Bomber veterans head to UK
Five RAF Bomber Command veterans, not eligible for the New Zealand government-funded trip of RNZAF veterans to London for the opening of the Bomber Command Memorial on 28 June, departed on 20 September for a tour of their own.
The tour, which includes visits to the new Bomber Command Memorial in London as well as the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, the RAF Museum, Hendon, and a Lancaster taxi run at RAF East Kirkby, is led by Jonathan Pote. It has been made possible by the philanthropic efforts of Auckland businessman and entrepreneur Ian Kuperus, and the five RAF veterans are accompanied by family supporters.
From left, standing in front of the Lancaster bomber at MOTAT at the end of August:
• Harry Cammish, a flight engineer who flew with 90 Squadron, turned 90 on 21 September. Shot down near the French/German border, he contacted the Resistance and crossed France to the Pyrenees dressed as an SNCF railway porter. A group of evaders was about to be led across the mountains to Spain but was betrayed to the Germans. All but Harry surrendered, but he ran for it and guided himself across the snow-covered peaks over three days, still in the porter’s uniform and ill-fitting shoes. He suffered frostbite, and on returning to the UK he was banned from flying operationally, as were all those who had been helped by the Resistance lest they give out incriminating information if recaptured.
• Wally Halliwell, aged 91, was not aircrew but one of the indispensible but largely overlooked ground crew. Wally serviced fighter aircraft during the Battle of Britain, and later bombers in Lincolnshire. While ground crew did not face the extreme dangers of operational flying, they worked under appalling conditions around the clock to keep the aircraft flying and suffered gnawing doubt if their aircraft failed to return. All flight engineers were recruited from among the ground crew, and this tour recognises the efforts of those who did not fly.
• Ian Kuperus, managing director of Tax Management NZ.
• Des Hall, aged 88, was a flight engineer on 463 Squadron, an Australian unit in the RAF. All flight engineers were recruited in Britain whatever squadron they flew with, and apart from being among the first systems operators in newly complex aircraft, had the role of handling the engines on takeoff as well as flying the aircraft in an emergency to enable others to escape. Des did a full tour and was about to start a second one as the war ended.
• Eddie Leaf, aged 90, was a rear gunner on 90 Squadron Stirlings. Both the position of rear gunner and the Stirling itself had unenviable reputations, but Eddie completed a tour, was “rested” as a gunnery instructor and returned to operations as the war ended. The “rest” or “screened” postings, flying with crews in training, had the reputation of being at least as dangerous as flying on operations. Many were killed in flying accidents.
• Eighty-seven-year-old Doug Williamson was a rear gunner with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF. New Zealand had ordered a squadron of Wellingtons, then the RAF’s heaviest bomber, before the war, and the crews were in Britain training when war broke out. The New Zealand government offered crew and aircraft to the RAF as a formed squadron and it acquired an enviable reputation as a dedicated and efficient unit. The “number plate” was gifted postwar to New Zealand in perpetuity and remained in use here until the Skyhawks were withdrawn. Many of those on the government tour in June served in 75(NZ) Squadron and revisited their old base at Mepal. Doug was shot down towards the end of the war and evaded capture until advancing American troops reached him. He has recently published a book on his experiences, and his wife is accompanying him.
- Report by John King
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