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Fl/Lt. 'Jack' John Donald Rae DFC 402896 RNZAF

Born on the 15th January 1919 - Died on the 19th December 2007, age 88, Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Son of Ethelbert Charles Rae, born on the 04th August 1889, in Auckland, New Zealand (died 14th April 1958, age 66) and Eleanor Annie (née McLeod - died 06th December 1977, age 83), born on the 05th October 1894. Brother of Ronald Charles Rae (died 10th August 1992, age 67). Husband of Veronique (née Grant - died on the 14th November 2006, age 99) Born on the 15th July 1907, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, Married on the 24th July 1947, in Remuera, Auckland, New Zealand.

He flew Spitfires in two theatres of war, Europe and Malta.

Malta was then a holocaust under continuous air attack. During his posting more bombs fell on the tiny island - smaller than Lake Taupo - than dropped on England during the entire war.

On the 01st May 1942 he survived being shot down in an air battle over the island. He managed to bail out over the sea some seven miles off the coast but sustained a serious leg injury, The prevailing breeze carried him to the island, where he landed near Rabat and encountered an aggressive Maltese farmer armed with a shotgun. Rae later recounted he was only saved from harm when British soldiers turned up. He continued to fly with his leg in a cast.

At one stage in the battle for Malta more than 90 percent of the squadron’s aircraft were lost to enemy action.

A!er recovering from his wounds, Rae was posted to No. 249 Squadron, which also operated Spitfires at Malta.

He flew his first patrol with his new squadron on the 05th June. He damaged a Bf109 on the 12th June when scrambled along with three others to meet approaching German fighters. Several days later, Rae encountered Italian fighters and shot down a Reggiane Re.2001 and damaged another. He destroyed an Italian CANT Z.1007 bomber on the 04th July, John one of three attempting to bomb Grand Harbour. Rae shot down a Bf109 on the 07th July and a Macchi C.202 fighter two days later. He shot down another C.202 on the 13th July when 249 Squadron was called upon to assist in dealing with a large bombing raid on Luqa.

On 27 July, Rae claimed a probable Bf 109 and a damaged C.202 during an interception of another bombing raid on Luqa. He shared in the probable destruction of a Junkers Ju 88 bomber the next day. He also damaged a second Ju88. By the end of the month, the wounds to his leg had become infected and Rae was hospitalised and eventually repatriated to the United Kingdom for treatment. By this time, he had been promoted to pilot officer.

A!er convalescing from the wounds received on Malta, Rae had a period of leave. He attended a Flying Instructor's School and was posted as an instructor to 57 Operational Training Unit. In December 1942 he was awarded the DFC for his service while operating from Malta. The citation, published in the London Gazette, recognised:

In May 1943, Rae rejoined No. 485 Squadron, by now operating out of Biggin Hill, as a flying officer. According to Rae, this was at the behest of the squadron's commander at the time, Reg Grant, who departed shortly afterwards for a rest. If not for this, Rae believed that he would have been posted to Canada as an instructor.

Now back on operations, Rae shared in the destruction of a Fw190 on the 27th July and received the sole credit for shooting down a Bf109 on the 09th August, when his section of four Spitfires, led by Squadron Leader John Milne Checketts, accounted for seven Me109s. On the 17th August, while flying cover for a bombing raid being carried out by Martin Marauders, he shot down two Me109s. During an escort mission on the 22nd August, the squadron was surprised by 50 or 60 German fighters. Rae destroyed a Fw190 but was one of four New Zealanders shot down; he force landed in France and became a prisoner of war.

His prison camp was Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria, notorious for the recapture and execution by the SS of 50 RAF officers who escaped through a tunnel. He would have been part of the escape if he hadn’t already been in solitary confinement for a previous escape attempt under the wire. Further details on the 50 executed here.

Other pilots in the squadron confirmed Rae's aerial victory on their return to base. Rae had been due to be promoted and made a flight commander in another squadron. He had also been recommended by Checketts for a bar to his DFC, not long afer Rae's capture, this award was promulgated.

Above: L-R: Standing; JD Rae, AG Shore, D Russell, PH Gaskin, WV Crawford-Compton, ED Mackie. Front:; DGE Brown, DT Clouston.

Crouching; DGE Brown, DT Clouston.

The published citation read:

Flying Officer Rae is an outstanding and determined pilot. He has undertaken many sorties displaying gallant leadership and great skill. Within recent weeks, Flying O"icer Rae has shot down 4 enemy aircra!, bringing his total victories to at least 11. He has displayed exceptional keenness and devotion to duty.

In August, 1943, he was forced to crash-land his damaged Spitfire during an air battle over France and spent the last 20 months of the war as a prisoner. Additional details here.

He survived again when, in the closing days of the war, prisoners were force marched across Germany in midwinter to evade liberation by the Russian army. Thousands died at the roadside.

Like many other former PoWs, Rae struggled to adjust to normal life once he was back in England. In London for VE Day, he found the crowds there to be overwhelming and sought peace and quiet instead.

Repatriated to New Zealand, Rae was discharged from the RNZAF in 1946 as a flight lieutenant, having been promoted while in captivity. He ended the war with sole credit for eleven enemy aircraft destroyed and a half share in the destruction of two more for a total of twelve victories. He was also credited with eight probable enemy aircraft destroyed and six damaged.

Returning to civilian life, Rae married Vera Grant, she was the sister of Reg Grant, a wing commander in the RNZAF who had been killed during the war. With Vera, he set up and ran a factory manufacturing clothing. He was also involved in volunteer work, particularly for the International Red Cross, which had provided aid when he was a PoW in Germany. He was also a Rotarian, and spent his final years in Kerikeri.

His memoirs, titled Kiwi Spitfire Ace, were published by Grub Street in 2001. Rae died in Kerikeri on the 19th December 2007, survived by four children. His wife had predeceased him.

Kiwi Spitfire Ace ISBN 13: 9781902304786

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot 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, Stuff of New Zealand, Wikipedia.

KTY 13-06-2024

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