Gerry Newey was one of my Dad’s older brothers, someone who I got to know quite well growing up. He was a life-of-the-party guy, with a glint in his eye and a wicked, cheeky sense of humour. He was also good-hearted and generous.
One of thirteen, he and his siblings were quite close, sharing a strong sense of fun, and many, many stories of days gone by that became legends to us of the younger generation. But I don’t remember him talking about his war experiences.
Sadly he died of cancer in 1977, only 56 years old.
Since I was a kid I had memories of a particular wartime photo that was on the wall in Uncle Gerry and Aunty Marion’s downstairs hallway – a panoramic, full 75 (NZ) Squadron photo taken in front of (and on top of) a Lancaster bomber. Even though I had never learned (or at least remembered) any detail about Gerry’s time in the RAF, that photo had always fascinated me.
I also developed an interest in warbirds in later years, as well as RNZAF and general aviation history, and as the interest grew, I started to think that I must try and find out more about his RAF service. His two sons, Phil and Bruce, now both living in the U.S., were also keen to find out more. Like me, they wished they had asked their Dad more questions when he was around …
Gerry’s son Bruce contacted Glen Turner, Secretary of 75 Squadron RAF/RNZAF Association NZ in 2008, and in April 2012 Glen emailed Bruce with information about a single op’ Gerry had been on that had resulted in two of his crew being decorated.
This gave us a starting point – a date, an aircraft, an event and a list of crew names. It was enough to start looking, Googling and asking questions. As this website demonstrates – it’s amazing what turned up.
Wayne Mellor, an internet forum member based here in Auckland, was very helpful in those early searches, generously providing copies of the entries from the 75(NZ) Sqdn Operational Record Books (ORBs) for each of Gerry’s 32 op’s, and other useful information. Peter Wheeler of NZ Bomber Command Association (NZBCA) also provided help and photos of 75(NZ) Squadron.
One of the fellow searchers that I kept bumping into online was Simon Sommerville in England – his father also flew with 75(NZ) Squadron, at the same time as the JN Dog crew, in fact, flew one op’ in “their” plane! Simon also generously shared copies of ORB pages and other hard-to-find documents. Over the past seven years he has put a staggering amount of effort into building a comprehensive website/collection/database of all things 75(NZ) Squadron RAF – www.75nzsquadron.com – a fantastic resource for any researcher and one that allowed me to take the search for Gerry and his crew far further than I would ever have imagined.
Receiving this extra detail spurred Philip into copying his Dad’s logbook and some of his photos, stored in an old suitcase, which he emailed to me, and which became the starting point for our record of Gerry’s wartime “story”.
Logbook entries led to all sorts of detail about not only Gerry’s operations, but his training, units, bases, and even individual aircraft. Photos of several actual aircraft that he flew in were found on the web, including a Bristol Bolingbroke that has survived and is currently under restoration in Canada.
A copy of his No. 3 Wireless School graduation photo (from Sep 1943) was found on the web and a photo of his Initial Training Wing graduation class was lurking in the NZBCA archives.
And we found copies of the Squadron photo I remember hanging on Gerry and Marion’s wall.
The original email that Glen Turner had sent implied that Sgt Douglas Bannerman Williamson, RAF, the Flight Engineer who fell out of the aircraft, was still with us and had been inquiring about joining the 75 Squadron RAF/RNZAF Assn. It included his NZ email address.
On 29 April 2012 I emailed that address, asking if I could make contact – about 2hrs later the phone rang, and a soft Scottish voice said:
“Hello this is Douglas Williamson.. I flew with your uncle …”!
When I asked him how long it was since he last saw Gerry, he said “The last time I saw Gerry, I was showing him the way out; the plane was full of flames ..” ..!!!
He lives here in Auckland, having emigrated to NZ (via Canada) with his wife and two sons in 1974.
So Doug was in Auckland while Gerry was still alive – Doug did look in the phone book, but had the spelling wrong – what a shame they didn’t get together. Doug and Janet first rented in Epsom, then in Russell St, Stanley Bay (4 streets away from where we are now) and one of their two boys briefly went to Stanley Bay School, the same primary school that our two boys attended! Both sons live here in NZ.
Two days later I met up with Dougie and his wife Janet here in Devonport for coffee.
It was very exciting meeting the two of them, although there was never going to be enough time to ask all the questions I wanted to. Probably a bit weird for Doug, my contact coming out of the blue …
He recounted his version of their dramatic last op’ and clarified one important point – he didn’t fall from the aircraft, it was a definite attempt to escape what he thought was a plane on fire and on its way down.
He was not wearing his oxygen mask when the flak hit (he was eating chocolate!) and saw the little fountain of ethylene glycol from the punctured de-icing tank, and the fire start down in the bomb aimer’s position. The bomb aimer (Jim) apparently tried to open his hatch to escape as the fire worsened, and as a result a sudden sheet of flame shot down the inside of the aircraft. Doug was standing beside the pilot, so the flame came straight up at him, and forced him back, grabbing a parachute on the way. He went past Gerry telling him to get out at the rear, and then fell over the main spar. He thinks the lack of oxygen played a part, because he lay there for a while, feeling out of it, and wondering where the others were. A mid-under gunner’s position had just been installed on that plane, leaving a large round hole in the floor, and he pulled himself out through that.
He regretted not going back to Mepal after he made it back to England, although most of the crew would have been posted out by then, but did remember catching up with two of the crew later on, Johnny Wood and Jack Pauling, attending Johnny’s wedding.
He wrote his autobiography a few years ago, after he and Janet took writing classes, and self-published it as a book in 2002, so the whole episode was described in that:
Dougie had recently applied to the NZ Government to go to the Bomber Command Memorial unveiling in June (they were taking a plane-load of veterans over to London, some of whom were to stay on for the 75(NZ) Sqdn reunion), however he didn’t qualify as he was RAF, not RNZAF.
By now we were well and truly hooked – there was obviously a lot more to be discovered about the crew and through the wonders of the internet, the possibility of making contact with all seven families.
Here is a timeline of significant milestones:
May 2012: Bruce found details about rear gunner Ralph Sparrow on the internet – Ralph (Service Number R263518) had reached the rank of Warrant Officer, lived in Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, BC, and had died on November 19, 1995, aged 70. Unfortunately searches of newspapers, community websites, etc. from that area didn’t bring up anything else.
May 2012: My thread about the JN-Dog crew on the WONZ forum scored a ‘hit’ – someone called “wood” posted this message:
“Loved reading your Anzac story. The pilot, John Wood, was my father. For many years he worked on a Lancaster restoration project in Auckland with a group of other war veterans.
It was lovely seeing Dad in the crew photo looking so young and handsome. Unfortunately, he died in 1998, but he enjoyed his association with 75 squadron. He sometimes spoke of his crew members including Gerry. “
It was Johnny Wood’s daughter Debbie and we made direct contact soon afterwards. She later sent some very high-quality photos of her Dad taken during training in NZ, and immediately post-war in England.
June 2012: Phil and his son Sean made a very special trip from L.A. to London for the Bomber Command Memorial unveiling and subsequent 75(NZ) Sqdn reunion. The plan had been to meet up with Doug at the reunion and although this was not to be, they met lots of people and had a great time. They also visited the RAF Museum at Hendon, the Witchford Museum and some of Gerry’s old haunts.
July 2012: With the help of Derek (via a post on Lancaster Archive Forum), we managed to get a phone number and I called Jack Cash’s daughter in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, Canada. Audrey was very nice and thankfully didn’t hang up on a complete stranger calling from New Zealand! She sent me some great photos of Jack taken during training, and from later in life, including one with his eight grandsons.
August 2012: Doug published his revised autobiography, intertwined with that of his good friend Lutz Dille, the new book called “The Nazi & The Luftgangster“.
September 2012: Doug & Janet travelled to London on the Tax Management Bomber Command Tour with four other Kiwi RAF veterans.
February 2013: A message appeared on Bombercrew.com forum in response to a post I had made 9 months earlier, asking for any information about bomb aimer Noel Ridley “Jim” Hooper. Jim was still alive!
“Hi Chris, I came across Jim when we both worked for BT in the 50’s and last saw him about 8 years ago when he visited a friend of mine. This friend has remained in touch with Jim and will send me his recollections which I will pass on to you.”
The message was from David Arnold who said that unfortunately Jim had advanced dementia and was in hospital, although comfortable and happy. We were very grateful to be able to pass information about the crew, photos and a message from Doug to the Hooper family through David and his friend David Peck. David P. showed him the photos and there was a hint of recognition, pointing himself out, but there was no follow-up chat.
Nonetheless, it was very satisfying to have made the connection, to have contact with the family and to know that Doug wasn’t the last man standing!
March 2013: A message was left on Simon Sommerville’s website www.75nzsquadron.com from Sue, daughter of Jack Pauling and with Simon’s assistance we were soon corresponding by email:
“Hi Chris, The surname Newey is part of my childhood memories. I believe from my cousin Jenny that the Newey boys were regulars in the Pauling home in the 50s and 60s.”
I hadn’t realised it, but when I asked I found that the Pauling name had been equally familiar to my Dad’s sisters and brothers – Gerry and Jack had remained good mates after the war, and got to know each other’s families. Gerry’s sister Margaret describing Jack as “so very handsome”!
Jack’s widow Barbara had re-married but was still alive, doing well at age 90.
Sue later sent me an interesting photo of Jack during his ITW training and we worked out that he and Gerry had been on the same course, and appear in the same ITW graduation photo. So their friendship probably went back earlier than the JN-Dog crew.
Thursday 14th of August 2013: Noel Ridley (Jim) Hooper of Woodditton passed away peacefully, aged 93 years. A beloved husband to Joyce.
We were able to pass messages from Doug and on behalf of the other crew members’ families to Jim’s widow Joyce. Jim’s friend David Peck sent us a very nice account of the funeral via David Arnold. We also received a couple of very nice photos of Jim and Joyce from Ken Peck. Jim’s granddaughter Emily is now in regular contact.
17 September 2013: A pretty special morning with Gerry’s son Phil Newey and his son Sean, who were visiting from the US, to meet up with Gerry’s last surviving crewmate and JN-Dog’s Flight Engineer Doug Williamson for the first time. In a surrealistic moment that sent shivers up my spine, as we got out of the car to go into Doug & Janet’s house a Spitfire and P-51 Mustang flew overhead!
Quite something to sit, talk and think about Doug and Gerry as 19/20-year-olds flying together almost 70 years ago. Contacts re-established, and friendships renewed!
26 February 2014: Simon Sommerville was interviewed by Paul Brennan on RadioNZ; talking about his Dad (who was at Mepal at the same time as the JN-Dog Boys), the background to his research and his amazing 75(NZ) Squadron website/database (https://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com), on which much of our research depended. Gerry gets a brief mention, right at the end:
November 2014: Completed the transcription of Gerry’s 1945 diary and incorporated it into ‘the story’. Thanks to Phil for entrusting me with this special piece of family history!
1st of August 2015: Dougie’s 90th Birthday Bash!
February 2017: A copy of a 1944 RAF Mepal Christmas Dinner menu turned up on Wings Over New Zealand (WONZ), posted by the nephew of LAC Tom McGibbon, Flight Mechanic Engines (FME) in C Flight. It was also autographed by “Jonah” Jones of JN-D “Snifter” and the menu generated a separate discussion on the 75 Sqdn Assn Facebook page. During this someone called Glynis Bakker joined in the conversation and stated that “Jonah” was her father!
“Yes my Father was John Dennis Jones, Jonah. His aircraft was D for Dog. Gave me a shiver to see his name on the menu card in your photos. Sadly Dad passed away 3 years this week aged 88. He was so proud of his connection with 75NZ squadron and wore his squadron badge on his jacket lapel until he died.”
Glynis and I immediately made contact, exchanged all kinds of information and have become good (internet) friends. Dennis was a Flight Mechanic Engines (FME), the man responsible for Dog’s Rolls Royce Merlin engines and he had kept an amazing collection of photos and memorabilia that have added hugely to the JN-Dog Boys story. And it looks like he was the artist who painted “Snifter”, Dog’s nose art!
August 2017: Made contact with Keith Springer, whose (late) father Randal Springer was a W/Op with 75(NZ) Sqdn and past President of the 75 Sqdn Assn in NZ. Randall’s wife June (Keith’s Mum, still alive and well) is George Nairne’s cousin and had been involved in helping Dennis in his search for George’s daughter back in 1999. I had seen Keith active on Simon’s website so knew that he was interested in all this stuff. We met up later that month, and it has been great to re-establish the connections from that sad story.
August 2018: A new history of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF was published, sold through both Amazon UK and USA – “75 (NZ) Squadron (RAF Bomber Command Profiles) (Volume 8)“.
The search for the JN-Dog crew introduced me to a whole new world. I was hooked – the squadron, it’s characters, the many fascinating stories, the satisfaction of re-assembling pieces of the giant jigsaw and of helping others find out about their relatives – it was all completely addictive. Through Simon’s website, various email and internet contacts and Peter Wheeler of the NZ Bomber Command Assn here in Auckland, my spare time over the past six years has been taken up with 75(NZ) Squadron. Peter does an amazing job visiting Bomber Command veterans and their families, and part of his work is copying logbooks and photo albums for the NZBCA archives, which now holds nearly 30,000 images. Anything he comes across with a 75(NZ) connection he copies to me, to help with identification, dating, etc. – so far he has files of material from seventy-four 75(NZ) Sqdn RAF veterans. So I have been privileged to have access to a huge collection of squadron material and have become part of a network of 75(NZ) contacts, sharing the information around and slowly putting that jigsaw puzzle back together, piece by piece.
In July 2017 UK-based author and WW2 Bomber Command specialist Chris Ward had contacted Peter about producing a new squadron history as part of his RAF Bomber Command Profiles series. The publisher had wanted the NZ 75 RAF/RNZAF Squadron Association to be involved but the Assn had declined. The NZBCA agreed to help on the basis that if it was going to be written anyway, we should try and make sure it is as accurate as possible. I was nominated as the NZBCA helper. Over the next year Chris worked his way through the squadron’s Operational record Books to create a detailed day-by-day narrative, from April 1940 to May 1945. My job was to help with background research, some additional detail and ‘character’ content, proofing and curating & captioning photos.
It was a lot of work, but a very satisfying project to be involved in, and I learned heaps. It was great to have some of Gerry’s and Dennis’s photos incorporated in the final publication and of course, to see the boys’ drama over Merseburg included in the narrative.
October 2018: A new message popped up on the original April 2012 thread on WONZ:
“I realize this is an old post but just wanted to say I really find it interesting and informative. it has motivated me to find out as much as I can about my grandfather’s time in the service.
I am the grandson of Ralph Charles Sparrow.
February 2019: This website was launched.
… definitely more to come ….