Tag Archives: New Zealand Bomber Command Association

Ronald Desmond Mayhill DFC, KLH 1924 – 9.7.2020

Very sad news was received recently of the death of Ron Mayhill DFC KLH, distinguished 75(NZ) Squadron veteran and past President of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association. 

Ron leaves behind a very significant legacy, not only from his long service with the Association, but in the form of a significant historical record of his time with the squadron. Ron was the Bomb Aimer in John Aitken’s crew, arriving at Mepal just one day after D-Day, June 1944.

Photo: The Aitken crew, 75(NZ) Squadron, Mepal, 1944
L-R: William Monk, Gordon Grindlay, Duncan Hodgson, Jake Aitken, Taffy Taylor , Ron Mayhill and Henry Monk.
– NZ Bomber Command archives, Ron Mayhill collection.

Ron and his skipper Jake Aitken shared a camera and between them captured many of the images that would come to define our memory of those times. Their regular “kite” was Lancaster ND782, “U-Uncle”. Ron survived 27 operations before their Lancaster was hit by flak when just about to drop their load on a flying bomb supply depot at Pont Remy. Ron was wounded in the eye and face by splinters of perspex and since he had missed the target indicators, they had to go around again.  For completing the bombing run, despite his injuries, he was awarded the DFC. “Once you’re in a war there’s no way out. It’s not just courage — you’re on a treadmill and you know what you’re facing and we just decided: right, if you’re going to get killed we’re going to sell our lives dearly and we’re going to fight.”
– Ron Mayhill DFC, “Memories Of Service”, NZ On Screen. By the time he had recuperated, the rest of his crew had completed their tour and been posted to No.3 Lancaster Finishing School as instructors, so Ron’s tour of operations was also over.

He became a school teacher after the war, apparently a very good one, at Pukekohe High School and later at Auckland Grammar, where he taught for 27 years.

During that time he wrote books on geography, and after he retired, together with and encouraged by his old crewmates, decided to write a memoir of their wartime experiences. 

He eventually found a publisher in England, but frustratingly was told to cut the book down to half the size! Published in 1991, “Bombs On Target” by Ron Mayhill FC (Patrick Stephens) is one of the two definitive books covering the Lancaster years at Mepal (“Luck and a Lancaster” by Harry Yates DFC being the other).

With Ron’s insightful writing, sense of humour, Kiwi perspective and Bomb Aimer’s technical detail, the book is a mine of information, and it immerses the reader in the life of an airman at Mepal in 1944.  It’s one of those books that you don’t want to end … and we are very grateful that men like Ron and Harry Yates took the time to record their experiences in such wonderful detail.

Photo: Ron talking about his 1991 book, “Bombs On Target”. 
– “Memories Of Service”, NZ On Screen.

In 2012 he travelled to London as part of the official RNZAF veterans group to attend the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial. Ron was very happy to share his great knowledge of Bomber Command and was very generous with his time – he recorded several interviews and spoke often at functions, services and schools. He made many memorable addresses at Bomber Command services, thought-provoking and well-researched.

He gave this excellent interview in 2015 as part of a series called “Memories of Service”
https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/memories-service-ron-mayhill-2015  
In 2015, Ron was awarded the Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, for his part in the air war over Normandy.

https://75nzsquadron.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/scczen_271015nzhjolegion01_480x270.jpg

Photo: Ronald Mayhill (left)  receives his Legion of Honour medal from the French Ambassador Florence Jeanblanc-Risler. 
– Jason Oxenham,  New Zealand Herald.

Ron had been fit, sharp and active and it was only a deterioration in his eyesight and hearing that caused him to step down as President of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association in late 2018, a role that he performed admirably right up to the age of 94.

Ronald Desmond Mayhill passed away on Thursday 9 July 2020.

A great man and a very nice man – he will be sadly missed. 

Ake Ake Kia Kaha.

RAF Bomber Command Commemorative Service, AWMM, 12 June 2016

the lads

Photo: Four 75 (NZ) Squadron RAF veterans attended the service, pictured here , L-R: David Anderson (Navigator, Bill Hardie crew), Douglas Williamson (Flight Engineer, Johnny Wood crew), Ron Mayhill DFC (Bomb Aimer, John Aitken crew), and John Swale (Rear Gunner, Vic Adolph crew).
– Photo courtesy of Dave Homewood.

From Chris……….

The NZ Bomber Command Assn. held its annual Bomber Command Commemorative Service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum (AWMM) in Auckland on Sunday June 12th. Similar services are held each year in Canberra, Toronto and London. This year’s service incorporated a rededication of the AWMM’s RAF Bomber Command Memorial, originally dedicated in 2009. It was recently completed and moved to its permanent position in the Air Force Annex in the Hall of Memories.

A large contingent of dignitaries attended, including representatives of the armed forces of New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the United States and Britain; the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, British High Commission, Returned Serviceman’s Ass., and the consulates of the Netherlands and Poland.

It was a very moving service, with several speakers pointing out some of the tragic stories and tragic statistics of Bomber Command, all underlined by the dwindling numbers of veterans able to attend commemorations such as this. Highlights for me were the Last Post, a beautiful rendition of the national anthem, and the laying of poppies, accompanied by the full-volume sound of Lancasters passing overhead.

Another highlight of course, was the opportunity to meet up with the veterans, four of whom were 75ers. One of these was my good friend Doug Williamson, from my uncle’s crew, and another was NZBCA  President (and author of one of the best books about 75 (NZ) Sqdn RAF), Ron Mayhill DFC.

David Anderson, Navigator with the Hardie crew (June – September 1945) was another, and the fourth, relatively new to these events, was John Swale, rear Gunner with the Adolph crew (June – October 1944).  John, who served with the RAF, only emigrated to New Zealand a year ago, so it was very interesting to chat to him about his story.

The RAF Bomber Command Memorial was designed and created by Sir Richard Taylor and his team at Weta Workshops, famous for their movie props and effects. Sir Richard couldn’t be at the service, but he addressed the gathering via a very personal video. In a curious twist, Doug Williamson’s wife Janet, herself a very accomplished painter, sculptor and set designer, used to work with (Sir) Richard Taylor!

For more photos of the service click here to go to the New Zealand Bomber Command Association.

– Thanks to Dave Homewood for the above photograph, and thanks to Peter Wheeler and the NZ Bomber Command Assn. for all their fantastic work.

Unidentified crew photos – who are they?

lancaster_9 (2)

– Photo courtesy of NZ Bomber Command Assn.

Thanks as always to Chris for keeping the posts going whilst I struggle to stay on top of things and now have to turn my attention the the start of a new year at University. This post is equally frustrating and exciting – the first of the 2 pictures, as Chris notes later on, I have also seen before and I am sure when and or wherever I saw it, that it was captioned as well – which makes the arrival of this post doubly infuriating! The second photograph I have never seen before, so hopefully we might be able to add names and a story to the boys in the picture, as always, fingers crossed………

These two wonderful crew photos come from the NCBCA archives, and in both cases, the story behind the photo, and identity of the crews have been lost.

Any help in identifying them will be greatly appreciated by Peter Wheeler, the NZBCA archivist.

The first, above, has the staged look of a newspaper shot, as the crew members, perhaps sitting on the back of a truck, study some round objects, with a JN-coded Lancaster parked behind. The Pilot (right) appears to have Squadron Leader’s stripes and a DFC ribbon.

My theory was that this is S/L Nick Williamson, DFC (RNZAF) and his crew, around the time that they made the very first heavy bomber landing in France after D-Day, on a fighter strip in the Normandy beach-head on 30 June 1944. They were flying ND917, JN-O back from Villers Bocage, when they put down, possibly at Plumetot, in order to seek medical aid for his flight engineer, who had been wounded by flak.

The round objects look to me like they could be camembert cheese boxes (one of the crew seems to have removed the lid while another looks at it or smells it?). Perhaps they had picked up souvenirs from their sortie into France?

The Pilot looks a bit like Williamson, going by another photo that I have seen, however he doesn’t have the “New Zealand” shoulder flashes, which Williamson would have worn. So that probably shoots down my theory.

So who are they, and what was the occasion?

The second photo, is a very interesting one in that it shows the rear gunner’s turret in detail, and G-H stripes on the inside of the tail fin:

DSC_0069

– Photo courtesy of the NZ Bomber Command Assn, Jack Meehan collection.

This photo came from P/O Jack Meehan, Wireless Operator with the Glossop crew, 22 Jul to 24 Dec 1944, however he can’t remember who the individuals are or how he came into possession of the photo.

And I’m sure I have seen at least one of these faces before, but I can’t remember where.

Again, anyone who recognises the photo, or an individual, please let us know and help the NZBCA fill in the gaps in their information, and re-establish the provenance of these historic pictures.

Thanks very much, and thanks, as always, to Peter Wheeler for permission to publish these photos.

MOTAT Lancaster to be repainted as NE181 JN-‘Mike’, ‘The Captains Fancy’

JNM cropped comp

NE181 JN-‘Mike’ – The Captains Fancy’ – the new paint scheme for the Lancaster on display at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.
Image via NZBCA Facebook page – © Peter West

I woke up this morning to see the exciting news on the New Zealand Bomber Command Facebook page, that the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland has announced their Lancaster will be repainted in the markings and nose art of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF NE181 JN-Mike – ‘The Captains Fancy’.

The Lancaster on display at MOTAT was built in June 1945. NX665 was destined for service in the Pacific as part of the proposed Allied invasion of Japan. However, Japanese surrender in September 1945 made the deployment unnecessary. The aircraft instead went into storage at Llandow until sold to the French navy in 1951.

Following acquisition by the French, NX665 was given the military registration WU13, and deployed first in France, then Morocco and Algeria on anti-submarine patrol, maritime reconnaissance, and air-sea rescue operations. After service in North Africa, WU13 returned to France in preparation for deployment in the Pacific with Escardrille 9S based in Noumea, New Caledonia. This was the aircraft’s last period of active service before being gifted to MOTAT as a good will gesture to New Zealand by the French Government.

‘The Captains Fancy’ holds a special fascination with 75(NZ) Squadron as it was the only aircraft in the Squadron to pass its ‘century’ of completed Operations. Perhaps inevitably because of this ‘fame’ there is a degree of ‘fogginess’ that exists around the aircraft, regarding the exact number of Ops credited to it and even in some quarters, what crew and what date the magic figure of 100 Ops final was recorded. The mystery is compounded by the fact that ‘Mike’ never carried more that 101 bombs (indicating Ops completed), even though research strongly suggests this figure is possibly 104 – after leaving Mepal for maintenance, it returned, but the ORB’s seem to contain inaccuracies regarding ‘Mike’s’ further flights and in some cases it is a matter of vigorous conjecture as to whether the  aircraft listed are others or in fact NE181. What we do know of course is that ‘Mike’ DID complete at least 101 Ops whilst with the Squadron – so I am very interested to see how MOTAT will present and try to communicate the disparity between the ‘official’, painted total and the higher figure that many, including myself, think she reached.

The bittersweet irony of this aircraft’s presence in the Museum is that the officers in 75(NZ) Squadron lobbied hard to have NE181 bought home (some believe the maintenance break towards the end of the war was as much to prepare ‘Mike’ for the flight back home as it was to simply overhaul her for further Ops). Despite the desire of the Squadron to bring the old girl back home with them, it would appear that the New Zealand government baulked at the fuel bill for the homeward flight……..

See a past post by Ian and Chris regarding the mystery of the final Ops and in fact whereabouts of NE181 here.

See the announcement on the NZBCA Facebook page here.
Visit the MOTAT Lancaster webpage here.

Many thanks to Peter Wheeler and the New Zealand Bomber Command Association

In advance of a number of new images relating to 75(NZ) Squadron RAF appearing on the blog, I would like to send my heartfelt thanks to Peter Wheeler of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association for very generously letting Chris visit the Association archive and search it for images relating to the Squadron.

It is a credit to Peter and the other members of the Association that so much time and effort has been spent in visiting  veterans, copying material, capturing stories, “cleaning up”, cataloguing, and presenting it back to veterans organisations, interest groups, researchers and the public, including displays at MoTaT, contributions to online forums, NZBCA newsletters, and publications such as “Wednesday Bomber Boys” and “Kiwis Do Fly”.

Clearly, the archive has been built up from contributions and donations and as is always the case with such a gathering activity, many images are unattributed regarding exact ownership and copyright – the original photo archive was all prints, many with nothing on the reverse to identify them. To this end, all images will be presented from the archive as ‘Courtesy New Zealand Bomber Command Association/ © NZBCA Archives’. If direct attribution of an image is known, or is able to be established, either by Chris prior to presentation, or after its presentation, the credit will read ‘Courtesy New Zealand Bomber Command Association/ © the individual or family’.

Chris has already begun to pass some photographs through and they will appear shortly after this post.

Hopefully as these images are published we might all be able to return something back to the Association regarding more information on the pictures.

Once again many thanks to Peter and the NZBCA for this generous assistance

Simon