Tag Archives: PoW letter

Reconnecting in New Zealand – a trip by David McFarland

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Graves of Murray, Kayler, Mulligan and Woolham after 70th anniversary ceremony April 2014

Many thanks to David, son of John McFarland for passing on the following record of his trip to New Zealand at the end of last year. David and his family went out to meet up with relatives of the airmen that his Father flew with in 75(NZ) Squadron RAF. The crew were posted to the Squadron in February 1944, flying their first op on the 11th February, and after conversion to Lancasters took part in the first 75 operation with Lancasters, bombing mashalling yards in Paris on 9th April.   Four of the crew are buried at Gram, Denmark – James Murray RNZAF (Pilot), Haymen Kahler RAFVR (Flight Engineer) Jack Mulligan RCAF and Peter Woolham RAFVR (Air Gunners).   Gordon Irwin RNZAF (Wireless Operator) John ‘Paddy’ McFarland RAFVR (Navigator) and Douglas Hill RNZAF (Air Bomber) became Prisoners or War.

Detail POW Log (2)

Extract from a POW notebook kept by Gordon Irwin © Marg Collins

The pilot James, “Jim”, Murray was from Pleasant Point near Timaru on South Island.   His sister, and three brothers all joined the New Zealand forces, with four serving overseas.   Sadly two brothers died, one in Crete in 1941 and the other at El Alamein in 1942.   After Jim’s death, the fourth and youngest son, then stationed in New Zealand, was not permitted to serve overseas and was discharged from military service to pervent a further loss to the Murray family.   We had the pleasure of meeting his daughter Alice, and her husband Mike Constantine, who live in Timaru.

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Memorial Library window at Timaru Boys High School (Copied by kind permission of Timaru High School Old Boys Association)

Rosewill School with Alice Constantine

(from left) Paddy’s son and granddaughter – David and Emily and Alice Constantine at the Memorial stone at Rosewill Junior School, Pleasant Point.

Plaque Rosewill School

Roll of Honour Board, Rosewill Junior School

Timaru War Memorial

Timaru War Memorial

Detail Timaru War Memorial

Detail Timaru War Memorial

Roll of Honour Airforce Museum of NZ Christchurch (2)

Roll of Honour Air Force Museum of New Zealand, Christchurch

Detail Roll of Honour AFMofNZ

Detail from Roll of Honour

Gordon Irwin returned to New Zealand after the war and married Amy, who had served as a WAAF, stationed in New Zealand.   He initially resumed the family farming business but later was a green-keeper at several golf courses on the North Island.   He died on 28th December 1994 aged 77 years.   He is buried, with his wife, at Russell Services Cemetery – a beautiful tranquil spot overlooking the Bay of Islands.   We had the pleasure of meeting his daughter Kathy Wright who lives in Russell, and were the guests of Marg Collins his other daughter at her home at Helensville, north of Auckland.   There we enjoyed a splendid meal in the company of her husband and her son and daughter in law, and with Ron Irwin, her brother and his wife.   Gordon and Paddy were particularly close as Gordon’s father had lived in Ulster before emigrating to New Zealand. Gordon had enjoyed several leave trips to Ireland in the early months of 1944.

Marg Collins and Ron Irwin

Marg Collins and Ron Irwin

Kathy Wright at Russell

David McFarland and Kathy Wright

Medals Gordon Irwin (2)

Gordon Irwin’s medals (the New Zealand War Service medal on the right)

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Russell Services Cemetery

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Memorial plaque Gordon and Amy Irwin

Postscript
In the village of Glenorchy near Queenstown on South Island we saw the local War Memorial.   Beside it was a noticeboard which helped to put details of the service of the men remembered on the Memorial.   Listed was Alistair Henry Scott 75 (NZ) Squadron.   As I was reading the detail, a lady approached and introduced herself to me as his niece, Adrienne Reid.   She lives on the east coast of South Island and was visiting Glenorchy that day.   It was a remarkable chance meeting with a member of the wider 75 family!   She told me that Alistair had a cousin piloting the Lancaster.   Sadly all the crew were lost on the 4th November 1944 on the daylight Solingem raid and are buried in Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany.

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Glenorchy War Memorial

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Adrienne Reid, niece of F/Sgt Alistair Scott at Glenorchy War Memorial Noticeboard

Other posts about the Murray crew and more specifically John McFarland can be read here:

John McFarland, Navigator – Murray crew. 1944. here.

Letters from behind the wire – John McFarland, here.

John Edward Lithgow McFarland RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator. 1944. Logbook. here

Gram Churchyard, Denmark. here.

Gram Churchyard, Denmark – John Macfarland visits and remembers. Danish TV article. here

 

 

Letters from behind the wire – John McFarland, part I

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John McFarland, second row, 4th in from the left. This photograph is of a group of RAF PoW’s, though the date and location is unknown. © John Edward Lithgow McFarland

A really nice surprise this morning – David sent me 2 letters, written by his Father, John McFarland, Navigator with Henry Murray’s crew, after he was captured and interred in Stalag Luft III

By John’s own observation the decision to volunteer for the Gardening Op to Kiel on the 18th April 1943, in a Stirling was seen as a soft and easy extra trip to their tour…..Perhaps this decision can be understood – the crew had suffered 3 aborted Ops in a month and it probably felt to them as if their time at Mepal was never going to end – add to this a 10 day hiatus for conversion to Lancasters at Feltwell and the soles of their feet may well have been getting itchy…….

Based on the events of that night, it would appear that their aircraft was fired on from underneath by a ‘Schräge Musik‘ equipped aircraft. Typically, the aircrew would get no warning of the attack until it was too late – John recalls his navigators desk exploding as the cannon shells hit.

Of the 7 crew, John, Gordon Irwin the Wireless Operator and Doug Hill, the Air Bomber survived. The rest of the crew, Pilot, Henry James Murray, Flight Engineer, Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, Mid Upper Gunner John Mulligan and Peter Woolam, the Rear Gunner all perished and now lay together in Gram Churchyard in Denmark.

David along with the letters supplied a brief explanation as to some aspects of the content and also, interestingly, notes that it would appear that the positions of the gunners may well have been reversed that night.

“Understandably the content is rather mundane, but they are fascinating records which may be of interest to you as unofficial archivist!   (Lithgow was my father’s third christian name and the one that was used by his family, although he would have used John – and ‘Paddy’ of course would be used by his crew.)   The reference to Margt is my aunt Margaret – I think the 11th May was her birthday, and Gordon, is the New Zealander – Gordon Irwin the wireless operator, who was also in Stalag Luft III.   His father came from Northern Ireland, hence the reference to a letter from Ireland.   Peter Woollam, rear gunner, died on the 19th when his parachute failed to open, although strangely Jack Mulligan’s body was found in the tail section so he may well have been the Rear Gunner that op, with Peter Woollam Mid Upper Gunner.   Dad’s birthday is 22nd September.   I smiled at the April Fool joke!

To put the 11th May letter in context, Dad was shot down in the early hours of the 19th April, captured on the 21st, in solitary confinement in Dulag Luft 23rd – 29th, arriving in Sagan on 1st May.”

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A first letter written by John and sent home to his family in May 1944. © John Edward Lithgow McFarland

Letter POW May 1944 B crtd

© John Edward Lithgow McFarland

“Dear Mother & Dad.   This finishes my quota of letters for this month but I wanted to get as many as I could write as soon as possible as some may go astray.   The weather is really lovely now and we are settling down quite well.   We find that this life is really what one makes it.   When I make up my mind I may start studying of some kind or another.   You may remember me mentioning some photos we had taken.   Well I had ordered some and paid for them and if you write to the C.O. I am sure that he will send them on.   I hope you get all my belongings safely including my watch.   If you ever want any gen about what & how to send parcels just ask the Red Cross folks and I think you can send cigarettes through any tobaccanist duty free which makes them 3d or 4d per packet.   I suppose Margt is having quite a spree today and I do hope that you will have heard the news that I am OK.   I have made many new friends and so far I can’t say I’ve felt homesick, but I suppose that will come in due course.   Well this is all like April 1st.   Remind my friends that mail is more welcome than ever in a P.O.W. camp.  

Love to all.   Lithgow”

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A second letter sent in September 1944. © John Edward Lithgow McFarland

Letter POW Sept1944 B crtd

© John Edward Lithgow McFarland

The second is dated 17th September 1944 –
“Dear Mother & Dad.   As usual no news but at least I can tell you that I am in the best of health except for an annoying head cold but that doesn’t cause much trouble except for washing of hankies.   I’ve had no mail yet but my hopes are rising as Gordon had 3 a couple of days ago, one from NZ, England & Ireland.   He had one from Pete our rear gunner’s girlfriend and it’s really sad to read her letter as they are under the impression that he is still alive since they have heard that G and I are prisoners.   Well I am afraid that I am doomed to spend at least this birthday in Deutschland but the boys are baking me a cake so we can celebrate in a small way.   (CENSORED) the issue of Red Cross parcels is now half per week.   However my weight is still around 11st so the food must be good enough.   Well I do hope that my mail is reaching you OK and I shall get at least one letter soon.   Once again hoping you are all well and that I’ll see you very soon.

Your loving son.  Lithgow”

Tomorrow, 2 letters written at home………….

To read an earlier post about the Murray crew, click here.
To read John’s logbook, click here.
To read about John and his families trip to Gram (including an article by Danish TV), click here.