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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.
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30 rnzaf
30 Squadron Harvard IIA NZ1045 F/O. Roland Henry Browne

Operation: Training

Date: 11th November 1943 (Monday)

Unit: No. 30 Squadron RNZAF (motto: 'Kai-Takitaki')

Type: Harvard IIA

Serial: NZ1045

Code: -

Base: RNZAF Gisborne, New Zealand

Location: Pouawa, Gisborne

Pilot: F/O. Roland Henry Browne NZ/413811 RNZAF Age 34. Killed

Pilot 2 : F/O. Douglas James Nilsson NZ404629 RNZAF Age 27. Seriously injured


Whilst attempting a shallow power dive at low altitude over a sheep station at Pouawa the aircraft hit trees and sheered off a wing crashing and overturned into a house and burst into flames.

The pilot/instructor was killed instantly and his passenger, F/O. Nilsson suffered severe burns which rended him unconscious.

Observing the crash from about 300 yards away, 43 year old, Mervyn Lester Holden immediately mounted a horse and rode up to the scene. In spite of the fact that the aircraft was ab, he at once set about the rescue.

Above L-RL F/O. Roland Henry Browne and F/O. Douglas James Nilsson (Courtesy Air Museum of New Zealand)

He was not aware there were two occupants in the aircraft or that the pilot in the front cockpit, hidden by twisted wreckage, had been killed. Flying Officer Nilsson was a heavy man and was being firmly held in the blazing machine by his harness. Unfamiliar with the release mechanism, Mr Holden struggled and cut away as much of this exceedingly tough material as he could with a sheath knife, which he lost.

Above and below crash site of NZ1045 (Courtesy Air Museum of New Zealand)

After some minutes in the overpowering heat he was still unable to move Flying Officer Nilsson, but in spite of severe burns persisted in his efforts to get the injured man away to safety. Eventually Flying Officer Nilsson partially regained consciousness and was able to help himself a little. With the airman’s assistance Mr Holden succeeded in releasing him from his harness and was able to lift him out of the wreck and carry him to safety.

During all this time Mr Holden suffered extensive burns to the arms, face and back. These necessitated his immediate removal to hospital. But for Mr Holden’s determination, persistence and courage, despite his injuries, there is no doubt that Flying Officer Nilsson would have lost his life.

Above: Mervyn Lester Holden, George Medal and Royal Humane silver medal

The Governor-Genral, Sir Cyril Louis Norton Newall announced that the King has awarded the George Cross medal to Mr. Mervyn Lester Holden of Pouawa, Gisborne for his bravery shown in rescuing F/O. Nilsson. from a crashed and burning aircraft. He also received the Royal Humane silver medal in recognition of his bravery.

The recipient of the decoration has since the date of the accident been under treatment in a private hospital for injuries received in rescuing F/O. Nilsson, Mr. Holden has been making satisfactory, long progress for some weeks, but is not yet fully recovered.

He had spent practically all his life in the Gisborne district, and for many years has farmed his own property at Pouawa. During recent years he has served as a member of the Cook County Council for the Pouawa riding.

F/O. Nilsson of 495 Aberdeen Road, Gisborne. Born on the 15th July 1916 in Waipawa. Joined the RNZAF in November 1940. Served with 489 Squadron RNZAF.

Mervyn Lester Holden husband of Marion. Passed away on the 16th February 1965 age 65.

Burial details:,

F/O. Roland Henry Browne. Purewa Public Cemetery. Block G, Row 9, Grave 11. Born on the 22nd March 1909 at Auckland. Attended King's College from 1924-28 where he was a member of Town House, a school prefect member of the Rugby XV, Cricket XI and the Steeplechase winner. He was a Chartered Accountant of A.G. Grierson and Browne and a member of the Auckland Club, and Auckland Golf Club. He was still a partner in this firm when applying for enlistment in aircrew, on the 17th December 1940. Initial Training Wing, Levin, on the 6th July 1941, and proceeded to Whenuapai on the 17th August for his elementary flying training: then on the 26th September to No.3 Service Flying Training School, Ohakea.

Here, on the 20th December, he was awarded the flying badge and commissioned in the rank of Pilot Officer. On the 1st October 1942, he was further promoted to Fying Officer. Meanwhile, on the 1st January 1942, he was posted to No.1 General Reconnaissance Squadron at Whenuapai for flying duties on Hudson aircraft. Late in February he commenced a course at the School of General Reconnaissance, Omaka, returning to No. 8 Squadron at Gisborne during May. On the 31st May 1943 he embarked for the United States at Jacksonville for Avenger course, returning to New Zealand on the 16th September 1943. He then served at Whenuapai with No.8 Squadron, until posted on the 13th October to No.30 Squadron at Gisborne. He trained in Florida on Torpedo bomber aircraft

Funeral of F/O. Roland Henry Browne (Courtesy Air Museum of New Zealand)

Son of Roland (aka 'Roy') Henry (died 10th October 1940, age 73) and Annie Browne (née McKenzie - died on the 28th September 1931 age 72) of Parnell, Auckland City, New Zealand. Husband of Audrey May Browne (née Alisin), father of Nicholas of 104 St Stephen's Avenue, Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand .

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, New Zealand Cenotaph, Weekly News of New Zealand, Air Museum of New Zealand, Museum of Transport and Technology, Auckland, National Archive Kew, AIR-27-344-45/46.

KTY 19-06-2024

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