Article – Liam Butler
Brian, over the six years of the second world war New Zealand’s pilots proved their courage throughout the world under some of the most extreme circumstances man has ever experienced. What are some of the character traits that allowed pilots to survive …Liam Butler interviews Brian Lockstone, Co Author of Courage in the skies – New Zealand Airmen at war
Brian, over the six years of the second world war New Zealand’s pilots proved their courage throughout the world under some of the most extreme circumstances man has ever experienced. What are some of the character traits that allowed pilots to survive the perils of war?
First was their character and self-awareness. Second was the quality of training, both in New Zealand and elsewhere under the wartime Empire Air Training Scheme – for many New Zealanders that meant Canada. For most wartime aircrew their lives were divided in two: short bursts of high-intensity danger requiring the highest of skills — then the longer periods in between operations. Many I knew found this almost the hardest part.
Brian, in co-writing Courage In the Skies you have used your aviation history expertise to bring the stories of many brave men to the general public. Which are the lesser known stories that show remarkable courage in harrowing conditions?
It is difficult to single out individuals since New Zealanders served in so many theatres of war across the world. For example, how could one differentiate between the bombers crews of, who in Max Lambert’s memorable phrase, served night after night over Europe on missions of up to 10 hours. Or those in Coastal Command who spent even longer flight times in endless maritime patrols over the Atlantic in search of elusive submarines? Or the RNZAF chaps serving in the Pacific where the weather and the oceans over which they flew could be as greater challenge as the enemy defences?
For me, though, one of the most remarkable was Flight Lieutenant George Culliford. He was flying Dakotas with an RAF transport squadron in the Middle East and in July 1944, he made an amazing flight from Italy across occupied Europe to land in a farmer’s muddy field in Poland to collect parts of the new German V-2 rocket “acquired” by the underground movement. After agonising moments when the Dakota became caught in the mud, using full power he dragged himself free and took off with his precious load which included Polish underground soldiers for home. All the while, the headlights of trucks carrying German troops were coming closer. Postwar, he became a highly respected academic and university administrator.
The transition from War time to peace time activities was not easy for anyone. At War’s End what enabled pilots to adjust and thrive?
Again, this comes back to character. Some, perhaps the majority, were so relieved to have survived they were content to return to civilian life. I knew a book seller who had been a wing commander in RAF Bomber Command at the age of 23 and had survived two tours of operations (against the arithmetical odds) – but was perfectly happy back in the store. A few did not and became casualties. Many carried on the peacetime RNZAF and passed on their experience to a younger generation of pilots, navigators and so on. Others went into the airlines (generally National Airways Corporation – now part of Air New Zealand) and found fulfilment in the disciplines of safe, accurate and consistent airline duties.
(Right) Sgt Jimmy Ward carried aloft by his 75 (NZ) Squadron colleagues after being invested with his Victoria Cross
WW2 was a massive stress on the lives of everyone who lived through it. How do you think current NZ society can learn from the resilience and techniques that were needed survive?
Yes, we can. We can be grateful that we live in a society such as New Zealand’s. I have lived much of the past 30 years offshore and am constantly surprised and proud of the quality of life we enjoy. We can be grateful for the equality of opportunity, for our education and health systems (for all the criticisms, they measure up pretty well with equivalent countries elsewhere. We need to lift our hearts and heads and look beyond the immediate — and be grateful for the service and sacrifices of those in the wartime air forces.
About the authors
Brian Lockstone has had a lifelong interest in aviation and has written several books on the subject, some with Paul Harrison. He has a particular interest in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, notably its history, doctrine and the events that shaped it. A regular contributor to periodicals, he is a former editor of the journals of the Aviation Historical Society of New ealand. Married to a New Zealand diplomat, he was living in France at the time of publication.
Paul Harrison has been involved in aviation all his adult life. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air force as a boy entrant in 1964 and retired as a squadron leader after 35 years of service. A keen student of the air force’s history, he was for 15 years the unofficial historian for the RNZAF. An author of 10 books, several with Brian, Paul is the current editor of the Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand. He is semi-retired and lives in Paraparaumu with his family
Win a copy of Courage in the Skies New Zealand Airmen at War
PAUL HARRISON & BRIAN LOCKSTONE $39.99
Book Review by Liam Butler
Taking the opportunity to read about New Zealand’s wartime hero’s is always a meaningful experience. Passionate aviators Harrison and Lockstone have written a fitting tribute to the courageous aviators of the Second World War. Every aspect of the service the Airmen gave is well examined. With over 270 photographs the book is capable of telling the noble stories at many different, engaging, levels. This makes it a useful tool to share what we have learned from war with young people. The strong characters that are showcased in the book will amaze many readers and start conversations between different generations as we continue to learn from the events of WW2. Courage in the Skies will help ensures that we will not forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is so engaging and enthralling that it will spur its readers to live valuable, purpose filled lives, no matter what their age.
A few extraordinary New Zealand pilots flew with distinction in the First World War but it was during the six years of the Second World War that thousands from this country served with honour, pride and gallantry in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the Royal Air Force and the Air Branch of the Royal Navy.
The RNZAF had been a separate service for only two years when war was declared but it soon became a major force. At its peak in 1944, it boasted nearly 44,000 men and women and 26 fighter, bomber, flying boat, dive bomber and transport squadrons, aerodrome construction, radar, marine, and engineering servicing units in New Zealand and the Pacific and a network of operational and training stations, radar, repair, support, rehabilitation and headquarters units at home. Seven New Zealand squadrons flew with the RAF.
In words and a wealth of illustrations, aviation history experts Brian Lockstone and Paul Harrison recount New Zealanders’ path of glory across the skies of Europe, Africa, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Middle East, India, Burma, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies and the South West Pacific. More than 4000 made the ultimate sacrifice – a heavy price considering that, of the 140,000 New Zealanders who served overseas, 104,000 were in the army. Both authors had the privilege of knowing and serving alongside many Second World War veterans. Courage in the Skies is their fine tribute to the personalities, aircraft and events of those memorable years.
Two outstanding NZ wartime air commanders: Air Vice Marshal Sir Keuith Park (left) and air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham. Park commanded the vital no 11 Group during the Battle of Britain, then went on to direct and win the air war over Malta, ending the war air commander South East Asia. Coningham became the leading exponent of close-air support and commanded the Desert Air Force. He later commanded the 2nd allied Tactical Air Force for the D-Day Normandy landings.
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