New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force (Volume III)
THIS volume, the third and final of the series, attempts to record something of the work and achievements of New Zealand airmen who flew and fought with the Royal Air Force in the Middle East and in South-east Asia during the Second World War. Both these regions have long held particular interest for the people of New Zealand. Still to be fully understood and appreciated, however, is the contribution to victory made by the Allied air forces in these two theatres. How many, for example, realise that after its defeat in the Western Desert in 1942 the Eighth Army was saved and the victory at Alamein made possible largely as a result of the sustained and devoted efforts of the Desert Air Force, or that during the final advance into Burma over 300,000 troops were kept supplied with all their daily requirements solely by transport aircraft and 110,760 wounded flown out from front-line positions?
New Zealand airman played a not undistinguished part in these hard-fought campaigns. Theirs was essentially a contribution of individuals, for they were widely scattered among the many RAF formations, and even though a few units did develop a certain New Zealand flavour, this was largely fortuitous. Looking back, it seems rather a pity that not one single New Zealand squadron was formed to operate in the Middle East or over Burma and that only during the short Malayan campaign from December 1941 to February 1942 did a New Zealand fighter squadron see action as a token of the quite substantial contribution made by the Dominion to the Royal Air Force.
The highly individual nature of the New Zealand contribution has made the preparation of the present record anything but easy. It has been rendered even more difficult by the fact that the New Zealand authorities kept no record of the activities of their airmen who served in these two theatres. Resort therefore had to be made once again to the squadron operation books and files at the Air Ministry, London, and it is upon these sources that the story which follows is largely based. Only those who have dealt with official records will appreciate what was involved in extracting, checking and following up the meagre and often incomplete details which those dusty archives provided. In this regard I must express my appreciation of the work done by Flight Lieutenant J. A. Whelan concerning Middle East air operations; by Flight Lieutenant H. R. Dean, DFC, in preparing a most helpful page vi narrative on South-east Asia; by Squadron Leader A. G. Lester on early operations in that same theatre; and particularly to Sergeant S. W. R. Holmes for his loyal and unflagging assistance in many ways. My thanks are also due to the many officers of Air Ministry, London, who gave further valuable help, especially Mr J. C. Nerney and his staff of the Historical Branch. To the many airmen who responded so well to requests for information and provided both lively episode and personal detail—usually about others than themselves—I would add a special word of thanks.
I wish also to place on record my deep appreciation of the constant help, encouragement and support I received throughout my work from the late Sir Howard Kippenberger. To work under him was, indeed, a wonderful experience.
The completion of this record gives considerable personal satisfaction. One is very concious of defects and omisions, but at least it provides as faithful and accurate a record as it has been possible to achieve. I deem it a privilege to have had the duty of compiling an account of the deeds of such a very gallant band of men. May those who follow prove worthy of them.
H. L. Thompson‘Lynn Side’