Topic: A grand wartime tour and spitfire experience - by Ian Lowman

Topic type:

Second World War Spitfire Pilot Ian S Lowman from New Zealand, wrote the following on typewriter sometime after his experiences during the Second World War. It may contain minor OCR errors. Images are either from a collection of photographs in Ian's possession during the war, (his own or from prisoners of war), or from the wiki commons.

A

GRAND WARTIME TOUR

and

SPITFIRE EXPERIENCE

By Ian S. Lowman

(to download as an ebook, click here)

 

“It is easy to take liberty for granted when you have never had it taken from you”.

Dick Cheney

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

In the main my story is the product of my memory supplemented by reference to my log book, but I wish to acknowledge two books:

“Dieppe at Dawn” by R.W. Thompson

“Over to Tunis” by Howard Marshall

 

PROEM

The god damn son of a bitch has gone into a tunnel and won't come out. That comment heard over the R.T. will remain with me for as long as I have a memory.

I was a member of a section of six Spitfires operating out of a base near Bastia on the north east coast of the island of Corsica. On that day, winging off in a northerly direction into a bright blue sky, we flew north into Italy, skirting the mountain side port of Genoa, across the Appennine Range to Alessandria on the edge of the broad Po Valley. On the approach massive snow clad alps spread out across the horizon before us. Also on the approach we passed over a train on the line to Genoa, and agreed among ourselves in radio chatter that we would “get it” on the way back.

Our orders were to attack rolling stock at the rail junction of Alessandria. On arrival we found there was a concentration of locomotives, both steam and electrical. One by one we peeled off, picked a target and fired our guns, returning aloft again, and repeating the manoeuvre until the leader called us to stations for the return flight.

Our Spitfires were lightly armed each with two 20mm, cannon and four, 303 machine guns, but in our few minutes over the target we should, at least temporarily, have reduced the efficiency of the railway service in the area. Returning above the Genoa line, the train previously seen appeared to have disappeared until it was seen at a small tunnel, that smoke was escaping from both ends, the engine driver had saved his train from damage, but I would not envy him his discomfort in getting it moving again,

 

A thread of destiny

Now at an age of heightened retrospection. I look back along the thread of my destiny. In ancient Grecian terms Atrapos with Clotho and her sister were kindly towards me. Guided into the air force in earlier days during the Second World War I became a fighter pilot, but in fact was more a pilot of fighter aircraft, not having to fight the enemy in aerial combat.

Fortune also favoured me in that my destiny had me flying in operations, and otherwise, in that much heralded Spitfire which still today catches the imagination of multitudes. Comparatively few enjoyed that privilege.

Arriving for service in the war zones somewhat later, when the tide of war had changed, duties had me engaged largely on patrolling and protecting important installations in the war effort. At times it was difficult to decide which flying could be classified as operational or otherwise. One unfortunate incident at a vital stage resulted in a black mark for my record, but ensured that I travelled more widely than may otherwise have been the case thereby I found myself on the periphery of actions and events of great significance in the strategy of the war. In such situations I was again privileged.

I was not one to be keen to tangle with the enemy, being by nature not very competitive by inclination, and as a boy on a farm, rather squeamish when it was considered necessary to kill animals. But with the obligation imposed on me by my society I complied in doing a young man's duty within the limitations of my experience and abilities.

My decision in joining up with an armed force was made after due consideration and soul searching. The army did not appeal because of the prospect of fighting at close quarters. Arising from several crossings of Cook Strait by ferry steamer, a call of the sea was non-existent.

As one of the young of that day. I had followed with avid interest the published stories of pioneer aviators blazing new air routes. Really only one course of action seriously figured in my mind.

At first in this war the armed services sought their manpower from those who were prepared to volunteer. After a time compulsory service was introduced, but those so directed went only to the army. A position in Government administration in Wellington involved me in the preparation of lists of young men eligible for call up. Having thus a calculated idea of my turn to draw a marble. I made application to join Air Force aircrew. With my qualifications and personal qualities, a role as an observer seemed to me to be most likely, but recruiting officers adjudged differently. Gaps will appear in my narrative. For whatever reason I have blank periods in my memory. Such significant loss occurred several times in transit, but also I have difficulty remembering the order of certain events involved in when travelling quite widely in Great Britain.

Credentials for Service

I was a back country lad. My father was a pioneer having taken up a virgin bush property at the foot hills of a North Island West Coast range about fifty kilometres seawards from Te Kuiti. The farm was in a truly beautiful position with rugged bush clad hills of solid limestone almost surrounding our homestead. I have been ever grateful for having been brought up in such glorious surroundings.

My parents never had it easy in breaking in that property. With a wet climate a light soil had leached, and quickly various ferns flourished where the bush had previously grown tall. A hilly property it was not until the advent of aerial top dressing that it became truly a viable economic proposition. Our family always had adequate shelter, food and clothing but little was to spare.

A single teacher school was located only about a kilometre away and within easy walking distance from our homestead, so primary schooling presented no problem. Attending a secondary school was not possible having regards for the family income. Being small boned it was not advisable for me to gravitate into a farming life, and with my parents' blessing I resorted to tuition through the Government Correspondence School. With the onset of the economic depression of the nineteen thirties a small dairy herd was introduced to our sheep farm, so I milked cows’ night and morning and did other suitable tasks as required. In due course I managed to matriculate and was granted a Higher Leaving Certificate.

My father was more than usually handy with hand tools and their maintenance. As fallen logs and tree stumps were removed from several paddocks near to the homestead, horse drawn implements were used, in the provision of supplementary winter feed for the stock. Towards the end of the twenties a Model T Ford car was purchased and was maintained by my father, including on one occasion the grinding in of valves. A maturing boy in such circumstances had the opportunity to gain a rudimentary knowledge and experience of things mechanical. After being accepted for air force aircrew, I was sent an instruction manual which included basic theory of mechanics, flight and meteorology.

In 1937, on completion of my secondary school studies, I proceeded to Wellington to take up a Government cadetship there. This provided me with an Opportunity to proceed to university to further enhance my academic qualifications.

Those four years in Wellington enlarged my store of experiences in a most satisfactory way. The onset of the war intruded and was not appreciated at that stage.

Early in May 1941 I received instructions to report to the Initial Training Wing at Levin. My elder brother had proceeded overseas with the First Echelon Army and left me his car if I paid off final time payment instalments, so I left Wellington, not to see it again for four years, and drove to my boyhood home. After a short break there, I joined the Main Trunk train and travelled back most of the way again to Levin.

Orientation New Zealand

A group of young men alighted from the train at the Levin Railway Station. We were joined together and were transported the several kilometres to our camp in a district known as Waharoa. In times past the property had housed delinquent children.

Passing through a portal adjacent to a guard station at the camp, and signing various documents, our civic status was set aside and we became subject to service hierarchy and discipline. Ushered around a corner to a storeroom, amid chaff and exclamations hiding feelings of strangeness and uncertainty, regulation blues along with other accoutre were fitted and recorded against the name of each budding airman. The attire each arrived in, not now being required in this new situation, was suitably disposed of.

A focal part of this training establishment was a clear level area used as a parade ground. Fringing the parade ground were, the administration block, dining facilities and class room, a separate building for ablutions, and a line of two man tents all down one side.

The parade ground drill was the Service way of creating discipline among a body of men. Otherwise it was not very relevant in the Air Force which was concerned mainly for warfare of a technical nature. Other forms of drill were also taught, such as each making up his bed in an approved fashion, this to be checked out by an inspection. None of the forms of drill employed was very onerous. I later became aware of the need to follow drill procedures to reduce the possibility of error, and as a means of providing safety within a group.

We were troop of raw recruits, but generally enthusiastic and rimming over with expectation, if perhaps tempered with some measure of trepidation. Some exuded confidence and were outgoing. Others were of quieter disposition, and I would have deserved the latter classification.

Apart from the practise of steps, and other movements and manoeuvres on the parade ground occupying periods of our time and energy, classes had to be attended to acquire knowledge of air force lore, and also become versed in the use of aircraft and conditions to be met and resolved when flying them.

Towards the end of six weeks of this initial instruction tests were applied to ensure suitability in respect of further training. The course had been suitably intensive but periods of relaxation had been allowed. Evening passes were provided for visitation to the country town of Levin. The game of Rugby was staged and others ran cross country over one of the neighbouring farms.

The Wareroa camp, was pleasingly situated in a pastoral setting with, a backdrop of the Tarawera Range. Although it was truly camp with open walk ways, it was not uncomfortable. The experience gained there was challenging in the midst of a bright group of young men with diverse backgrounds.

The preliminaries in training, having been surmounted the progression was son to trials determining aptitudes for flying duties. The locale of the flying practice was to be under the commanding presence of the colossus Taranaki, then known to us as the Anglo named Mount Egmont. The aerodrome was a grass field, normally the airport for the provincial centre of New Plymouth, and more precisely known as Bell Block, this being the name given to the immediate district.

At Bell Block more permanent style accommodation was apportioned to us. Instruction comprised more lectures as well as the flying. As overseas postings were envisaged, talks included matters concerning conduct in the wider spheres. A few hours were devoted to the simulation of flying procedures in varying circumstances in a link trainer, a safe way to practice flying in certain circumstances and conditions.

The basic trainer for flying was a D.H.82, otherwise known as a Tiger Moth. It was certainly basic by more recent standards, with the engine having to be started by hand swinging the propeller. It was a light bi plane with two open cock pits. A comment was heard that its performance represented true flight. Certainly it embodied an interesting compromise between the pull of gravity and forward speed creating a vacuum for lift as air flowed over shaped wing surfaces. It had great manoeuvrability which enabled an experienced pilot to slip off height and then set the aircraft down within a very confined space.

Photograph of aircraft from wikipedia commons

Consistent with its speed and weight the Tiger Moth was a rugged little aircraft, and it served New Zealand well in its day, not only as a medium for training, but also after the War, as a work horse for aerial top dressing when adapted by the inclusion of a hopper for holding and dispensing fertilizer. Our hill country took on a new green sheen and harboured more stock units.

Our immediate purpose being to learn to fly the aircraft, we had to become acquainted with it, its instrumentation and its controls. As the cock pits were open to the elements, we needed flying suit and boots, and also gauntlets and goggles. As it was a single engined aircraft, a parachute was required, and we were schooled in the operation and maintenance of this safety gear.

It was at the end of the first week in July that I climbed into a cockpit for flying. The instructor went through the cock pit drill with me and then took us into the air for my experience. I was accustomed to being on heights, but in an aircraft it was another dimension of experience. We cruised for nearly fifteen minutes and then dived steeply ending in a pull out before landing. All was well. I did not freeze on the controls or do anything else unusual.

In air the control of an aircraft is very simple. Little the more is required than co ordination through two controls, the joy stick and the rudders to effect various manoeuvres, and usually there is plenty of space in which to move. One has only to ensure that no other body would occupy the same space. However the would-be pilot has to practice to get used to the unusual elements of moving through the air, and operating the controls for particular purposes. In the air force high standards are insisted upon, and training is exacting.

For the next six weeks we were very fully occupied with flying training, usually taking to the air several times each day. This indicates that, the weather must generally have been favourable despite that mostly it was winter.

Initially training under instruction involved practice in take off, turning and landing. I was at first bemused that turning was, accomplished by turning a wing down which was known as banking. Before too long we had to be given experience in stalling and spinning and the methods of recovery. While at first flying took place at Bell Block, shortly it was transferred to the small aerodrome at Hawera, and the personnel went there each day either in the required aircraft or by road transport. Opportunity was thus provided for map reading and navigation. It was from Hawera, that after eight days instruction I flew solo, an event of some significance, and some tremulous feelings in landing, knowing that I was on my own, and sole master of my destiny.

My log book shows that I participated in eighty six flights from the aerodromes at Bell Block and Hawera, with flying time totalling about fifty hours. Not surprising much of this sort of flying was flippantly spoken of as circuits and bumps among the personnel. My bumps were at no time sufficiently heavy to cause damage to an aircraft, so I was able to be rated as a reasonable, or average, pilot, and so fit for further training. Another minor goal had been achieved.

One of my flights stands out in my memory. I was instructed go fly and navigate a course from Bell Block around Mount Egmont at the place of departure, with the mass of a mountain on my starboard side and uncomplicated road systems visible, navigation was straightforward, but the mountain has a ridge on its western side and I decided to climb to cross it. The aircraft laboured for a considerable distance before gaining enough height for the transit. I became aware of the limitations of a low powered, aircraft.

Another clearer memory from my time at Bell Block remains. The media of the period had carried articles that hearing damage may ensue if one flew when affected by a cold virus. I had picked up a light infection, and meeting the Station Medical Officer in the grounds asked him if I should fly in these circumstances. Emphatically he assured me that it was all right, and so it turned out. I suffered no noticeable after effects. Perhaps it was that the Tiger Moth did not fly high, and changes in elevation did not take place such as I was to experience later.

Little spare time was allowed what with our duties of study and flying, but several evening passes were granted which allowed me to visit nearby New Plymouth and taste its pleasures and sights. One week end pass enabled me, in company with another budding pilot, to hire a car and show off our uniforms before near kin. That was fine, but on the return journey, and as we drove through the Awakino Gorge a deluge descended upon us. My companion was at the wheel when a stray sheep suddenly appeared in the lights of the car and could not be avoided. This was not an unusual incident to happen on New Zealand country roads of that time.

Our Bell Block assignment ended in due time. Our log books were ruled off and official assessments appended. Our group was split Cup. We were given a choice either to go to Canada under the Commonwealth Training Scheme, or remain in New Zealand for intermediate training. A decision of this sort could have implications concerning one’s eventual fate. I elected to go to Canada, mainly I think, for additional overseas experience.

Those of us choosing Canada were sent on embarkation leave carrying necessary warrants.

 

Canadian interlude

My period of embarkation leave exhausted. I proceeded accompanied by my family, to Auckland the port of departure, and reported to air force embarkation quarters. Formalities there included a medical examination, which I passed despite having a slight unrevealed sore throat.

The mode of conveyance to Canada was a fine modern ship, the Capetown Castle, a sister ship of the Dominion Monarch then familiar to many New Zealanders. We were fortunate in being allotted to such a ship, as it had a nice turn of speed, and was not so vulnerable to the attentions of German raiding vessels then operating in the South Pacific.

Arriving on board. I was directed to a cabin but did not occupy it for very long. At the time New Zealand was in the grips of an epidemic of mumps. It soon became evident that I was suffering from more than the initial stages of a common cold. Reporting sick, the ship's doctor diagnosed the deadly mumps and arranged for a transfer into isolation. My new quarters were a state room which I occupied until reaching Halifax where our party disembarked.

The luxurious accommodation had its drawbacks. I was confined to that one room with its attached facilities. Available to me only was the room and a view of the sea outside of the port hole. Also South African periodicals were available in the suite from when the vessel normally plied to the Cape. I missed the greater freedom of movement normally available in the ship, and the camaraderie of my fellow airmen. My only human contacts came from occasional visits from the doctor and servicing duties by a broad Glaswegian who I had difficulty conversing with anyway.

For my part, the passage to Halifax was uneventful generally. An exception was the transit through the Panama Canal. I had a view of the locks, west and east working, the canal leading to a very scenic and elevated lake with tropical vegetation, and the descent for exit to the Caribbean Sea in a new ocean complex.

Berthing at Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was transferred to a local hospital, likely for an alternative medical opinion. I was confined to hospital but not to bed. The rest of my unit proceeded on their designated way.

I liked what I saw of that eastern Canadian city as was visible from the hospital. Canada has a most attractive environment in the Fall when the leaves of native grown trees change colour and later drop to the ground. The weather was generally splendidly clear and bright in that season.

After a day or two, a pair of Canadian airmen, with transport, conducted me to the railway station. A train was about to pull out, so I was quickly thrust aboard and handed travel warrants. Proceeding to a vacant seat, my fellow passengers very obviously observed me with intereSt. no doubt the more so because my nationality was clearly indicated on my uniform. For my part, the other passengers took my interest. It soon became evident that two languages were being spoken around about me, that implying a duality of racial extraction. The French connection could not be denied. In New Zealand, at the time, the population was. To me, more noticeably of Anglo Saxon lineage, so being in such a mixed group was a new experience.

The tickets indicated a destination of Dunnville. My schoolboy geography lessons had not included mention of such a place, so evidently I was all alone without knowing where I was going. However, darkness turned to light when a middle aged Canadian airman, also in the carriage, out of friendliness introduced himself to me. He knew of the air force station with Dunnville almost on a shore of Lake Erie, and quite adjacent to the Niagara Falls. Two changes of train would be required to be made to get there. He was proceeding to Toronto, so I would have his company for much of the way. The present train would take us to Montreal. It was a long journey, even to Montreal, and the time involved enabled casual friendships to develop with counter discussions about Canada and New Zealand taking place. A community of interest through membership in the British Commonwealth was evident, at least with some of the passengers.

Eastern Canada has few very striking natural features, apart of course from the world significant St. Lawrence River and its Niagara Falls. As one travelled along in the train the view was of rather uninteresting flattish terrain. With an aspect of some incongruity, I thought, villages seen comprised very ordinary houses with, in their midst, apparently elaborate churches with tall steeples. For the local people, doubtless, the homes were adequate and the churches provided them with highly esteemed social and spiritual values.

Quebec was passed in the daylight and on the other side of the St. Lawrence River. Visible were the Heights of Abraham, scaled by General Wolfe's forces while taking the city from the French in the year 1759.

Nights were spent on trains and I did not have the comfort of a sleeping bunk. During the first night I slept not at all, but weariness ensured that this requirement of nature was discharged on the second night.

The large river port of Montreal was reached during morning. The connecting train was not due to leave for several hours. A group of us, travelling companions, detrained together, and several of us hired a horse drawn carriage to see this sights. Later, in a restaurant for lunch, I noticed with surprise that another diner, at an adjacent table appeared to be wearing a side arm: a bigger country, different ways and needs.

Returning to the railway station for the next train several air force special police pounced upon me. They had been detailed to meet me on arrival, but missed me as I departed in a group. They were easily satisfied that I now knew my destination and how to get there.

Passing through Toronto and Hamilton, both substantial cities on the shores of Lake Ontario, a branch line took me to Dunnville which turned out to be a small town in flat farmland, but also with the air force station nearby. Being conducted to the administration block my mind was still in a whirl. It had been a long journey, but probably I had more varied experiences than others, of my unit who travelled together and separately from me.

Quarters were in a long hut with double tier beds. The hut had a central stove and windows were double glazed signs of weather to come, but not necessary in the autumn. The camp was surrounded by about a six foot netting fence I hoped, to keep strangers out. Food in the mess tended to be strange to me and this applied particularly to the sausages. A sealed surface open space was out front, and several times we were called on to attend parades. Study classes were, conducted and for the first time aircraft identification was scheduled for our unit.

Dunnville Air Force Station was the home of No, 6 Service Flying Training School. It was the temporary home, not only of our New Zealand contingent, but also of Canadian trainees. Among the Canadians was an American from Texas who I became friendly with. He had a very nice car which he had driven from his home State. He filled me in on driving conditions in the U.S.A. and we went for a drive or two.

The flight arrangements were expansive, with several great hangers and long sealed runways. The aircraft were single engined monoplanes. Harvard’s and Yale’s, indicating in a general way the types of service we were destined for. We were now converting to modern aircraft, steel construction, more powerful, with canopied cockpit and retractable undercarriage. The fewer Yale’s, although appearing generally similar, were lighter, less powerful and had fixed undercarriages.

As trainees and still raw, much care was taken over the teaching for familiarization of the larger and more complex aircraft. An instructor spent, much time in the other cockpit. Before flying solo the aspirant pilot signed a certificate that he understood the fuel, oil, ignition systems and the ancillary controls of the Harvard aircraft.

In still weather, which was common at the time, the atmosphere was hazy due to areas of heavy industry being thereabouts, and particularly on the American side of the border, Nevertheless flying conditions were pleasant.

Initially, particularly, much attention was given in training to the more critical elements of man engineered flight, namely taking off, turning and landing again. Basics satisfied, other manoeuvres of operational and combat significance were taught and practised. Many of the manoeuvres culminated in aerobatics which figured quite largely towards the end, padding to thrill and enjoyment.

A satellite aerodrome. Welland, was used from time to time, particularly for night flying and for practise in landings within a confined distance. The Welland aerodrome was situated alongside the Welland Canal, later to be upgraded for sea worthy vessels to ply between the lakes Ontatio and Erie. On one occasion, returning to Dunnville by road from night flying our party decided to have a late supper at the Dunnville drug store which remained open all night. This occasion was especially notable in that I ordered coffee and then found that the sugar bowl had been filled with salt.

Apart from actual flying experience. I spent twenty hours on simulated flying in the Link Trainer. This would have taught, directly or indirectly, awareness and practice of procedures needed in coping with particular flying situations.

Photograph of Link Trainer from wikipedia commons

The course at Dunneville was reasonably exacting, but a deal of time was made available for us to become acquainted with the immediate part of Ontario and its people. Toronto, a large and attractive city, had special appeal, and I spent two weekends there. In the first week end I booked into the Royal York Hotel to sample the luxury of the place. The people were hospitable and invitations to homes came readily. One day, sightseeing by tram I made the acquaintance of a French Canadian girl. She was attractive, and we later went to a show together. I would have liked to get to know her better, but my future had much doubt and involvement in any form appeared to be inappropriate.

At the time I, exhibited religious inclinations, although not strongly tempered by any orthodoxy. Most of my extra Station activities would have been accordingly determined. On one occasion, with friends I attended a service of the United Church of Canada. While I was not aware of the histories of traditional Christian denominations in Canada, it seemed that processes of Union may have been more advanced in Canada at that time. On another Sunday several went to a country church not far distant from Dunnville. This was pentecostal in character, with certain words and phrases repeated from the congregation. It was all strange to me, and I thought the country side looked rather poor by New Zealand standards.

I enjoyed two further week ends on pass. Conveniently I had an invitation to join with a young people’s group at Niagara, and so an opportunity was available to view the Falls with its great, mass of water tumbling over the brink and coursing away down a I narrow gorge. On the other occasion, three, of us were hosted, in St. Catharines by a family, the father figure of which owned and operated a well-known hand tool manufacturing enterprise. They were a fine family with a superior home, and in the autumn. St. Catharines showed itself off as a truly lovely city.

The American reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was intriguing, . Their rapid spoken radio broadcasts were clearly heard where we were, and indicated incomprehension and almost disbelief. The almost sleeping giant was prodded into action, fully entered into hostilities, and was to have a critical influence in the outcome.

My last flight in Dunneville air space took place on 21 December. Flying testing was completed, and a certificate appeared in my log book that L.A.C. Lowman I.S. had passed all tests required for Pilot's Badge as laid down by A.F.A.0. A.51/2.

Christmas was almost upon us and for the festivities on the day I shared an invitation to the home in Hamilton of one of the Station Officers. Winter had set in and the road to Hamilton was icy and slushy another experience for me. A traditional Canadian meal comprised turkey and cranberry sauce followed by blueberry pie and cream. Later our party went to an ice hockey stadium, some of us to attempt skating.

The course was essentially ended. For all of us an immediate goal had been reached for the instructors who had brought each one of us through to an acceptable standard of proficiency, and for us who had achieved just that. A dinner in celebration was held at a hotel in Hamilton, and that was followed by a boisterous party. Finally the whole troop was mustered into a large hangar where graduating airmen received rewards as earned. I was one of a larger group promoted to sergeant pilot. A proportion were commissioned as pilots. I was content with my promotion which was as expected. When my log book was returned it was there confirmed that I was rated as average as a pilot and in navigation. Strangely to me I was considered above average in instrument flying. I had now completed nearly 150 hours flying time.

The duties assigned to us for Canada were completed. Passes were made available for the period until we had to come together to join a ship to Britain. Three of us, newly decorated with wings and stripes, made out way to Montreal where we booked into one of the, better hotels, others had taken the opportunity to have a brief look at New York.

In Montreal at that early January time the air was bitterly cold. The hotel was warm, but we were not prepared for the outdoor conditions. To gain a tourist perspective on a clear, calm day, two of us went for a walk on a central elevated park known as Mt. Royal. Presently my companion's face showed signs of freezing so we hurried back to the more clement conditions within the Hotel. However our stay was made pleasurable when we became acquainted with an English speaking family, including two attractive girls, who provided hospitality. Visiting shops with them took on special interest when, as a group, we evoked the attention of a volatile French Canadian.

The staging post while awaiting embarkation was at Truro, some considerable distance short of Halifax. This centre may well have had considerable interest, being at the head of the arm of a Bay, in less hostile weather conditions. As it was the only inviting places were the barracks and mess, the buildings of which were amply heated, and windows were double glazed. A feature of the mess was the presence of coin operated juke boxes which ground out popular tunes.

In due time a train conveyed us to the wharves at Halifax.

Britain

Our sea transport to the island fortress of Great Britain was a Dutch ship, the Vollendam. For ordinary ranks accommodation was most basic, being hammocks slung in a hold. It gave the appearance of not being very clean. The sight of the conditions shocked our contingent. As a mark of protest, while the gang planks were still in place, many of us walked off and assembled on the wharf. Senior officers came along and addressed us seemingly giving an undertaking of improvements being instituted. Induced to re embark, the ship cast off apparently in some haste. Realistically, in the circumstances there was no practical remedy. But having recently had wings sewn onto tunics, aware of a public perception of glamour relating to aircrew, and conscious that former peers, without greater qualifications were travelling in superior circumstances did nothing to soothe feelings of discontent. A mild state of revolt persisted throughout the voyage.

The senior air force officers attempted placation one day by addressing an assembly in the ship’s lounge. The first speaker was howled down, especially when, in reference to meals, he claimed knowledge by reason of being associated with biscuit manufacture in private life. A second speaker commanded attention and respect by firstly ordering out several sergeants who were improperly dressed. If nothing else the meeting provided a lesson in disciplinary practice. It transpired that, comfort, in the crowded below decks was reasonable. The cold North Atlantic weather ensured acceptable temperature and atmosphere. Sleeping in a hammock was no real hardship. We were dispersed among British airmen returning from training under the Commonwealth Scheme, and as they had been away from their war beleaguered land for a comparatively short period, they were able to recount stories of bombings and other hardships. As affecting me particularly, when getting an overview of the ship I happened upon the galley and saw food being prepared. At this stage of my war experience. I must have been unnecessarily squeamish. I henceforth, for the duration of the voyage, obtained my nourishment from the ship's canteen, generally in the form of biscuits.

Time passed well enough on the comparatively short voyage. Apart from the company present there was an expanse of deck and also quite a commodious lounge available where casual, pianists enjoyed playing popular tunes, including particularly “Copenhagen”.

At that time the North Atlantic was an especially dangerous strip of water for allied shipping. We travelled in convoy with destroyer escorts. Individual ships frequently effected changes of course in defensive weaving. When underwater danger was identified a smoke screen could be laid to obscure visual sighting. It was always interesting to watch such manoeuvres.

One night when the bulk of us had retired below decks a loud explosion was heard. A general exodus to open spaces took place, but fortunately our ship was not involved. A story circulated that a destroyer had taken a torpedo, and embellishment decreed that the torpedo was intended for us. Taking to lifeboats in such cold conditions would not have been conducive to a pleasant continuation of life.

Fortune favouring us, we safely entered the Firth of Clyde with its tall hills on its port side. Disembarking at the port of Greenock we transferred to rail and proceeded to Bournemouth on the south coast of England.

In normal times. Bournemouth was a seaside resort, but not so greatly in demand when we were there. It had many attractions apparently with good beaches rendered unusable by barbed wire entanglements. For me our short stay there was mainly enhanced through being able to attend a concert featuring the renowned singer Vivienne Leigh. A garden party had us as guests, and I became more conscious of developments in the war when I spoke to a girl who expressed fears for the safety of her father who was in Singapore. During this period the authorities took the opportunity to teach us the rudiments of unarmed combat and skeet shooting. One day several of us took public transport to visit the satellite centre of Christchurch, but found little of interest there.

Our arrival in Bournemouth was in mid-February and my log book indicated that I flew again on 7 April. That left an intervening period of about six weeks, including the short stay in Bournemouth. Apart from my log book I have no means of prompting my memory, and so incidents and events recalled may not be in a strict chronological order covering my period in Britain on the first occasion.

When on leave, New Zealand airmen often gravitated to London. The New Zealand Forces Club was there and satisfied feeling of nostalgia, as well as being a centre where one could meet with previous associates. In earlier times I booked into the Regent Palace Hotel on several occasions. It was a centrally placed, hostelry, comfortable and reasonably priced.

London itself was quite, a draw card, being the centre of Commonwealth with many famous buildings, places and shops, all much publicized in New Zealand. I visited most of the more important sights, which although being interesting, were disappointing in that the facades were drab compared with newer New Zealand, and what I was later to see in the Mediterranean region. I also had the same criticism of several great cathedrals seen in other parts of the country. The people also tended to have rosy countenances all being induced by shortage of sunshine.

Bombed areas were to be seen, but the surroundings had been quickly tidied. Although disrupted, life had to go on. Compulsory night time black out was about the only inconvenience that I suffered. People were very fortunate in having extensive underground services including efficient railway services for communication, and at times doubling for use as night shelters. Above ground, double deck busses and the singular style taxis operated quite freely, even in dark streets.

Essential public services had often gone underground. I was privileged to visit one such, being in a party invited into an underground studio of the British Broadcasting Corporation. As audience we listened to one of the well-known and popular bands of the day. The programme was to be broadcast short wave, and each of us servicemen was given an opportunity to speak and greet our folks back home. With the poorer communications of those days I was not able to alert my family to the occasion, and I was not later made aware of any of my acquaintances hearing the message. Theatre in the West End of London attracted the finest artists in the land and beyond. I took the opportunity to see a play with the lead role taken by one of the greatest, Michael Redgrave. The plot in the play is no longer remembered, but I was greatly impressed with the articulation of words.

Acquaintances in New Zealand had given me the address of people at an outpost of London. Dutifully I made my way to see them and was received politely, but without great enthusiasm. On the credit side, I saw an affluent suburb markedly different from the city centre.

With two compatriot airmen, I was invited to spend a few days at a fine country house near Godalming in Surrey. The situation was picturesque with surrounding copses and fields. Our hostess informed us that General Freyberg had a home nearby, and a local barber told me that the General would be the next Governor General of New Zealand even though he was still very much occupied in the Middle Eastern war. This experience of a part of Surrey was appealing, even although Spring was not yet very evident in the countryside.

I am a second, generation New Zealander with all of my grandparents originating in various parts of England. Apparently only my paternal grandfather had maintained touch with his English family. I had an address in his home county of Devon, and received an invitation to visit folk in Ilfracombe, a hilly coastal town overlooking a part of the Bristol Channel. On my way there I passed through the major city of Exeter. I was made very welcome, and also had a pleasant evening with other relatives in nearby Barnstaple. After several days I was passed on to a family at Taunton who introduced me to people and places nearer to grandfather’s birth place near Tiviton. The country district there was quaint by our standards. Some cottages had thatched roofs, and I saw one farm house with an earthen floor. At another farm I had to stand on the opposite side of the farm gate from the owners, not being allowed inside as their cattle were infected with foot and mouth disease. In any case this elderly couple had a very broad dialect, so further conversation may have been difficult.

Although communications in Britain had then been improving for about a hundred years, speech in many parts still had strong characteristics of dialect. As one instance of misunderstanding, two of us, one evening, went for a meal in a country restaurant where the waitress advised the menu by word of mouth. I ordered Welsh rabbit as it was described expecting a dish of genuine rabbit, but was surprised when I was delivered a cheese concoction.

With the arrival of April, I was directed to Watton, an air force station in the County of on the east coast. There it was Norfolk no great distance to Nowich, the principal city of the county, which I visited briefly and thought to be of no particular interest. The aerodrome, with the rest of the county, was in easy rolling country, and the general aspect was pleasant. The station itself had permanent buildings and was comfortable.

The unit, joined at Watton was No, 17 A.F.U. for advanced instruction. The aircraft used were Masters, more or less the British equivelant of the American Harvards we flew at Dunneville.

Photograph of aircraft from wikipedia commons

Although now proudly displaying wings. I again had an instructor with me on many occasions, but these were of shorter duration and interspersed with solo flying. It suggests to me that my flying skills were being carefully monitored preparatory to subsequent conversion to single seat fighter aircraft.

Flying on a cross country exercise from Watton one day the historic Ely Cathedral came into view. Situated on its island surrounded by rich arable land reclaimed from marsh it seemed more suited, because of its remoteness, to the purpose of an abbey for which it was originally built in the days when isolation and monasticism were considered to convey merit before the deity.

On a day leave pass, two of us decided to visit the university city of Cambridge. I was not tremendously enthusiastic about the sights, comprising mainly old buildings with a stream meandering by, but afterwards when we sought lunch I succeeded in creating an incident. While we were enjoying our meal, a couple with a large dog entered the restaurant and sat down at another table. Presently the dog, being of a friendly disposition came to our table, but being a former country lad in a land where dogs may carry the dreaded infection of hydatids. I spoke sharply to the animal, and may, even have pronounced the word mongrel commonly used in handling stock. The lady, apparently the owner of the dog, started to cry deeming that the dog had been maligned, and the man to us and suggested that we should accept the ways came of the land in which we now were.

I had seen one of the world's great seats of learning. It was not one of the most spectacular sights the people and their surrounds were not of the more glamorous, but the teachers and those taught there had, over the years, contributed largely to the expansion of modern knowledge, both of the world and man's place on the order of life.

I flew from Watton for the last time on 26 April, and my log book was certified for this section of training the following day, and showed that nearly a hundred and seventy hours of flying had been completed. The next stage of training was to be to fit me for flying on operations, and for this purpose my posting required me to repair from the east coast to near the west coast. 57 0,T,U, was located at Hawarden adjacent to Chester. It was a picturesque position on the border between England and Wales, and close to the foothills of the Welsh high country. It was well placed to enable me to visit some more interesting parts of Britain.

My new unit had Spitfires. I had little time to consider whether this posting should be regarded as fortunate or not as I was back flying again on 1 May. Certainly the Spitfire had lately been the glamour aircraft of the Royal Air Force. On the other hand, the real possibility of my being involved in aerial combat was becoming very real, and I had doubts about my flair for such action. As against such considerations, I was well aware of the prospects of not surviving the war and had come to terms with the realization.

My first flight out of Hawarden was dual in a Masters aircraft again. Then there were three more trips solo in the Masters, and a dual flight in a D.H.86 for map reading. Having satisfied the preliminary requirements I was entrusted to a Mark 1 Spitfire on 5 May of course solo, for a flight lasting an hour.

Flying the Mark 1 Spitfire was almost pure joy. It was stable, the controls were light and it had a powerful motor. In May of that year, broken cumulus cloud billowed over Cheshire several times when ply was practising prescribed routines, and this presented an opportunity safely to soar up and over and through spaces. Such conditions were ideal for acquiring skill in handling the machine. Opportunity was also available to practise the various techniques in aerobatics, and to experience the momentary shading of eye sight through “g” when recovering from a steep dive.

 

Photograph of aircraft from wikipedia commons

It is a self-evident truth that a single unit, however skilled, will be more effective in a supportive group. This is the basis of discipline instilled into armed forces, and it was particularly relevant in training for the fighter arm of an air force during World War II.

Training for close interaction with other aircraft was demanding. Practice, required close formation, almost wing tip to wing tip. Precise control and concentration was needed. Flying on operations required looser formations so that parts of the sky could be constantly surveyed. Generally a vic formation would be employed with a leader, two with each off a wing tip and slightly to the rear, and one “in the box”, which was in the rear and below the slip—stream.

Other interaction practised was dog—fighting. Assuming another aircraft was the enemy one would try to get the best of him by turning, climbing and diving. It was not greatly different from young animals frolicking to meet likely demands in life.

After four weeks at Hawarden. I progressed to Mark 2 Spitfires. The programme of instruction then included air firing and use of the cine-gun. One longer cross country flight took me to the Severn Valley and back. This cross country flight was made more memorable by an incursion into dense cloud. It was a new experience to actually fly blind, and fighter aircraft were usually not flown unless visibility was clear. The incident caused a moment of indecision, but the cloud was not large and no special action was needed. In any case the aircraft was fitted with blind flying instruments including air speed and turn and bank indicators and giro and compass.

Air to ground gunnery occupied an occasion and provided its own unique experience. To dive steeply towards the target, lining it up by the use of the gun sight, then to press a button to actuate the guns mounted in the wings, followed by the pull-out from the dive, set the adrenalin to flow. This exercise was carried out near Rhyl in northern Wales, and adjacent to the entrance of the Dee inlet.

One day I was directed to act as duty pilot with a position in the control tower, and there became involved in an unusual accident. My duty was to ensure that aircraft took off and landed in an orderly manner. One plane landed and turned off onto a taxi strip, and thinking it clear I gave my attention to another approaching for a landing. The incoming landing was executed roughly with bounces veering the machine with its wheels right at the edge of the runway where the other had become stopped. The wing, over the edge of the runway, clipped the tail—fin of the stationary plane. I would regard it as a freak incident, but senior officers blamed me for something I really had no control over. With no notice and opportunity to collect my thoughts I was sentenced to seven days “confined to barracks”. The penalty did not affect my flying and other training, and I had no occasion to want to leave the precincts of the Station in any case, but my opinion of ground-walla officers took something of a nose dive. I have wondered whether the throttle examining party, who had ability to turn off but not fully clear the runway, was ranked as an officer.

My operational training at Hawarden lasted for two months. During that time only four breaks of several days are recorded, so it was an intensive course, and a time to be well remembered. I took opportunities to visit Manchester and Liverpool for overnight stays as well as looking around nearby Chester.

At that time Chester bore the signs of its age and of having been at frontier city. It had a curious feature in that its main street had the roadway and footpath on different levels, perhaps to allow shops to be more readily defended. It rather lacked an appearance of civic pride, in its surroundings. I was equally critical of Manchester. The night I was there, industrial haze was all around, causing also discomfort in respiration. The visit to Liverpool, approached through the recently completed Mersey Tunnel, more interesting was with cleared air and fewer smells but damage from bombing at this port city was very evident, more so than seen elsewhere in Britain.

The scheduled training was completed and I was now ready to be posted to a squadron for induction to active service. As a flier I was still rated as average, but above the average in air gunnery, and the certificate included a special note that I had shown special aptitude as a pilot navigator. My special ratings may have been influenced by my experience as a back country boy. Although my interest in the use of guns had always been minimal, I had learnt how to fire at a moving target, and life in the wide open spaces could have been useful in helping to identify key physical features to follow in navigation.

My posting documents revealed that my first squadron would be No,232. I was directed to entrain to a place called Barmouth on the west coast of northern Wales. There I would be met and taken by road to another place called Llambedr where the squadron was stationed. The journey to Barmouth was mainly along a branch line, and the train meandered through Welsh hills. The few passengers seemed to know one another and chattered away in their local language. I felt as if I had entered a foreign country. Barmouth was a hilly little port facing onto a small inlet.

The aerodrome being used by the squadron at Llambedr was located on a level area alongside the sea, and with hills in a sort of half moon formation on its inland aside. The situation lent itself to protection of shipping passing through St. Georges Channel which separates Wales from Ireland. Our quarters were very pleasantly established on a hillside, with a small village nearby. The mess possessed a game appropriately named shove h'penny which I had not seen before. Other diversions were almost non-existent, but with a short stay of about three weeks in that place, and with a comprehensive schedule of a new range of duties, the time passed happily enough.

232 Squadron was equipped with Mark 5 Spitfires fully armed and with armour plating fitted at vital spots for some protection in aerial combat. A fighter aircraft is essentially a modern combat tool with a role not unlike mediaeval Jousting, but in this war many of us participating had backgrounds and aspirations quite unlike the knights of old. With the extra equipment added the Mark 5 Spitfire was heavier on the controls, but it was still a very nice aeroplane to fly.

With my arrival at Llambedr, my main thoughts centred on fitting into the required duties and routines. It did not enter my head to inquire into the history of the squadron. Years later I learnt that a 232 Squadron was in Batavia in February 1942, only about six months before its counterpart was at Llambedr. Our unit would have been newly formed with personnel and in every other respect. Despite the implementation of established procedures of the Air Force, there would undoubtedly have been a phase for working in.

By word of mouth within the squadron, the C.O. had served outstandingly as a sergeant pilot during the Battle of Britain. Apart from this he commanded respect. At the other end of the scale, I, as one of the last to join and with no operational experience, was rated as a sprog in air force jargon.

At the time the squadron had a Masters aircraft as well as the Spitfires. My first two flights there, both dual, were in the Masters and of short duration, Next I was sent off in a Spitfire to become aware of local features as seen from the air.

From Llambedr a good deal of time was devoted to flying in formation, but exercises also comprised dog fighting and practice for aerial gunnery. Considerable periods were spent in the crew room when the ground crews would have the aircraft at readiness with, engine magnetos previously checked, and parachutes and safety harness properly placed in cockpits for hasty fitting. A “scramble” would be ordered by the sounding of a siren; then the pilots, would dash each to a designated aircraft for strapping in with the assistance of ground crew. When ready, the engine would be started and starter batteries and chocks removed, leaving the way clear for take off and joining as a formation on the air. The object was to become airborne, and on the way, as quickly as possible.

I last flew from Llambedr on 30 July, and took a Spitfire up again on 4 August, then flying from Turnhouse for familiarization in the Edinburgh locality. The Squadron had moved its base. The more senior pilots went in the aircraft. This change of base was the first of four by the Squadron over the next month.

At Turnhouse the Squadron exercised with the army one day, but then shortly transferred to near London at Graves End, again we sprogs travelled with the ground staff by night train and second class. Our party of young men indulged in high jinks, and I ended up sleeping in the luggage rack. Fortunately this bit of luggage was not heavy.

Our situation at Graves End was very pleasant, with good accommodation set among gardens. On 15 August I carried out a sector reconnaissance in the customary way, and took the opportunity to fly at height over a portion of sprawling London. The great metropolis, one of the world’s largest at that time, was indeed impressive when spread out below. Two days later I was in a section detailed to provide protection for a flotilla of small ships moving north off the coast of Suffolk. Also involved were two landings at Ipswich for refuelling.

On the morning of the eighteenth all the pilots were summoned to the Operations Room for a briefing. The reason for our movement to Graves End became clear. An action to place troops on the French coast at Dieppe was scheduled for the next day. Fighter squadrons were poised to provide cover and support for the operation, and a strenuous battle could be expected. Needless to say all leave was cancelled. Those detailed to fly, who lacked previous experience of such action, would have a largely sleepless night. A young Englishman occupying a bunk next to mine once awakened me with threshing. He was the only one of the Squadron not to return from a sortie next morning.

I was not wanted on the early sorties, but the C.O. took me as his number two on an incursion over France in the late afternoon. By then the main battle was over, but the navy would be withdrawing with the remnants of the army which had suffered grievously. Fighters would still be required to provide cover. I was mainly concerned with maintaining station with the other aircraft as we were weaving violently, but at the same time it was a new experience for me to hear the calls of battle through my ear phones. Not seeing any enemy we returned to base.

Although I was not directly involved in the principal actions of that day, the date of 19 August had continued to be memorable to me. Doubtless even the waiting was traumatic. It must have been one of the most intense and bloodiest mornings of the war. About three thousand Canadian families would have gone into mourning. The Royal Airs Force lost 106 aircraft and 113 aircrew from 67 squadrons involved, and the Germans have admitted even heavier losses with 170 aircraft going down.

Seemingly the raid on Dieppe was a dummy run to test German defences at an Atlantic port in anticipation of a subsequent invasion. A secondary intention may have been political as the destruction of aircraft on the German Western Front would weaken the war effort on the Eastern Front. The balance of power was shifting with the allied forces gaining in strength and starting to take the war to Germany and its occupied territories.

Out rebuilt squadron had been blooded. The assignment at Graves End being completed, a third change of base took place by a movement to Debden, on the other side of London, and one of the larger stations of No,11 Fighter Group. Some of us were transported on this occasion by air in a York transport. Being the first timed as a passenger in a larger aircraft, I was intrigued to watch the wings moving up and down.

The stay at Debden lasted until nearly the end of August. During that time I took part in three sweeps around the south of England in wing formations, they were the only times during the war that I flew operational with thirty six aircraft. This was in the hunting ground for large formations of German intruders. The enemy was not sighted during any of the sorties. I understand that in the overall strategy of the war, the allied commanders were concerned that the Germans had become loathe to attack with fighters from their Western Front.

Of course we were all well aware of the hazards of flying, particularly on operations, but one was demonstrated to us one day. A young officer who had been badly burned and received skin grafting appeared in our crew room. That was in the early days of skin grafting, and disfigurement had resulted. The misfortune of such, young men, however, enabled a step forward in medical practice to be made to the benefit of later generations.

The stint at Debden completed, the squadron returned to Turnhouse, and that was to be our base for the next two months. Shortly it was noised abroad that a 232 Squadron was destined for overseas, again, but the area of war intended was nor made known.

Turnhouse was really the airport for Edinburgh, and the air force would have been there as a war convenience. A tram service provided a link with centrally placed and attractive Princess Street. It was a splendid place to spend a couple of months in the Scottish autumn.

Edinburgh, not being a significant industrial centre, was not greatly plagued with haze. Princess Street had shops on one side, and a gully with a park, useful for civic purposes, on the other side. Buildings of national and historic interest. Hollywood Palace and Edinburgh Castle were on the other side of the gully at the ends of another long inclining street. Edinburgh Castle was particularly placed on a crag and was a worthy monument to Scotland's turbulent past.

Scotland is noted as the home of a Presbyterian Church. John Knox et al. The air force made little distinction concerning Sunday Observance, but one Sunday when I was free, and having an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand, I went to the —big church on the lower side of Princess Street. The congregation there seemed to be higher middle class I sat through the service but when leaving felt like an outsider.

Readying for proceeding overseas, the Squadron had changes in personnel. Included was a new Commanding Officer who apparently had been shot down over France and escaped by some means to render him ineligible to fly on operations again over that country. Another notable personnel change involved a dark blooded West Indian pilot from Jamaica, who left us perhaps as being considered as unsuitable for service in Africa. He was a very pleasant, well-spoken young man who shared jaunts with me into Princess Street on several occasions, when I was intrigued over the fuss made of him by waitresses in restaurants. At that time few coloured people were to be seen in Britain, and I now wonder whether he would have received such a reception in today's world.

Awaiting orders to another theatre of war, the Squadron continued to practise skills. I remember particularly several flights to near Drem, a town on the East Coast, where we engaged in air to ground firing. With hindsight this may have been in anticipation of ground strafe at times in support of an army. On one such trip the air waves were electric with Australian voices, and for years that coloured my opinion of them as being a particularly noisy people.

Preparation was not confined to flying. The whole squadron was ordered to undergo a fitness programme. It was referred to as a Commando Course, but amounted only to a graduated series of route marches. Being young and fit, we sergeant pilots considered it a bit unnecessary and avoided the earlier shorter marches, but were pressed into the final one of twenty miles when we coped well enough, but ended up with blistered feet. Perhaps the blisters were caused by the inadequacy of issue shoes. In so far as our aircrew was concerned, the fitness course was not in fact needed, but those of another squadron had to march the distance from ship side to their aerodrome at Algiers.

An important person called on us one day at Turnhouse. It was Sir Sholto Douglas. A.O.C. Fighter Command.

Photograph from wikipedia commons

He was very informal, coming into our crew room, saying a few words and then exiting again, 232 Squadron, not being alone in using the airport of Turnhouse. I had the good fortune to see two incidents there of considerable interest to me. On a windy day a light aircraft was flown to move backwards, the air speed before stalling being less than the speedy of the wind. On another occasion an autogiro was there on display; it was virtually an aeroplane, but in place of a fixed wing to achieve lift, it had freely rotating blades somewhat of the type of the rotor blades off a more recently developed helicopter.

While the time at Turnhouse was devoted to honing skills and generally increasing fitness for future anticipated activities, considerable times of leave were granted. I tripped to London, and spent a night in each of Glasgow and Perth. The carriages on the night train to London, whether as versions of the Flying Scotchman or not, in second class were even less comfortable than the equivalent on the New Zealand Limited Express of that day. Industrial haze enveloped Glasgow, so if it had any sights normally of appeal, they could not be appreciated in the circumstances. The trip to Perth was taken for the purpose off crossing the then much publicized Forth Bridge, but I have mainly a preserved memory of a breakfast of trout enjoyed at the hotel there. For some reason known to me then, I also spent a night at a boarding place in Edinburgh; there I met a nationalistic old Scotchman who drew attention, in belittling the English, to a major role played by the Scotch in the spread of empire; for effect he used a colourful statement that the English did not move beyond the sight of their own chimney stacks.

The period of waiting had to end. We still did not know where we were bound for. In his short visit, Sir Sholto Douglas had asked whether we knew where we were going, but I think he would have been surprised, and perhaps disturbed, had we been able to tell him. In preparation for departure, an instruction came down that we should keep only gear immediately needed with us, and the rest would be collected and sent separately. A gas mask was part of our issue kit there was no mention how that should be treated, and after discussion we sergeant pilots decided that there was no immediacy of need for that item. When the station authorities became aware when some of us lacked possession of a gas mask, they turned on an alert and inspection. We were caught out nicely and directed to the decontamination chamber.

Our ritual contamination having been washed away, and feeling very clean, we were transported to the railway station, still without gas masks, and from thence entrained to a transit camp at West Kirby, located on the opposite side of the Mersey from Liverpool. Fortunately our wait at that camp was short as its accommodation was primitive.

First army support

Taken to a Liverpool wharf where ships of war were berthed. I was directed to embark on a two thousand ton American built cutter supplied to the Royal Navy under a lend lease arrangement. I was separate from the rest of my squadron personnel, but a number of officers without immediate unit were also aboard. Apparently aircrew were dispersed among the vessels escorting a convoy, being considered too valuable to be unduly concentrated in the event of a successful enemy action. A bunk was not available for me, and I was given a blanket and told I could doss down on the highly, polished floor of the Petty Officers quarters, Navy fashion, all was spick and span. The hard floor was no great hardship for a young man.

Emerging from the protection of the harbour we found ourselves in the midst and dwarfed by a number of large troop ships. Assuredly Awe were heading overseas in terms of Britain and the Squadron. Of course, at that time, most New Zealanders still referred to Britain as home or the mother country.

Viewed from hindsight, for an airman to have a voyage with the Royal Navy in one of their ships must have been a bonus experience. It was not always comfortable. When Bay of Biscay style weather eventuated, I spent a certain amount of time at the ship's rail disgorging the plain but wholesome meals from the ship's galley. Several times at night, when I retired to the blanket on floor bed. I slid from one part of the compartment to another.

I have other interesting memories. One was to watch the crew being issued with a tot of rum each day and to observe how it was disposed of. Another was to see drum like objects rolled over the stern of the ship although it was not obvious that there was anything below to be depth charged.

The convoy proceeded on its way without any significant incidents occurring. The Strait of Gibraltar was negotiated at night, and in due time the broad Bay of Algiers opened out before us, with the city spread around the face of a hill at its farther end. A white Kasbah was conspicuous on its upper parts.

By this time all the civilized world would have been aware that Allied forces had effected landings along the French North African coast. In the previous month Axis forces had been dislodged from the Alamein Line and the aim was to pinch Axis forces between two advancing armies.

Our ship commenced to patrol the entrance to the Algiers bay. It carried very little armament and would have been essentially a submarine chaser. Forces under General Anderson were then being landed as far east as Bone which was used as a launching pad for a dash towards Tunis, so parts of the convoy would have proceeded towards more eastern ports under other escort.

During the first night while we were on patrol. German aircraft arrived to bomb the Algiers harbour. The ships assembled there opened up with an intensive barrage of ack ack and we had a grand stand position to observe it. At least one aircraft was shot down and our ship picked up a survivor. Next morning, for a short period I was detailed to guard him wearing my revolver, as the ship had no secure accommodation.

With the shore and activities beckoning, we airmen wanted to disembark, but the ship had no such orders concerning us. However, later in the day the ship berthed and we were then discharged. In the clutter associated with invasion the shore administrators could not immediately place us either. The first night ashore we spent in a marquee on the beach. On this night no bombs fell but the rain did in torrents. From overhead it was dry, but on a sloping beach the water cascaded through, and we were lying directly on the sand.

On the next day also wet waited in vain for information and instructions. One of the officers had, assumed the role of spokesman for our small group, and being the most junior I just tagged along.

Inevitably here was curiosity concerning the place and peoples in the new surroundings. A view I heard expressed was to the effect that the English were not acceptable to the Muslim Arabs because of their associations with the Jews, and the Germans were viewed more favourably. Also a warning was heard that one should avoid entering a native Kasbah, and a was cited of an errant serviceman, who being caught there was handed over to the women who removed his testis and sewed them into his mouth before he was returned to his unit.

Before leaving Britain we had each been supplied with a revolver and emergency kit for use in the event of being forced down in hostile territory. Thoughts hit home of a real possibility of my finding myself in such a situation of vulnerability.

Our small group had not been impressed with the standard of accommodation, provided for us on our first night ashore. One member met up with a French family who invited us to join them in their basement which served also as an air raid shelter. The offer was gratefully accepted. We arrived with supplementary tinned food rations for the preparation of a meal. The basement was large and chairs and pillows were plentiful so we had a comfortable night. The family was literate in English geography, but stumbled when I tried to tell them where I came from. They were most hospitable and next morning escorted several of us to see some of the better shops.

On this next day the authorities directed us to rooms at Maison Carree, a centre located a short way east of Algiers, and on the road to the airport at Maison Blanche. This move did not signify much to me at the time, but with hindsight, considering the volatile politics of the French settlers at the time, fraternization may have been frowned upon.

In the morning at the pension at Maison Carree I was awakened by the sounds of jingle bells. Arab vendors with donkeys and carts, and with each donkey adorned with a bell, were making their ways to their market places. From this place I became particularly apprised of the traditional male dress with the fez and Moslem required voluminous seated pants. The Arab women with shawl and ankle length dress were not so visible at this place.

By the road side at Maison Carree, Arabs were selling assorted produce, notably tangerines and dates. After the austerity of Britain at the time I purchased and ate freely and unwisely as I later was made aware.

At this stage the Algiers administrators confirmed that I was on the strength of 232 Squadron with the air crew assembled at Gibraltar. I was to join them there, and to this end I was transported to Maison Blanche aerodrome. The others of the group were sent on their various ways.

At Maison Blanche I spent the night with the unit established to operate the aerodrome. Accommodation was in a large hangar where I joined in eating and sleeping. It had a concrete floor which I dossed down on and had the merit of being dry. Food was basic, being from tins supplemented with hard tack. I had false teeth and so took a couple of biscuits and went off by myself to nibble them.

On the next morning at Maison Blanche, with the help of aerodrome controllers, I hitched a lift on a B17 Flying Fortress which was flying through to the United Kingdom but was having a refuelling stop at Gibraltar.

Photograph of aircraft from wikipedia commons

The Americans were very friendly and even invited me into the cockpit to show me the controls and instrumentation of this aeroplane, which was very large and complex in terms of that era. Landing at Gibraltar, the captain asked if I would like to go on to England with them. Such was not on my agenda, or then in accordance with my wishes. I picked up my small kit and proceeded to find where my fellow airmen were quartered.

232 Squadron was not included in the first wave of invasion, and in the meantime the aircrew were in reserve at Gibraltar. At first were accommodated adjacent to the town and harbour. The weather was clear and bright, and ideal for enjoying a lazy life.

A landing strip had been prepared across the isthmus joining the Rock to the Spanish mainland and alongside the border. The town of Gibraltar climbed the western slopes of the Rock with the harbour at the foot. We heard of tunnels, presumably formed for defence and to service gun positions. Apes were also spoken of, but not being tourists we were not given a guided tour of sights.

Gibraltar had quite a Spanish flavour. La Linea, a town just through the fence, provided day workers for the colony.

The people living in the Rock were mostly service personnel. Life was reasonably comfortable there, but it was a small rigidly controlled community with a lack of diverse interests. The only general diversionary activity I remember was tombola, the navy equivalent of housie.

Shortly after arriving in Gibraltar I was laid low with a stomach complaint, diagnosed as gastric enteritis. This complaint is, I believe, brought on by intake of food in certain conditions, and it may have been caught during my adventures in Algeria. For several days I whittled away my time in a hospital ward.

On 6 December I was detailed to ferry a Spitfire to Maison Blanche. My last previous flight had been on 31 October. It was gratifying to be able to take to the air again, but also it broke the monotony of life on the Rock. I was entirely on my own in unaccustomed territory, but map reading presented little difficulty with the African coast being followed for most of the way. The overall distance was close to a thousand kilometres which was outside of the range of my Spitfire so I put in to Oran for refuelling. The dusty Oran airfield had been a centre of Vichy French resistance a month previously when units of the great invasion force made strategic landings at various Places al0ng the coast. All appeared quiet when I passed by, but it was surely a lonely place for the maintenance crew assigned to that place.

A successful flight was terminated when I flew over the city of Algiers and went on the few extra kilometres to alight at Maison Blanche. Formal requirements of delivery completed, and my personal needs satisfied. I turned my attention to finding a means of returning to Gibraltar. A flight sergeant, maintenance, indicated a Hudson aircraft on the tarmac, but confided that it was the transport of the Governor of Gibraltar. On a suggestion I spoke with the pilot who was enjoying the shade under the wing of the aircraft. With little hesitation he agreed that I could occupy the bulbous observer's compartment up front and separate from the main body of passengers in the cabin. In this way I arrived back at Gibraltar. My position provided an excellent view, but it was nearly all of the blue Mediterranean. At one stage the Governor of Army General Rank, came into the cockpit to have a turn at flying the aircraft and his hairy knees came close to poking me in the back.

Several days after my arrival, on the second occasion, from Algiers our messing and living arrangements were moved to higher and steeper ground overlooking the Strait and across to Ceuta on the African coast. This was a magnificent position with a spectacular view. As is not uncommon with the human estate, I am not sure that we appreciated the position fully, especially as it was a considerable walking distance from the town. Perhaps due to the immanent approach of the Christmas season and our next projected movement we were one day favoured with a magnificent seven course meal being served.

Several days before Christmas we, the Squadron aircrew, left the Rock behind us and winged the way south by transport to Casablanca on the African coast and in French Morocco. This was an American reception place for their contribution to the French North African conflict, so we spent the yuletide period with the Americans and in accommodation provided by them.

My impression of Casablanca was that it is situated on the edge and sea ward side of a very extensive and level plain. Several of us ventured into the city, a distance of several miles from the camp, but there was nothing of interest there appearing to be closed up for the holidays. Also Morocco was apparently one part where the government installed by the Vichy French had been more intransigent in their opposition to the invading forces.

For Christmas the Americans turned on a nativity show, and the Christmas day dinner could well be described as sumptuous. In general American meals were more highly flavoured than I had been accustomed to, and I was introduced to the highly spiced spam, and also to peanut butter, for the first time. One night brought a minor alert when an enemy aircraft was detected overhead. Doubtless the Germans were on a reconnaissance mission.

After several days with the Americans at Casablanca, we set off on a tortuous journey to provide support to the First Army in its drive towards Tunis. For my part I was to spend more than eighteen months henceforth in lands where our civilization had its beginnings and early development.

The first stage of our journey was by air transport on a route over the foot hills to the Atlas Mountains. A disadvantage of travelling by air in this way is that one can see only a segment of the land being passed over, and also one is detached from the life and formations below and so we arrived at Maison Blanche with only a narrow view of the intervening country side.

There was no lingering at Maison Blanche on this occasion. Transported to a nearby station we boarded a train with our destination at Setif, about two hundred miles away, and on a high internal plateau. Our carriage was basic with seats of wood, but that was no hardship for a day journey. In parts the railway line wound steeply, and the view was then picturesque.

As a town, Setif was modern with good shops. For a couple of nights we were billeted in a school, and during the day children played in the grounds. Many of the children had snotty noses, but it was winter on high exposed country. Units of the Squadron's motor transport met us at Setif, and in a day took us on to Constantine where we camped for the night. Constantine was also elevated, and some snow was lying around. Our camp was some distance from the shopping centre, but several of us made our way there to enjoy a satisfying meal of eggs and fine quality French bread. The restaurant was on a craggy outcrop, and just outside was a ruin of aqueduct spanning a cleft. This seemed to indicate that the ancient Romans had been there. We had no opportunity to get a wider idea of the surroundings.

From Constantine our road dropped, at first steeply, to Phillippeville a minor port. There we met the remainder of our ground crew. This later stage had been quite a short journey, so I had the opportunity to look around for a bit. It was hilly with a steep dip to the sea. My most notable memory is of a horse drawn hearse with horse, driver and vehicle all in black, going about on its business. To this stage, the local people showed no concern over having foreign servicemen moving around in their midst. The earlier hostile elements had been comparatively few and confined to those politically inspired.

At Phillippeville I was taught a lesson, and one that was inexcusable for one who had been brought up on a farm where instruction in the use of firearms was a part of upbringing. I had been issued with a finer looking Smith and Wesson revolver than was the usual. In a concrete bunker like room that the Non Commissioned Officers were using as a sort of mess, a maintenance flight sergeant asked to see my revolver which I was then wearing as a side arm. I handed it to him with a caution that it was loaded, but he pulled the trigger. The bullet ricocheted around the room but fortunately did not hit any of those assembled there.

For the last stage of our journey to the place where we would undertake operational duties we boarded a Dakota aircraft at Phillippeville. This plane seemed to be providing a sort of courier service between scattered units.

An image of the Dakota on the wiki commons

First of all a landing was effected at a very small coastal airstrip, and I was suitably impressed that such a sizable aircraft could safely operate to and from there. After virtual hedge hopping the next landing was made at Souk el Arba, situated in a broad valley, and being the most advanced aerodrome being used in support of the battling armies. In the short time we were there a Spitfire was shot down in full view, and that was my introduction to strenuous aerial warfare. Leaving Souk el Arba we hedge hopped back to Bone the centre from which we would undertake operational flying. In the meantime the ground crew would have travelled by road the short distance between Phillippeville and Bone.

Bone was the nearest port for the front line forces and had the appearance of having been well done over by bombers during the previous six weeks. The airfield had a single paved strip and, with enemy action and wet weather, it had otherwise mud all around. That was a wet season of a year in that locality and surely not the most appropriate time to stage a military action there. The action may have been ordered to synchronize with an advance from Alamein where conditions may have been more favourable.

Normally Bone may have been a pleasant place. We occupied a lovely villa facing onto a fine beach. It was still fully furnished, even to a music box and lurid French postcards.

Bone was at about the outer range for German fighter aircraft of that time, except perhaps the FW190 which was not being flown on that front. Instead the ME109e was being used in support of the German defending army. At first the ME109e was rather more than a match for the Spitfire 5 being used by the R.A.F. but that situation was shortly redressed by the arrival of a Spit, IX squadron.

Photograph of aircraft from wikipedia commons

When we arrived stories were being told of a grim situation for our fighter aircraft. One such story had it that a squadron had gone on a sortie and the only one to return was the C.O. and he rode in on a donkey. Hearsay also had it that two pilots had refused to fly under the conditions operating, and were classified as lacking moral fibre. One of these, an officer, was later said to be transferred to other flying duties, but the other, a sergeant, was not seen again.

232 Squadron flew Mark 5 Spitfires from Bone, and I had my first flight from there on 4 January 1943 when my section was involved in a scramble because of enemy aircraft being in the area. Nothing eventuated, and a similar situation arose two days later, again with no contact. My log book indicates that long periods of readiness, were being interspersed with patrols over the harbour and aerodrome. Protection of these facilities was our function at that place, but on one occasion a sweep over the forward town of Bizerte is recorded. At no time was any enemy aircraft sighted.

On 31 January, and after my thirteenth flight. I had an accident on landing. The aircraft veered off the landing strip, ran into the mud and turned onto its nose. Much of the forward way had been spent, and I expect the damage would have been confined to a bent propeller. Over the years I have been unable to reason why I should have had such an accident. It was my only one to happen over about three years of flying.

After my accident I was grounded. The R.A.F. took a poor view of pilots, especially NCOs, who damaged their aircraft in ordinary flying. Evidence shortly afterwards indicated that there was little concern over my ability to handle a plane, so it must have been a matter of discipline. My C.O. at the time was a pre-war professional flier and somewhat remote in his attitudes.

I stayed with that squadron for several weeks after my accident with very little to do. While I was with the squadron there was little to excite one. The most notable incident was the sight, as some of us stood outside our crew room, of a dive bombing attack on the port by one of those curious aeroplanes, the Stuka.

Photograph of aircraft from wikipedia commons

The difficulty of operating off the Bone aerodrome was apparently recognized, as very shortly after my accident the squadron moved to a newly formed strip several miles further up the same valley. The surface of this strip comprised interlocking steel sections. The extra distance of travel required that a tented camp be established, and the villa previously used was kept as a place for recreation. I helped to erect a tent on a hill side above the main camp, and among low growing trees. A splendid view across the broad valley was available, but I had many pleasant days at the villa.

While life in the tented camp was tolerable, and the vista attractive, especially in the better weather then prevailing, perils, new to me, were present. Heating for cooking was obtained by an improvised arrangement of pouring petrol onto a loose sand and earthen base and applying a lighted match. One day a cook poured the petrol onto a base which was still not dead from fire and he was badly burned from a flash back of flame. He jumped into a nearby canal and died, not from burns, but from an infection from contaminated water.

In the several weeks while I remained with 232 Squadron I served as duty pilot on occasions. Involved was a twenty four hour duty, and because of limited flying activity, the main task was to answer the telephone. In those days ground communication was still by land lines. The nights particularly tended to drag with no bed except a section of steel mesh and no bedding.

As a duty pilot one day I received a call to say that a Beaufighter aircraft had crashed and its crew were dead. I was asked to arrange for the collection of the bodies, so rang the M.O. suggesting the use of the ambulance. His terse reply was to the effect that his ambulance was for the movement of live bodies, not dead ones, and told me to arrange for a three ton truck and some blankets to be sent.

Photograph of aircraft from wikipedia commons

On another day as duty pilot, a Beaufighter landed and was parked to obscure the view from the control tent. As legs appeared from an under port I commenced to remonstrate, but was pulled up short when a man wearing much gold braid emerged. It was Air Marshal Keith Park on his way to Malta. I rang the station commander and on his arrival was glad to retire into the background.

My sense of imagination may have been quickened by uncertainty and the more immediate presence of danger, but lingering among the low trees above my tent I half expected to hear the sounds of the Pipes of Pan wafting up from the valley below. Another time another pilot and I were rambling in an area of trees and open spaces within the valley when we came upon a group of similarly dressed Arabs, under the surveillance of a large Frenchman with a whip, and hastily moving here and there on pre-determined tasks.

Early in March my records show that I had been transferred to Maison Blanche where a transit post was then well established. My memories of that period are not very coherent, but substantial barracks had been erected, and there were many diverse singles and groups of airmen around. At that time Algiers had cases of bubonic plague, so special inoculation was mandatory and the city was out of bounds to us.

War throws up some remarkable stories of unlikely happenings. A tale was being told of a named English flyer who had sunk a destroyer while participating in the Spanish Civil War. While I was at Bone, this young man turned up one day, now as an officer in the R.A.F. Of course we asked him how he managed to achieve such a feat, and in reply he remarked that he could only assume that a bomb he had dropped had gone down the ship's funnel. Another story involved a sergeant pilot I was with at Maison Blanche. Being shot up and ejecting, his parachute failed to open, but he survived. He appeared to be normal physically, but said that he suffered internal injuries.

Sharing our mess at Maison Blanche were a number of Polish aircrew who had just completed a tour of operations. Among themselves they were noisy, and I heard a remark that they were unusually class conscious. Those who had served two tours of operations would not mix easily with those who had only one tour completed.

One of the advantages or disadvantages depending on the point of view, of serving on a comparatively small and mobile unit like a fighter squadron overseas, was that we saw very little of spiritual advisers. At Maison Blanche a Church parade was held with the usual requirement to attend.

With a background of a farm boy in New Zealand, with domestic animals about, I was intrigued by a sight seen when on a road at the back of Maison Blanche. A fashionably dressed lady emerged from a well presented villa onto a porch and threw slops to pigs penned right alongside the building. I was reminded of an occasion as a boy, when a bishop of English origin, on a pastoral visit to our back country district had lunch which included pork at our home and by way of conversation remarked that where he came from he liked to have a pig in the back yard. His comment, indicating different standards in the Old World, became more believable to me.

Another bit of information I picked up, perhaps correct or not and of local moment, concerned the bleaching of white linens. Such fabrics would be placed and left in a pan of water for action by the intense sun of the region. Certainly such a method would be more energy effective than beating on rocks in a stream as later seen outside of Bombay in India.

Earlier stating that I had reason to believe that the hierarchy had not been concerned over my ability to continue to handle a Spitfire, confirmation that such was so presently became evident. Entries in my log book show that on St. Patrick’s day I ferried a Mark 5c Spitfire to Setif, and returned with a Spitfire IX on 20 March. I now have no recollection of such journeys, but it would have been the first time piloting a Mark 1X with its larger motor and four bladed propeller. In the earlier stages only the Mark 5 had been in use in support of the Tunesian Front.

About a fortnight later I was at Montesquieu situated somewhat eastward of Constantine. The 322 Wing Training Flight had been set up there with a bulldozed airstrip. The countryside was pastoral in appearance, but animals were notably absent due possibly to fighting taking place at no great distance away.

At Montesquieu it was back to practise of the various fighter skills. It was an isolated position, but the flying was more interesting than stooging on patrol without variation.

My refresher course lasted for nearly three weeks with a period in the air on most days. One day, however, flying was not scheduled, and having no alternative activity available, a party of us decided to go fishing in a stream seen some miles away. In place of rods and tackle, small arms with some having explosive ammunition, were employed, no fish surfaced due perhaps to others with explosives having been there before us but the day was clear and pleasant, and a stroll over undulating and grassy hills provided needed change and relaxation.

The fishing jaunt took us past an Arab habitation. On our way back all the occupants of the dwelling, lice included, came out to answer our greeting. Although we were armed to the teeth, they exhibited no fear and presented a front of dignity. The rural Arabs on the hilly border lands between Algeria and Tunesia had little appreciation of the technological war going on about them. Stories were told of occasions when an Arab on a donkey crossed an air strip in the face of aircraft landing or taking off without any regard for the danger involved. Differences were such that some servicemen would take pot shots at them, just as if they were animals. I witnessed one such incident, but fortunately it was from a moving truck with little chance of a, hit being registered. On another occasion, I was told by a long range truck driver that he had shot at Arabs on the way up from Algiers.

Our course at Montesquieu included an unexpected and unusual test. One day aloft under a clear blue sky, and about to return to base, advice was received over the R.T. that a gale had blown up, providing a cross wind for landing, and we were instructed to put down across the narrow landing strip. Carrying out the instructions I reduced to stalling speed quite accurately, but still had some throttle advanced when coming to rest. Two airmen rushed forth and grasped a wing apiece and escorted me to dispersal. The stalling speedy of a Spitfire was about eighty miles per hour, so the wind speed must have been in excess of that. A gale of this proportion was mentioned in the annals of the Eighth Army which was then advancing up the Tunisean coast.

On successive days just prior to the completion of the course. I was detailed to deliver separate aircraft from Montesquieu to Kalaa Djerda, each time a thirty minute flight. The recipient squadron was South African, and the aircraft bore no squadron markings. The air force supporting the Eighth Army, as would have been the lot of the South Africans, had been largely using Hurricanes, so I assume that re-equipment was taking place with Spitfires coming in from Morocco. It was my first occasion, to meet with South Africans.

Photograph of aircraft from wikipedia commons

Completing the course I was drafted to 242 Squadron based at Souk el Khemis, then the most forward aerodrome supporting the First Army. The conveyance was by three ton truck mostly over metalled country roads. The Souk valley at that time April/May, presented a picture of flowering poppies and these were light brown in colour, not scarlet like those growing wild in other parts of the Mediterranean.

The North African campaign was rapidly drawing to a close, and Tunis was to fall only about ten days after my arrival on 242 Squadron. I felt privileged to be included in a sortie over the army on the eventful day. Over that period the squadron was involved in patrolling and bomber escort duties, but the German air force was not in evidence. Despite such a recent arrival on the squadron, I was included for several days relaxation at a seaside resort of Tabarka, which was about mid way between Bone and Bizerta. Our accommodation at Tabarka was situated on a craggy hill with a view out to sea. My main memory of it concerned a ground staff officer complaining about lack of promotion which seemed out of place with a war going on just over the hills.

With the fall of Tunis, 242 Squadron moved forward without delay to an airfield vacated by the Germans and not far from the city. It was my lot, as a junior pilot, to move with the ground party. On the way we drove past a wire enclosure containing a troop of green clad German prisoners. Their war was over. The resistance of the main bodies of the two Axis armies had crumpled rapidly, and the dispersal of personnel and disposal of substantial quantities of equipment must have posed major problems for the Allies.

Arriving on the scene so soon after the defeat of a modern army, we found quantities of discarded equipment lying around. There was one stack of clothing, and of especial interest several uniforms. These had been fabricated from new age synthetic material, and very stiff to the feel. I did not feel envious of those who had to wear them.

Also left were several items of M.T. A Volkswagens car, the Nazi “Peoples Car”, actually not unlike an earlier period Model T Ford, was without difficulty, brought into use for aircrew for the brief period we operated from that base. Another vehicle, of half track, proved to be more resistant to repair. The engine could be started but shortly it would peter out again.

With enough time and the means a party of us went to have a brief look at the capital. Walking up a main street the women appeared on their balconies and called to us and cheered. The population was apparently glad that the war on their doorstep had terminated. This situation was in contrast to the attitude of their Vichy rulers several months earlier when facilities of war were granted to the Germans.

Tunis and its environs were still within striking range of German aircraft which had bases in Sicily. The squadron continued with patrols, particularly of shipping plying the Gulf of Tunis. Remnants of the Axis armies held out in the Peninsular leading to Cap Bon, and one day we went on a sortie to strafe M.T. The shooting was not only from our guns, but we also came under fire. Low flying on the way back, an ack ack unit was expecting us and firing as we appeared. It may have been either through luck or an involuntary evasive action, but I made it safely back to base. However my plane had one aileron nicked, so I had become truly operational.

From the airfield one day we witnessed a magnificent pyrotechnics display out in the direction of Bizerte the northernmost port of Tunisia. In this war the Allied forces had endeavoured not to inconvenience the local peoples more than could be helped, and presumably the army was engaged in tidying up.

A considerable area immediately around Tunis was kind to the eye from a fertility aspect without having anything spectacular about it. It, of course, is notable in the history of our civilization, being opened up to us by the Phoenicians and rich in stories of Carthage. Hannibal and so on. I would have liked to see more, but that was not the purpose of our being there. My last flight in the locality is recorded as 17 May, after which the squadron moved to Malta.

It was again my lot to travel with the ground party, and our convoy went south to the Port of Sousse, the nearest in distance from, the island, of Malta. Our conveyance by sea was a tank landing craft. Of especial interest to me was a meeting outside Sousse with a div-cav unit of the New Zealand Division.

And so my experiences through my small part in supporting the victorious First Army ended. The Allied forces then proceeded to fight their way ups and through, the lands of Italy as a southernmost footing in seeking freedom from Nazi dominance.

Malta to Port Said

We arrived in Malta towards the end of May. The climatic conditions could hardly have been better.

In those days and earlier, Malta's strategic position was undoubted, being adjacent to sea lanes confined by the Sicilian Channel. Shipping through the Mediterranean could be monitored. Because of its importance in Empire trade, facilities there were very fine, and, that applied also in respect of Air Force requirements. Several airfields had, been carved out of rocky terrain.

In itself Malta was a natural fortress, being ready made for that purpose. It was a magnificent harbour created by nature in the form of a gash in, the island's rock structure, and with high ramparts and so was a reasonably secure haven for a very large body of ships. In other respects, the island itself has rocky outcrops» in all parts, right to the sea shore. The landing of a body of men with equipment could be difficult.

Arriving in Malta, we N.C.O.’s were accommodated in a large building in Rabat, a village poised sons about the highest position in the island. From windows we could look down to Valletta, the capital, and the Grand Harbour behind it. A monastery was nearby, and several times monks were seen dressed in their habits and walking in column along the street. In the evenings people would emerge and sit at the front doors of their houses, greeting and speaking to their neighbours. It appeared to be an Old World, leisurely form of living that I am sure had much to commend it. We had local people serving in our mess, so a proportion of the people would have been employed by the British forces. Land was cultivated among rocky outcrops, but I failed to inquire into matters concerning the local economy.

I had reason to enjoy my stay in Malta, lasting for about a month. I had only four flights, one on a sector recognizance, when I took the opportunity to view Gozo a smaller island to the north west. Two other flights were local, but one was operational when a sweep was made over Comiso aerodrome in Sicily. Spare time was plentiful, and on many days bathing off rocks near Valletta was the main occupation. By way of variation a call would be made to shops in Valletta for a local style fruit drink or coffee. The coffee was served in small cups and was very strong and sweet.

One day King George VI was present and drove over certain roads on a tour of inspection. He also was there as a mark of appreciation for the stirling resistance by the people on the island in the face of air attack over several years. We were informed of his route of travel. On a bank adjacent to the road, I secured a close view of him quietly speaking to the Governor Lord Gort, as they drove by.

The period of waiting and virtual leisure in Malta had to end. The Allied forces invaded Sicily and began a thrust northwards. The General Staff would have assessed the extent and disposition of air fighter forces needed in support. It was my luck that my recently joined squadron should be disbanded. Two of us who were left with little operational time were sent into Sicily apparently to join a squadron which had set up a base there.

Our journeying into Sicily was, in itself, not without interest. We were flown to an aerodrome near intermediate Augusta for road transport onwards. While at Augusta, commanding General Montgomery arrived from one aircraft, transferred to a jeep, and then to a smaller aircraft which then took off. Although we were only two, and about a hundred yards away, he stood in the jeep and gave us a big wave. We stood watching with curiosity and had not saluted as may have been required by military decorum. The road we travelled on was winding and rough metal and we bounced in the back of a pick-up truck. Our destination was located within clear sight of Mount Etna. A particular memory is of rank growth and swarms of flies. The volcano was then quiescent.

My stay in Sicily was short. The squadron there did not want me, and I was sent to Sorman near Tripoli, again in North Africa. I have no memory of this transfer, probably due to disappointment, but from the aspect of broadening my horizons to an extent greater than otherwise may have eventuated, it worked out well.

Sorman was a new location for 322 Wing Training Flight that I had previously been with at Montesquieu. Being there in early July, in the Northern Hemisphere summer, temperatures were exceedingly warm. Accommodation was in tents, and much of the spare time was taken up with sitting under such cover and swigging warm water. Much more pleasurable were the training flights on several days as, although the metal frames of aircraft were unbearable to the touch, the atmosphere was greatly improved when aloft.

Tripoli was some distance away from Sorman, and opportunity was not provided to visit there. Our immediate surroundings were semi desert, but some ruins and an Arab garden were nearby. Water for the garden was obtained by a primitive method with a pumping arrangement attached to a long pole to which an ox was harnessed for a steady plod around in a circle.

On 10 July I joined a wing sized gaggle of aircraft being ferried to Malta. My name headed the list of pilots and that left me bemused, but in fact it may have given me some advantage through being first off the deck and a prime position in following our twin engined escort, with us for purposes of navigation. The entire distance, occupying two hours, was across water, this involving some hazard for a single engined aircraft, but the reliability of a Rolls Royce engine was again demonstrated on this delivery flight. My destination was the Crendi airstrip, cut out of a hill side and with some up and down. The position and form of construction of that airstrip may have had defensive advantages during the blitz, with aircraft being dispersed and protected against the steep hillside where it would be difficult for them to be attacked.

Delivery to Crendi completed, a transfer was arranged to Lucca airport where the twin engined Hudson waited to convey some of us back to Sorman.

Photograph of aircraft from wikipedia commons

The tall, distinguished Air Marshal Park was at Lucca likes a father figure overseeing the movements of pilots and aircraft. This whole exercise was just another example of the extensive back up servicing needed for an expeditionary force at that time.

The authorities in their wisdom, next decided that I should be posted to another operational squadron but it was to Egypt at Port Said which was then well away from active warfare. The squadron was numbered 238 and it was stationed at Gamil, normally the airports for Port Said, and located several miles along the coast from that city and the entrance to the Suez Canal.

238 Squadron had been attached to the Desert Air Force. As I arrived I did not question as to its recent history, and was not informed of it. From my experience of squadron life, the pilots, whether consciously or unconsciously, very much observed their dictum to close the hangar doors, and rarely discussed incidental matters relating to the squadron or operations. We tended to live very much for the day, and carried out orders, each to the best of his ability. Subsequently reflecting on the matter, I can only assume that 238 Squadron, like 242 Squadron, had been disbanded after Tunis land, in this case was being reformed. My only recollections of hearing of any previous activities came from an N.C.O. Maintenance, who told a story of a pilot flying back to a forward aerodrome, loaded up with grog and then crashing.

Another story I heard from the ground crew, and I have since seen documented, concerned as Greek unit, said to be a bunch of crazies, which suffered heavy losses through poor airmanship when returning from as sortie across the Mediterranean to their homeland.

The 238 Squadron that I joined had a mixture of pilots from all the Old Commonwealth countries. Apart from the British Isles we came from Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In addition the commanding officer and adjutant originated in the then named Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. The ground crew, including the doctor and intelligence officer, were from the United Kingdom, with a few Irish thrown in. It was a most interesting group to be with.

Also, when I joined we had a mixture of Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft. My first flight from Gamil, on 7 August was in a Spitfire, but then for the next month I was allocated to Hurricanes. After the Spitfire the hurricane appeared to be heavy and cumbersome. In aerial exercises we were not given practise in dog fighting at that time, so I was not able to assess the respective qualities in combat, but the Spitfire was said to be faster but lacked the turning qualities of the Hurricane, this being of advantage in some circumstances.

A squadron stationed at Gamil was poised to participate in the protection of the Suez Canal and ships confined to use it. I took part in several night flying exercises, so we were beings readied for night operations as well as during the day. Radar equipment, which was permitted to see in use, was available to the operations controllers, so it would have been possible at night to be directed onto an intruder. However, while I was there, all was quiet on our front. At that time the Germans would have been more concerned with attacking traffic across the Atlantic rather than through the Canal. We did have several alerts concerning enemy reconnaissance aircraft said to be flying in at forty thousand feet but in the earlier times it is doubtful whether the Hurricanes and earlier mark Spitfires would have been capable of an effective interception at height. Later IX Spitfires specially adapted for flying at the greater heights with stretched wings and some arms and armour plating removed became available.

While our squadron may have been prepared to provide night interception in special circumstances, a specialized night fighter unit was undoubtedly operating in the Mediterranean. Night fighting was one of the functions of the Beaufighter aircraft, and I had become aware of their presence when at Bone. At Gamil I was at hand when Max Aitken, a night fighter ace and son of Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Industry in the British Government paid us a call.

Gamal had on the one side the sea, the port and the western entrance of the formed Canal. Otherwise it was bordered by a very extensive and shallow lake known as Mansala. Surely the aerodrome and town were on land reclaimed during the construction of the Canal. The normal land route out followed a bank of the Canal to a town Ismailia. Although shallow, the lake was plied by native dhows, and they were known to provide sport for a mischievous pilot who flew so low as to cause the occupants to seek concealment in the water, safely without doubt.

A measure of civilization applied in respect of accommodation, but protection was needed against mosquitoes, and bed bugs were plentiful. One could awaken of a morning and observe the bugs climbing the mosquito net full of one's blood. Camping had some advantages over occupying wooden structures in that part of the world.

Another disadvantage stemmed from nearness to human habitation. Breezes from the direction of the town were accompanied by unpleasant odours. To make matters worse the town rubbish tip was situated not far in the same direction.

The town cemetery was also nearby, and provided passing interest in a manner of disposal of the dead. The box containing the body, being borne in funeral procession would be followed by mourners, each carrying a stone. In that land of sparse timber resources a wooden Casket could not be interred with the body which would be tipped out into the excavated grave. If the body failed to fall in a certain lie, the followers would stone it to take care of any evil spirits.

At that time Egypt was remote from the usual sources of supply of equipment for the R.A.F. The lines of communication were long and hazardous. A deal of enterprise was needed to keep aircraft flying but central maintenance units were well equipped. For my small part I was involved in ferrying trips for such purposes, and such created interest and expanded horizons.

My first trip was the most interesting. Early in September I delivered a Hurricane to Bersis near Benghazi, and returned several days later with a Spitfire. To demonstrate a difference in operational capability, the outward journey required only one refuelling stop at Bu Amud near Tobruk. On the return journey I had to put in for an additional stop at Mersa Matruh. Bersus was in the wilderness, and I spent three nights there sleeping in a tent with ants swarming on the floor. The return journey was to follow a one day stop over, but a maintenance problem caused a delay. The initial take off was made as intended but while still in the circuit I noticed the oil pressure falling away rapidly, so, a hasty landing was called for and fortunately there was no other traffic. That was the only time I had to cut short as journey, because of engine trouble in over three years of flying. I had to be thankful that the trouble had not developed further along the way as the continuing terrain appeared to be inhospitable, being mainly semi desert.

It was a privilege to get a view of some of the territory over which the Eighth Army shad laboured for some time. About a fortnight later, two of us were flown to the Kilo 40 aerodrome on the Cairo Alexandra Road to take delivery and return with Mark 5 Spitfires. From that base, it may be assumed that the aircraft collected had been flown in to Egypt by a tortuous Equatorial African route.

By about that time the squadron was equipped mainly with Mark 5 Spitfires, but my log book then started recording entries for flights in Mark 1X Spitfires, and I did several trips in and out of AbuQir which had the principal workshops for the region. Those Mark 1Xs, at that time, bore incidental markings, and not with the Squadrons identification prefix KC.

Flying into Abu Qir involved some extra test of flying skills. The runway was unusually short, presumably built for slower type planes, and was bordered on three sides with tall buildings. However with the quiescent Egyptian climate of the time I experienced no difficulty.

Shortly after the arrival of the Mark 1Xs the Squadron established a satellite unit with these aircraft, at Idku aerodrome which, like Abu Qir, was situated adjacent to Alexandria. With the availability of an aircraft adapted for flying at a greater height, an attempt was being made to prevent the Germans over flying for reconnaissance in what we referred to as “shufti kites” . On a test flight I once took my plane up to nearly thirty seven thousand feet as recorded on the altimeter which would have converted to much closer to forty thousand feet in actual height. I did not feel at all comfortable at that height. It was close to the maximum height that the human body could stand without the assistance of pressurization. The controls were sloppy and the flying attitude was very much tail down. Difficulty would surely have been experienced in attacking a moving object under such circumstances, but the mere presence of the unit had an effect of deterrence as in my experience the enemy activity ceased.

It may be of interest if I comment that on my flight to a height approaching the limit of the troposphere, still with declining temperatures. I was only lightly clad basically with shirt, shorts and riding boots which I had adopted in the Mediterranean. Being enclosed and with a great engine situated immediately in front of the cockpit, had maintained still a reasonable temperature. The locally modified Spitfires were safe to fly but lacked some of the delightful characteristics of those based entirely on the original design. The changes had altered the centre of gravity to cause them to swish around the sky to a degree.

At Idku the unit was kept on a state of readiness which ensured much sitting around and monotony. Being a small detachment discipline tended to be relatively free and easy. I tend to view gambling, as a practice for fools, but the ground crew ran a draw for some purpose and sold me tickets on several occasions. Twice on end I won so they dropped me as a bad risk.

While at Idku I was made aware of a significant geological characteristic of the region. A light earthquake rattled the buildings around us. In New Zealand at the time, while mass media was still in its infancy, we referred to our country as the shaky isles, and had little awareness that other places were subject to earth tremors also.

At the first appearance of December, when again at Gamil, I was to have a very minor role arising from one of the most important political events of the war. Stalin, Rousevelt and Churchill had met in conference at Tehran, and General Staff advising them had called in at Tel Aviv in Palestine as today's Israel was then known. Our C.O. led two of us in flying to Lydda Airport as a measure for safety. We arrived in the afternoon of the first day and spent the night sharing a room in a boarding house in the city. Next morning, dispersed with our aircraft at a far end of the aerodrome, we watched the departure of the very important personages before returning to Gamil. Later it was revealed to us that one of the topics discussed at Tehran concerned the opening up of a front through Turkey. Had such a course been decided upon, our squadron was ear-marked to be a supporting unit.

At night in Tel Aviv I felt sickness arrive, and next day over Sinai pangs, became urgent. Landing at Gamil. I taxied to the nearest toilet block, hastily opened the canopy, undid the various straps, alighted and headed inside, none too soon. A visit to the squadron doctor became necessary and he dispatched me, to a field hospital along the Canal. There, after a small hiccup, and being given medication of salts, I was treated for bacillary dysentery; needless to say my further flying during December was severely curtailed, being out of action for three weeks.

By, the time I returned to duty the Christmas event was due to be celebrated, and what a party eventuated! Delirium tremens must have been near in several instances. Some of us were detailed to fly next day, and one or two may still not have been particularly happy over the state of their heads.

1944

The year 1944 was ushered in and flying exercises were continued, interspersed with the odd convoy patrol. Towards the end of January, a high fence was erected to form an enclosure adjacent to our living quarters and presently it was seen to contain black skinned men. A South African squadron had arrived to release 238 Squadron for other responsibilities. Our squadron aircraft were flown out on the last day of the month, skirting Alexandria, proceeding west., thrillingly flying as a large unit at almost zero height at Burg el Arab, and landing at a desert location of Daba. Landing Ground 106 at Daba had us in tents. For a little over a fortnight I received desert experience, sand storm on one occasion and all.

The sojourn at Daba may be presumed to have been a fill in time. It may also have been tied in with the movement of ships in the Mediterranean, as patrolling activity was included, not only from Daba, but on one day, from a strip at a place called Dekheila, half an hour's flight further forward.

The situation of Daba meant, that it was associated with the battle at Alamein which was nearby. I saw nothing of the residue of battle, but it became evident to me that Alamein had a strategic defensive position due to the presence on its southern side of the Qattara Depression which also was a most interesting geological formation. I was able to get an oversight of the area on my customary, recce flight. The depression has sheer cliffs extending for many miles, and dropping to over four hundred feet below sea level. It seemed to me that at the foot was an inhospitable salt pan.

During the short period at Daba, a concert party paid us a visit. This was the only time I can remember such entertainment being turned on while operating in relative solation in the Mediterranean areas. Even the bases at Gamil and Idku, although in Egypt, were quite isolated for members of our squadron. We had little opportunity or inclination to mix with the local people. The ethnic barrier was too wide, with the locals being mainly Arab. W.O.G.s as we spoke of them. By our standards the Arabs appeared to be primitive. I was interested one day, to watch several men shovel spoil. The shovel had a rope attached to it, and one man guided it while a couple of others pulled on the rope to collect and move the spoil. The actions were performed to the measure of a chant.

Leave to visit major centres was not granted liberally. Once I went to Cairo where, a brother was at the Maadi Camp, and we went together to see a performance of the Kiwi Concert Party in the city. The time at my disposal permitted only a casual view of historic sights. Another break allowed a couple of days in the significant city of Alexandria.

Daba briefly provided desert experience including a sand storm and then it was across the sea to a very different habitat where the Squadron had been plotted for active operations in support of the Italian Campaign. It was recently secured Corsica, and it provided a base for attacking the German communications leading down to the Front at Cassino. In effect we were to operate behind German lines.

The Squadron disembarked at Bonifacio, a small southern port. By then it would have been late in April, so we would have been in transit for about two months. Our first view of the island was of rugged terrain with the port nestled around a hillside. A contingent of senior officers and a tall slim lady were lined up to greet us on the hillside as we landed. The officers would have come from the headquarters doubtless based south of Cassino in Italy. The lady, neither young nor old, was introduced as Joyce Grenvill, a famous artist in her own right, but as someone remarked, kin of the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden. After the delivery of several speeches, topped off by a vocal item we rank and file were left to our own devices for a time. To limber up after being on shipboard some of us went scrambling over steep grassy hills. Having been raised in similar country I was in my element, but my companions who came from large English cities experienced difficulty. The importance of environmental experience was evident another lesson for me.

When the offloading of the Squadron's servicing equipment was completed, a convoy was joined to proceed to and up the east coast to our operational base named Poretta, a few miles short of a more substantial town of Bastia. Our distance of travel was a hundred miles, more or less, along a substantial part of that coast. Although the island is generally rugged, a shelf of flatter ground extends along much of the east coast.

Our aerodrome, situated not much more than fifty miles from the Italian coast, was strategically placed to cover the predominant communication links up and down that country. The island of Elba was even closer and could be seen in the distance from our position. The area has further significance, embodying as it, birth place and a place of incarceration of Napoleon Bonaparte.

P47 or Thunderbolt from Wiki Commons

At Poretta the squadron was equipped with Mark 1X Spitfires supercharged for lower level flying. The air space was shared with the Americans. A Thunderbolt unit also operated off the Poretta landing strip, and on a number of occasions we provided escort for B25 and B26 light bombers on their missions. German aircraft were not at any time sighted over Italy, being then presumably nearly fully employed defending the Fatherland. Also I heard it said that the Germans were short of the super grade petrol as burnt in aircraft.

An image from Wiki Commons of the North American B25

Apart from providing fighter cover as' required, the squadron had responsibility for sweeping the landscape and providing surveillance of traffic up and down the country, with our armament we had a limited capacity to attack any vehicles on the ground. Actually very little movement was seen, so traffic would have stirred out mainly under the cover of darkness.

Most operations were conducted by a section of six aircraft flying in loose formation as was appropriate for aircraft with guns that could fire only forward. Each supporting pilot would continually turn the head to search the sky for any possible enemy and surprise attack, when escorting it was interesting to watch the American light bombers flying in their close formation, and once I gained a distinct impression of their weaving in tight formation if it was correct it was very exacting airmanship.

It recorded that I fired my guns in anger on only three is occasions when flying from Corsica. Only once was it against motor, transport, caught in the open in our main area of surveillance. The other times railway engines were attacked adjacent to the Appennine Range where perhaps the local authorities would have considered it safe. While enemy aircraft were never to be seen, we were subject to some danger from anti-aircraft fire. Normally I was not conscious of this danger during normal daylight flying, but once returning near dusk, and crossing the coast south of the substantial port of Leghorn. I noticed what appeared to be flaming onions around about me. I was weaving and presenting a poor target so danger was minimal. The unseen danger lurked as we were frequently in that airspace, and regrettably one of my fellow pilots had to be reported missing.

One plotted course that was followed, more or less, on a number of occasions was to fly south east to cross the Italian coast near the port of Civitavecchia, inland to the main arterial transport systems and to following them until it was necessary to return to base over hills south of Leghorn. Intriguing to me was that on the first leg we would pass over an outcrop from the sea named Montecristo with remarkable similarity to a word used by the French novelist Alexandre Dumas. Civitavecchia invited comment from our Latin scholars with on one occasion we flew within sight of Rome but it was out of bounds to us. The country side up the centre was attractive. Somewhere in the hills south of Leghorn was the site of the world's first known geothermal electricity plant but opportunity was not available to look for it.

Another historic sight which we passed over several times was Pisa with its leaning tower. Situated not far from Leghorn, it was not part of our brief to look at it but of course, we did: but flying, even in loose formation and for other safety considerations it had to be a quick look. Once we passed near to Genoa, but unfortunately Florence was outside of our field of operations.

After about three weeks in Corsica, May 17 provided a momentous event. It is a date which has stuck with me over the following years. As a flyer on war operations, I had expected times of drama to take place in the air, but this happening was on mother earth, and that was not the only unexpected and curious feature.

With doubtful wisdom the authorities had arranged for the squadrons living quarters to be set up on the perimeter of the airfield . While the Germans were not actively using bases in the immediate region, we were only three to four hundred miles from the southern part of occupied France. We were within easy range for a strike by light bombers.

During, the day of the seventeenth I had been on a sortie when we accompanied Thunderbolts. The evening meal had been completed, and I was in my tent preparing to retire when all hell broke loose. For some unaccountable reason, probably not clearly known to myself at the time, I had flexed my muscles and dug a slit trench outside of my tent, so I hurtled into that to be joined immediately by several others. Time was not taken to collect my tin hat and so felt very naked while the rumpus continued.

It was dark and emerging it was not possible to see any extent of damage. Canisters of anti-personnel bombs had been distributed and the shrapnel exploded had been people intended. The doctor and those responsible under King's Regulations were to have a busy night. Six had an early trip to the hereafter and included one of our two South African pilots, who had sought refuge under a vehicle, an especial hazard with bits of steel flying horizontally and subject to ricochet.

The raid was immediately devastating in terms of the squadron personnel but of little significance for the war effort. Doubtless the Germans did everything right in their timing being before the normal time of retiring locating the target and accuracy, of delivery. Nevertheless even in a state of unpreparedness, a tented camp provided considerable protection against shrapnel.

For its operations from Corsica, the squadron was particularly concerned with the utilization and collection of intelligence material. From this source information was received that the night time attack on Poretta was carried out by a JU88 Luftwaffe unit whose duty it was to attack diverse targets which were especially embarrassing the German forces. The activities from Corsica were ruffling the feathers of the great eagle.

An image of the JU88 Luftwaffe from Wiki Commons

The day after the raid was devoted to cleaning up. Pilots without other specific duties walked the runway collecting bits of shrapnel. Little material damage had been done, and on the next day, the nineteenth, our aircraft were taking to the air again and my section was engaged in escorting B26 bombers.

The disposition of the squadron's servicing adjuncts had to be altered. Continuation of the arrangements leading to the night raid could not reasonably be countenanced. On the twenty third I took an aircraft on a ten minute hop to another airstrip, referred to as Serragia, to the south of Poretta. That was to be our base from then on. The living quarters were moved into hills where tents could be set up semi concealed by brush. It was a pleasant site with a tumbling stream nearby that quietened enough in places, with depths to permit bathing in those summer months. A disadvantage of the site was that the access was somewhat hairy and drivers of our pickup truck were not always accomplished in driving under such conditions.

Apart from the opportunities for bathing, I found it relaxing to stroll in the bush. On one such occasion I met one of the islanders and tried out my Correspondence School French without success in comprehension. Perhaps as an excuse, the Corsicans had a special dialect. On another occasion I was interested to watch an islander in a stream catching a fish by the tickling method.

Our Corsican base, being remote from the main thrust of the Allied campaign in Italy, supply could not have been Straightforward. Meals lacked interest and variety. Breakfast usually featured fried bread, so for many years afterwards fried bread was a food, item' to be avoided. Bread itself was off the menu, when the Senior Service was on the coast Messing was not of the order, of the Ritz with an, orderly placing 7eating implements in a dirty pocket when, carrying them for setting tables, but long ago my Atlantic squeamishness had vanished As a supplement. I was glad of the dark issue chocolate which was generally spurned.

A sortie on 18 June involved a patrol over the island of Elba. French troops were used in taking this island for the Allies; and we would have been providing cover for the landing operation. An ugly story circulated that mines were not detected and dealt with in the normal civilized way, but that black troops were driven across the field. Elba would not have been of great strategic importance at that time, so I would leave the story open for interpretation.

About the same time the squadron received a visitation. Returning from an operation one day, we were intrigued to see a Mark VIII Spitfire parked nearby as we proceeded to the operations tent for de-briefing, recently someone carrying the rank of an Air Marshal walked in and commanded attention. Perhaps to make conversation he addresses the Flight commander and asked to be told the history of the squadron, in my mind I can still see it today. His mouth fell open in surprise at such a question ,being asked when he had been just recounting to the Intelligence officer details of incidents raising from our flight. The visit ended abruptly with the withdrawal of the high ranking officer. Shortly we had to accept the fact of the posting of an esteemed Flight Commander.

The operations over Italy from Corsica ended on 8 July. The squadron moved to St. Catherine’s on the northern coast on the following day. This was preparatory to moving into Southern France. The Allied landing from Britain had taken place on 6 June and the drive from the south is lesser known to all except the French who continue to commemorate it more than particularly D-day. The flight to St. Catherine’s was my last at the controls of a Spitfire.

I was at St. Catherine’s for about a week. It is in a bay facing the resort areas of Southern France, and was then noted as the place of a very exclusive and lavish hotel. During that week little was doing, but on Bastille Day, 14 July, several of us accepted an invitation to attend celebrations at a village up the coast of Cap Corse. It was a quiet decorous country affair, and language presented a difficulty. Although lacking sensation it provided insight concerning a local people and their ways.

About the end of the week at St. Catherine’s I received notice of my posting from the squadron. I was to be sent back to Naples, where I was able to receive on-the-ground experience of part of Italy.

By that time I had been attached to operational squadrons for a good part, of two years and almost a year of that had been spent with 238 Squadron. In the last several months in Corsica we had been worked quite hard, often spending about four hours a day over enemy controlled territory, and undoubtedly was becoming tired. I cannot claim to have a rugged constitution, and my senior officers may have recognized the situation. Another factor taken into consideration may have been, as I later became aware, was that I was coming to the end of my allotted span overseas from New Zealand. My time with 238 Squadron was the most satisfying of my service career. I would have liked to go on to France with them, but as it turned out. I was to have interesting experiences in Southern Italy with minimal danger, and should be thankful for that.

Wending homeward

When I arrived in Naples, the war north of there had ended, and the air force operations there would have been winding down. My immediate destination was a large transit building at a place named Portici a virtual suburb of the city.

Portici has an interesting location. It is on a slope of Mount Vesuvius, with the Island of Capri Visible in the Gulf of Naples. Sorrento standing on a peninsula to the south to the gulf, and the city and harbour partly obscured by buildings to the north; These were all places that I knew well by repute. Vesuvius had recently, erupted, apparently in a minor way, and black ash was lying all-around.

The transit building faced onto a new and modern style motor-way; and a couple of miles down that road were the excavated ruins of Pompeii buried in AD, 79 by, a Vesuvius Eruption . A visit to that sight was almost a must. In reference books it is classified as a towns and indeed covered only a-small area; with Roman style engineering; walls are constructed of stone, and streets are paved. It appeared to me that on top of some walls a continuous cavity would have been for conduit of water obtainable from; higher up the mountain. By modern standards all is of a small scale. Alcoves appear to be for sleeping, and spatially would have been designed for people considerably shorter than general of today.

A view was widespread at the time that Italy was the home of grand opera. Some of their vocalists were spoken of almost with awe. l joined a party attending a performance, but apparently was not so impressed as to have a sharp memory of it. Several weeks later at another place a number of us went to a wine bar where several local men were intoning in the grand operatic manner, and not to be outdone my friends started singing popular songs in English. I was impressed by the contrast. both of sounds and human dignity.

For a reason now forgotten, I went with others to a depot housed in a cave. It would have been a most secure place for storage of necessities for conduct of the Cassino hostilities.

In the benign summer time when I was there, I thought Naples to be attractively situated with a fine harbour and pleasing hinterland. There appeared to be drawbacks also with a recently active volcano at its doorstep, and doubtful hygiene among its people. Walking in a trail behind our quarters deposits of human excrement abounded.

On August 12 I was back in harness being given experience in a type of aircraft new to me. It was an American built Vengeance 1V with dual cockpits. I had been placed with a unit 23A. A.C.U. engaged mainly in drogue towing. The rear cockpit was for an airman whose duty it was to operate a winch. For nearly the next month I was located at an airfield sand station at a place pronounced Pomigliano on a level plain east of Naples. Quarters were very adequate in a large block of flats.

Next day I was sent off to become acquainted with nearby geographic features. The plain on which the aerodrome was located was largely surrounded by distinctive hill country with the Vesuvius cone being particularly prominent, I took the opportunity to view into the large Vesuvius crater.

After the initial flights as described. I had a fortnight free. During that time my eyes became painful in daylight. Fortunately my room in the barracks could be darkened, and that provided an effective remedy. I shut myself in the dark for several days. The temporary affliction may have resulted from frequent distant searching in the bright Mediterranean skies, compounded by not wearing goggles, but leaving them on my helmet above, where 'they could be easily pulled over the eyes in the event of fire or other dangerous situation. On returning to New Zealand and resuming close clericals work I became aware that my eyes had become long sighted and had to the corrected by wearing spectacles: but with time they readjusted.

During a fortnight before being allocated further flying duties, I was not long laid up with recovery from my eye trouble. I was granted leave sufficient to travel to the east coast, particularly the port of Bari which had been figuring in the news. Travelling there by train over picturesque higher country I was disappointed with the appearance of the port, but of interest was the sight of an aircraft type new to me, namely the American Lightening. I did not dally long and hitchhiked back to bases in a truck with Italian soldiers. Needless to say communication did not come easily.

At the end of the fortnight, on 27 August I flew again, and was to have five more flights until and on 8 September when I flew as a’ pilot for the last time. On each of these exercises I had a L.A.C. airman in the back seat to operate the winch. My log book was ruled off for the end of my flying career on 12 September; and shortly after that I embarked on the good French ship. Ville d’Oran, bound for the British Isles. I now had, sufficient rank to travel in comfort. The voyage was uneventful, and I remember in particular the tasty white bread that was served with certain meals; a contrast to usual service fare.

My two, years spent in countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea provided a tremendous learning experience. The going may have been a little hard at times and not up to the standards for aircrew in Britain, but the wider ranging travel, and the awareness of supporting and protecting advancing forces provided a sense of satisfaction, even although my actual ,flying experience was relatively safe and benign. In terms of hardship, through originating from remote New Zealand, and despite the use of aerograms, at times I waited for up to six months for news from home. While in Algeria we had no access to world or war news, and all manner of rumours developed and circulated. When there was an election in New Zealand, I was in Egypt, and the voting papers arrived for me too late to have any use. Such concerns were, however, quite superficial in effect. It was surely matter at for satisfaction that the R.A.F. managed to keep track me of during my various movements, and undoubtedly I was better off than those who had to man remote installations to service aircraft deployments. I gained a great respect for those who provided service, at times amid danger, and without the honour and glory accorded to those in a combat role.

It should go without saying that I saw a variety of places with peoples adapted to the particular circumstances of culture, terrain, climate and vegetation. The leavening factors of advanced communications and technology still had not had wide effect in most of the countries. This was all very interesting to one, who, prior to enlistment, been grappling with studies of the humanities at university level.

It may also be worth mentioning that I had the fortune to be a participant in events not generally known about, but of historical significance in the progress of the war.

While in Egypt I acquired a small radio. In our situation remoteness of in Corsica, it served well in whiling away off duty time. Several broadcasts stirred me more particularly in the circumstances of that setting. One evening, after retiring, a complete rendition of the haunting song- of Lili Marlene was heard. Also, a singer whose presentations were—particularly appropriate to Corsica, and pleasantly tuneful, went by a name pronounced as Tina Rosse.

In a Mess somewhere, I picked up and read a paper purporting outline to proposals of the Germans, on successful completion of the war, to dam the Mediterranean, generate electricity, and pump water onto the North African desert to make it productive again. The message to be conveyed was fanciful and farfetched, and propagandist. Designed for the gullibility, and to satisfy the collective greed of a people. Such are the ways for satisfying the aspirations and power seeking as practised by governments.

I cannot say that I thought about it much, but certainly I did not entertain strong feelings of dislike for the Germans as a people. I met one of their airmen, as a prisoner, and he had not seemed greatly different from us. Indeed I suspected the French of indulging in inhumane acts and, from what I had seen, considered the German combination of peoples as a beacon of light compared with the apparent dullness of other peoples ranging from their southern and eastern borders. Europe was still emerging from its historical state of warring principalities.

Having put the Mediterranean experience behind for most on board, the Ville d’Oran sailed up the Firth of Clyde and berthed in one of its ports. There awaiting us was a swarm of Scottish urchins, seeking exotic hangouts from overseas. I heard a remark that it was just like Egypt. Disembarking, I was directed to Brighton on then English southern coast there to be accommodated pending arrangements for return to New Zealand. Quarters were allocated in a waterfront building - a very pleasant location. I was back among those of my own country.

The dress of the air force in the Mediterranean theatre of war was Khaki, and in the course of one of my movements my bulk kit went astray. I arrived back in Britain merely with battledress and tropical kit of similar colour. Blue was the colour for Britain and also winter was nigh. With another warrant officer in similar plight we approached the authorities at Brighton but they could do nothing for us there. With suitable documentation and travel warrants we were sent-back up country to Blackpool where we managed to be fitted out with the regulation gear including warm great coats. At Blackpool we looked along the desolate beaches and decided that the other resort town on the south coast was preferable at the time of year. After one night in a boarding house we returned promptly to Brighton.

The war was still being carried on vigorously on the other side of the English Channel, and on a scale previously unknown to man. The people of Britain were heavily occupied, and were short on time for recreation. Holiday resorts like Brighton were very quiet, and provided little of interest.

Several of us trekked to a forces welfare office, and found that they had the necessities for golfing. A course was not far away, none of us had played golf before and tutelage was not available, but we had a hilarious time trying to hit a small ball with a long shaft with a nob on the end of it. We were even more amused on several occasions when, striking at the ball, the head went one way and the ball another. The gear must have resided in some person's storage, and without use, for a very considerable time.

Brighton was within commuting distance from London with a frequent service by electric train which, in itself at that time, was something of a novelty to me. Small parties of those of us waiting at Brighton made the journey on a number of occasions, there being more to interest us in London. Not having occasion to spend money in the Mediterranean area, I was not hard up. I now have forgotten all the circumstances, but the London manager of the Bank of New Zealand was a friend, so when first in England I had arranged with him to open an account with the Bank ensuring that any accumulation of money was soundly cared for. Anyway I spent very freely in London while awaiting repatriation and, perhaps as a reaction to survival after service in dangerous pursuits.

My frame of mind at the time would be exemplified by a visit I made to a barber in the West End of London. All I wanted and asked for’ was a haircut} That done the barber suggested hot towels, a shampoo- and a manicure- intrigued with his patter I agreed to all the business.

London at the time was a focal point for Commonwealth forces on leave, with forces clubs and country representatives and services being concentrated there. Also it was the principal centre for the overall direction of the war, and large numbers of service personnel worked there. It was the place to meet and do things with people of like interest and socially. For the young men and women it was an opportunity for adventure through mixing with those of other countries. There would be many cases of testing the waters with a vew to settling down in civilian life.

Such may have been the situation when a party of us came alongside a number of Wrens in London. I thought the navy girls with their -wavy blue uniforms with the white flash, were the most attractively turned out of any of the women’s services. One of, them attached herself to me. She was attractive, and I continued to see her on several occasions, but the demands of the Air Forces were paramount. I did not have an opportunity to get to know her, or of her background before the next stage of repatriation took effect. With little notice I was sent off to Embark on the S.S. Dunera bound for Bombay.

 

The Dunera was designed and launched for troop carrying . I was assigned to a comfortable berth and enjoyed the passage. One interesting aspect was that the flour on board included weevils, this providing another variety of meat.

Departing English shores mid-December, the Dunera sailed the Suez route to India. I had a third Christmas within the Mediterranean region, but this time in very different circumstances. It was interesting to see Port Said from another perspective, and to watch the familiar road to Ismailia as we sailed by. Beyond there, the Canal, through the Great Bitter Lake and on to Suez was unfamiliar territory for me. Passing through the not so Red Sea, the next landfall was for admittance to the extensive harbour at Aden. Shore leave was not granted and we had to be content with a distant view of an unprepossessing city, and on other sides sandy eminences glistening in the sunlight. The next port of call was the immediate destination at the substantial port of Bombay.

One passenger on this voyage of the Dunera from England was a young white man claiming to have roots in a plantation in Ceylon. Because of our diverse backgrounds we had many discussions comparing experiences. One of his comments involved treatment of native workers in Ceylon. He said that managers were expected to discipline subordinates by striking them, but custom required that only certain parts of the body be hit; otherwise the underling would strike back. To me this was a new concept in inter-personal relationships, but it is surely true of much hierarchical conduct in many differing circumstances.

At Bombay it was necessary to await onward transport at a transit camp outside of the city. The journey from the ship's side took us initially through the squalor of dense humanity, and then we passed opulent buildings used by the Raj. Our quarters were notable for a spacious lounge with furniture; copied to some extent when later I was to set up my own home. Bananas were plentiful and greatly enjoyed, new to my experience, cooked as well as raw.

The transit camp outside of Bombay was a centre of activity by the local people. Hawkers abounded showing attractive wares, and those of us who did not lose our money at the races spent freely. We were on our way home, and here were unusual items for presents and keepsakes. Quacks offered their services for clearing wax from ears and removing corns. One gentleman had a mongoose and snake for demonstration; as pessimists we speculated that the mongoose must have had its teeth removed. The ways of the people and the mode of their dress were altogether of interest.

During my short stay in India, I happened to see dramatic headlines to an article in an English language newspaper. It read “We must end Churchill or Churchill will end us”. World politics was undergoing rapid change with European colonization of coloured peoples coming to an end. Very shortly afterwards the steadying influence of British rule in India was discontinued with self-rule in new state alignments taking place often under catastrophic circumstances. This was only one instance of world social fallout arising from the recent war.

A part of, India glimpsed we had to move on, our next conveyance was an Americans ship, of the Grace Lines, almost new. We travelled American style with American food served up to us twice daily. Accommodation was fine.

The next port of call was Melbourne, reached after a traverse of the Indian Ocean and the Great Australian Bight. We servicemen on board the General Mitchell were not allowed ashore at Melbourne because Chinese were also passengers, and Australia stills applied a White Australia Policy. The ensuing course, in nearly calm conditions, took us round the north of New Zealand and back to Auckland. It was a gladsome sight presented as the ship passed through sentinel islands into the Waitemata Harbour. Family awaited as I disembarked. After a quiet reunion, we repaired by a several hours drive to the home farm. On leave I later did round of near relations. In due time I reported to Central Park, Wellington for demobilization formalities and transfer to Reserve status. My pre-war job awaited me. A lifetime world grand tour was completed.

Epilogue

“ It occurred to me then that perhaps in the end the tide of serious purpose would sweep inwards over Britain from the men who are now fighting to preserve it: that the crooks-and careerists and profiteers and privilege clutchers would bring upon themselves a new version of the war they are now trying to exploit”

Howard Marshall

The comments by the writer were addressed in honour of the men who fought under grave difficulties in winter wet and mud through rugged hills of Tunesia. These were men on the coal face, but in a modern world war they had to have support on a mammoth scale. The total exploits provided an end result of purposeful endeavour.

For front line participants in a conflict, action brings its own rewards. Any red blooded young man will not avoid, and indeed may enjoy the competitive challenges involved. Added to this, the males of a species generally accept a role of protecting the community in which domiciled. But in advancing civilizations motivations tend to become more complex. Some enjoy the action: others have a stronger acquisitive propensity; many are sensation seekers enjoying the spectacle: a majority, concerned only with immediate affairs, exhibit indifference; sensitive souls may feel outrage over the perpetration of violence; a number inevitably suffer, and this is accepted in a seemingly just cause.

Fighting and war are extreme manifestations of competition. Also I cannot feel sure that sublimated and safe expressions of such an innate drive have equal and ultimate worth in the final analysis. It is outside of the comprehension available to man to affirm whether modern developments and ways may upset the balance of nature to an extent of threatening the existence of life as it presently known.

Uncertainties in the human estate are highlighted in a proverb:

For every evil under the sun

There is a remedy or there is none:

If there be one, try to find it:

If there be none, never mind it.

The concept and understanding of an evil, of course, is a judgment made within a society.

I shall never know just how the war experience influenced my later life. While physically greatly affected, the extra stresses and experiences involved must have had some influence in, the shaping of attitudes. Four years absent from my chosen career and work at a critical stage of life may have resulted in handicap therein.

Probably in compensation for the destructive effects arising from bloody conflict involving the whole world, the post-war period was one of re-construction and a healing society in our country. It was a relatively benign time for living, but with staged opportunities to further develop the ,considerable technological advances arising from the war, New style disturbances from accelerated change in subsequent times still had not greatly influenced peoples’ outlook and economic problems. The age of the computer, with accessories, was still in its infancy for much of the time.

I feel that I have lived in a most interesting period of history, but new generations are already critical.

 

ADDENDUM

Since writing up my war experiences I have been privileged to read a restricted issue of A Clasp for the Few written by Kenneth G. Wynn. A clasp was issued to those air-crew who flew in operations between and including July and October 1940 which was officially acknowledged as the period of the Battle of Britain. The flying careers of each of these airmen was set out, and these histories provide substantial detail of the war in the air during World War 2. It has provided for me additional information of squadrons and events surrounding my tour.

232 squadron I joined it in July 1942 when evidently it had been recently re—formed at Llanbed. This unit had been in Batavia on 22 February 1942.

Mark IX Spitfires in North Africa – preparing my notes from my log book I could not understand how I came to fly a Mark IX Spit. From Setif to Maison Blanche on 20 March 1943. Colin Gray's story reveal that he was sent to North Africa to take charge of 81 squadron and it was then re-fitted with Mark Ixs. This ref fitted squadron had its first operational sortie on 31 January 1943 and moved to Souk el Khemis on 17 March. It would have been there when I joined 242 Squadron at the end of April flying their fibs. The earlier mark Spitfires had been out-performed by German 109Es, and the introduction of the Mark IX Spits, would have turned the scale somewhat.

Sorman - It had not registered for me that this was the new location for the 322 Wing Training Flight.

238 Squadron — This squadron had a first mention in England early on, then it was sent out to the Desert Air Force and participated in much of the North African action. I remember comments from the ground crew about the severity of these actions. On a lighter note it was said that a plane returning from the Delta loaded with grog crashed losing the lot. Also I heard that a Greek unit, a bunch of crazies, had heavy losses on an operator across the Mediterranean. The book had amplification of the details. A New Zealander J,G,F. Hayter led this action to Crete involving about 100 aircraft including 48 Greeks. All returned except a third of the Greeks.

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

A grand wartime tour and spitfire experience - by Ian Lowman


Year:1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, and 1945
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
A grand wartime tour and spitfire experience - by Ian Lowman by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License