How much is a Mosquito?
There have long been stories of old aircraft and engines buried “somewhere” at Wigram. Despite many searches through the years and the ongoing excavations as the airfield is currently being destroyed in an act of historical vandalism which would have brought howls of protest anywhere else in the civilised world, no missing WWI era aircraft or Rolls-Royce Merlin engines have yet to appear.
I think I know what happened to the Merlins …
While in Kerry Horrell’s shed in Ashburton for a story for Classic Driver it was difficult not to miss the Harvard sitting against the back wall. The conversation naturally turned to things with wings, and Kerry casually mentioned that there were some Mosquito bits in the corner as well.
Now I am interested. Where did they come from? Answer: basically from his back yard! Was I interested in seeing photos of them? Out came the photo albums and Kerry tells more of the story.
Not only did his father, Cliff Horrell, buy six complete Mosquitoes for £255/0/0d in 1956, but he also had 119 Merlins — 112 Rolls-Royce and seven Packards — all of which went into the melting pot, apart from four of the reconditioned Packards, part of the Territorial Air Force’s Mustang spares, which Cliff sold for £40 to go with the Mobil Mustang, ZK-CCG.
The Mosquitoes were stored at Woodbourne. Aircraft Supplies (NZ) Ltd of Palmerston North had purchased seven airworthy examples which they had then onsold to Central America. The first had been prepared and flown to the USA on the first leg of its delivery flight when the New Zealand government stepped in and stopped the sale of what were at that time still quite potent military weapons.
With that particular part of the world full of tinpot dictatorships, the area from which the term “Banana Republic” originated was at this time very politically unstable and really not the sort of place you would want to be seen supplying military hardware to, even of the obsolete pensioned-off variety. The company went into liquidation and Cliff Horrell purchased the six remaining aircraft, solely for their engines and metal fittings.
Too large to transport in their entirety by train to Ashburton, they had to be dismantled on site at Woodbourne. The Horrells removed the engines, cut up the rest of the airframes for the air force to burn later, loaded the Merlins onto their truck and set off south.
Given a single day to remove the aircraft before the air force destroyed them, the rather crude methods used were understandable. This was the same day that Mapua’s John Smith collected his Mosquito. He was wanting a complete example, but there was no way he could properly dismantle and remove one in a day.
But the air force was immovable. Anything left at the end of the day was going to be torched. His only option was to remove the wings outboard of the fuselage with a chainsaw. This would mean he didn’t have a complete Mosquito. No problem. There were plenty more Mosquitoes where that one came from, so he was allowed to go to another aircraft and this time chop up a fuselage, so he had a complete wing and a very large Mosquito kitset to take home.
The same day another Mosquito left on a truck, heading just down the road to Blenheim, where the new owner was intending to fit the engines to a power boat.
Stopping at Kaikoura with his truckload of Merlins, Cliff Horrell was approached by a local wanting an engine. A swap was made, a complete Rolls-Royce Merlin in exchange for a Ford Model T. I guess it seemed like a fair exchange at the time! One can safely assume that motor was destined for something other than the normal fishing boat seen in those waters.
Cliff also got a contract to remove the engines from another 40 Mosquitoes purchased by the Williams brothers in Upper Moutere, near Nelson. They wanted only the wheels and hydraulics to use for orchard equipment. Cliff paid £1000 for the Merlins. Three fuselages made it to his home in Ashburton as well, not a bad plaything for the young Kerry Horrell.
The engines were piled in a heap at Horrell’s engineering works, where enterprising schoolboys were paid to dismantle them and sort the various metals. Cliff then trucked the parts to a scrap yard in Christchurch where he was getting top dollar for his material, 1/6d (15c) per pound. How times have changed.
So we have accounted for 119 Merlins so far at Horrell’s. Two more went to Blenheim for a boat and John Smith bought all the TAF’s Mustang spares from Weedons, including engines.
Realistically there can be very little chance of any more coming out of a hole at Wigram, or anywhere else for that matter, but the earlier aircraft are an entirely different matter.
Kerry Horrell has seen photographs of these going to their grave. However, 80 or 90 years in the ground is not going to do wooden airframes any good at all, so the best-case scenario is that only a few metal fittings are ever going to be found.
It still would be an interesting find for any aviation archaeologist.
- Report by Tony Haycock
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