Daily Archives: March 24, 2013

Jimmy Wood birthday celebrations at the R.A.F Club

SONY DSCIt was with great pleasure that I went down to the RAF Club today to attend Jimmy Wood’s 90th birthday celebrations with his family and relatives of his aircrew from 1945.

Obviously the celebrations were a private family affair, so if I receive any photos from the day I will be happy to put them up, but I will not act on a presumption at this time.

It was a lovely day and it was good to see Jimmy and his son Roger, as well as meet Barry (his elder son) for the first time after all the emails and phone calls we have had since he first got in contact with me.

Jimmy was in fine form, despite what obviously must have been a long day for him, beginning at 12 o’clock at the Bomber Command Memorial just across the road from the RAF Club. Sadly limited departure times from my village and a delay owing to snow meant that I arrived, just as the memorial service was concluding, but it was good to hear Barry shout out “Ake Ake Kia Kaha!” (the Squadron Maori motto – Forever and Ever be Strong)……..

The event also allowed me to meet again Janet, Norman Allen’s daughter and her brother Ronnie and also Jill and her husband Jim, daughter of Russell Banks, Jimmy’s pilot.

Walking down the corridor out side of the Ballroom, where the birthday lunch buffet was served, I was pleased to find the 75(NZ) Squadron badge .Given that the name and badge had been gifted by the RAF to the RNZAF at the end of the war in appreciation of the sacrifices the country had made, I wasn’t sure it would be there.

PB820 JN-V and the Clement crew

Many thanks to Phil Jarret, via Martyn (thanks to you as well Martyn) for the contribution of these 2 fantastic photographs. They arrived with no information, but after a bit of squinting and shuffling through the ORB’s, I think this first image is of the Clement crew.

Crew JN-V

front row L to R: Tapua Heperi, Ross Manley Cato, Douglas St.Clair Clement and Randall Hewitt.(Randall Hewitt’s position confirmed by his cousin)
back row L to R: 2 members of ground crew are stood at each end of this row, the remaining aircrew are most likely to be: W. Richardson, Frank Watts and  John Sydney Wildish , but I am currently unsure who is who either side of Frank…..
© Phil Jarret.

Pilot Douglas St.Clair Clement and his crew flew 31 ops between 28th November 1944 to 14th April 1945. Of these 31 ops, 22 were in PB820. The crew had a Maori Wireless Operator, F/S Tapua Heperi. So the story goes, Pilot Eric Meharry could speak Maori – very rare for a ‘Pakeha’ and would apparently converse with a Maori airman in his native tongue over the radio. Martyn wonders if Tapua was that chap. We shall never know I am afraid – looking at the dates the Meharry crew flew, relative to Tapua and the rest of the Clement crew, it would only have given them a month for their conversations. Of course, without bidding I will look through the ORB’s for another possible candidate, though I have discovered from a fascinating thread on  the Wings Over New Zealand forum, that it isn’t as easy as one might assume to identify Maori aircrew by name……..

The second photograph shows a fantastic scene of a ‘C’ flight Lancaster being ‘bombed up’ – aside from the sheer beauty of the image, it also shows some great detail in the background of the fabric of the airfield at Mepal. Identifying the aircraft is a bit difficult – there is clearly a ‘JN’, but the letter designator is not obvious at all – all that appears after the RAF roundel seems to be a vertical line. I may be wrong, but I do not recall ever seeing an ‘I’ designator for an a/c in the squadron – so might this be the vertical upstroke of a ‘T’ ?

75 Squadron JN Lanc

© Phil Jarret.

Continuing with this unsubstantiated line of logic (as is sometimes necessary), a possible candidate is NG449. NG449 was a  MK. I – as were all the NG range – but  this doesn’t necessarily date the kite, though 75(NZ) didn’t get Lancs until March 1944. Exquisitely I have 2 sources that confirm its fate – lost on the Munster Viaduct raid 21st March 1945, but one source has it as  an A/B Flight ‘AA” T (Avro Lancaster: The Definitive Record by Harry Holmes), not JN (3 Group Bomber Command – an operational history by Chris Ward & Steve Smith)………

(having just done a bit more digging, Harry Holme’s book actually lists NG449 as being both AA and JN T’s – the plot thickens……

In search of John Hulena – part 2. We may actually have Walter……..and John.

A few weeks ago, Chris and I, it would seem almost simultaneously, noticed the signature of a certain J.S. Hulena on the back of the 1942 Levin training photo, originally supplied by Andrew as part of a story of 3 of his relatives, all who flew with 75(NZ). My original post on this matter can be read here.

Literally after I had made this post, my eyes wandered up the signature photograph and bugger me – I see another signature that is amazingly familiar. 3 lines up from John’s signature is one that looks amazingly like ‘W. Gee’…….

A zoom in from the back of the 1942 Levin group photograph, showing not only John's signature, but also I believe, Walter Gee's........

A zoom in from the back of the 1942 Levin group photograph, showing not only John’s signature, but also I believe, Walter Gee’s……..

When I first discovered the existence of Walter Gee as a member of the Mayfield crew, I spoke to Jack – he certainly remembered the name and at the time remarked that Walter was ‘…a big chap and a bit older than the rest of us…….’ The initial thought that the person in both the Levin and 1651 CU Waterbeach photographs was John Hulena, I think that on discovery of what I believe to be Water’s name, this individual is actually Walter.

Credit to Chris, he discovered that there was another face in both images and perhaps unsurprisingly, in both photographs, this ‘new’ person is stood right next to Walter – one must surmise that if they got to know each other during training, they might well have come as a pair when the crews formed at 11 O.T.U in 1943.

Levin Training Camp, 1942. at the end of the middle row, we think Walter Gee and stood behind him, John Sebastian Hulena....

Initial Training Wing, Levin, 1942. at the end of the middle row, we think Walter Gee and stood behind him, John Sebastian Hulena….

1651 Conversion Unit, Waterbeach, July 1943. We see again, the 2 chaps from the image above.....

1651 Conversion Unit, Waterbeach, July 1943. We see again, the 2 chaps from the image above…..

Now of course, all this is utter conjecture, but the fact that both Chris and I saw this and have both thought the same things makes me think we might not be completely barking up the wrong tree…….