Last Saturday I was lucky enough to attend a special morning tea at the Edmund Hillary Retirement Village at Remuera for a few of the remaining Bomber Command veterans in the Auckland-Hamilton area. It was organised by the New Zealand Bomber Command Association.
I picked up Janet and Doug on my way and they were pleased to see and catch up with everyone, especially Eddie Leaf and Jonathan Pote, who were both on their memorable Tax Management-funded Bomber Command London Trip back in 2012.
Doug was the youngest of five veterans attending; the others were Ron Mayhill, Keith Boles, Eddie Leaf and Arthur Joplin.
All have interesting stories, Arthur being one of the last surviving 617 Dambusters Squadron pilots, who took part in the attack on the Tirpitz.
Keith Boles DFC, is one of the few remaining Pathfinder Mosquito pilots from 109 (PFF) Squadron.
Eddie Leaf is an astonishingly youthful, clear-eyed, upright 97 year-old ex-Rear Gunner who served with 90 Squadron on Stirlings. He has vivid memories of shooting down a Messerschmitt 110 twin-engine night fighter one night in 1944.
Ron Mayhill DFC, Legion of Honour, is a likewise sprightly, sharp-as-a-tack 95 year-old who served with 75 (NZ) Squadron at Mepal, finishing up about a month before Doug and the Wood crew arrived at Mepal.
Ron was a Bomb Aimer with the John Aitken crew between June and September 1944, injured in the eye by perspex splinters from a flak burst over France and earning his DFC by carrying on with his bombing run and completing the operation.
He wrote the definitive account of the 75(NZ) Squadron Lancaster era, “Bombs On Target“, probably the best book ever written about Kiwis in Bomber Command.
Ron was President of the NZBCA for several years (up until just recently) and is a very nice guy.
There is an excellent interview with him here: https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/memories-service-ron-mayhill-2015
Ron and Arthur are both residents at the Edmund Hillary Retirement Village in Remuera. The venue for the morning tea get-together had another connection; Arthur was a personal friend of Sir Ed Hillary, his wife Betty being Sir Ed’s secretary for many years.
It was a very enjoyable morning. In most cases, their eyesight and hearing mean that these events make conversation difficult, but the vet’s enjoy catching up with each other and their families and supporters love making a fuss of them. Many went years and years without recognition for their service; these are opportunities to try and and make up for that.
Lets hope there are many of these occasions still to come.
– Thanks to Dave Homewood for permission to use his photos.