8 June 1992
8 June 1992
Of my course of Airman Pilots (No.1A) about half were retained in N.Z. to become flying instructors, (32 ÷ 2 = 16), attending F.I.S. at Hobsonville.
Time spent at Taieri was very busy indeed. We worked hard, my busiest month was 112.40 hours in March 1941, most being in the 80 - 90 hr. range with 140 - 150 dual instruction flights! Dunedin was very hospitable and flying 'wash out' days were spent in town where the Otago Squash Racquets Club made their courts available to us, the to Wain's Hotel followed by a meal down town & then possibly to the Regent Theatre. Senior instructors, Flight Commanders & above were all ex-aero club chaps, and although serious and devoted to their responsibilites they brought a Camaraderie to the camp which brought out the best in us all.
The group released from instructing before my turn all elected to go onto fighters and were trained on Kittyhawks & posted to the Pacific Islands. My wish was to go to the U.K. so when my turn came I asked for heavy bombers, knowing they had none in R.N.Z.A.F. They forthwith posted me to Waipapakauri to fly patrols with V. Vincents & Vildebeestes! In time no-one would sign these out as airworthy & the Squadron (7) was disbanded. These planes were just like Tiger Moths but ten times bigger. Part of our task was the escorting of boats in & out of Auckland, meeting them off C. Brett. Most were cargo vessles, a few naval. On one flight - I think it was the one on 6.4.43 "Outer A/S Patrol - Presidents Adams, Hayes, & Coolidge & two destroyers" with F/O Ritchie & Sgt. Webb-Pullman - it was not possible to get any response at all to our Aldis lamp challenge with the letter of the day. I sent the message - Can anyone read Morse? The correct letter cam back promptly. On reflection it would appear that on sighting our huge old bi-plane they all fell down in a fit of apoplexy, and only replied to keep us quiet.
Going from Vincents to Venturas on Ferry Command was a tremendous shock. Never had I seen such an array of instruments & controls. Fortunately F/O Alf Arnott knew more about such planes & I became a mere throttle holder. But it was good experience. Just one trip from Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, to Whenuapai via Palmyra & Canton Is. to Nausori to Tontouta (petrol fault), to Norfolk & N.Z.
The Seaplane Training Flight was rare fun. They don't build planes like the Walrus any more. On take off - Full R rudder and L aileron (or was it the other way?) to counter the torque. And at night the straight exhaust ports from the radial engine gave the appearance of a giant catherine wheel - the only plane which I have flown with a 4 - blade pusher prop. My flying partner was Geo. Scholes and on one of our last flights I thought that it would be a good idea to try an 'emergency' landing on Lake Pupuke on the North Shore. No Problem! But once on the water the take off run looked very short with the high volcanic rim rising up and covered with houses. There was no problem however. We kept quiet about the escapade, but in the mess the night before our departure S/Ldr Bill Willis made veiled reference to it - just to let us know that he knew - but didn't wish to take the matter further.
The G.R. School at New Plymouth was value for money. Work was the order of the day, and the knowledge gained proved invaluable later in the Pacific, especially navigation (D.R. & Astro), signals & W/T, ship recognition & much more. Some of the Astro Nav results were a bit hairy (ask Russ Carleton) putting the Bell Block aerodrome as much as 50 miles out to sea! But nevertheless I managed 95%.
At Lauthala Bay Dave Sheehan was training as Captain and I became his 2nd Pilot doing some solo work myself under the tutelage of F/O Dan Carlow (who entered the Air Force with me in 1940) We joined the Squadron 19.12.43 at Segond Channel just as they were about to move to Halavo Bay - we flew up there 23.12.43.
Flying alongside Dave Sheehan in the Squadron was valuable learning experience, his thoroughness, reliability, unflappability were examples for me to remember. Most searches & patrols were routine but one take off experience will never be forgotten. After slipping the buoy Dave taxied out to the appropriate position, tested the motors, opened the throttles and away we went. But half way along our run, unusual porpoising was occurring the plane was reluctant to get up on the step to gather speed by planeing, and it was only by holding the yoke hard against the panel that Dave was eventually able to become airborne. And thus it continued until we were up a few hundred feet. Obviously something was wrong, but we knew not what it was. It was only when a crew member opened the bulkhead door at the rear of the blister that the reason became obvious. Water poured through the door into the blister compartment - gallons & gallons of it. The bottom hatch used for drift taking with a bombsight had not been securely locked, and each time aircraft porpoised a 'mouthful' of water was scooped up, to be locked in by its own weight on the hatch until the next porpoise. The total quantity could only be estimated - perhaps 50 - 100 gallons - certainly enough to radically upset the trim. This security 'oversight' could probably be attributed to a crew member who on entering the aircraft & not long out of bed, hastily relieved himself through the hatch which he opened. This was not unusual in itself but this time the result was, well shall we say 'educational'!
Whilst at Lauthala Bay in March 1944 undergoing training while getting my own crew, it became necessary to evacuate several Cats from the path of an advancing hurricane. I'm not sure how many planes took off - 4 or 5 perhaps - heading for Noumea, my co-pilot being F/Lt. Jack Butcher. After a day there, the advancing storm made us go further. Jack had to take over another crew and my No. 2 then became 'Bert' Tupou.
[JS Note: Hon. 'Alipate Halakilangi Tau’alupeoko Tupou (1st Baron Vaea of Houma, 15th Vaea), born 15th May 1921, Baron Vaea of Houma [cr.1970] by HM the King of Tonga, appointed to the title of Vaea on 16th May 1942, educated in Tonga and at Wesley College, Auckland, served in the RNZAF 1942/1945, member of the Tonga Civil Service 1945/53, ADC to HM Queen Salote 1954/59, Governor of Ha'apai 1959/68, Commissioner and Consul in UK 1969, first High Commissioner to London 1970/72, 1st Minister for Labour, Commerce and Industries 1972/1991, acted as Deputy Prime Minister on numerous occasions, and as Minister of Education and Civil Aviation, and of Finance, 11th Prime Minister of Tonga 1991- 2000, married 1952, Tuputupukipulotu Ma'afu, born 1920. He died 7th June 2009.].
We landed in the Brisbane River, just below the town, next day heading south to R.A.A.F. Seaplane Base at Rathmines. Their hospitality was overwhelming. They flew us in their Cats for an overnight stay in Sydney (40 in the plane I was in), after which we returned to Lauthala Bay by the Rathmines - Noumea route. The officer in charge? S/Ldr Maggie Makgill! A fortnight later we rejoined the Squadron at Halavo, whereupon F/Lt Butcher got his own crew - he had considerable experience as a test pilot in N.Z. and 2nd pilot was far below his ability level. P/O Fred Whillans took his place beside me, having previously been a radio operator on Tasman Empire Airways.
Much of our flying was routine - patrols, searches, shipping escorts & supply trips to radar stations. It was not unusual for the pilot of a U.S. transport plane en route from the States to report a possible submarine sighting in our vicinity. We then had to cover that area with an expanding search for 3 days. At times our crews would report a whale or a floating tree or log at the reported position, but higher command on Guadalcanal always decreed that the search continue. Occasionally they would cancel the search early, perhaps about midnight so that all their staff could go to bed (?), leaving the search plane & its crew airborne until daylight came enabling us to land (Halavo had no night flying facilities). This did not endear them to us, although on one occasion we decided to fill in the hours with a joint up to Ontong Java Reefs. We could discern the white surf breaking on the reefs in the night light before returning to Halavo at dawn. On our descent from about 6 - 8000 ft (?) into the lower warm humid air the whole aircraft interior, skin & equipment, was dripping wet with condensation. I was quite concerned lest a short occurred in the electrical circuitry causing mal-function or at worst, a fire. Fortunately no problem occurred.
We periodically took supplies & mail to the N. tip of Malaita Is (C. Astrolabe??) and on one occasion after securing our plane to the strop of the mooring buoy, we cut the motors and most of the crew went ashore where a vehicle waited to take them to the coast-watching station. I stayed aboard with an engineer (either Sam Parry of Mac McPherson) and relaxed, expecting to wait for half an hour or so. No hurry - it was a pleasant day. However it soon became apparent that the island was slowly moving away from us. We were adrift, with the strop, buoy, cable and the seabed anchor weight all suspended from our keel. Not a happy situation to be in! By starting both engines, heading back to where the buoy had been anchored and then giving the motors full throttle for a short burst, the anchor weight was dragged some way up the sandy (?) bottom sufficient to hold us until the other crew members came aboard again. Back at Halavo Bay we reported "N. Malaita buoy - insecure".
Periodic engine changes for our squadron were done at the U.S. Naval Air Force Base on ile Nou, Noumea Harbour. The liberty barge across to Noumea jetty was popular, as was La Grande Hotel du Pacifique, fruit machines and all. On one occasion, I had difficulty making the beaching buoy at the slipway on Ile Nou, due to a very strong on shore wind and a rocky foreshore. Although holding the plane out of wind with starboard drogue and port motor I could not judge the buoy close enough for the bowman to pick up the floating strop. The pilots' hatches were back for better visability and the U.S. beaching crew ready to enter the water with the beaching wheels. On my second attempt, very slowly and carefully, I missed again, but the beaching party thought we had succeeded and entered the water with the gear. My co-pilot, P/O Fred Whillans, saw what was happening and, standing up, waved his arm to indicate to them we had missed again. Unfortunately the starboard prop. hit his fingers damaging them quite badly, but I was not immediately aware of this. Navigator, F/O Jack Lockington, got the Radio Operator to call the shore base and an ambulance was waiting when we made the buoy on the third attempt. Fred was in the U.S. Naval hospital there for some time, followed by leave in N.Z., before returning to his seat beside me as a valued crew member - with slightly stiff fingers, I recall! After that engine change in NZ 4008 'Lockie' was both navigator and second pilot to Lauthala Bay, and again on the return to Halavo in NZ 4018 via Santo (June 5 - 16, 1944).
A very enjoyable trip, made several times, was to the Stewart Islands, some 2 hours flying time eastwards from Halavo. The inhabited island was at the pointed part of a pear-shaped coral reef, there being three very small islands at the 'blunt' end. Landing in the lagoon was easy, the water being flat calm, but to taxi towards the beach on the island was unnerving as the water was of such clarity that the coral heads always appeared as though they would rupture the plane's hull, whereas on a lead-line measure they could be anything up to 30 ft. or more below the surface. The natives were delightful, much fairer skinned than the Solomon Islanders we had seen open & friendly by nature, readily paddling their canoes to meet us after we dropped anchor. Their lives appeared to be simple & satisfying. On one trip I took several U.S. Naval Officers. They brought with them some supplies from a U.S. hospital on Guadalcanal which I understood had closed down - tinned meat, candles, lengths of cotton material and such like - and the islanders were delighted with these gifts. Before the war, one of these officers had captained a ship which had relocated a good many of the natives to the mainland in order to relieve overcrowding on the island & the consequent pressure on their available food supply. Imagine the pleasure & excitement when the officer produced recent photographs showing the same people, now some years older and by remarks & gestures, the younger ones had grown much taller.
We shared Halavo Base with a U.S. Cat Squadron, and our daily sector patrols were shared with them, each plane covering a 9° sector for an outward distance of 650 miles then across for 50 (?) miles, and 650 miles return. The general direction of the area covered was towards Nauru Is. occupied by Jap forces, so needless to say, the 50 miles across the top was done as close to the water as possible to avoid radar detection, for their land-based planes (e.g. Bettys) would have been more than a match for our flying boats. However, the Squadron Dumbo board records some outstanding rescues made by crews from No. 6 Squadron whilst on such patrols. My Dumbo rescue on 1.5.44 was much more mundane. A crew member on a U.S. freighter was sick (appendicitis?) and my crew went to pick him up off the Southern point of Malaita Is. The sea was moderate so there was no great difficulty there. It was mcuch more worrying when after cutting the motors a short distance from the ship, they brought the patient towards the plane in what resembled a very solid heavy ships life boat. I feared for our plane as they came towards the blister, lest their vessel puncture the plane's skin. There was much manoeuvering & fending off before the seaman on his stretcher was man-handled aboard. The flight to Lunga Point was uneventful.
I am sure that aircrew had the best of life at Halavo. Whether flying or enjoying a day off we could generally beat the heat, whereas ground crews, especially those servicing planes, had no means of escape. The interior was like an oven. Some servicing was done with the Cat in a nose hangar which provided shade and platforms of varying heights.
Beaching crews were slick operators. Before props stopped turning they were into the water witht he beaching gear which was rapidly attached, as was the towing cable attached to the tractor. There was a competition to determine the fastest crew. I do not know the winning time but it was probably under a minute.
The U.S. Malarial control team were ever alert, spraying puddles and stagnant pools and supervising the disposal of tins and other receptacles - any possible mosquito breeding place. Atabrine tablets (and salt tablets) were always on the meal table, and i do not recall anyone on our base contracting the disease, but we all did change appearance to an atabrine yellow.
Our evenings were usually spent enjoying a cool drink in the mess and many hours were spent around the piano singing songs of various shades of colour. Reading, letterwriting and washing clothes were other pastimes. There was some wild life about. Centipedes 6 - 10" long, and W/Com John Agar can testify to their poisonous ferocity after he attempted to put on a flying boot which was occupied. They could sometimes be seen crawling across the inside of our hut walls. Mosquito nets gave us some sense of security.
A visit to our outdoor movie cinema was best on fine, dark nights. Moonlight on the screen was a disaster. Rain or wind were less than welcome - they added to the discomfort experienced when sitting on coconut logs throughout a feature film. Those with Jeeps could have more comfort, parked on the roadway behind the 'auditorium'. A visit from an American U.S.O. (??) group was something really special! Metropolitan Opera stars comprised one group, and after being entertained by the V.I.P's, they duly appeared on the stage in front of the cinema screen. We may have been a great distance away from civilisation and its conventions but one custom was not overlooked.. F/Lt. Selwyn Field was prepared for the occasion, having prepared a presentation sheaf of wild flowers, and in the presence of all camp personnel he confidently walked down the centre aisle, mounted the platform and presented his token of respect & admiration to the lady in the group. Sel got raspberries & laughter from the troops who were doubtless not used to such 'cultural' behaviour, but he didn't bat an eye as he smilingly returned to his seat.
After leaving the squadron, Hobsonville's Seaplane Training Flight was like a comfortable retirement including a variety of duties such as testing, taxi driving to other dromes, islands and searches. The war was over, but New Zealanders overseas found it difficult to get back home. On 21.12.45 I took a Hobsonville Cat to Rose Bay, Sydney (10.25 hrs), returning on 28.12.45 to Mechanics Bay, Auckland (9.45 hrs) with a full load. A radio failure in Australia meant a trip to Rathmines to obtain a replacement unit. Months later, questions were asked as I had signed for it.
After marriage to Betty Field (Sel's cousin) in Auckland on 5.1.46, I was posted to No. 5 Squadron in Fiji, arriving on 25 January. My wife was not permitted to fly in R.N.Z.A.F. aircraft, so she made the trip on the island supply ship R.C.S. "VITI", a very small vessel, once the Fiji governor's yacht. After checking with the Suva office about shipping position & ETA, we thought it appropriate to do a 'navigation & interception' exercise to meet the Viti about 100 miles out. A bunch of flowers was put in a paper bag & suitably inscribed, and after a few low passes over the ship we commenced our 'bombing' run. But the trajectory of a paper bag had us fooled and the missile fell short into the sea.
To her great embarrassment, Betty had been thrust up onto the bridge and to her greater embarrassment the Captain (JS Note: John 'Jack' Cummings) turned the ship about to retrieve the floating bag of flowers using a long boat hook. It was a warm welcome to Fiji. After a week staying in the Grand Hotel we moved into a house at Suva Point and were immediately invited into the local cocktail circuit, but we soon realised that the pace was too great for us. We enjoyed station life under W/Com John Bray and were never short of good company.
On 1 April 1946 three Cats were dispatched to New Caledonia to search for a U.S. R4D aircraft missing from Guadalcanal to Noumea. We searched for a week but without success, the crashed plane later being found in bush high on the N. slopes of New Caledonia. I recall hearing that aboard was a V.I.P. naturalist who had been researching and collecting in the S.W. Pacific. On the first days search the weather deteriorated to such an extent that it was deemed wise to land in the sheltered Touho Bay (N.E. Coast) where we spent the night swinging at anchor. CNB Noumea expressed his high appreciation, donating binoculars to each captain and an iced water machine for the Lauthala Bay hangar (tricky to get it into the blister compartment from a boat!)
My last Air Force flight was when Betty & I returned to Auckland in a Sunderland, captained by Dan Carlow assisted by Russ Carleton, Bill Mackley and Gus Knox, on 30 Sept. 1946.