Air Force Memories

An Autobiography by Trevor Pearce


Chapter 1


IT all began on the day that I was born. I first saw the light of the day or else the lights of the maternity ward, I do not know which as I was rather tired after my long nine month trip. And at this stage all I could think of was having some refreshments and then a long sleep. The world at this stage would just have to wait awhile to see me. As I was considered at this time in my life a little Angel, this must have been my introduction to flying.     

So for the next few years I was content to just having fun whilst growing up. It was in the early 1930's that there happened to be an airshow out at Mangere airfield and somehow being on my own and why I was I cannot fathom out. I got myself out to the field. This was a time when flying was an unique experience and so should not be missed under any circumstance. Out at the field there were aerobatic displays, crazy flying and of course passenger flights, for a price of course. The going or coming rate was just ten shillings a flight. In those days a large amount of money. Just one dollar then. This was for a 15 minute flight but as I had spent some of my pocket money on foolish things such as a sandwich [no fast foods out here then] I knew that I didn't have enough money for a trip. So putting on my most angelic look I took myself over to the man sitting at the checkout desk  

Yes this was a desk placed on the grass where the aircraft loaded and unloaded A pity that it is not that simple today.

Now the passenger plane was a DH86 Express which had four, yes four, motors; two wings and an enclosed cabin which had room for between 12 and 16 passengers with no cabin attendant but carried a pilot and a co-pilot. Huge wasn't it?

A prewar photo of NZ553 in its Union Airways livery as ZK-AEG. This photo was taken by Cambridge resident Frank Green and is part of the Frank Green Collection at the Cambridge Museum  

So as I approached the check out clerk [no women you may notice] I again carefully checked my wistful smile and asked not "How much is that doggie in the window "as no one had composed it yet but "How much for a flight, Sir?" You notice that I was very polite.       

"How much have you got son?" the man asked. "Nine and six, Sir" was my soulful reply. "Sorry son but you haven't enough, but just wait here for a moment" and with that he went over to the pilot of the aircraft who was standing at the door of the aircraft loading passengers into the aircraft.

On his return he said that if I sat up the front of the aircraft on the left hand side immediately behind the pilots I could go for a 9/6 flight as I would have a shorter ride than the other passengers as the aircraft always turned left, and I would also have taken off first as well as landing first.  

Or at least that is what the man would have me believe and still being naive I believed him. At least I got my flight in and was thrilled at what I saw below me.

To see small white ants running around a black postage stamp [tennis court] way below was fascinating to say the least. So I think that maybe this was the catalyst that was to hound and remain with me for the rest of my life. But for now I had to get back to the city [Auckland] to home and to continue my growing up.       

War of course was starting to rear it's ugly head due to events that were happening in Europe in the latter half of the 1930's. But most people were not or so it seemed, to be worrying too much about this problem. Of course it was more than probable that we were going to be involved in some sort of conflict whether we liked it or not.        

In this period I had attended secondary school and when I left had to find a job as times were hard and I would have to help my folks out. Fortunately I managed to secure a good job that gave me an apprenticeship.

Then of course what the people had been dreading happened and war was declared. I was anxious to get into the game as I had played war games whilst growing up and so reckoned I knew everything about how to fight a war, but I was too young. But I still decided to join the army as I had done cadet training at school and also some Territorial training after I had started working.       

After my initial application I was tentatively sent to North Head to get sworn in or get kicked out if they discovered that I have lied about my age, but fortunately when it came my turn to show my birth certificate the phone rang and the officer in charge of the swearing in ceremony just waved his hand at me. So I quickly put the certificate away, for if he had seen it he would have realised that I was lying about my age or maybe he had seen it and being desperate for good keen men or boys just turned a blind eye. I'll never know.         

Still, as he had missed it, I knew that I was in although my army records show that I am older than I am. This of course did not mean that I was eligible to go overseas as that age was 21.

 Copyright: Trevor Pearce 2007

In the Territorials. Trevor is second from right in the front row

BUT I am IN WHAKO and just hoping that no one else would do any checking up latter on and so I got kitted out and then assigned to the searchlight battery on top of North Head.

Here we are being treated to the, for us country bumpkins, good old city lights; except of course someone had forgotten to pay the power bill and so all lights were switched off as darkness set in. We were given the pleasure nearly every bloody night of turning out of bed not to see if the blackout was effective but to see if we could put the searchlight onto the plane that someone has heard and so it was pull your pants on, grab your tunic and get up to the searchlight and take your position that you had already established earlier on.  

Some of the boys would go and man the sound locator and also the machine gun to [a] fire at the enemy aircraft and [b] to protect ourselves in the event of being attacked. Hot stuff. We could shut down and go back to bed only when and if the Sergeant in charge deemed it safe to do so.

If you thought we only got out of bed just once a night let me tell you that sometimes we would rise and shine [literally] two or three times a night. When I said shine I meant what I said as if we had switched it on it really did shine and God help you if you looked into the beam as you suffered agonising head pains. We did not switch it on every time as circumstances might not demand it.

This did nothing to our tempers, for come 6 am it was feet on the floor and you can now carry out your daytime duties.

Just three months after starting my stint in the Army I was posted over to Mt. Victoria, Devonport, to go on to the Ack Ack guns. 'Mt Vic' as it was known was plum in the center of Devonport. Very handy to the ferries that went across to that great big city Auckland, which every evening at 22.30hrs [10.30pm] would start to close down [the Yanks were not here yet].

That is, all except the pubs that would close at 18.00 causing the infamous 6.o'clock swill. Mind you if you knew where to go you could pick up some booze but we were too young to drink and besides we were innocent of the ways of the world. BUT boy oh boy we learnt pretty smartly!         

But back to the job in hand and that was to protect N.Z. from the hordes of enemy that was expected. And so we were now in a position to make loud noises in the sky if we were attacked even though at this time we had, if my memory serves me well, just 41, yes that's right, 41 shells between two guns .So who was to get the extra shell, easy just toss for it. But we also had a few WOODEN practice shells that we could throw at the enemy or else put them in the guns and make loud noises as if they were alive. This would keep the enemy guessing.       

We knew that these wooden shells were lethal as one day an Air Force Tiger Moth was flying over Takapuna beach and started to do some aerobatics and so we had a good target to practice on using the sophisticated predictor and range finder and as the guns followed his path we theoretically fired a shot which at this point he went into a spin from which he did not recover and promptly plunged into the water, fortunately with no loss of life. So don't tell me that wooden shells cannot hurt. At this point in time we sent for the painter to paint onto the guns one aircraft shot down with a wooden shell.          

The Air Force was never going to live this episode down. *      
Some time later we were visited, by air of course, by a VICKERS VILDEBEEST and if I remember right flown by one Peter Jury who was a test pilot from Hobsonville. He was supposed to give us some gun laying practice on a low flying aircraft however he didn't play fair as he flew so low around the mountain we just could not get the guns to bear onto him. And of course imagine if we could have and he was an enemy just image that if we fired we would have had instant house and contents removal and at no cost to the occupants.            

That's for me, I thought, if we can't get the guns to bear onto him it must be a breeze flying over enemy territory, all one had to do was to fly lower than their guns and you would be home and safe. Ha Ha. As I could not go overseas whilst in the army because of my age but by joining the Air Force I could go at 18 as the Air Force required you to sign up under those conditions.    

PROBLEM. Just how do I persuade my parents to sign? But first of all I had to apply to the Air Force to join, but another problem, the second of many, immediately reared it's ugly head. The Air Force required one to have at least university entrance level. Failing this, hopeful applicants were expected to sit, study AND pass what was called the 21 assignments, which was of course over 21 weeks. BUT as the war was heating up and aircrew were being lost dramatically, and as the replacements were slow in coming forward due of course to the high standard demanded, the course was brought down to 18 weeks and then to 16 weeks but you were still required to do the full 21 assignments in the 16 weeks allowed.          
   Each assignment consisted of four subjects all to be done in the 21 assignments allowed: 
1 Arithmetic
2 Algebra       
3 Logarithms and Trigonometry     
4 Mechanics and Physics      

These included revision of course. I still have my 21 Assignment book that was supplied to me by the Air Force.            

Each week night I, along with other personnel wishing to join the Air Force, would go down to the Takapuna High School in my uniform complete with my peaked hat, called a Lemon squeezer, plus a beautifully highly polished Bandoleer [ammunition belt] slung over the shoulder. I felt so proud. It was fortunate that the Army was so accommodating as I was not the only one in uniform and so began the first stage of a must pass situation. On our final assignment we were required to sit a test to see if we were suitable material for the glamour service.

Copyright: Trevor Pearce 2007 

Our test was conducted by one Mr Nairn who just happened to be my ex-math’s teacher at M.A.G.S. and on the night of the exam I was seated next to a Ronnie Neil. Now the instructions on the exam paper was quite explicit, there were two papers to be completed one in Trigonometry and the other in Algebra. You were allowed 2 hours to complete both papers and it didn't matter in what order you completed them.          

Now I was poor at Trigonometry and Ronnie was poor at Algebra so guess what happened? Yep, you are so right, I did two algebra papers and Ronnie did two Trig papers. Now when the marks were given out there was only 1 point different and both papers had attracted high marks.           

There was a sequel to this episode which you will have to wait to find out about. And so with a pass in the exams I qualified for acceptance. So now another problem was rearing its ugly head and that was that the army did not want to lose me as they could send some other eligible person overseas in my place [remember that women were seconded later] and so a battle developed between the Air Force and the army as to who would get me [Boy was I popular and I would say that apart from Napoleon to be so wanted was mind boggling].       

However the fight was eventually over and the army admitted defeat and so all I had to do now was to get my parents signature to enable me to join the Air Force and so proceed overseas, but on presenting them with the necessary papers they asked me the inevitable question.

"Does this mean that you will be going overseas?"

"Oh no" was my reply with tongue in cheek, "This is only for your permission to learn to fly."    

Whether they believed me or not I never did find out. Of course I hid the bottom of the page from them which clearly showed that they had indeed given permission. So another problem was out of the way.       

However my problems were not over yet. At my medical examination the doctor noticed that I had flat feet and wanted to ground me.      

"I joined the Air Force to fly not to walk," was my reply to his diagnosis.      

"You will do an awful lot of walking in the Air Force," was his reply.  

"Anyway I have just done 12 months in the army so I must be alright" looking him straight in the eye.    

"Hmmm…" Silence... then, "OK you can pass BUT [there always has to be a but] you are a bit short in the leg department so you had better go on out to the Hobsonville air base for a test to see if you can reach the pedals of an aircraft."        

I duly arrived at the Air Force and was taken out to the flying line by the Air Force doctor and a qualified pilot. And I was asked to climb into an Airspeed Oxford and sit in the pilot’s seat on a parachute and see if I could perform the antics of a pilot.

According to both the pilot and the doctor I was more than capable. So far so good, but wait there's more. Wouldn't you know it?   

I had sinuses that had to be rectified and was scheduled for an operation at Auckland Hospital on the Monday morning. On the Friday before, I received a telegram. For those who would wonder what a telegram was, well let me tell you that it was a marvel of modern communication [then] far better than using semaphore. On a yellow piece of paper was a type written message which was then put into an envelope with a window in front to show the address and was normally delivered by a boy dressed in a heavy Post office uniform and pedaling furiously a heavy well made British push bike.    

This was the normal means of delivery and would be mostly the bearer of bad news as the war progressed, but on this occasion it turned out to be good news. I was required to report to the medical centre in the Lister buildings on Victoria St East, Auckland, and not repeat not go to the hospital.       

On arrival I was informed that because over 75% of the operations performed had failed and so potential aircrew were lost it was decided to see what effect flying would have on the sinuses. If no problem then all's well, but [there's that word again] first just a small test performed by the civilian doctor, Holding one side of my nostril shut he told me to breath through the other nostril and then a switch to the other side and the exercise repeated.

"Seems OK to me," was his professional assessment and who was I to argue? I was told that if I had any difficulty breathing then I was to report the trouble to the M.O. [medical officer] and if possible remedial steps would be taken to see if they could successfully remedy it.   

There were other problems that the Air Force would come up against [not with me] and so they had decided to let a few, in their minds, minor things pass as MEN were required urgently only if to replace the other men shot down in the line of duty. So we were very important to them. And so with the blessing of the civilian doctor I now knew that I would soon be a BRYCREAM boy.         

For you uninitiated you are just not hip or with it, unless you had plenty of BRYLCREAM plastered on your head. This of course only applied to the exalted fly boys in blue, naturally.



Note 1: The de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth which crashed onto the beach after Trevor's guns were trained upon it must have been NZ722 from the Flying Instructor's School, RNZAF Station Hobsonville. Formerly ZK-AGH, this aircraft was impressed into the RNZAF on the 1st of October 1939.. It crashed into sea some 600 yards off Narrow Neck Beach, Takapuna, Auckland at around 10.00 hours on the 31st of August 1940.Contrary to what he was told, there was indeed a fatality. Pilot Officer Robert Goldstone was killed in the crash, and Pilot Officer B. Le Pine was injured, but he was rescued by a Navy vessel. The wreckage was salvaged on the 3rd of September 1940 by three fishing boats.