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Royal New Zealand Air Force


When the war came to its abrupt conclusion in August 1945, three immediate tasks were faced by the RNZAF in the Pacific area: the repatriation of New Zealand prisoners of war from Malaya, the transport back to New Zealand of the 7000 men stationed at the various bases in the South and South-West Pacific, and the demobilisation of all personnel who would not be required for further service.

To evacuate New Zealand personnel from Malaya, a special flight was formed within the air transport organisation at Whenuapai under the command of Squadron Leader Pirie.1 Dakotas were fitted up as air ambulances; medical staffs and supplies of food, clothing, and comforts were assembled; and a small ground staff was organised to undertake inspections of the aircraft at a staging point on the route between New Zealand and Singapore. The preparations were completed within a few days of the Japanese surrender, but it was not possible for the flight to leave immediately for Malaya as the relieving British forces did not enter Singapore until 5 September.

The first two aircraft eventually left New Zealand on 4 September to fly via Santo, Bougainville, Biak and Morotai to Brunei Bay in Borneo, where they were to remain until word was received that an aerodrome at Singapore was open. Both aircraft met with disaster at Morotai when an American Liberator taxied into them, destroying one and damaging the other. They were immediately replaced by two others.

The first two New Zealand aircraft to reach Malaya landed on Kallang airfield on 12 September. Pirie and his crew acquired a house owned by a Chinese merchant in the neighbourhood, in which they set up a headquarters. Wing Commander de Lange, the New Zealand liaison officer in India, arrived in Singapore the same day, having been delayed by a forced landing on his flight from India, and also took up his quarters in the house. It was soon found that RAPWI,2 the British organisation which had been set up for the repatriation of prisoners of war in the area, had little or no information as to the whereabouts of New Zealanders, so the RNZAF page 313 detachment set about finding them itself. Members of the Evacuation Flight, together with war correspondents and New Zealand Film Unit cameramen, visited all prisoner-of-war and internment camps on Singapore Island. As New Zealanders were found, they were brought to the Flight's headquarters, where they were fed, clothed, and interrogated on the possible whereabouts of other New Zealanders, and quartered until they could be put on aircraft leaving for home.

A report came in that there were New Zealand prisoners of war and civilian internees in Java, Sumatra, and Thailand. As no definite information could be obtained in Singapore, an aircraft was sent to Batavia on 16 September to bring back any who could be found there, and some days later one went to Bangkok and picked up twenty-one New Zealanders who had assembled there. At the same time others were brought in from outlying areas by Australian aircraft.

In the meantime, more Dakotas had arrived from New Zealand and repatriation had begun. Aircraft left Singapore for Whenuapai on 15, 16 and 17 September, each carrying sixteen prisoners of war and internees, flying via Brunei Bay, Morotai, Darwin, Cloncurry and Brisbane. Up to the end of the month the Flight was responsible for finding and collecting all New Zealanders in the area. After that a New Zealand Army contant team arrived and took over all matters dealing with non-Air Force personnel, and the RNZAF unit was able to concentrate on its main task of carrying released personnel from Singapore, where they were congregated, back to New Zealand.

The job was completed by the middle of October, and the last aircraft left Singapore on the 17th. Altogether the Flight repatriated 156 New Zealand prisoners of war and civilian internees and two Australians.