My father who died of cancer in 1982 at the age of 69 fought in the Second World War. His three brothers were also in uniform but only two were sent overseas. The youngest was involved in the invasion of Italy. He was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. I am assuming this was in Germany as he told me that Hitler once came to address them. My uncle remembered that Hitler yelled at them in German so his words didn’t mean much to the English speaking prisoners.
Dad enlisted in the army as did most of the young men in his small hometown. He and my mother had been married only a few months before war was declared. Dad became frustrated at remaining in camp in New Zealand. He wanted to take a decisive part in the war. Without consulting Mum, he signed up for the Air Force. Needless to say, my mother was not happy with his decision. At the time she had a small child to raise– me. And she may not have known she was pregnant with my sister.
Like the other Commonwealth recruits, Dad was sent to Canada to be trained. They travelled from one site to the next to be introduced to the different requirements of a plane crew. He was trained as a rear gunner at one base and a wireless operator at another. From the Great White North, he sent gifts to my sister and me. She was given a fluffy white rabbit while I received a pair of overshoes. I wasn’t interested in the practical nature of my present.
After training in Canada, Dad was posted to the Pacific where he became part of the crew of a Catalina. This was called a flying boat because it could take off and land on water. These planes were used in warfare against enemy submarines, in escort duty for ship convoys, in search and rescue missions and in the transportation of goods. Dad’s crew was based in Suva. I have a photo of the nine men dressed in their uniforms of short sleeved shirts, shorts and long socks. On land, they would have been comfortable in the Pacific heat. I don’t know what they wore when they were flying.
Flying boats were still around after the war and my grandfather once flew to Australia on one. He was very impressed by the trip and kept various mementos, including a menu. When I lived in Wellington, I could see from my kitchen window a flying boat land in the water of Evans Bay. Apparently, Catalinas were in use until the 1980’s.
I am very grateful that my father came home in one piece as did his prisoner of war brother. Many servicemen are buried in special sections in cemeteries across New Zealand. My mother and father’s ashes both rest under a brass plaque that lists his rank and war service.
May we always remember those men and women who did not return to their families and lie in places fr from the their homeland.