In this Memories of Service interview, World War II veteran Ernest Davenport talks about his time in the Royal Air Force. After joining the RAF in 1940 at the age of 18, he served as a warrant officer in the pathfinder force before being shot down over Germany in 1943. He shares stories of his time as a prisoner of war — attempting escape, being charged with sabotage and blackmailing German guards to aid in his eventual rescue. He also shares his various medals from service and artifacts of the war such as his pilot’s log book and the jacket he was wearing when he was shot down.
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.
“We’ve chosen someone Hollywood would call an action hero” says Hilary Barry, as she introduces this TV item recalling Kiwi experiences in World War I. The subject is decorated flying ace Keith Caldwell, who left for England in 1916 to join the RAF with only eight hours training (which he’d paid for himself). He became one of the most successful pilots on the Western Front, leading ‘Tiger Squadron’. The short, which screened during 3 News, recounts the dogfights and close escapes that Caldwell negotiated with “splendid skill and fearlessness”.
Reg Dunbar’s war was mostly fought in the skies above Europe and North Africa. His first bombing raids over Germany were as an RAF tail gunner in a Vickers Wellington plane - a cold and lonely job he says. For the rest of that tour he was in the wireless operator’s seat, the job he’d trained for. In North Africa the squadron supported the Eighth Army, the famous Desert Rats. Reg also took part in the first thousand bomber raid over Cologne. Later he worked on the secret 'Moonshine' radar, which fooled the Germans into thinking a bomber formation was on the way.
This post-war Weekly Review boards a RNZAF Dakota flying “the longest air route in the world”: a weekly 17,000 mile ‘hop’ taking mail to Jayforce, the Kiwi occupation force in Japan. Auckland to Iwakuni via Norfolk Island, Australia (including a pub pit-stop in the outback), Indonesia, the slums of Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong; then Okinawa, Manilla and home. Director Cecil Holmes’ pithy comments on postcolonial friction and rich and poor avoided censorship, but won a warning not to rock the boat. The next year he was controversially sacked from the National Film Unit.
Shot down on just his second bombing raid over Germany, James McQueen describes life as a prisoner of war in this interview. Then 93 years old, Invercargill-born McQueen recalls bailing out from a burning Wellington bomber and eventually falling into German hands. After interrogation by the Gestapo he was sent to a p.o.w. camp, where he stayed for two and a half years. McQueen describes life there, his release and the psychological impact of his experiences, including the feeling of failure prompted by his brief time in combat. McQueen passed away on 15 December 2015.
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.
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.
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.
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.