This 3rd edition of 'The Wheel' has been issued early due to personal circumstances of both Secretary Ed Austin 80th and myself. (Ed copies and distributes 'The Wheel'). You will note that a substantial amount of space in this issue has been devoted to the organisation and control of our Blenheim Reunion at Easter and you will also observe that with the planning, negotiation and fulfilment of the arrangements listed, a lot of dedicated, hard work has been done, and is yet to be done, by our organiser Gus Smart 80th.
As we have won some extra time in making prospective attendees aware of the arrangements to date, I am appealing to all those listed on page 8 to give your full support to Gus and to return your completed forms to him, immediately, so that he can make firm bookings for that high demand Easter period. Of course, we would welcome late applicants to join us, but they will need to make accommodation bookings themselves and then complete the form for Gus. I will take this opportunity on behalf of myself and the committee to commend Gus for all his hard work in organising such an attractive programme and negotiating accommodation and entry deals etc. Many thanks, Gus, for all you have done and are yet to do.
I have printed a letter from Gus in which he outlines what he believes is the reason for the existence of our Association, with the resulting contacts and reunions etc and I would urge all those with doubts to consider his words and reflect accordingly.
I, as Editor and with my address shown in 'The Haltonian', find I am now the focal point for other Ex-Brats, mainly from overseas, who are seeking lost mates and who wish to make contact, or are organising Entry Reunions etc, or have an interest in New Zealand. I have fielded a number of these communications and I now count several of these correspondents as my friends. I also have been 'found' by 2 long-lost mates and it is pleasing to see this interaction occurring due to 'The Wheel' and know that we now have a growing 'Network' of contacts. As a bonus, I have been kindly offered material for 'The Wheel' by some of these correspondents and one such article, from Mike Mason 98th appears in this edition.
David Sykes 68th
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Letters to the Editor
I have just been reviewing the entries for the 2005 Reunion here in Blenheim. To date we have 31 members definitely attending plus 23 partners. In addition there are a further 8, or so, possibles, some with partners. All up around 70 people. Of these, about 20 will be from overseas (UK and Aust.). Wouldn't it be good if we could get a few more members attending from New Zealand! I have heard of the odd disturbing comment from ex-apprentices to the effect that "I have left the Air Force and I don't want anything more to do with it". With such comments in mind, I would like to emphasise that the purpose of our Association is to remember and celebrate the good and bad times of those formative years in our lives as young men. The Association is a vehicle to foster comradeship between all ex-Halton, Locking, Flowerdon and Cranwell Apprentices; to maintain contacts and to organise reunions. It provides the opportunity to meet and reminisce about those days and refresh our memories about what really happened. Whatever the individual recollections of our apprentice days are, there is no doubt in my mind that they rank as the most influential in shaping the direction of our working lives. Surely that is worthy of support! I appreciate that the cost of travelling to Blenheim and the associated reunion costs are not light. There are a number of school and RNZAF reunions that I have missed in the past and which I now really regret. At the time, I rationalised the decision not to attend as either not enough time or money, but in reality it was inertia or fear of not having anything in common with others after so many years. These missed opportunities can't be recaptured and, consequently, there are now a great number of gaps in my memory which will never be filled. So come on guys, give it some earnest consideration and just see if you can't see your way clear to attend at least some of the events I have planned. Don't be like me and live out your days rueing missed opportunities. Gus Smart 80th
Thank you for another excellent newsletter. It was interesting to learn how Des Davies became interested in painting; a very talented man. He was 41st Entry. He left Halton in the March after our entry arrived in the February. Post War entry into Halton was very different to mine. I have vague memories of my headmaster sending in an application form and I think I said I wanted to be an engine fitter. I didn't sit the entrance exam but was direct entry on the grounds of a school certificate with the requisite credits in maths and science and there were no individual interviews. I suppose that, because the war was on, everything was speeded up and we just got on with it. Of course, the apprenticeship was cut to two years and no such thing as summer camps. Bill Cowham 44th
At the RAFCAA Reunion this last year at Warwick University, we of the 64th were the Golden Entry along with 65th and 66th also at the luncheon. This was the 50th anniversary of our passing out as Junior Technicians. The 64th have made this annual lunch into a weekend spent together. It has been very successful for the last few years and it is planned to continue until the Grim Reaper claims his dues and we proceed to that final Training Establishment in the sky! Geoff Northmore 64th
I asked Geoff for more information on the RAFCAA organisation and their reunions. His write-up will be in the next issue. DS Ed.
We will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of 'Passing Out' from Halton in April 2007 and I wonder if you could help me locate the whereabouts or fate of the following RNZAF brats. They are Mr Aitchison, Francis & Smith. Cas Brooks (UK) 77th Entry
I gave addresses for G Francis & G Smith but have no address for R Aitchison. Can anyone help? DS Ed.
We are having a 74th Entry Reunion in 2006 celebrating 50 years since passing out. Have you any contacts from the 74th?
Mike (Slim) Hodson (UK) 74th
I gave him details of 74th members. DS Ed.
Mike Hodson passed on your email to me and it struck me that you may want to have an update on Cyril Laidlaw in Tasmania.
After his time in the RNZAF, he worked for a couple of civvi airlines and ended up based in Australia and, on retiring, went to Tasi. I have spoken to him on the phone a few times and the last time (March) he sounded quite low in spirits, having some cancer problems and age catching up with him. I mention this in case any of the 74th guys in NZ may like to contact him and buck him up a little. Hank Goldsmith (UK) 74th
A nice thought! Any takers? Both Ed Austin and I have Cyril's address, if required. DS Ed.
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Tony Dye 68th Entry
Tony and wife Patricia are recent arrivals to NZ. They are joining their 2 daughters and their families, who have been here for some years. Tony and Patricia hope to be at the Reunion.
Also We Welcome:-
Len Phillips 41st Entry
Len was a Vulcan B1 Crew Chief on 101 Sqdn, Waddington in 1960.
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Des Dawe 44th Entry
Alan King (UK) 68th Entry
Ray Parker 86th Entry
Ron Tunney 40th Entry
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Obituaries and Comments
Des Dawe died suddenly about the end of February. His death was announced at a meeting of the RAS attended by our President, Bill Cowham, who said that everyone at the meeting was surprised at the announcement.
Alan King died last May. Sam West emailed the news and said that they had been in touch for a number of years and had been mates at Halton. Alan had an operation to remove a cancer from his bile duct and after the op. seemed to be making a great recovery but then had a relapse and died.
Ray Parker died suddenly on May 15th whilst visiting with his wife to celebrate, it is believed, the 1st Birthday of their only grandchild. George Gardner passed on this information and said: "From the time I first met him and during the trip to UK on the 'Rangitata' (6 of us in one cabin), during our time at Halton, our first few months together on Canberras at Ohakea and our chance meetings thereafter, I always found Ray to be one of Nature's gentlemen.
Ron Tunney Ron's wife phoned to say that Ron died in February, aged 80, after a short illness with cancer.
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I was posted from Halton to a top Lightning Squadron at RAF Wattisham. It was at the height of the Cold War and the pressure was on, day and night, to generate sufficient serviceable aircraft to fly sorties intended to counter any threat from the Eastern Bloc. Our task was made difficult because Progressive Servicing was in operation and fully serviceable aircraft were constantly being disturbed in order to action the next group of checks. I believed that the continuous dismantling led to high rates of unserviceability and, as a result, night shifts became a feverish battle to recover a heap of sick aircraft. Apart from this, the constant change from periods of day shifts to night shifts adversely affected everyone and it was common to feel very tired and jaded. The pressure we were under undoubtedly increased the risk of mistakes. It was during a particularly busy period that I experienced one of the worst events since being with the Squadron. I was working a night shift and we were given the task of producing 6 Lightnings for the following day. The first aircraft required an ejection seat change but, before the 'plumbers' could start their task, the aircraft canopy had to be removed by the 'riggers'. My mate and I were given this job and when the ejection seat had been replaced we refitted the canopy, and signed off the completed job.
Next day, this particular aircraft was piloted by a young Rhodesian Flying Officer. During the sortie, he reported that No1 engine had 'flamed-out' and apparently seized. He attempted a relight, but the starter motor was unable to turn the engine and the highly volatile Avpin, which fuelled the starter motor, exploded in the engine intake. Debris from this explosion was thrown into No 2 engine and the ensuing damage caused this engine to fail. The pilot immediately put out a Mayday and shouted "Eject!" "Eject!" but the canopy failed to jettison. In the Lightning the canopy must be clear of the aircraft before the ejection sequence can continue. The pilot was therefore forced to remain with the aircraft and, to the amazement of all, he managed to crash land, approaching at a high angle of attack and smashing the tail down first to absorb the impact. The aircraft careered some distance on its belly across several fields, but, tragically, the starboard wing hit a tree. The resulting jolt dislodged the canopy and, because the ejector seat handle had been pulled earlier, the ejection sequence commenced and the pilot was killed as he was ejected into the tree. The cockpit was otherwise intact and he would have survived had he not been ejected from the aircraft.
Having recently fitted the canopy, I was very worried that I may have made a servicing error and when events like this occur, doubts always creep into your mind, no matter how well you think you did the job. The Board of Enquiry started their work, whilst I was left agonizing whether I was in any way responsible. To make matters worse, I was detailed for crash guard at the site and selected to be in the Guard of Honour at the funeral.
The weeks went by as I waited uneasily for the outcome from the Board of Enquiry, which seemed to take forever. Then a breakthrough! It was found that the canopy shoot-bolts had been fabricated with soldered joints instead of the specified brazed joints, resulting in the port bolt shearing at the faulty joint. This caused it to remain engaged in the cockpit frame,
preventing the canopy from releasing. The shoot bolts should have fully retracted, but it was the impact of hitting the tree that dislodged the fractured bolt, thus allowing the deadly sequence of events to follow. It was the end of a very worrying time for me and, in my mixed emotions, I realised that this 'lightning bolt' had missed me, but, sadly, not the pilot.
Mike Mason (UK) 98th Entry
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An article, which appeared in the 'Northland Age' on 15th May 2001, referred to Norm Armiger's (83rd) special memories, when just a schoolboy, of the day that the first jet aircraft visited New Zealand. The article went on to say that the aircraft was a Gloster Meteor two-seater training variant and was the subject of huge interest when it toured the country. Norm shares his memories with us as follows:-
The whole Far North was in a state of high excitement on the day of 21 March 1946 - the Meteor was coming to town! Well, to Waipapakauri, the ex-Air Force wartime airfield, some 8 miles north of Kaitaia. Every school kid in the district was transported to the airfield by coach, car, truck, or whatever was to hand. I was still at primary school but can vividly recall the events of the day. The crowd of townspeople, schoolchildren, etc were in true carnival mood. This was the greatest event since WWII and the arrival of electric power in the area, just a few years earlier! The Mayor and councillors were afforded prime positions to view the spectacle. Then came the Tannoy announcement "Here she comes!" The black dot, low on the horizon, grew rapidly, then there was the briefest hint of noise followed by the deafening (to us) whistle so characteristic of the Meteor jet. A mighty cheer went up and the pilot, Sqdn. Ldr. McKay, turned the aircraft and came in to land at the northernmost end of the 'NZ goodwill tour'. Official greetings were accorded the skipper and a period on the ground allowed for inspection of the aircraft by all and sundry. Then back to school, where, a few days later, we were able to purchase a postcard-sized photo of the aircraft for threepence (if my memory serves me correctly). Several of us young lads, who were present that day, did actually 'live the dream' and joined the RNZAF in later life.
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Waipapakauri was the most northerly forward operational airfield in NZ during WWII, located some 8 miles north of Kaitaia. One of the first operations from this airfield was in 1940, by a flight of 3 Vincents, which joined the hunt for the German surface raider 'Orion' which had laid mines at the entrance to Auckland Harbour. From late 1942, the airfield defences consisted of a handful of Bofors guns. During 1942 and the beginning of 1943, No. 7 GR and No. 8 BR Squadrons were operational from there over the northern approaches to NZ. From June 1943 it was used as an advance and emergency airfield for aircraft en route to and from forward operations areas. By April 1944 the airfield was reduced to an emergency landing ground with limited refuelling, wireless and met. services. The present Waipapakauri Hotel (The Travellers Rest) was the Officers Mess/Hospital and the runway is now bisected by SH1, the airfield proper now being farmland. The revetments along the NW side of the runway are still present, having been dug out of the sandstone hillside. At the present moment, a project is under way to create a formal monument to the area; this being a three-blade propeller on a plinth.
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IT'S MOMENTS LIKE THESE YOU NEED MINTIES!!
An RNZAF wartime fighter pilot, Charlie Wood, (A good friend of mine and recently deceased) was doing a delivery flight of a Kittyhawk to Waipapakauri and was extremely perplexed at having to land on a very rough strip, complete with bulldozers and other earth moving machinery! He was duly informed by the workmen that he had inadvertently landed on the new aerodrome under construction as a forward airfield. This is now Kaitaia Airport and is pretty much on the same compass bearing as Waipapakuri, which is barely a mile to the west!!
Norm. Armiger 83rd Entry
(My thanks go to Mark Bishop (UK) the son of Stephen Bishop (UK) 83rd Entry. Mark sent me the "Northern Age' article which put me on to Norm, who kindly produced the above articles. DS Ed.)
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We have had a good response so far for the 2005 Reunion with over 60 members (including partners) indicating that they will be attending. If you haven't made a decision to attend yet, or haven't booked your travel, then time is running out. Be aware that travel between the Nth and Sth Islands during holiday weekends can be heavy, so it pays to book early. The 80th Entry is combining their 50th celebration (from commencement of training) with the reunion and a number of members are attending from the UK. I think I have cobbled together a reasonable programme of activities for the weekend with something to interest everyone, so PLEASE fill in the attached registration sheet and return it to me as soon as possible and by 18th September latest. I am dealing with a number of organizations who will be very busy over the Easter weekend and so I need to give them accurate numbers, pronto, to secure the booking. The proposed programme is as follows:
Date Time Event Location Fri 25th 5.00pm
Drinks and Dinner
Criterion Hotel (note 1)
TBA (note 2)
Sat 26th 9.00am
Omaka Airfield (note 3)
Marlborough Club (note 4)
Sun 27th 11.00am
Tour Base Facilities
From RSA Car Park (note 5)
Woodbourne (note 6)
Note 1: Being Good Friday, many Pubs and Clubs will be closed unless they have a special License. Accordingly it is recommended that we all (other than 80th Entry) have our evening meal at the Criterion. Prices are very reasonable.
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Note 2: The 80th Entry will have a separate reunion dinner on the Friday evening at a venue to be arranged by me (Gus) and I will contact and advise 80th Entry members in the New Year.
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Note 3: The Air Show is held over 3 days (Fri thru Sun). Gold Passes are available for the three days for $200. Some members may wish to attend more than one day and take advantage of this option. We have been able to negotiate a special deal for Gold Passes valid for the Saturday only for $100.00 per head. This gives entry and access to the viewing stand and Gold Pass marquee only. It does not provide the normal gift pack. (Please keep this offer confidential as it applies only to us). The standard (daily) entry price is $25.00 per person payable at the gate. For those of us not taking advantage of the special Gold Pass offer it is suggested that as many as possible attend early and claim a good viewing position in the front line. I (Gus) will have my selection of around a dozen picnic chairs available. Locals and those traveling by car should endeavour to bring chairs so that we can claim our area in the front line! This may take a little organizing but I am sure that we can use a little of our Brats cunning to good advantage and a plan of attack can be sorted out at the Friday evening "meet and greet". It is suggested that consideration should be given to taking packed lunches. Although there are food stalls available, Monty and I (Gus) were not impressed at the 2003 Show. The organizers state that they have this problem under control but it is Food for thought!! As an aside there will be a "ground theatre" show on the airfield during the lunch break and if past years are anything to go by lunch can be a real scramble.
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Note 4: The Marlborough Club is 50 metres from the Cri. The meal at current prices is $25.00 per head.
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Note 5: The RSA is opposite the Cri. The Wine Trail commences at the Montana Brancott Winery with a guided tour through the facility with a tutored tasting of a range of their wines followed by lunch in their restaurant. Next, Forrest Estate Winery, Cellier Le Brun, Ponder Estate and back to the Cri at 3.45pm (or Base Woodbourne). Costs depend on number attending. As an example 26 to 30 persons @ $42.00 per head, and 36 to 40 persons @ $36.00 per head. There are a number of luncheon menus available at Montana and I am confident that I can keep the price of this function to no more than $50.00 per head.
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Note 6: I am currently in discussion with Base Cdr Woodbourne re a visit to Ground Training Wing and/or the Engineering Section followed by a short Social function (food provided). Cost will be reasonable. It is hoped that the Base will provide transport back to Blenheim. Base Cdr is keen but we must bear in mind that the Base is on stand-down for the weekend and any visit will, of necessity, be fairly low key. It is considered that this will be a fitting conclusion to the reunion, if it is feasible. Let me know your interest by completing the Registration form.
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Transport: (to/from Omaka Airfield). I am confident that there will be sufficient members staying at the Criterion with transport willing to take those without it to Omaka. People requiring transport should make their requirements known on the Friday evening. As a last resort Taxis cost around $15 (car) to $25 (van) say $5.00 per head from town to Omaka.
Accommodation: At the time of writing, there were still rooms available at the Criterion Hotel and at the Aston Court and Bings Motels. Additionally there is basic accommodation available on the Omaka Marae and at Base Woodbourne. The Marae and Base accommodation is more suitable to males but the Base Commander is agreeable to wives/partners as long as they understand that separate ablution facilities will not be available. Meals will be available in the Airmens Mess for any members wishing to take advantage of the Base accommodation at very reasonable costs. Anybody interested in the Base Woodbourne offer should contact Gus Smart for further details.
Payment: All accommodation, entry fees, meals etc are to be paid for by individuals at the time. Where appropriate (e.g. Wine Trail and Reunion dinners, where a fixed cost has been negotiated) a collection may be made prior to or at the time. In these instances it is requested that you endeavour to have the correct amount readily available.
Graham (Gus) Smart
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