With the phrase “we were lucky to get away with it” and a ready laugh, 97-year-old Douglas Smith describes some of the close calls he had as a trainee and later bomber pilot during World War ll. Luck yes, but skill too, as he survived a 30 mission tour of duty. Douglas first tasted action flying a small, twin engine Dakota Boston over France and the Netherlands. Graduating to four engine Lancasters, he took part in huge raids over some of Germany’s biggest cities. Never afraid himself, he laments the vast loss of life among friends and enemies.
Though first established at Wigram in 1923, it wasn't until 1937 that the Royal New Zealand Air Force became an independent military command. This NFU documentary marks the 21st anniversary celebrations in 1958. It looks back at the RNZAF's early days and its battle-hardened contribution in World War II, then follows cadets working towards their ‘wings’ — Top Gun training Kiwi-style. The RNZAF's jets are also seen in action in Malaya; and its search and rescue role is covered. At a celebration dinner, an officer muses that one day planes may be pilotless.
On land, sea and in the air, this fifth series of Memories of Service covers many of the major moments of twentieth century conflicts, in the words of those who were there. Men and women relive the formative times of their lives, be it facing the enemy, treating the injured or taking on jobs back home, left vacant by the men who went to fight. Produced by director David Blyth and Hibiscus Coast Community RSA Museum curator Patricia Stroud, the interviews are a valuable record of those who served. The individual interviews will be added added to NZ On Screen soon.
The excitement of training and the thrill of travelling overseas form the start of Ron Mayhill’s reminiscences in this episode of Memories of Service. But serving with 75 Squadron, Bomber Command, brings home the reality of World War II. Mayhill gives unflinching and vivid descriptions of flying as a bomb aimer on raids over France and Germany. He survived 27 missions before being wounded; many of his comrades weren’t so lucky. Yet looking back at the age of 90, Mayhill also recalls the sheer beauty of the night sky as he flew into battle.
Keith Boles was certain he wanted to join the air force when the Second World War broke out, and it wasn’t long before he was a flying instructor. Evacuated from Singapore when the Japanese invaded, Boles eventually found himself in the United Kingdom, with an Advanced Flying Unit. A transfer to operations with Bomber Command saw him piloting de Havilland Mosquito bombers and being trained in the use of the top secret Oboe targeting system. Being part of a pathfinder unit was, he says, the safest job in Bomber Command and he came through his service unscathed.
This special compilation collects together short excerpts from all 50 Memories of Service interviews that David Blyth has conducted with veterans of war. The assembled interviews cover the battlefields of World War ll, plus Vietnam, Malaya and Korea. Grouped by season and loose categories, the memories range from training to planes and ships under attack, to escape attempts by prisoners of war, to taking on jobs left vacant by those who went to fight. NZ On Screen has individual interviews with all those featured across the five series.
This edition of the National Film Unit’s wartime newsreel series tracks the 1000s of New Zealand prisoners of war being repatriated from Germany, shortly after VE Day. “Men from all over the world are here. Waiting to get out. Waiting to get back to their homes …” The ANZACs travel to a transit centre in Brussels, where they enjoy “a first real beer in years” and go sightseeing, before crossing the North Sea to be hosted in England, where thoughts turn south. The reel ends with a rousing rendition of the Māori Battalion marching song in an English pub.
“One of nature’s gentlemen” and “very nice, always correct,” that’s the bottom line for many of the guests honouring World War II fighter ace Johnny Checketts in this 1990 This is Your Life. The Kiwi pilot shot down 14 and a half enemy aircraft (one was shared) but plays down his own heroics. He can’t control the emotion though when he meets a French woman who helped rescue him after being shot down over enemy territory and who he hasn’t seen in 50 years. Checketts is also joined by friends, family and colleagues, including the man who taught him to fly.
Serving as an air force navigator during World War II, Harold 'Bunny' Burrows experienced his share of excitement. After enlisting as a 20-year-old, he began navigating on bombing runs in Sterling, Lancaster and Mosquito class bombers. In this half-hour interview he reflects on his lost compatriots, and dealing with one's mortality on high risk bombing runs over Germany and Italy. After learning that the interview crew know the German city of Leverkusen, he replies “we gave it a rough time. Sorry about that.” Burrows received the French Legion of Honour in 2015; he died on 8 September 2017.
The second part of this 1982 series on the history of aviation in New Zealand hang glides to the 30s golden age where world famous flying feats (from the likes of Aussie Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and NZ aviatrix Jean Batten) inspired a surge in aero and gliding clubs and the beginning of commercial domestic flights and aerial mapping. War saw Kiwis flying for the RAF and modernised an ageing RNZAF, taking it from biplanes to jet aircraft. Presented by pilot Peter Clements, the series was made for TV by veteran director Conon Fraser and the National Film Unit.