Trevor Edward GANLEY DFM

Service Number: NZ414501
RNZAF Trade:
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
Date of Enlistment:
3rd of August 1941
Date of Demob:
15th of November 1945
Rank Achieved:
Flight Lieutenant
Flying Hours:
Operational Sorties:

Date of Birth: 3rd of November 1916, in Auckland
Personal Details: Trevor was the second son of Mr and Mrs W.V. Ganley of Kaipaki, Cambridge. Trevor married Elva (nee Boyd) also of Kaipaki in November 1942. Trevor's two brothers served in the New Zealand Army in the Middle East

Service Details: Sadly I have yet to discover anything of Trevor's early service life in the RNZAF. However Trevor Ganley's RNZAF career stands out because of an extraordinary story of survival following being shot down by by eight Japanese Zero fighters and crashing into the Pacific.

On the 24th of July 1943 Trevor was the turret gunner in a Lockheed Hudson Mk III, serial coded NZ2021, which took off from Henderson Field for a routine ‘X-Ray' daily patrol between New Georgia and Bougainville at 13:30hrs.

This was the crew's second attempt, having first taken off at 13:00hrs in NZ2072, but returning 15 minutes later to Henderson with an unserviceable IFF. Once they'd swapped aircraft and were into the patrol in NZ2021, their bomber was intercepted by eight Japanese fighters, and a running battle ensued for over 40 miles.

Desperate attempts to shake off the fighters failed when the Hudson drew near the coast of Vella Lavella. Three of the crew were wounded and the aircraft was on fire.

There was no alternative, they were forced to ditch into the sea. The pilot skillfully brought the Hudson down into the ocean, two miles west of Kao Baga Island. The crew abandoned the Hudson safely, and were able to inflate their raft, but the Zero pilots were not satisfied and continued to press their attacks, and strafed the helpless men in the water for several minutes.

This proved devastating and deadly. Only Trevor Ganley survived the persistent attacks, though with serious wounds inflicted in the air battle. Those who died were Flt Lt William George Clifford Allison (Pilot, Aged 33), Pilot Officer Frank Bevan Kerr (2nd Pilot, Aged 26), Sgt Ronald Graham Douglas (Navigator, Aged 20), Sgt James Henry Johnstone (Wireless Operator, Aged 22) and Lt Col C.N.F. Bengough of the British Army, a Solomon Islands Defence Force observer, Aged 36.

The raft had been punctured and the aircraft had sunk. He had no choice now but to swim.He swam the two miles till he made it ashore at Kao Baga, where he was eventually found by a coast watcher, with whom he spent around a month - hiding and recuperating - before being picked up by a PT Boat from the US Navy and returned to base. Trevor finally returned to his base 37 days after the crash.

The incredible story was told at length in the Waikato Times newspaper on the 10th of September 1943. It was also recorded in the citation of his DFM. Certain details in each account conflict with the other official records, but each makes a compelling story. Here is a transcript of that Waikato Times article.

A story of the South Pacific, rivaling in its colourful and dramatic narrative those of modern thrillers of fiction is wound round the recent experiences of a young Kaipaki airman, member of a bomber crew of five, whose machine was crippled and forced into the sea by enemy action less than six weeks ago. Eight Zeros participated in the attack which, after forcing the bomber down, machine-gunned the crew as they swam round their sunken machine.

Flight-Sergeant Trevor Ganley, of Kaipaki, recalled those dramatic moments in an interview with a Waikato Times representative on his return. It was only by pushing himself under the dinghy each time the Japanese planes swooped down to a fresh attack that he escaped.

A swim of nearly two miles to a small uninhabited island in the Solomons group, where he subsisted for eight and a half days on a meagre fare of chocolate and cocoanuts, and his eventual rescue, were other interesting experiences, although they do not complete his story.

Surprise For Family

He was first reported missing on air operations and subsequently was reclassified safe. It was a happy household at Kaipaki, including an elder brother home on furlough from the Middle East, that received a telegram last week informing them that he was on the Auckland-Wellington express on his way home.

"It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, as we were flying at 500 feet and heading into the sun," said Flight-Sergeant Ganley, "that we were attacked by eight Zeros. We had just passed under a cloud when we were attacked."

Flight-Sergeant Ganley did not go unscathed in those hectic few moments. He was shot through the left forearm and another bullet seriously injured a middle finger. Shrapnel struck him in the hip and splinters hit him in the forehead as bullets poured into the armour plating in front of him. His gun turret continued to operate perfectly until the electrical system was knocked out of action by a direct hit.

"Prior to it being damaged I hit one plane," Flight-Sergeant Ganley continued. "I could not wait to see whether he crashed or not."

Strafed From The Air

Flight-Sergeant Ganley then left the turret to fire a few bursts from the belly gun of the machine, but he was forced to desist when the wing caught fire. "We managed to get the fire under control but the extinguishers were getting low and I think that was one of the reasons the captain decided to put the plane on the water," he said. The dinghy worked well but was punctured in the first few minutes of strafing that followed their dropping into the sea.

On making land, two miles away, supported in his "Mae West," young Ganley discovered he was on an uninhabited island. Just on dusk he noticed a Japanese barge going round a point on the island and realised that the Zeros which had attacked them were acting as fighter cover to this craft.

Flight-Sergeant Ganley, in his own words, "beat a hasty retreat into the jungle." The next morning he started walking in his bare feet round the island (he had discarded his boots in his swim ashore). The next day he covered about ten miles and during the afternoon found a rubber boat that had been washed ashore. It was a welcome find for it contained some chocolate that kept him going for six days.

The castaway wandered round the island for more than a week without seeing a sign of life. An unsuccessful attempt to make a raft, comprised of empty barrels, which he found washed up on the shore, helped to pass the time.

Mistaken For Japanese

On the seventh day Flight-Sergeant Ganley was an interested spectator in a dogfight, in which one of the combatants was shot down into the sea The one-man dinghy which contained the welcome chocolate was later examined by Ganley, who spent an afternoon patching it. Carrying the deflated dinghy about five miles to the most suitable launching point he set out the following morning using a bamboo pole as a paddle. He had just about reached the mainland when an enemy plane flew overhead and waggled its wings at the dinghy and its occupant. "He evidently mistook me for a Jap.," was the explanation of Flight-Sergeant Ganley, who concluded his story with, "I was later picked up."

Flight-Sergeant Ganley was educated at Kaipaki school and before joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force was employed on his parents' farm at Kaipaki and later by Street and Street, Hamilton. While in Hamilton he played for Hamilton East Cricket Club and numbered hockey among his other sporting activities. He received his air training in Canada and was posted to the South Pacific area in March of this year.

The three Ganley boys are serving with the forces. Pte. W.V. Ganley, who went overseas with the First Echelon, and who has seen action in the various theatres of war in the Middle East, is at present home on furlough, and the other, Pte. Bruce Ganley, is serving in the Middle East. All are volunteers.

Trevor was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal on the 22nd of February 1944, whilst serving with No 3 Squadron RNZAF on Lockheed Hudson bombers. The citation read:

“Flight Sergeant (now Pilot Officer) Ganley; has completed many successful sorties against the enemy and has shown conspicuous gallantry against the enemy. On 24th July 1943, Flight Sergeant Ganley was air gunner in a Hudson engaged on a patrol duty in New Georgia-Shortland Island area, when the Hudson was attacked by eight Zero fighters. Early in the attack Flight Sergeant Ganley was severely wounded in the hip and received shrapnel wounds in the hand, arm and head. The Fire Controller was badly wounded and Flight Sergeant Ganley, in spite of his wounds, took over the fire controller duties from the turret. Later when his turret was untenable he manned another gun position and carried on from there.

During the initial attack, Flight Sergeant Ganley sent a Zero down out of control and it was seen to fall into the sea. The Hudson caught fire later in the action and Flight Sergeant Ganley assisted in keeping the fire under control until the fire extinguishers were exhausted and the aircraft was forced to make a landing on the sea. After all the occupants had successfully left the aircraft, he assisted another member of the crew who had been wounded. But, in the water, they were repeatedly fired on by the enemy and eventually Flight Sergeant Ganley was the sole survivor. Flight Sergeant Ganley showed exceptional courage and devotion to duty throughout the action, and sound resourcefulness until he was eventually rescued a month later, from an island which he had succeeded in reaching.”

Details of Death: Trevor died on the 25th of November 1997, aged 80 years

Connection with Cambridge: Trevor was from Kaipaki, just outside of Cambridge

As an aside: Linda Dryden has kindly sent in this photo of James Henry Johnstone who was killed in the Hudson shoot-down incident in which Trevor was the only survivor.


By Such Deeds by Colin Hanson
Waikato Times newspaper dated 10th of September 1943
Cambridge Museum records via Eris Parker
Photo of James Johnstone from Linda Dryden


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