Thursday, 12 September 2013

3b. The war is over.


4th July 1945
'The Three Pickerels' pub in Mepal, 2012
Throughout July New Zealand officers and N.C.O.s were transferred to Mepal from other squadrons, no doubt to enjoy the hospitality of the local pubs in nearby Sutton and Mepal and await repatriation.

On the 4th July Bob was one of the 23 remaining RAF personnel to be declared redundant. There is nothing in his service record about this but he could have been given leave until his next posting.

21st July 1945
All of the remaining 75(NZ) Squadron personnel were moved by train from Mepal to RAF Spilsby and No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron moved in the opposite direction.

24th July 1945
Bob was posted to RAF Burn, near Selby in Yorkshire, the home of 578 Squadron which had been stood down in March 1945. This was probably a temporary 'holding' posting as the RAF had huge numbers of personnel that they didn't seem to know what to do with. It could also have been where Bob helped out on a local farm and where he encountered the boars, Hector and Hercules, that provided the material for one of the stories he told his family.

25th August 1945
Bob's next move signaled a change in direction from aircrew to ground crew. He was posted to No.12 S. of T.T. at RAF Melksham, in Wiltshire and re-mustered as 'Flight Engineer/FME under training' (F/E/utFME). In other words he was to be trained as a Flight Mechanic (Engines) - his flying days were over.

15th October 1945
75(NZ) squadron was disbanded on the 15th October 1945 and all of its personnel gradually shipped back to New Zealand. 75 Squadron RNZAF was created in New Zealand in 1946 and disbanded 55 years later in 2001.

13th November 1945
Bob was then promoted to Flight Sergeant, presumably because of length of service (it was exactly a year to the day after qualifying as a Flight Engineer and becoming a Sergeant) but he was not a Flt. Sgt. for long.

28th December 1945
Once again Bob passed his exams (62%), this time a Local Trade Test Board (LTTB) assessment, and on

1st January 1946
he was re-mustered as a Flight Mechanic (Engines) and reverted to the rank of AC1 (Aircraftsman 1st Class), presumably because he had reverted to a ground trade.

11th January 1946
His final posting was to 1384 Heavy Transport Conversion Unit (H.T.C.U.) at RAF Ossington, in Nottinghamshire, a unit under the control of RAF Transport Command. Here he would have worked on the Dakota, the Oxford and the York.

19th January 1946
Bob's first child was born (Bob junior) 3 months before he was demobbed.

Robert Jay Junior, born 19th January, 1946.


9th April 1946
Airmen boarding transport for 100 PDC, Uxbridge
Finally Bob was sent to No.100 Personnel Dispersal Centre (100 P.D.C.) in Uxbridge, West London, where he would receive his civilian ration book, his 'demob' suit and any outstanding pay. He was then 'released' (according to his service record his 'effective date of release' was 30th April, 1946) and placed on Class 'G' Reserve (RAF), so he would "remain liable to recall to Air Force Service in an emergency" for 12 years. He re-joined the Grimsby Fire Brigade where he stayed for just over two years before taking up employment as a fitter in the chemical industry.



Some time later Bob received his war medals

Left to right: France and Germany Star, 1939-45 Star, War Medal 1939-45
It would be another 68 years before Bob received a Bomber Command Clasp in recognition of his service.

The 1939-45 Star (with Bomber Command clasp received in 2013), France & Germany Star and War Medal 1939-45

1947 - 1950
There were two more addition's to Bob's family, Vic and Pam, born in 1947 and 1950 respectively - Bob and Vera had made their contribution to the post-war baby boom!

L to R - Vic, Pam and Bob Jr., 1951.
In 1951 and 1952 some former airmen were called up from the reserve for 15 days training, but not Bob. I don't think he would have been disappointed.

1952
Although Bob's flying days were over, he would fly again in the early 1950s when he took off from Cleethorpes beach for a pleasure flight with his sons Bob and Vic in an Auster 5.

An Auster 5 on Cleethorpes beach, early 1950s

2nd March 1958
He was finally released from the reserve list.

Bob continued to work as a fitter in the chemical industry, receiving a long service award from British Titanium Products (BTP, or 'Titans') shortly before he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1974. He died on the 3rd of September, 1974, 20 months after the birth of his granddaughter, Caroline. Five more grandchildren and eight great grandchildren have arrived since his death.

Bob's legacy
Grandchildren:

Bob's 6 grandchildren, L to R - David, Caroline, Helen, Suzie, Ruth and Paul, 2008.
Great grandchildren:

Jim
Martha (L) and Rosa
Fred











Erin and Betsy


Finn and Imogen

Jo






Rafe, the latest arrival, January 2016

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

3c. Some of Bob's stories

Bob told us a number of amusing and sometimes self-deprecating stories about his time in the RAFVR and here are some of those stories - at least as my brother, sister and I remember them:

The perils of 'Scrumpy.'
In May 1944 Bob was posted to No. 5 S.o.T.T. (School of Technical Training) at RAF Locking near Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, the home of 'Scrumpy'. He had never been a big drinker and the only alcohol he had drunk was the local brew, Hewitts bitter, which was brewed in Grimsby and was not particularly strong. Unfortunately, he didn't have the benefit of the Urban dictionary's definition of 'Scrumpy'** when he downed several pints of the stuff in a local pub before attempting to cycle back to the base. He left the pub on his bike with a mate on the cross bar and within a few hundred yards and in almost total darkness rode straight into what he claimed was a twelve foot deep irrigation ditch.
**" Rough cider.  Alcohol content not less than 7% by volume. Surprisingly refreshing and can be consumed in vast quantities providing the drinker does not want to use his legs for the next five hours!"

They survived but Bob's problems didn't end there. In their billet the trainees were regularly waking up to find the inside of one of their boots was soaking wet. Several of them had suffered, including Bob, and it became clear that one of them, probably under the influence of 'Scrumpy', was sleepwalking and using a boot from under the bed as a chamber pot. No-one was more disgusted by this antic than Bob, brought up to know right from wrong and to respect his fellow man. Unfortunately, Bob had also grown up in a home without an inside toilet and had always relied on a 'gazunder' for nocturnal urination. Apart from 5 weeks of basic training this would have been the longest he had ever been away from home and to his horror and shame he eventually discovered that he was the mysterious boot-filler.




 Spot the difference?




Weapons training
Even more dangerous than 'Scrumpy' was a Sten gun in the wrong hands. Earlier in the year, whilst at No. 7 I.T.W. near Newquay, Bob and his fellow trainees were expected to undertake some basic firearms training. The Sten gun was a British made sub-machine gun that could be produced cheaply, quickly and in great numbers. First dreamed up in the opening months of the war and then rushed into production in 1940, the Sten weighed three-kilograms, was all-metal and fired eight rounds per second from a horizontally-loaded, 32-round magazine. Each one cost as little as £2 to produce – roughly equal to about £80 today. Nearly 5 million Stens were manufactured before the end of 1945 and the weapon would serve in every theatre, including I.T.W.s of the R.A.F!

Unfortunately, early versions were notoriously unreliable and had two annoying habits - jamming or firing uncontrollably in full automatic mode when 'dropped, jostled or even just set down carelessly' (See "The Venerable Sten - The Allies’ 10 Dollar Submachine Gun"). Apparently British troops learnt to use this second shortcoming to their advantage during urban combat - they could clear a room by simply tossing one or two loaded and cocked Stens through a door or window and they would fire the whole magazine in all directions.

Sten guns, from Mk I (top) to Mk V (bottom)

Bob and his fellow trainees were on a firing range backed by a rocky outcrop or cliff. The instructor told them that the Sten could be set to fire single shots or bursts or even to fire off the whole magazine, this last setting being one they were not to use, for reasons of economy or safety -  he didn't specify which. One by one the men took the machine gun and fired single shots and one burst each at a target against the cliff. One particularly nervous chap took the weapon and squeezed the trigger. As it began to fire he panicked and dropped it to the ground where it continued firing in automatic mode and started to spin, firing bullets in all directions. Several of his mates had to jump wildly into the air as the muzzle of the gun spun towards them but the instructor avoided a tragedy by seizing the weapon and discharging it into the ground.

As if firing a Sten gun wasn't hazardous enough the next stage in their weapons training was learning how to throw a hand grenade. The trainees had to practise using an overarm bowling action to throw a wooden dummy grenade between two posts and over the bar of a structure similar to rugby posts . After a number of attempts all but one of the men had managed to score a “try”. One young man, however, just couldn’t get the hang of it. He repeatedly released the grenade too soon which sent it high into the air, landing only a few yards away. After a lot of practice he eventually managed to achieve a couple of throws where the grenade followed the correct trajectory. The session was to finish with each trainee throwing one live grenade but, as so much time had been taken to get them all up to the required standard, they were told  to come back the next day to do their “live” throws.

There was to be a parade or some other formal occasion  the following day so they all turned up bright and early in their “best blues”. In turn they took their “live” throws without incident, bending low behind a pile of sandbags as each grenade exploded. The young man who had struggled the previous day confidently took his grenade, adopted the correct stance, pulled the pin and launched the grenade - almost vertically high into the air. It landed just a few yards the other side of the sandbags. Almost as one the instructor and the trainees threw themselves flat on their faces in the mud. The grenade exploded with an ear-splitting bang, some of the sandbags disintegrated and everyone was showered with mud and grass. Bob didn't say if they managed to clean themselves up in time for the parade.

Fish for tea
In the cookhouse an officer always had to ask if there were any complaints about the food. The young airmen learned quickly that that it was a good idea to say nothing as anyone who did complain might be faced with peeling vast quantities of potatoes or scrubbing dozens of encrusted pots and pans. Bob was no exception until the day they served up rancid herrings, boiled, un-gutted and with their heads on and he decided enough was enough. When the officer made the usual bored request Dad stood up and said “Yes. I have a complaint.” Apparently you could have heard  a pin drop as the officer walked the length of the mess to confront Bob and demanded to know the nature of his complaint.
A fish auction in Grimsby in 1945

 “It’s the fish.” said Bob.
“And what’s wrong with the fish?” came the reply “There are people in civvy street who would give their back teeth to be able to eat fresh fish.”
“Well, for a start it’s not fresh. It’s not prepared properly and it’s not cooked properly. In fact it’s inedible.”
The irate officer demanded to know what qualified Bob to pass judgement on the cooking abilities of the catering staff and how he knew so much about fish.

“I’m from Grimsby,” he said and went on to tell the officer that everyone in Grimsby knew about fish and in his own family there had been fishermen through the ages both in Great Yarmouth, where his grandfather, also called Bob Jay, had his own business in the fishing industry, and in Grimsby, where his brother Fred had worked on the fish docks before the War. Not only that, but his future father-in-law had been a trawler skipper since WW1. We don't know what happened to Bob after the incident but the officer did have all the fish sent back to the kitchens and binned.

Hector and Hercules.
After the war the ministry was unsure what to do with thousands of airmen and ground crew who were surplus to requirements and for a month in the summer of 1945 Bob was based at RAF Burn, near Selby,Yorkshire, where he was put to work on a local farm. Many of his fellow reservists were city boys and after months of hostile encounters over Germany were ill-prepared for their next challenge. On the farm there were two huge boars named Hector and Hercules who not only terrorised the airmen but were also in competition for the affections of a particularly attractive sow.
At some point the sow had to be moved elsewhere on a tractor-drawn trailer and in a scenario similar to the land rover being pursued by a T Rex in Jurassic Park one of the boars chased it all the way down the farm track scattering Bob and his terrified comrades in all directions. One consolation - Bob's wife and mother were very pleased with the large package of lard that he took home on his next leave.

Community cycles
Bob had his bike “posted” to him by rail at one point during his training because of the large distances between locations on the base. However, most of the trainees appear to have had little respect for the notion of private property. The first one out would grab the first bike he could find and pedal off and Bob's was constantly disappearing and then reappearing a day or two later. The notion of 'community cycles' was very popular in the RAF, long before 'Boris bikes' were thought of, unless you had your own bike and invariably had to walk.

The Haka
Everyone nowadays is familiar with the Haka and will at least have seen it on television but in 1945 very few people in Britain were even aware of its existence. When Bob was posted to No.75 (NZ) Squadron in 1945 he was not only introduced to it but also had the tremendous privilege to witness it performed by Maori members of the squadron in one of the local pubs.

Another RNZAF Haka, probably in Canada (from the late Dave Howlett's collection)

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

4. Bill Mallon - pilot


Bill Mallon, pilot, 75 (NZ) Squadron, 1945
Bill was born in Bell Block, New Plymouth on the 9th April, 1920 to Alexander Mallon, an Australian, and Dora, nee Rogers. He attended Bell Block Primary School and then New Plymouth Boys' High School where he was a member of the Cadet Corps. After leaving school he started work at Newton King Ltd. in the spares department of the motor division and in 1939 he became a volunteer fire fighter. In 1940 he applied to join the RNZAF - see chapter 5
 
I originally had no idea why Bill left his crew so suddenly at the end of April 1945 other than it may have had something to do with the death of his brother. With the help of Chris Newey and 'The Wings Over New Zealand Aviation Forum' I eventually discovered the tragic reason for his premature departure. If ever there was a story that illustrates the sacrifices made by the people of New Zealand then this is it.

There can have been no parents in Taranaki, New Zealand prouder than Alexander and Dora Mallon. They had three sons, Thomas (Tom), John (Jack) and William (Bill) and a daughter Dora May. By 1940 Jack was an RAF pilot with No. 53 Squadron which was based in France but had returned to the UK in May 1940 as the German army advanced. Its Bristol Blenheims supported the Dunkirk evacuation and continued to fly reconnaissance missions over France. In July 1940 the squadron was transferred to Coastal Command and moved to RAF Detling in Kent and continued with anti-submarine and anti-shipping operations as well as bombing sorties targeting harbours and coastal defences. In 1941 its Blenheims were replaced by American-built Lockheed Hudsons.

Bristol Blenheim
Lockheed Hudson

On the 8th October 1940 Jack was reported 'missing in action' over France on his 43rd operation.. It was subsequently confirmed that he had been killed, together with two other members of the crew of his Blenheim T2036 (PZ-K), Sgt. Arthur Thomas Shackleford (613282) and Sgt. Wilfred Philip Whetton D.F.M. (562320)

Notice in the local press, 1940.

Despite their loss Tom and Bill also became pilots, Tom flying de Havilland Mosquitoes with No. 488 (NZ) Squadron and Bill, the youngest, completing his training in 1945 to fly Avro Lancasters. On the 15th November 1944 488 (NZ) Squadron was moved from the U.K. to Amiens-Glisy in France and then on to the Netherlands as support for the Allied advance towards Germany. Ten days later flight engineer Bob Jay joined Bill and the rest of his crew at RAF Langar to complete their training for the 4-engine Lancaster.
 
Bill and his crew completed their training and on the 6th March 1945 they were posted to No. 75 (NZ) Squadron at Mepal. They completed their first operation on the 9th when they took part in a daylight raid on Datteln. Three days later, just before 4.30 a.m. on the 12th March 1945, Tom and his navigator, P/O George Brock (NZ429138), took off in their Mosquito Mark XXX (MT484) from Gilze-Rijen airfield in the Netherlands for a night patrol. Minutes later they crashed into a barn 2.5 km from the runway - both died later that day. Tom had become the second Mallon brother to be killed in action.
De Havilland Mosquito

Notice in the local press, 1945.
Bill continued active service throughout March and April, receiving a commission and becoming the third Pilot Officer in the Mallon family. He took part in the squadron's last operational sortie over Bad Oldesloe on the 24th April and then said goodbye to his crew and took on ground duties before returning to his devastated parents and sister in New Zealand.
Jack is buried alongside his crew members in the Guînes Communal Cemetery, 10 km from Calais in France.



The graves of Jack and his crew, photographed by Paul Warnault.
and Tom and his navigator are in the Bergen-Op-Zoom Cemetery in the Netherlands. More than 4000 New Zealand aircrew were killed in action during World War 2, and Bill made a point of attending his local Dawn Parade and Service in their memory every year.



Bill, who was born on the 9th April, 1920, had been married to Lorna for 60 years when he died aged 90 on the 29th June, 2010 but his brothers' names have lived on in their two sons, Barrie John and Kevin Thomas - the only boy among their five grandchildren is called Thomas William.

Monday, 9 September 2013

5. Bill Mallon - early years and his epic journey

In 2004, at the age of 84, Bill Mallon was interviewed by Martin Halliday as part of the New Zealand Defence Force 'Military Oral History Project'. On June 13th 2013 I acquired a copy of the transcript of this 6 hour conversation and it provides a fascinating insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by trainee pilots, particularly those from the other side of the world, but it is also makes a valuable contribution to understanding the history of New Zealand during the inter-war years, including the 'great depression'.

Bill also made some candid observations on his first operation, a bombing raid on Dessau, in which 18 aircraft were lost and the Lancaster in which he was flying '2nd dickie' with F/L Spilman "had a short, inconclusive encounter" with a night fighter. In a letter to the author Mike Garbett in 1998 he had said it "frightened the hell out of me" and in the interview for the Military Oral History Project he recalled that he "didn't think there was much future in this game!"

Bill was also able to provide more information about the incident that occurred during the raid on the Sachsen benzol plant near Hamm on the 27th March 1945. The crew were in the aircraft AA-L (HK562) carrying 11,000 lbs (nearly 5 tons) of bombs and Bob wrote in his log book "Port inner feathered - hit by flak". Bill's log book contains even less - "3 engines - flak". In his interview Bill described it as being "very close" to their last operation as they had "copped a bit of flak on the run-in to the target". "The flak went through the oil cooler and it started to lose pressure" so he told Bob to shut down the engine. They completed the bomb run and returned home safely - "It's no trouble for a Lanc to fly on 3 engines" he added.

One piece of information I had not come across before was Bill's description of an additional identity tag that he says was issued when they were flying to targets in the east of Germany, with a risk of coming down behind the Russian front line. He described it as "a great big plaque" with "a Union Jack on one side and Russian on the other side saying 'Don't shoot ... he is friendly'".

The interview also provides valuable information about the effect of supply and demand on the training of aircrew as the war progressed. It must have been a source of great frustration that it was almost 3 years after his induction to the R.N.Z.A.F. that Bill Mallon commenced operational flying.

By May 1942 a large surplus of trained aircrew had built up in the U.K. and measures were taken to extend the training period, particularly for pilots. Whether or not it was an intended consequence is unclear but this extension improved the quality of flying and the rate of training casualties was halved between 1940-41 and the end of the war, from 1 in every 11,156 flying hours to 1 in 22,388.

By the end of 1943 there were adequate reserves of aircrew, both fully trained and under training, and in February 1944 the Supervisory Board of the British Commonwealth Air Training Scheme decided that the output should be gradually reduced by 40%. By June 1944 a serious bottleneck had developed and a large backlog of pilots had accumulated in the U.K., New Zealand and Canada. By this time though Bill was already at No.3 (P)A.F.U. and well on the way to a posting to an operational squadron.

Here is a summary of his story, as told in the interview.
Bill and his twin sister Dora May were born in Bell Block, New Plymouth on the 9th April, 1920 to Alexander Mallon, an Australian, and Dora, nee Rogers. He attended Bell Block Primary School and then, from 1932 to 1936, he was a student at New Plymouth Boys' High School where he became a member of its Cadet Corps.

Bill and May at Bell Block (and big brother in the background?)
Bill, aged 11, with champion calf on
'Bell Block School Calf Day'

Bill and his two older brothers would visit Bell Block airfield every Sunday to watch Gypsy Moths taking off and landing and a fascination with flight developed in all three boys, particularly Jack who, according to Bill, was "very air minded".

New Plymouth High School 1935
    New Plymouth High School cricket team, about 1934.
    Bill is second from the left on the middle row.
    In 1936 Bill left school and started work at Newton King Ltd. in the spares department of the motor division and in 1939 he became a volunteer fire fighter, coincidentally the same year that Bob completed his apprenticeship and joined the fire brigade.

    By 1939 Brother Jack was already in England with No. 53 Squadron (R.A.F.) having learnt to fly at Bell Block and in 1940 Bill and Tom both applied to join the R.N.Z.A.F. However, Bill had a knee problem and in 1941 was conscripted into the army and posted to Great Barrier Island with the Waikato Regiment, which was to see action in Italy later in the war (1943-45), and brother Tom was accepted into the R.N.Z.A.F.
      In May 1942, after completing a correspondence course to confirm his aptitude and academic suitability and having a knee operation to improve his physical condition, Bill was eventually called up by the R.N.Z.A.F. He claimed the operation was unsuccessful but he was posted to the air base at Rukuhia, which did not officially open as a R.N.Z.A.F. station until the 12th August 1942 and building work was still going on.

      On the 11th July 1942 he was posted to R.N.Z.A.F. Tauranga, the home of the Central Flying School which trained flying instructors, and for 7 months Bill and his colleagues served as the air defence unit, manning Bren guns on anti-aircraft mounts.

      On the 4th February 1943 he was posted to the Initial Training Wing (I.T.W.) at R.N.Z.A.F. Rotorua and at the end of 2 months training and assessment an interview with the selection board led to Bill being recommended for training as a pilot. He was then posted to No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School (E.F.T.S.) at R.N.Z.A.F. Taieri, about 20 miles from Dunedin, on the 3rd April, 1943, Bob's 24th birthday. Three days later on the 6th April 1943 Bill flew for the first time, in a Tiger Moth DH82 piloted by a P/O Wilson. On the 12th April he took the controls himself and flew solo for the first time.




      Tiger Moth DH82





        On the 29th May 1943, after just over 6 weeks flying training (60 hours flying, 24 of them solo) Bill was given a week's pre-embarkation leave before sailing from Auckland across the Pacific on the U.S.S. Matsonia, a liner requisitioned by the U.S. Navy and refitted as a troop carrier in 1941.
          The U.S.S. Matsonia in San Francisco harbour 1943
            He arrived in San Francisco in June to be met by what Bill described as "paranoia". They were all finger printed, a guard was posted on the ship and no-one was allowed ashore - apart from Bill, who managed to accompany the baggage truck. After a short ferry trip to Oakland they were on a train for a 2 day journey to Vancouver where they made a quick transfer from the American Railroad to the Canadian National Railways before continuing their journey to Edmonton.

             There followed a brief stay at No.3 Manning Depot in Edmonton, Alberta and then a 4 day train journey to Ontario. Towards the end of June 1943 Bill arrived at No. 5 Service Flying Training School (S.F.T.S.) in Brantford, Ontario where, having been selected to fly multi-engine aircraft, he
            The Avro Anson
            spent the next 4 to 5 months improving his flying skills in a Mk II Avro Anson, carrying out his own navigation and bombing practice.
               During this time he managed trips to Detroit and New York and the school was visited by Guy Gibson, just a few months after the Dam Busters raids.
                Bill was presented with his wings in November 1943 by the Chief Flying Instructor, a Squadron Leader whose name Bill could not recall, and he then embarked on another epic train journey that took Bill and his fellow pilots to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a rendezvous with the S.S. Mauretania. This Cunard White Star liner was launched on the 28th July 1938, sailed on her maiden trans-Atlantic voyage from Liverpool on the 17th June 1939 and was requisitioned as a troop carrier just a few months later. It took Bill and his fellow pilots, as well as thousands of U.S. and Canadian troops (D-Day was only 6 months away), to Liverpool, England.
                .
                RMS Mauretania 1938







                    On the 2nd December 1943, after a relatively short train journey, Bill arrived at No. 12 Personnel Reception Centre in Brighton, where he was billeted at the Grand Hotel, made famous in 1984 by the I.R.A. bomb attack on prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her government. 
                      The Grand Hotel, Brighton, in March 1943
                      He was in Brighton for about 3 weeks and then posted to R.A.F. Manston in Kent, where he carried out 'flying control duties' (later to be called 'air traffic control') for about 6 months. Whenever he had leave he was keen to visit the New Zealand Forces Club** on Charing Cross Road, London and during one leave was able to meet up in London with his surviving brother, Tom.


                                                            ** These were 'all ranks' clubs and generally considered to be very good for morale wherever they were established. Bill described it as "a great set-up".

                        Bill was promoted to 'temporary flight sergeant' on 29th March 1944 and remained at Manston until 6th June 1944 (D-Day) when he was posted to R.A.F. Padgate near Warrington in Lancashire, coincidentally where Bob had had his unsuccessful interview in 1942. Bill says he heard about the D-day landings on the train to Padgate!
                        On the 8th June 1944 he was transferred to No.3 (Pilots') Advanced Flying Unit (A.F.U.) in South Cerney, near Cirencester in Gloucestershire and was billeted at R.A.F. Bibury, where there was a relief landing strip. Here he was to become familiar with navigation, map reading and night flying in 'English conditions' or, as Bill put it, "bloody awful English weather". For the first time he carried out night flying under complete blackout, something that clearly stuck in his memory. He was flying the Airspeed Oxford, a 2-engine aircraft used extensively in the training of Commonwealth aircrews.
                          An Airspeed Oxford II in 1942

                            By August 1944 Bill was ready to take on a crew of his own and he was posted to No.11 Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.) at R.A.F. Oakley in Buckinghamshire, to 'crew up'. Once he had assured the 'Officer in charge of airmanship' that he was fully conversant with the Wellington bomber


                             he joined his new crew for their first flight together on September 7th.



                            There was now just one vacancy to fill, a flight engineer, before they could fly a Lancaster bomber but they would have to wait another 3 months before they recruited Bob, who would not complete his training until November.

                              The Vickers Wellington bomber
                                Bill clocked up 76 hours in a Wellington before the end of November 1944 and the crew was then posted to R.A.F. Langar in Nottinghamshire at the beginning of December 1944. It was there that they would familiarise themselves with the 4-engine Avro Lancaster. Bob had been there since the 25th November and when he joined Bill's crew he had accumulated only about 13 hours of flying time. Bill took his crew up in a Lancaster without an instructor for the first time on the 29th January 1945 and in his interview said that he "was one of the lucky ones" - "I managed to form a very compatible crew".
                                  Bill and his crew had less than 35 hours flying time together, though they did fly with other pilots for various training exercises, with 16 hours of night flying crammed into the last 2 days of February, before they were posted to No.75 (NZ) Squadron in Mepal on Tuesday, 6th March 1945.
                                    Ground crew working on the port outer engine of 75(NZ) Squadron Lancaster JN-X at Mepal (1945) (I.W.M)
                                      The very next day Bill saw '2nd dickey' action alongside pilot F/L 'Buzz' Spilman in a raid on Dessau and on Friday the 9th March he took his crew on their first 'war op' to Datteln. His brother Tom was killed 3 days later. It is not clear exactly when Bill learnt of Tom's death but his family back in Bell Block immediately contacted the local air force C.O. and the wheels were set in motion to offer him a 'compassionate posting' to New Zealand. He later said he only agreed to the posting on condition that he was posted to New Zealand immediately and he returned to No. 12 Personnel Reception Centre in Brighton after his last operation on the 24th April.
                                        He was still in England on the 8th May 1945 , V.E. Day, and he recalls meeting up with some of his crew and going to Bolton to celebrate.
                                          On the 30th May 1945 he eventually set sail from Liverpool on the S.S. Arundel Castle, a Union-Castle liner, and with Australian and New Zealand P.o.W.s crossed across the Atlantic once again, passing through the port of Cristobal at the Western end of the Panama Canal on the 16th June.
                                            The RMS Arundel Castle after the 1937 refit reduced the number of funnels from 4 to 2
                                              Bill was commissioned while still at sea on the 23rd June, back-dated to the 25th March, and became a Pilot Officer (temporary). He arrived in Wellington on the 3rd July 1945, disappointed that they hadn't dropped off the Australians first at Sydney because he said he would have liked to have had "a look around Aussie". The ship set off for Sydney two days later and spent nine days there. Thanks to Pete Tresadern's research these dates are confirmed by the Arrival/departure Schedule of the Arundel Castle.
                                              Arundel Castle, arrivals and departures 1945
                                              He was then driven to New Plymouth in an army vehicle having missed the train because of delays in receiving clearance. He was eventually discharged and returned to civilian life, his epic journey over.
                                              Bill's epic journey


                                                Bill in New Plymouth after the war
                                                  Bill said he was proud to have had the opportunity to captain an aircraft and be in charge of a crew. "They depended on me and I depended on them" he said. Although it seems a waste that after nearly 3 years of training he was only operational for less than 2 months, it is more of a waste that after his return to New Zealand he never flew again - but the biggest waste of all was the death of his two brothers.

                                                  The picture on the right was taken by Swainson's Studios in New Plymouth and must have been quite a while after the war as he has his medal ribbons sewn onto his uniform. The Puke Ariki museum/library currently has an exhibition of the Swainson/Woods Collection (13th April - 28th July 2013) and a search of the on-line catalogue suggests it was taken as late as the 12th November 1946. Is it my imagination or is there a serenity on Bill's face that wasn't there in the photograph taken during the war? (see below)