Howard Monk was just 15 when he joined the army, turning 16 during basic training. When the Air Force came looking for recruits he was reluctant to join, despite the extra one shilling and sixpence per day. But he was recruited anyway, and discovered he was a natural pilot. Clearly a natural storyteller as well, Monk enjoyed his service, flying fighters in the Pacific theatre late in the war. But by then the Japanese had few serviceable aircraft to fly, and to his regret he never engaged in aerial combat.
These excerpts from part one of Tom Scott’s award-winning series on the life of Edmund Hillary look at his early years. Ed reflects on his youth as a gangly Auckland Grammar student, beekeeping, and a school trip to Ruapehu that sparked a “fiery enthusiasm” for alpine adventure. Coupled with a young man’s frustration with his “miserable, uninteresting life”, this passion for the hills soon led to a solo ascent of Mount Tapue-o-Uenuku as an RNZAF cadet — famously climbed on a weekend’s leave from Woodbourne base— and a 1947 ascent of Mount Cook, with his mentor Harry Ayres.
Stoney Burke reckons aviation fuel just about runs in his veins; fascinated by aircraft since childhood, joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force felt like a logical choice. Burke's long career as an engineer both on the ground and in the air included helping get supplies to Nepal for Sir Edmund Hillary’s school building projects, plus service in the Vietnam War. Flying into Saigon and some of the forward air bases in Vietnam could prove tricky, with planes taking small arms fire on their approach. Post Air Force, Stoney continued his career at Air New Zealand.