Monthly Archives: August 2014

Project ORB, 1944 COMPLETE – an amazing personal effort

Another significant milestone has been reached in the transcription of the Squadron Operational Record Book Form 540. The whole of 1944 has been completed and this is down to the single efforts of Hubert.

I know from the now relatively small amount of transcription that I have done on these documents , that to complete a month can be a trial in itself, so to manage to not only devote the time, but the energy and concentration to work through a complete set of 12 months represents a massive commitment to this activity.

Hubert, personally and behalf of all of our readers who might use these months to either search for information on a relative, or simply peruse them through interest, I thank you from the bottom of my heart – you have made a massive single contribution to this project and everybody should know that.

A thousand thanks

View March 1944, including the new additional Special Operations Annex here.
View April 1944 here.
View May 1944 here.
View June 1944 here.

Looking for Bob – part II

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A year to the day I made a post about my taxi ride in ‘Just Jane’ At East Kirby. I held it for a couple of weeks because it seemed fitting to publish it on the second anniversary of Dad’s passing. Perhaps through chance, coincidence or serendipity, I find myself on the third anniversary of Bob’s death making this post – perhaps it is the second part of a triptych, we shall have to wait till this time next year to see if that’s true, but perhaps this post is the next step of my search to understand what my Father did during the war with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF.

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The official Air Ministry site plan for RAF Mepal – the map shows the astonishing actual size of the complete airbase – the living quarters and support buildings covering an area as large as the airfield itself. © Crown copyright/ RAF Hendon

A couple of months ago Dave passed to me a site map for RAF Mepal that he had recently obtained from RAF Hendon. What struck me instantly was the massive scale of the airfield and the degree by which its size existed beyond the airfield itself – obvious in hindsight, but as with these things, you never think about it till you see it……..

In the footsteps of Giants…….
The plan seemed simple, get some satellite maps of the area add these to the airfield plan and go for an explore –

Luckily, our expedition started off with a visit to the Memorial Garden to give us  some time with Bob. Ernie turned up and after general chit chat, the matter of our visit was discussed and straightaway I realised a mistake in our intended journey – instead of making our way from the Three Pickerals parallel to the river – it was actually the old road that we needed to take…..

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Ernie and I stood in the Memorial Garden to 75(NZ) Squadron RAF, in Mepal village.

Walking out of the village, back to the new bypass, we took the last left and began to walk up an old asphalt track, which I guess must have been the old Mepal/ Sutton road.

At this point, I think to be honest, we weren’t actually sure where we were going exactly, other than for the hope that at some point we would hit the new bypass and by default somehow be ‘in the airfield’ – simply by the fact that the ‘new’ road bisects it. As we continued up the road, we began; inevitably perhaps, to begin to wonder whether we had yet reached the airfield. I observe this simply because of the ridiculous nature of having a map and not knowing where you are – one of Bob’s amazing skills was to be able to rattle off every single road number, in order from a start point to a destination – I have no such skill – perhaps as a designer, my world is visual – take me somewhere once and I can get there again, but I do it by looking out for things. I berate my students on a regular basis for relying too quickly on ‘digital solutions’, but I must confess that after my 2 attempts to gain my map reading badge when I was a Cub Scout, I have now happily thrown my lot in with TomTom et al.

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Obligatory holiday photos – (1) My husband is lost, but he won’t admit it. (2) Its the closest to the Tower of Piza we have. (3) Obligatory airfield selfie. (4) If I tell him to runaround like he’s a plane, he will…….

In putting this post together, I have realised the actual physical difficulty of transposing the ‘Google world’ onto the site map that Dave sent me – I am not sure if this is the basic accuracy of the site map, the distortions of perhaps years of archival copying, enlargement and reduction, or whether in deed, satellite photography itself is subject to the inevitable distortion, relative to the curve of the planet – what ever the reason, it needed Photoshop and a fair bit of patience to achieve the image below – as I have said, I am not sure what is true and what has been stretched to fit, but it at least gives a ‘relative’ impression of then and now.

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A digital ‘squash and squeeze’ together of the Site map and a satellite view from Google Maps. © Crown Copyright/ RAF Hendon/ Google

As is always the case, no doubt based on previous bad experiences, Bev was naturally suspicious of my general movement, right up until we hit the new bypass – this not only providing confirmation that we weren’t lost, but also that there was actually a way across the road to what we could now see as the Sutton side of the airfield..

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On crossing the road, I was encouraged to see a long concrete path stretching ahead of us into the field. At this point as we started walking, we assumed we were on the perimeter track and it felt good to be on the edge of the airfield with the water tower to our far left.

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The view looking down the main (No.1) runway from the A142. (view 1 on the map)

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Turning to the left, the Sutton water tower – visible in so many of the pictures from the period. (view 2)

About half way down the perimeter track, the crops on our right hand side stopped and we were suddenly aware of a field to our right with what appeared to be a series of old rusted steel ‘L’ section posts – along these posts ran what seemed to be a steel cable. Returning to our folded collection of maps, it dawned on us that in fact, we were not on the perimeter track, but had actually been walking down what remained of the main runway. Completely unnecessarily furtive glances and half strolling, half running steps took us across the field and we arrived at what we now understood to be the perimeter track – looking back to the Mepal road, we could now see the raised banking of the bomb store – despite the massive area of the space, still apparently terrifyingly close to the runways.

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Now on the perimeter track, looking back at the A142. (View 3)

Now confident of where we were, we continued to walk, eventually arriving at the far end of the ‘peri track’, the No.3 runway, or what remained of it stretching out ahead of us, literally as far as the eye could see. I think certainly for me, this is the point when it struck me how bloody big this airfield was – this impression was magnified when I realised that there was still a significant portion beyond our gaze and bisected by the A142 Mepal road.

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At the far left lower corner of the airfield. (View 4)

We continued round, till we walked over what we thought to be the dispersal pans on the lower left of the field, granted nothing now remaining of them. To be honest by now, we were both getting a bit thirsty and certainly in my mind a pint at ‘The Chequers’ was becoming increasingly attractive. Finally we stumbled on what perhaps is all that remains of airfield buildings on ‘this side’ of the airfield – surrounded by concrete I first thought this was a dispersal area as well, but with the building slap bang in the middle of it, it couldn’t be. Looking at the map, I think we were stood by the 2 72,000 gallon petrol storage tanks – absurdly close to the village school…..

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What I first thought to be a dispersal pan, later to see on the site map that this was part of the fuel tank system for the airfield. (view 5)

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What remains of a small building somehow related to the fuel storage system for the airfield. (view 6)

Despite the clear description on maps, I think it took this walk to make me understand the closeness of the village of Sutton to the airfield and also the closeness of the villagers therefore to the airfield and the boys that were stationed there. Its an understood fact that the airfield was given the name ‘Mepal’ because there was already an RAF Sutton Bridge, which was the Central Gunnery School between 1942 and 1944 and also RAF Sutton on Hull, which was responsible for the Balloon Barrage defence of Kingston upon Hull and the Humber Area, later becoming the home of the RAF School of Fire Fighting and Rescue from 1943-59. I certainly don’t make this observation to in any way whatsoever question the choice of Mepal as the airfields name – but I realise the memories and fondness and respect for the Squadron is clearly split between 2 villages…….

I’d let Dave know that Bev and I would be in the area for the weekend so we arranged to meet in ‘The Chequers’. I had visited the pub last November and was keen for Bev to see it as it has a wall of photographs dedicated to 75(NZ) Squadron. In hindsight, perhaps I was a bit too casual about the visit this time – realising that as I write this post, I actually didn’t take many photographs. Dave arrived and we started talking – returning to the wall I noticed something quite astonishing. As well as the framed photographs, there was a Squadron plaque, I was momentarily speechless to realise that the name plaque on it was one I recognised – I was sure that ‘G.W. McKellow’ was ‘Mac’ McKellow – Mid Upper Gunner with Andrew MacKenzie. An email to Andrew on my return confirmed this – Andrew also said that he had many memories of drinking in ‘Chequers’ – and from what he recalled so would many of the boys of the Squadron.

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75(New Zealand) Squadron Royal Air Force plaque. The name plate identifies the original owner as ‘G.W. McKellow’. After checking it would appear that this was, as I suspected at the time, ‘Mac ‘ McKellow, Mid Upper Gunner with Andrew MacKenzie. © The Chequers – reproduced with permission from Rowland Cartwright

If this strange coincident wasn’t enough, another was about to come. Noticing the general level of interest and discussion at the picture wall, the barman suggested I take down one of the pictures and have a look on the back of it as there were ‘a few signatures’ on it. Bev stepped up to do the honours, regarding removal from the wall and to be honest when the back of the picture was turned to me, I was speechless……………………..

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“Presented to the Chequers in the village of Sutton 1st July 1983 on behalf of Dick Egglestone crew 75(NZ) Squadron” © The Chequers – reproduced with permission from Rowland Cartwright

I will say nothing more about this astonishing artefact in this post – suffice to say that I took a lot of close up images that I will stitch back together in Photoshop when I have a spare few days and it will be a post in itself…………

12 months ago in another post, I asked myself out loud whether after taking a taxi ride in a Lancaster bomber,  I had gotten any closer to Bob and his wartime experiences and I actually thought not.

In hindsight I now realise the difference between trying to experience something through proximity rather than actuality – what little of RAF Mepal that still survives is real – it was there when the Squadron was and what now remains still contains the echos of engines, tyres and footsteps.

If I ask myself again, 12 months later, I think I must confess once again no. Though, as I said a year ago, my understanding of a bigger picture had increased and now I feel this picture – on the larger scale – is a little more informed again – and that’s fine, that’s enough for me.

I am glad that the airfield is in the sate of slow natural adsorption that it is in – It’s time and function, mercifully, are gone and it should, I think, as with the majority of World War II airfields be allowed to slip back into the land from which it came.

I came looking for Bob, but found Mac McKellow and a load of the other boys, sat in a pub…….

I think the following poem now means something else to me………..

New Zealand gave a Squadron of Planes
When Britain’s need was dire
Both countries sons made up the crews
And they flew through hell and fire.

To the Pommy lads the Kiwi’s made
A gesture that was grand
They gave them honorary citizenship
Of their own beloved land.

Under New Zealand’s flag, they proudly flew
Comrades of the air
They lived and died, as side by side
Fate’s lot they chose to share.

In Wellingtons, Stirlings, then Lancasters
To the foe, they took the flight
On wings they soared through Europe’s skies
In the darkness and the light.

But a heavy price, the Squadron paid
In five long years of strife
Of those who flew with “75”
One in three, laid down their life.

On the East Coast of Old England
The crumbling airfields stand
Where aircraft once left mother earth
Tractors till the land

The era of the Bomber war
Came, paused, then passed away
But the bond between two nations sons
Unchanged, will ever stay

Ken Moore, Waterlooville. 2.3.80

A portrait of Dad, I believe taken after he was commissioned in late 1943.

A portrait of Dad, I believe taken after he was commissioned in late 1943.

F/L Robert Douglas ‘Jock’ Sommerville, D.F.C.
Air Bomber, 75(NZ) Squadron RAF

1st November 1922 – 29th August 2011

Ake Ake Kia Kaha

xx

 

 

The Homecoming – 75 (NZ) Squadron and the S.S. Andes

Many thanks to Chris for another fascinating post, this time about the trip home for the New Zealand and Australian Aircrew after the ending of hostilities.

There is another picture of the Andes here – taken at the Suez Canal on its way home.

I only recently found out that a very fine gentleman who I have known for many years, had a connection with 75 (NZ) Squadron.

George, a Chartered Accountant before the war, had originally served in the Army Signals Corp in New Zealand, a motorbike despatch rider in the Far North.

As the war progressed he decided to volunteer for the RNZAF, and he and a mate, both university-qualified, had managed to short-cut the usual initial training process, and soon found themselves off to Canada to train as Navigators. By the time he reached England, the European war was drawing to a close, and the changing requirements for heavy bomber aircrew meant that he was trained for the new role of Second Navigator (Nav 2), responsible for radar and electronics, as well as bomb aiming.

Finally he received his posting to a bomber squadron, 75 (NZ) Sqdn RAF, but as it turned out, the posting arrived on the day that the war ended!

So he never made it to the Squadron, but fortunately didn’t have to wait around for too long, and was shipped back home on the S.S. Andes only a few weeks later.

The Andes, “one of the world’s most modern liners”,  left Southampton on 23rd of September 1945:

AIRMEN ON WAY HOME
Rec. 11 a.m. LONDON, Sept. 23.
A band played the R.A.F. march as the Andes sailed from Southampton with 1500 New Zealand and 1000 Australian homeward-bound airmen, whose decorations testified to the great part they played against the enemy. An aircraft escort from 75th Squadron, in which many New Zealanders served, roared overhead in a farewell salute.

75 (NZ) Sqdn had received its first three brand new Avro Lincolns only a week or two earlier, intended as replacements for their Lancasters. Two Lincolns flew from RAF Spilsby to salute the departing ship, one of them flown by the Commanding Officer, W/C “Mac” Baigent. The flypast was to honour the large number of RNZAF aircrew on board, about 1500 of them.

23.9.45 Non-operational flying: Cdr. C.H Baigent and F/Lt JA McDonald flew two Lincoln aircraft to Southampton as escort to S.S. Andes. A salute was given by the two aircraft to the New Zealand personnel aboard the steamship as she left the dock on her long voyage to New Zealand.

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W/C “Mac” Baigent’s Lincoln on the way to Southampton. NZBCA archives

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The Lincolns fly over the Andes at Southampton. NZBCA archives

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The Lincolns fly over the Andes at Southampton. NZBCA archives

The Andes was out to break the record (Southampton to Melbourne), which she did, arriving in Melbourne on the 17th October:

TWO SHIPS AT MELBOURNE
FAST VOYAGE BY ANDES
MELBOURNE, Oct. 17
Two large vessels, the Andes and the Stratheden. carrying more than 2000 New Zealand soldiers and airmen from Britain, arrived at Melbourne today. In addition, a large number of Australians were aboard. The Stratheden has 1479 New Zealand airmen and 370 soldiers, and the Andes has 160 New Zealand soldiers. The New Zealanders on the Stratheden are transferring here to the Andes, which is leaving tomorrow for Wellington. The Andes, 25,680 tons, is one of the world’s most modern liners. She was built in 1939 for the Britain-South America service. She left Britain a week after the Stratheden. Steaming an average of 21 knots and stopping only at Port Said to refuel, the Andes arrived at Melbourne two hours ahead of the Stratheden. There was great cheering on the Andes when the ship overtook the Stratheden off the Victorian coast late on Tuesday afternoon.

She sailed for Lyttelton on the 18th.

According to George, during the crossing to Lyttelton, the troops awoke to see flying fish overtaking the ship … apparently the Captain had received word that the Lyttelton watersiders were arguing conditions for unloading her on the Sunday, and the Monday wasn’t suitable either as it was Labour Day, a public holiday!! She had to slow right down and wait until Tuesday (the 23rd) to dock, spending an extra two days sitting out in the Tasman Sea.

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They finally docked at 7.30 on the Tuesday morning. Infuriated by the delay, George says the boys hung out a large sign “Welcome Home, except on Labour Weekend”.

According to others, “the shower of coins and tomatoes/eggs was enough for the band to seek shelter, while the wharfies took off as the airmen disembarked – we hunted them like vermin, anybody who was caught had a quick swim.”

The newspapers of the day probably offered a sanitised version of events:

COINS AND EGGS
SOLDIERS INCENSED
ANDES’ LATE ARRIVAL
P.A. CHRISTCHURCH, this day (23 October).
“Welcome home except on Labour Day. We are going to the races.” These words painted on a canvas sign which hung over the side of the troopship Andes when she berthed at Lyttelton this morning expressed the grievance felt by the returning servicemen aboard the vessel. When the Andes left Melbourne at 7 a.m. last Thursday the men expected to reach Lyttelton on Sunday morning. On Friday, however, they were told there would be no labour available to work the ship at Lyttelton on Sunday or Monday and she would therefore not berth before this morning. “We broke the Mauretania’s record from Southampton to Melbourne, doing the trip in 23 days and six hours,” said one soldier who has returned to New Zealand after four years in German prison camps. “We had a day’s leave in Melbourne last Wednesday and left there about 7 a.m. on Thursday. We waddled across the Tasman like a dirty old duck.” When it was announced that the Andes would not berth until today. he added, everyone became very “edgy.” There was much dissatisfaction at what the men considered an unnecessary delay. As the ship drew alongside the personnel voiced their disapproval. Shouts of “Did you enjoy your holiday yesterday?” “How was Labour Day?” “Are you going to work today?” were addressed to those on the wharf. Showers of pennies with occasional shillings and half-crowns were apparently an incentive to those ashore to do something to hasten the berthing. There were uncomplimentary references to “wharfies,” although there was none on the jetty. In spite of their gibes, however, the Servicemen were in good spirits, and there did not seem to be any real rancour behind their remarks. An egg sailed down with one shower of coins before the ship berthed, but failed to register a hit. Shortly after the ship berthed the official party which had gone out to her by launch went down the gangway. More eggs fell about this party, which included the Minister of Defence, Mr. Jones, and the Minister of Supply, Mr. Sullivan.

The Andes sailed into Wellington the following day, to disembark the North Island contingent, and the boys still weren’t too happy:

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EGGS THROWN FROM ANDES
Evening Post Wellington 24 Oct 1945.
The demonstration as the official party, including the Minister of Finance (Mr. Nash) and the Minister of Defence (Mr. Jones), went on board was to express the grievance of the men at the length of time which has passed since the Andes left Melbourne last Thursday. The ship made a record trip from Southampton to Melbourne in just over 23 days. After the vessel left that port, according to one of the men seen by a “Post” reporter, a message was put over the ship’s loudspeaker system telling the men that the Andes could not get to New Zealand earlier, as the watersiders would not unload the ship. The tattered canvas sign “Welcome home except on Labour Day. We are going to the races,” displayed at Lyttelton, still hung from the ship’s side, weighted down by a beer bottle. “Twenty-three days to Aussie, then four and a half to get to New Zealand!” said one of the men disgustedly. .”It’s a good job for the wharfies there were none on the wharf yesterday. We would have thrown them into ‘the drink!'” “Welcome home to New Zealand, but not on holidays,” added another. “The wharfies must have their holidays, but never mind the man that has been fighting for them.”

WILL FIND OUT FACTS
MR FRASER SURPRISED QUESTION IN PARLIAMENT
(S.H.) WELLINGTON, Wednesday
A request to the Government to set up a special committee to inquire into the reported grievances of the servicemen who returned to New Zealand by the Andes was contained in a question of which Mr D. C. Kidd (Opposition— Waitaki) gave notice to ask in the House of Representatives today. The Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, said he did not yet know the full facts, but he would hunt them out. In his question, Mr Kidd said that the men on the Andes were reported to have been required to spend two needless extra days crossing the Tasman so as not to arrive in New Zealand on a Sunday or a public holiday. Many of the men had been prisoners of war for long periods, and were entitled to the most sympathetic consideration by the Government. “I want to be quite frank about this matter.” said the Prime Minister. “If I had been on board the Andes, I know I would have been one of the impatient ones.” Mr Fraser added that, without passing any reflection on the ship, it had come as a surprise to him that the Andes had travelled so speedily for the greater part of her voyage, and yet should have taken so long to cross the Tasman.

And that wasn’t the only problem for the fly-boys on their trip home – they had been made to wash their own dishes!!

AIR OFFICERS’ COMPLAINT
CONDITIONS ON TROOPSHIP
P.A. WELLINGTON, Wednesday.
Hundreds of Air Force officers returning in the Andes from Britain held an indignation meeting while the ship was crossing the Tasman and decided to send a telegram to Air Headquarters asking for hard living pay. They complained that although they were officers they were forced to travel under conditions that were unsatisfactory, even by third or four-class standards. Their case is to be taken up officially with the Government. The officers objected to being quartered on the lower decks in hammocks by the hundred and to having to do cleaning and general duties which, as officers, they would not normally be required to do. The Andes carried 1500 airmen to New Zealand, of whom 1000 were officers. The officer commanding the Air Force draft, Wing-Commander J. K. Maling, of Christchurch, said it had been decided some months ago that because of the shipping position all officers would have to be prepared to accept reduced standards of accommodation. That was agreed to by the various chiefs-of-staff and Governments concerned. He said he intended to carry the men’s representations to the authorities.

As always, thanks to Peter Wheeler and the NZ Bomber Command Assn., for permission to reproduce the photos above.

Operation Dodge and the Hodgson Crew – 1945

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Lancasters queued at Bari, Operation Dodge, September 1945. NZBCA archives, Oliver Hodgson collection.

Thanks to Chris for this fantastic post about  Oliver Hodgson’s crew and their participation in ‘Operation Dodge’ – the repatriation of British 8th Army personnel from Bari in Italy in September 1945.

As well as being a remarkable collection of images, this post sheds some light on 75(NZ) Squadron’s activities post Mepal, once the Squadron had arrived at Spilsby in preparation for the formation of the still born ‘Tiger Force’ – and for the database, provides a tantalising glimpse into the inherited Lancasters at Spilsby………

After VE Day and the end of the war in Europe, 75 (NZ) Squadron RAF underwent a major transformation, readying itself for a move to the Pacific, and long-range bombing efforts in support of the war against Japan.

It was to be part of Tiger Force, also known as the Very Long Range Bomber Force, made up of Commonwealth squadrons from RAF Bomber Command. The plan was for Tiger Force to be based on Okinawa, flying Lancasters, Lincolns and Liberators, launching long range, in-flight-refuelled bombing operations on mainland Japan.

75 (NZ) Sqdn was now to be solely staffed by New Zealanders (a condition of participation in Tiger Force requested by the NZ government). All Aussies left the Sqdn on 3 July 1945, plus 23 associated RAF personnel, leaving 90 Kiwis.

The Squadron  was re-formed on 17 July 1945 into 2 Flights, “A” and “B”, each made up of 15 crews, plus one crew for the Wingco.

Several intakes of NZ aircrew from other bomber squadrons were required to make up the numbers. 30 Pilot/ FE’s were posted in on the 18th July.

75 (NZ) Sqdn moved to RAF Station Spilsby, No. 5 Group, on 21 July, with a further 84 NZ flying crew posted in the same day.

The Squadron was allocated 20 tired Lancasters (they left their own a/c behind at Mepal), with a view to immediately upgrading these to Avro Lincolns. However production delays meant that only 3 Lincolns were ever delivered, and then not until mid-September, after Japan had surrendered.

The crew complement for Tiger Force aircraft was to be reduced from the previous Lancaster’s seven, to six:  Pilot in command, Second Pilot/Flight Engineer, Navigator, Navigator/Bomb Aimer, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and Rear Gunner.

The Second Pilot/FE positions were to be filled by cross-training of NZ Pilots, of which there was a surplus at the time. Several F/E’s were posted in as Engineering Instructors.

The Navigator/Bomb Aimer (Nav 2) role was due to the increasing reliance on radar and other electronic devices (H2S, SS LORAN, Gee, etc.), especially on long range bombing operations.

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Hodgson crew while at 514 Squadron, Waterbeach. Oliver Hodgson far left. NZBCA archives, Oliver Hodgson collection.

Oliver Hodgson and his crew had already flown a tour with 514 Squadron, Waterbeach, and they were one of several experienced Kiwi crews posted in to 75 (NZ) Sqdn for Tiger Force duties.

With the large numbers posting in and out, the Squadron’s Operational Record Book (ORB) does not list all individual crew movements, but it appears that the Hodgson crew was signed out of 514 Sqdn and posted in to 75 (NZ) Sqdn on the same day, 17 July, their new 2 Pilot/FE, W/O Edward Hart, having arrived separately the day before.

The Hodgson crew was:
F/O Oliver Joseph Tate Hodgson, RNZAF (NZ4213260) Pilot.
W/O Edward Kenneth Hart, RNZAF (NZ4215738) Pilot/FE.
F/Sgt John Gower Hughes, RNZAF (NZ438691) Navigator.
F/Sgt Vivian Francis Dufty, RNZAF (NZ4212790) Nav/AB.
W/O Barry Gordon Ballingall, RNZAF. (NZ4215138), W/Op.
F/Sgt Roy Newling Spence, RNZAF. (NZ427107) R/Gnr.

With Squadron activities involving mainly training, the Squadron Operational Record Book appears to have been reduced to Forms 540 only, so crew and a/c listings were no longer recorded. However, Oliver Hodgson’s logbook gives a good insight into daily activities during this period, and entries for Operation “Dodge”.

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Oliver Hodgson’s logbook, July – September 1945. NZBCA archives, Oliver Hodgson collection.

Operation Dodge was an RAF effort to help speed up the repatriation of soldiers of the British 8th Army from their holding units in Italy. Post-war overland conditions were not conducive to road transport, and shipping was being prioritised to the war in  the Pacific.

Each Lancaster could carry 20 soldiers and their kitbags back on the 6-8 hour flight, a much more attractive option for the homesick troops than the land or sea alternatives. Aircrews stayed over for a day’s rest before flying back.

28/8 – 1/9/1945 Operation “Dodge”
7 Lancasters flew from Spilsby to Italy for  “the conveying of British Service Personnel to the United Kingdom on leave”.

5 – 7/9/1945, Operation “Dodge”
6 Lancasters from 75 (NZ) Sqdn flew from Spilsby to Italy to bring back more British Service personnel .

19 – 21/9/1945 Operation “Dodge”
15 Lancasters from 75 (NZ) Sqdn flew from Spilsby to Bari, Italy for more British Service personnel repatriations. Two a/c went u/s and the Sutherland and Warner crews were unable to return with the others on 21 September. These two crews returned to Base on 27/9/1945.

The photos below are from this last trip to Bari, all courtesy of the NZBCA archives, from the collection of Pilot Oliver Hodgson, who these days lives in Whangamata, New Zealand.

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NZBCA archives, Oliver Hodgson collection.

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Lancaster cockpit, presumably ME550, AA-K, Pilot Oliver Hodgson at left; 2 Pilot/FE Edward Hart at right? NZBCA archives, Oliver Hodgson collection.

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NZBCA archives, Oliver Hodgson collection.

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NZBCA archives, Oliver Hodgson collection.

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75 (NZ) Sqdn a/c codes were all “AA” (since no longer a C Flight) and have an extra post-war yellow outline, with underwing codes visible in some photos. NZBCA archives, Oliver Hodgson collection.

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Bari line-up, Operation Dodge, September 1945. Railway carriages used to transport troops at right? NZBCA archives, Oliver Hodgson collection.

As always, thanks to Peter Wheeler and the NZ Bomber Command Assn., for permission to reproduce the photos above.

Request for Information. Hector Alisdair Stewart, Navigator – Thomas crew 1943

Anne has contacted me regarding her research into a second Cousin, Hector Stewart, who was a Navigator and flew with the Thomas crew. Hector was one of 4 brothers from Ireland who all thought in the Second World War. Of the other 3 brothers, firstly Douglas, who ended up in command of a Mule Transport in the mountains of Italy with the 8th Army, then Ken who was a doctor who was first on the beaches in Sicily and  Italy and then trained personnel for the D day landings.   He was mentioned in  dispatches for his role in  evacuating wounded from D day + 6 all the way to the Peace Conferences in Berlin.  The other brother volunteered as an Army chaplain in the forgotten  war in South East Asia – he will be researched after Anne’s research into Hector is complete.

So, based on the Op history for Hector and the Thomas crew, if any of you come across this post and have any information on the Hector, or any other member of the Thomas crew – I am sure Anne would love to hear from you……..

The Thomas crew arrived at Newmarket, from 1651 Conversion Unit at Waterbeach on the 18th April 1943. From the April 1943 Operational Record Book, Form 540 ‘H’ Movements:

Posted from No. 1651 Con. Unit. w.e.f. 18/4/43 (authy 3GRP. pgrm. 3G/6601/ p4 dtd. 14/4/43).
1394123 Sgt. Pilot Thomas, A.
1029882 Sgt. Nav. B. Stewart, H.
1331932 Sgt. WO/AG. Boxell, R.
1313969 Sgt. A/G. Parker, A.E.
1796043 Sgt. A/G. O’Farrell, J.
1271102 Sgt. F/Eng. Gale, J.

This grouping within the ‘H’ Movements essentially is the crew. It is difficult to tell from the records whether Fred Cumpsty was part of the original crew or not. On the next page of the ‘H’ Movements, Fred is listed with another group of airmen from 1651 C.U. and in fact the posting information is identical. Certainly, Jim Richards who would fly with the Thomas crew for it’s first 2 Ops was not part of the crew, arriving at the Squadron a little over a month before. Me must deduce, that for whatever reason, Fred was simply unable to join the rest of his crew until its 3rd Op on the 9th of May.

As was normal at this point in the war, Alf Thomas undertook an introductory ‘2nd Dickie’ Op before flying with his own crew.

26/4/43 Attack Against Targets at Duisburg
Walter Whitehead and crew Stirling Mk.III BF377
Sgt. Alfred John Thomas 2nd Pilot.

27/04/1943 Mining off the Frisian Islands
Stirling Mk.III BF377 ?-?  (3)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas RAFVR 1394123, 149999 – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart RAFVR 1029882 – Navigator
Sgt. James Leonard Richards RNZAF NZ404946 – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – RAFVR 1331932 – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale RAFVR 1271102 – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell RAFVR 1796043 – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. A.E. Parker RAFVR 1313969 – Rear Gunner

Take Off 01:23 – Landed 05:20
Flight Time 03:57

04/05/1943 Attack Against Targets at Dortmund
Stirling Mk.I BF459 JN-G/E  (1)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
Sgt. James Leonard Richards – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. A.E. Parker – Rear Gunner

Take Off 23:25 – Landed 01:56
Flight Time 02:31

09/05/1943 Mining in the Ile De Re Area
Stirling Mk.I BF459 JN-G/E  (2)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
Sgt. Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. A.E. Parker – Rear Gunner

Take Off 22:20 – Landed 04:33
Flight Time 06:13

13/05/1943 Attack Against Targets at Bochum
Stirling Mk.I BK614 JN-H  (9)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
Sgt. Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R. H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. A.E. Parker – Rear Gunner

Take Off 00:20 – Landed 04:08
Flight Time 03:48

17/05/1943 Mining off the West Coast of France
Stirling Mk.I BK817 AA-B  (1)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
Sgt. Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. Ronald Charlton* – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry** – Rear Gunner

Take Off 22:43 – Landed 05:13
Flight Time 06:30

* Sgt. Boxell is replaced for this Op by Sgt. Ron Charlton as Wireless Operator. This was Ron’s first Op with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF – He continued to fly with John Russell (1 Op), Andrew Rankin (7 Op’s) and finally Norman Wilson’s crew. On Ron’s 9th Op with the Wilson crew on the 4th of November 1943 whilst laying mines in the Baltic Sea, all crew were lost without trace.
**
Ernest Henry replaces Sgt. Parker as Rear Gunner

11/06/1943 Attack Against Targets at Dusseldorf
Stirling Mk.III EF399 AA-O  (1)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
Sgt. Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 23:31 – Landed 01:42
Flight Time 02:11

14/06/1943 Mining in the Gironde Estuary
Stirling Mk.III BF577 JN-M  (1)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
Sgt. Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 22:59 – Landed 00:40
Flight Time 01:41

19/06/1943 Attack Against Targets at Krefeld
Stirling Mk.III BF577 JN-M  (2)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 22:03 – Landed 05:16
Flight Time 07:13

21/06/1943 Attack Against Targets at Krefeld
Stirling Mk.III BF577 JN-M  (3)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. Thomas Stewart – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 23:49 – Landed 04:10
Flight Time 04:21

22/06/1943 Attack Against Targets at Mülheim
Stirling Mk.III BF577 JN-M  (4)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. Thomas Stewart – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 23:38 – Landed 03:46
Flight Time 04:08

* James Leonard Richards was killed on this Op with all of his crew. This was only his 2nd Op with Tom McCrorie’s crew and in fact only the second Op Thomas McCrorie was flying as Skipper with his own crew.

25/06/1943 Attack Against Targets at Gelsenkirchen
Stirling Mk.III BF577 JN-M  (5)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
F/S Geoffrey Phillips Sowerby* – Navigator
F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. Thomas Stewart* – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 23:31 – Landed 03:36
Flight Time 04:05

*Geoffrey Phillips Sowerby, Navigator and Thomas Stewart, Flight Engineer with Clifford Charles Pownall Logan’s crew would be killed 3 months later on the Mannheim OP, 23rd September 1943. All of the crew would perish apart from their Rear Gunner, F/S Albert John Knox.

03/07/1943 Attack Against Targets at Cologne
Stirling Mk.III BF577 JN-M  (6)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 23:30 – Landed 04:50
Flight Time 05:20

24/07/1943 Attack Against Targets at Hamburg
Stirling Mk.III BF577 JN-M  (8)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 22:10 – Landed 00:45
Flight Time 02:35

25/07/1943 Attack Against Targets at Essen
Stirling Mk.III BF577 JN-M  (9)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 22:30 – Landed 02:45
Flight Time 04:15

27/07/1943 Attack Against Targets at Hamburg
Stirling Mk.III BF577 JN-M  (10)

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Take Off 22:00 – Landed 04:45
Flight Time 06:45

30/07/1943 Attack Against Targets at Remscheid
Stirling Mk.III BF458 JN-P  (10)

At approximately 10 o’clock at night and for the next 45 minutes, 17 Stirlings of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF took off from Mepal to join a force of 273 aircraft that were to attack the as previously unbombed town of Remscheid on the Southern extremities of the Ruhr – This Operation marked the end of the Battle of the Ruhr.

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas – Pilot
Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart – Navigator
F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty – Air Bomber
Sgt. R.H. Boxell – Wireless Operator
Sgt. John William Gale – Flight Engineer
Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell – Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry – Rear Gunner

Aircraft Missing

BF458 was brought down to the north of Krefeld, near Bockum and Uerdingen. Of the 7 crew, all were killed apart from Hector Stewart, the Navigator and the Wireless Operator R.H. Boxell.

John Gale and John O’Farrell were buried in Reichswald Forest Cemetery. The other 3 members of the crew, Pilot, Alfred John Thomas, Air Bomber, Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty and Rear Gunner Ernest Frank Henry are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

Sgt. Alfred John Thomas RAFVR 1394123, 149999 – Pilot. Age 25.
Commemorated on Panel 133 Runnymede Memorial.

Sgt. Hector Alisdair Stewart RAFVR 1029882 – Navigator.
Prisoner of War No. 222432. Prisoner of War camps – Dulag Luft, Stalags IVB and Luft III. Date of return to United Kingdom, not known.

F/S Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty RNZAF NZ413386 – Air Bomber. Age 25
Commemorated on Panel 198 Runnymede Memorial.

Sgt. R.H. Boxell RAFVR 1331932 – Wireless Operator.
Prisoner of War No. 222430. Prisoner of War camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag IVB. Date of return to United Kingdom, not known.

Sgt. John William Gale RAFVR 1271102 – Flight Engineer. Age 23.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.

Sgt. John Hubert O’Farrell RAFVR 1796043 – Mid Upper Gunner. Age 19.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.

Sgt. Ernest Frank Henry RCAF R.139159 – Rear Gunner. Age 26
Commemorated on Panel 180 Runnymede Memorial.

 

Gram Churchyard, Denmark

Denmark 2014 211 crpd

Many thanks to David for passing on these photographs of the gravestones of the Murray crew who were killed on the 17th of April 1944. The photographs were taken on a visit to the Churchyard to commemorate the loss of the crew in April this year.

Denmark 2014 192 slightly crppd

On the 17th of April 1944 at approximately 20 minutes to nine in the evening 7 Stirling Bombers began to leave Mepal to join a total force of 168 aircraft for a large scale Gardening Op to Swinemünde, Kiel Bay,and to the Danish coast.

Stirling Mk III EH955 AA-K was shot down by a night-fighter over Denmark on the return flight to base at 14,000ft. The Navigator, John McFarland recalls his navigators desk ‘exploding in front of him’ as the cannon shells, very possibly from a Schräge Musik equipped Nacht Jagd ripped through the aircraft.

EH955 crashed at Jenning, about a mile south of Gram. The Captain, Henry Murray, Flight Engineer, Hyman Kahler, Mid Upper Gunner, John Mulligan and Peter Woolam, the Rear Gunner were killed and buried at Gram.

Tragically, the crew volunteered for this Op, believing that having just converted to Lancasters, a Gardening Op in a Stirling would be an easy extra Op for their tour.

F/O Henry James Murray RNZAF NZ415820.  Pilot. Age 26.

Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler RAFVR1803280. Flight Engineer. Age 21.

Sgt. John Mulligan RCAF R.195834. Mid Upper Gunner. Age 20.

Sgt. Peter Woolam RAFVR 1890807. Rear Gunner. Age 19.

The crew’s Navigator, Air bomber and Wireless Operator all succeeded in baling out and were captured as Prisoners of War.

Sgt. John Edward Lithgow McFarland  RAFVR 1503993. Navigator.
Prisoner of War No. 4193. Prisoner of War Camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III. Promoted to F/Sgt while a Prisoner of War.

F/S Douglas John Hill RNZAF NZ415761. Air Bomber.
Doug Hill had a miraculous escape when his parachute harness, which was cut by a burst of fire from the night fighter, came off. His left foot caught in the harness and he descended hanging by his foot.
Prisoner of War No. 3550. Prisoner of War camps – Dulag Luft, Stalags Luft VI and 357. Returned to the United Kingdom 6th May 1945.

F/S Gordon James Irwin RNZAF NZ415698. Wireless Operator.
Wounded when attacked by night fighter. Prisoner of War camps Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III. Promoted to W/O while a Prisoner of War. Returned to the United Kingdom 14th May 1945.

The MacKenzie crew and a correction to the history of ‘The Captains Fancy’…………

DSCF0018 rotated and cropped and reduced

Extract from the August page of P/O Andrew David Mackenzie, clearly showing NE181 as the aircraft that he and his crew completed their final 2 Ops in on the 4th and 5th of August 1944. © Andrew David MacKenzie

The eagle eyed, amongst you dear readers might, have noted with interest that the last 2 Ops flown by the MacKenzie crew in my previous post, was in none other than NE181 JN-M ‘The Captains Fancy’

Perhaps even more eagle eyed readers might have seen this and thought – ‘Hang on there, surely John Lethbridge and Eldrid O’Callaghan flew those Ops in Mike on the the 4th and 5th of August to Bec D’Ambes and Bassens (respectively)? It would appear, that if you were using the 1944 ORB as reference you would be correct, but it would now appear that perhaps we have found some more errors in the 75(NZ) Squadron RAF Operational Record Books……

I must confess in initial discussions with Andrew MacKenzie regarding his tour (based on my side with my database and Andrew with his logbook) I was more perplexed with the identity of the aircraft on their penultimate Op, appearing in the ORB as ND810. Initially, I thought this was corrected to ND801 (Get Sum Inn crops up again!)

You could probably understand my surprise and I must admit initial incredulity when Andrew corrected me, identifying that it was not ND801 that they flew their last 2 Ops in, but in fact NE181 JN-M, ‘The Captains Fancy’!

Now the first thing to stress is that this revelation does not throw into question the very well documented history of NE181 regarding the total number of Ops the aircraft flew. I know from entering information into the database, that to get to ‘Mikes’ total, a high degree of interpretation has to be used regarding incorrect or erroneous titling of the aircraft regarding its serial number. Doing the same for ND801 ‘Get Sum Inn’ has made me realise that in both cases, without a guide of a photograph with an op tally, the actual task of recording an accurate Op history is in truth, practically impossible and of course, this assumes that the Op tally in a photograph is, itself, accurate – NE181 only ever showing a total of 101 Ops is a perfect case in point – irrespective of argument, once we have gone beyond 101, everything else is moving onto rather thin ice………

Returning to the information that Andrew has supplied in the form of his logbook page, it would appear that everybody’s records need to be amended – ‘The Captains Fancy’ did fly on the 4th and 5th of August to Bec D’Ambes and Bassens, but, it would appear not under  Pilots, John Lethbridge and Eldrid O’Callaghan. Now of course, this in turn throws up the question of which aircraft they flew on those 2 ops…….?

With all of these issues I have come round to the simple approach of supporting evidence and indeed, as Andrew remarked to me – he did not know why the logbook and ORB differs, but why would he record the wrong aircraft in his logbook? – and I fully agree. Without the slightest disrespect to the ground staff at Mepal who were tasked with recording the crew lists and aircraft details, we know that a significant number of errors of accuracy exist, ranging from misspellings of names, to the completely incorrect listing of individuals within crews.

I suppose my final observation would be that, even after all this time, there are still surprises and even now, we have to consider the ORB’s as a document to be corrected, rather than a document to be completely taken as an accurate reference.

A massive thanks to Andrew Mackenzie, firstly for supplying information about himself, his crew and ‘Jock’s Box’, but secondly and perhaps a little by accident for letting us see a little bit more about NE181 JN-M, ‘The Captains Fancy’

and don’t forget, you heard it first on 75nzsquadron.com