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Royal New Zealand Air Force


DURING the last week in August 1939, international tension rose rapidly and it was clear that war was not far off. On the 24th the New Zealand Government advised Air Department that the ‘Alert’ stage had been declared, and the RNZAF was instructed to take appropriate action. New Zealand offered to place at the disposal of the RAF the Wellington aircraft in the United Kingdom which were about to be sent to the Dominion, and the RNZAF personnel who were to bring them out. This offer was accepted by the British Government. At the same time the British Government agreed that the RAF officers on loan in New Zealand should be retained to serve with the RNZAF.

On the 27th all personnel in the Armed Forces were recalled from leave and naval control of shipping was instituted. The next day the first mobilisation instruction was issued, ordering that in the event of general mobilisation the RNZAF depot at Hobsonville, the three Territorial squadrons, and the Flying Training School at Wigram were to be mobilised and brought up to full war establishment with the minimum of delay.

On 1 September the Governor-General issued a proclamation of emergency, a proclamation transferring the Reserve to the Regular Air Force, and a proclamation declaring the Territorial Air Force liable for continuous service.

On the 2nd the British Government signalled that the ‘Precautionary’ stage had been adopted against Germany and Italy, and that the British Army and the Royal Air Force had been ordered to mobilise. The next day the Prime Minister's Office advised Air Department: ‘War has broken out with Germany as from 9.30 p.m.’ The Royal New Zealand Air Force was ordered to mobilise.

The Territorial squadrons were immediately called up for mobilisation. The Christchurch Squadron reported for duty at Wigram at 9 a.m. on the 4th, and stood by continuously for operations from that time. The Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Stedman, who was Chief Instructor at the Canterbury Aero Club, could not be released for full-time active-service duties, and page 41 Flight Lieutenant Roberts1 was appointed to the command. The squadron was equipped with six Baffin aircraft. On mobilisation training was intensified, and included navigation, reconnaissance, operational control procedure for pilots, training for wireless operator/air-gunners, and an extended programme of front and rear gunnery and bombing.

The Auckland Territorial Squadron mobilised at Hobsonville under the command of Flight Lieutenant Monckton,2 who acted as Officer Commanding for a few days. Squadron Leader Coull3 was then posted to the squadron and assumed command. Like the Christchurch Squadron it engaged in intensive training; and it remained at instant readiness owing to the danger of submarines in the Hauraki Gulf.

Three days after war was declared the Wellington Squadron moved from Rongotai to Blenheim. Squadron Leader Gibson was required for other duties and was replaced as Commanding Officer by Squadron Leader Sinclair.4 From Blenheim the squadron operated as a general reconnaissance squadron and carried out submarine patrols and shipping escort duties over the approaches to Wellington.

Although the war training organisation was incomplete, enough personnel and equipment were available to put it partially into action. It was decided, therefore, to proceed at once with a modified war training scheme, using what aircraft and instructors there were, and to expand the organisation as quickly as possible. The programme called for the immediate establishment of a recruit training school and a flying instructors' school. Elementary flying training schools were to be formed at Taieri and New Plymouth, and an air-gunners' and observers' school at Ohakea. The Flying Training School at Wigram was already in operation, and the second Flying Training School was to be formed at Blenheim before the end of the year. A third EFTS and FTS were to form at Palmerston North and Harewood respectively in March and April 1940.

On 11 September Air Department issued a call for volunteers, both for aircrew and for ground staff. The response was excellent, although applications from the Civil Reserve of Ground Staff were not as many as expected. Volunteers were required to serve for the duration of the war, either in the RNZAF or in the RAF. For aircrew the age limits were 17 ½ to 28 years. The men had to be unmarried, able to pass the prescribed medical examinations, and

1 Air Cdre G. N. Roberts, CBE, AFC, Legion of Merit (US); Auckland; born Inglewood, 8 Dec 1906; company representative; SSC RAF, 1929–34; NZTAF 1937–39; RNZAF 1939–46; Commander NZ Air Task Force, Solomons, 1944–45; General Manager, TEAL, 1946—.

2 Sqn Ldr C. L. Monckton; Waipukurau; born Waipukurau, 19 Sep 1908; farmer.

3 Wg Cdr W. G. Coull; Christchurch; born Dunedin, 25 May 1898; company manager.

4 Wg Cdr R. J. Sinclair; Pahiatua; born Masterton, 3 Jun 1899; farmer.

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page 43 educated up to the standard of School Certificate or University Entrance Examination.1

It soon became apparent, however, that if conditions of enlistment were not changed the supply of men with the necessary educational qualifications would be exhausted fairly soon, while many potentially good men would be lost to aircrew because they just failed to come up to the educational requirements. In November, therefore, the requirements were modified as follows:

Pilots had to be educated to approximately University Entrance standard;

Air observers must have had two years' secondary education; and

Air-gunners must be able to be taught to send and receive Morse.

Conditions of enlistment for non-flying personnel were that they should be physically fit, up to RNZAF standards, be educated up to the sixth standard or its equivalent, be up to the required trade standard, and have the required experience in the trade in which they wished to enlist. They should preferably be unmarried and between the ages of 18 and 35.

Two selection committees were set up in Air Department, one for aircrew and the other for ground crew. The committees toured New Zealand interviewing candidates in the different centres.

1 The insistence on educational standards evoked a number of letters to Air Department and to the Minister of Defence on the subject of class distinction, and complaints to the effect that it was not fair that only those who could afford a higher education should be able to volunteer for aircrew.