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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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149 Squadron Crest
16.08.1942 No. 149 Squadron Conversion Flight Stirling I R9299 Sgt. Johnson

Operation: Training

Date: 16th July 1942 (Thursday (Thursday)

Unit: No. 149 Squadron Conversion Flight (3 Group)

Type: Stirling I

Serial: R9299

Code: Not known

Base: RAF Lakemheath, Suffolk

Location: Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire

Pilot: Sgt. Henry Peter Johnson NZ/41481 RNZAF Age 24. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Robert Arthur Hawkins 635491 RAF Age 19. Killed

Nav: Sgt. Eric Moores 1053760 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Bmr: Sgt. Leslie Ernest Pole NZ/39882 RNZAF Age 26. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Jack Napier Nicol NZ/403625 RNZAF

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Malcolm Vernon Cato NZ/392015 RNZAF Age 24. Killed


Taking part in a beam approach and local flying. At 16:35 hrs whilst flying at 1,500 ft south west of Newmarket a fire broke out in the starboard outer engine which then spread to the inner engine. At 300 ft part of the starboard wing detached causing the Stirling to spin, finally hitting the ground and explode - killing all the crew.

Subsequent investigations found that the front crank pin had fractured resulting in oil being thrown over the engine's exhaust ring.

Below, funerals for the New Zealand crew members at Beck Row. (courtesy Auckland War Memorial Museum)

Burial details:

Sgt. Henry Peter Johnson. Beck Row Churchyard (St. John). Row B. Grave 8. Born on the 19th January 1918, the son of Henry Peter Johnson and of Ellen Isabella Johnson (née Craig), of Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand. A total of 297 flying hours logged with 160 hours solo and 23 on this aircraft type.

Sgt. Robert Arthur Hawkins. Tiverton Cemetery. Grave XB.8.37. Son of Albert Thomas Hawkins and Elsie Emily Hawkins, of Tiverton, Devon, England. Grave inscription reads: "Also His Mother Elsie Emily Hawkins Died 25th December 1936 Age 49".

Sgt. Eric Moores. Urmston Cemetery. Sec. B. Grave 116. Son of Frederick and Elizabeth Moores and husband of Margaret Moores, of Stretford, Manchester, England.

Sgt. Leslie Ernest Pole. Beck Row Churchyard (St. John). Row B. Grave 9. Son of Ernest and Margaret Pole, of Mount Eden, Auckland City, New Zealand. A total of 185 flying hours logged.

Fl/Sgt. Jack Napier Nicol. Beck Row Churchyard (St. John). Row B. Grave 10. Born on the 01st November 1913, the son of John and Annie Nicol, of Napier, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. A total of 200 flying hours logged.

Sgt. Malcolm Vernon Cato. Beck Row Churchyard (St. John). Row B. Grave 11. Son of Anson Hutchison Cato and Netty Frances Louisa Cato (née Hooper), of Te Kaha, Auckland, New Zealand. A total of 132 flying hours logged.

Special additional information on Sgt. Malcolm Vernon Cato by Sonia Edwards researching all who lost their lives from the Bay Of Plenty area of New Zealand.

Malcolm Vernon Cato (1917-1942) born 19 September 1917 at Te Kaha, was the son of Anson Hutchison Cato (1882-1960) and Netty Frances Louisa (nee Hooper, 1889-1979) of Te Kaha. He had a brother Harold Anson Hooper Cato (1907-1985) and some sisters. Malcolm attended Opotiki Public School before returning to school in Te Kaha. He went on secondary school at Mt Albert Grammar School in Auckland. The Rev. Anson Cato was the vicar at Hiona / St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Opotiki.

On leaving school Malcolm worked as a warehouseman and spent five years with the New Zealand Army Territorial Force under the 15th North Auckland Regiment. He played rugby in the Mt Albert Grammar XV in 1934 and 1935 as half back and then joined Eden Rugby Club in 1936 where he played fifth grade to 3rd intermediate. He joined North Shore senior team in 1938, hoping for Auckland representative selection.

In December 1939 NZ392015 Malcolm Cato went to Levin Training School, as an Aircraft Hand with General Duties recruit, for the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He was 22. He transferred to Hobsonville on 26 January 1940 to join the Initial Training Wing. Malcolm eventually re-mustered as an Air Gunner under training in March 1941. The following month he was set to embark for Canada. The draft sailed aboard the Awatea to join the British Commonwealth Air Training Programme based in Canada, reaching base in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Cato joined 3 Wireless School, attached to the Royal Canadian Air Force. He graduated 8 November 1941, with an Air Gunner’s Badge and as a Sergeant. He had been to the Bombing and Gunnery School before reaching Nova Scotia to wait to be attached to the RAF. Cato embarked for the United Kingdom 9 December 1941 reporting to the Personnel Department in England by 19 December.

The following month, 20 January 1942, NZ392015 Malcolm Cato joined the Operational Training Unit to fly Wellington Bombers, under Bomber Command. After six months training there he joined 149 Squadron to have time with Stirling airplanes. These were heavy, four engine, bombers which were praised by their fliers for the favourable handling characteristics. Cato was aboard a 149 Squadron Conversion Flight doing training with beam approach in a local area on Thursday 16 July 1942. He belonged to 3 Group at Lakenheath, in Suffolk.

Stirling 1 R9229 at 1635 was flying at 1500 feet SW of Newmarket, in Suffolk. Fire broke out in the starboard outer engine and spread to the inner engine. At 300 feet part of the starboard wing fell away causing the airplane to spin into the ground and explode. They were near Swaffham Bulbeck, in Cambridgeshire. All six of the crew died: four New Zealanders were buried at St John’s Churchyard, Beck Row, near Mildenhall. Investigators found that a front crank pin was fractured, resulting in oil being thrown out over the engine’s exhaust ring.

Rear Gunner NZ392015 Sgt Malcolm Vernon Cato, Royal New Zealand Air Force, was 24. He had flown 132 hours. He was buried at Beck Row. Row B Grave 11. 
Malcolm Cato is remembered at Mt Albert Grammar School, at Tukaki Marae at Te Kaha. His name is within the Hall of Memories at Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Sources: Auckland Weekly News 12 November 1941 Butler Collection Opotiki Museum p 33, Admission Register Opotiki Public School #707, Auckland Star, Volume LXIX Issue 201 26 August 1938 page 13, MARTYN Errol W. For Your Tomorrow Volplane Press Christchurch 2008 Vol 3 p 124, MARTYN Errol W. For Your Tomorrow Volplane Press Christchurch 2008 Vol I p 222

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”, Auckland War Memorial Museum, Weekly News of New Zealand, other sources as quoted below:

KTY - 12.12.2017

KTY - 19.07.2021 Cato details added

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