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Kiwis Had Wings In The Air War

By GEOFFREY WEBSTER THERE was a time when young A New Zealanders performing prodigies of valour in the air were unheard of in their own country until they attracted the attention of the world Press —a difficult thing Immortal Cobber Kain did it and was at once an international hero. New Zealand sat up, took notice, preened herself, and glowed with pride. , . Meantime other Kiwis were doing big things. But scarcely anyone cared. The names of those brave bovs doing incredible things did not dot-dash along the cables, nor did they fill the air at 8.8.C. time. Indeed, it is the sorry but incontestable truth that for too long New Zealanders could do all manner of wonderful things on operations without being heard of in their own country, unless they earned a decoration. Or unless they were posted missing—which meant, usually, that they were dead. _ Official circles, in R.A.F. phraseology, took a dim view of "heromaking." Names were not allowed in the news. Man Who Made Reputation Then, under pressure, everything changed almost overnight. Names flashed up in the news. New Zealand became hero-conscious. Gallant airmen like Alan Deere, Colin Gray, Keith Thiele, Bill Compton, "Popeye" Lucas, Wing-Commander Ensor, the late Reg Grant, and several others became well known in their own country. This did not happen by magic. In England there was a hard-working, conscientious journalist, Alan W. Mitchell, special representative of the New Zealand Press Association in London. Mitchell, realising that the airmen were deserving of recognition and acclaim in their own country, went to endless trouble to cable vivid accounts of the New Zealanders' exploits. The British press, haying played up "Cobber" Kain, practically forgot about New Zealand's other heroes of the R.A.F., although one or two Battle of Britain types, like Squad-ron-Leader Johnny Gibson, D.5.0., D.F.C., were photographed and featured as they tumbled by parachute out of England's south coast skies in the darker days of the blitz. New Zealand owes Alan Mitchell much for his devoted and enthusiastic work in publicising the distinguished Kiwis. There was nothing of "scissors and paste" about his work. He had to get out to the airfields—and stay out all night—despite every danger and difficulty, to gather his exciting news. Now New Zealand is still further indebted to him. He has published a book, "New Zealanders in the Air War," and a fine job it is. crowning his wartime journalistic efforts. Official History Only Begun It is whispered that a dozen archivists are now at work on the squadrons' records—the official diaries— compiling and collating, sorting and sifting a vast amount of matter. Some day, some distant day, there will, it is supposed, emerge an "official" history. By then the keen edge will have worn off public interest. The book —like the massive multi-volume official history of the Australian Imperial Force in World War 1., only how being finished!— will become a library piece. Alan Mitchell's little book, on the other hand, will bring pleasure to tens of thousands. To, many it will occasion sorrow, revive tender memories and stab only part-healed wounds. For great numbers it will be the popular history and handbook of reference. People who want a concise, if incomplete, summary of this Dominion's contribution to the air war. will find enough and to spare in Mitchell's book. The fact that it has been published, with incidents of 1945, so soon after the end of hostilities in Europe, and in a compact size, will make it an eagerly-sought volume. In literary style it is as free from frill and pretension as the grand fellows whose adventures it records. It is graphically illustrated, some of the photographs being already well known, while many are strikingly fresh. Abounding in Names The pages are stiff with names— some names that will endure as a tradition, others that might have passed into oblivion had they not, as they so well deserved, been written in by the fact-avid Mitchell. Take two pages selected at random. 154 and 155. The following placenames appear:—Horotui, Frankton Junction. Christchurch, Auckland, Lower Hutt, Warkworth, New Plymouth. And the men mentioned are Jack Wright. Charlie Kellj r , Michael Carter, R. C. "Reynolds, Bruce Neal, Air-Commodore E. G. Olson, Group-Captain J. A. Rowell, D.5.0., A. D. Drew, W. Gordon, D. Phillips. Other pages contain an even greater catalogue, but sufficient has been said to demonstrate what a widespread appeal the volume will make in this Dominion.

Mitchell is quick to admit that the book is incomplete, for he begins it with a generous apology to the large number of prominent New Zealand airmen not mentioned in it, even quoting a short list of famous names not elsewhere mentioned—Coningham, Carr. Isherwood, S. C. Elworthy. "You cannot put a gallon in a pint pot," he says. "To Know Them Is To Admire" In a foreword, Mr. W, J. Jordan, High Commissioner for New Zealand, says the R.N.Z.A.F. has not only justified, but distinguished itself. He had been privileged to see the arrival of the young men of the force since 1937. "We met during the Battle of Britain, and before, and after. We have been together on the airfields before they took off in fighters and bombers, then waited for their return, when, alas! some were missing . I have grown," writes Mr. Jordan, "to know our servicemen—and to know them is to be fond of them, to admire them, and to be grateful to them. Mr. Alan Mitchell has been among them: he knows them and they know him. Alan Mitchell is, and always has been, welcomed at any service depot and is familiarly known as 'Mitch.'" Concerning me famous No. 75 Lancaster Squadron, in which so many gallant youngsters, who went early from Ne\v Zealand, died before completing their first tour of operations against hopeless odds, No. 487 Mosquito Squadron, No. 485 Spitfire Squadron, No. 488 Mosquito NightFighter Squadron, No. 486 Tempest Squadron, and No. 489 TorpedoBomber Squadron there is much that is new. It is a book so engrossing and so thrilling that it makes the reader sit bolt upright in a tingle of excitement. Not to have read it is. for the stay-art-home New ZealanJer, to be largely ignorant of innumerable deeds and accomplishments that will be forever a golden chain of this young Dominion's chief p≤l. glories. J

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Bibliographic details

Kiwis Had Wings In The Air War, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 181, 2 August 1945

Word Count

Kiwis Had Wings In The Air War Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 181, 2 August 1945

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