurch International Airport in New Zealand and took place in October 1953 after Christchurch took the decision to declare their airport as International in 1950. (Wikipedia)

These two aircraft were leading a formation for a fly past at the award ceremony for 'Last Great Air Race' when at 15.47 hrs, at around 1200 ft the wing of NZ1810 struck that of NZ1811 and the formation broke up.

The two aircraft then fell out of control and dived into the ground - killing all 7 crew members. It is described as the largest ever loss of life in a single accident of the RNZAF over New Zealand.

Crash photographs courtesy of Archives New Zealand.

There are several street and avenues named after some of the crew. Halswell Residents Association have been trying for years to have a memorial erected to the crew, we understand they have succeeded and this will be unveiled at the crash site on the 15th October 2018.

The memorial unveiling did indeed take place and with thanks to Ian Martyn from Medals Reunited New Zealand photographs are now shown:

Bench and memorial plaque photo courtesy Don Simms.

Burial details:

Fl/Lt. Erling William Ziesler. Born on the 14th May 1923 in Timaru, Mid Canterbury, the son of Erling and Daisy Frances Ziesler (née Dailey), husband of Florence Eileane Ziesler (née Hoadley). Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch, Canterbury. Serving with Central Flying school at Wigram. Flew two tours with 16 Squadron. A total 2859 solo flying hours with 119 on the Devon.

On the 14th October 2018 a small remembrance parade was made on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the tragedy. A contingent from 23 Squadron ATC Nelson in attendance. (courtesy Tim Cuff - freelance photographer)

Above as described with Sq/Ldr. Duncan's grave nearest the camera (courtesy Diane and Brian Ramsay)

Sq/Ldr. Sholto Russell Duncan MiD. AM (US). Born on the 19th April 1912 in Nelson, the son of Henry Richard and Eugenie Duncan (née Hayter), Nelson, husband of Sheila Ursula Duncan (née Philpott). Wakapuaka Cemetery (RSA Section), Nelson. He had completed four tours in the South Pacific theatre during WW2 - Two with 15 Squadron, one with 20 Squadron as C/O and one with 1 Group HQ on Guadalcanal.

AC1. William Henry Sharman. Born on the 21st March 1920 in West Ham, England, the son of George Fredrick and Harriet Sharman (née Flood), Stratford, England, husband of Aircraftwoman Muriel Sharman (née Hepplewhite - WAAF) Riccarton, Christchurch. Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch, Canterbury.

AC2. Russell Woodcock. Born on the 30th January 1933 in Murchison, Westland, the son of William and Laura May Woodcock (née Norris), Murchison Cemetery.

Fl/Lt. Edwin Pattison Booth Ebbett AFC. Born on the 14th April 1914 in Nelson, the son of Edwin and Margaret Ebbett (née Waters), husband of Lilian Charlotte Ebbett (née Woods). St. Anne Churchyard, Pleasant Valley, Geraldine, South Canterbury. Completed a tour in the South Pacific Theatre with 6 Squadron. 3770 solo flying hours with 306 on the Devon.

AC1. Brian James Keogh. Born on the 24th September 1932 in Naseby, Central Otago, the son of James William and Elsie Keogh (née Withington). Fairfax Cemetery, Milton, Clutha, Otago. Undergoing his three weeks annual CMT training - due to finish the following day!

AC1. Eric Melrose. Born on the 12th May 1932 in Dunedin, Otago, the son of Gavin Emslie and Evelyn Douglas Melrose. Anderson’s Bay Cemetery, Dunedin. Undergoing his three weeks annual CMT training - due to finish the following day!

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to the research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, also to Medals Reunited New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Wings Over New Zealand Aviation Forum.

KTY 09.10.2018

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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