26 November 1942 – 11 February 1943: Initial Training Wing (ITW), RNZAF Station Rotorua, Group 5.
Gerry re-mustered as a Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Wireless Operator Air Gunner u/t (under training).
Candidates were broadly classified as ‘PNB’ (Pilot, Navigator, Bomber) until the end of their ITW course, and were then selected into categories according to their results.
ITW was an introduction to the military; medical, uniform issue, drills, shooting and Military law. It also covered principles of flight, aero engines, armaments, basics of radio, photography and navigation, and aircraft and ship recognition. Gerry was part of Group 5, a Composite course covering all the air trades.
Unlike most units, the Rotorua station was not housed in an Air Force camp – trainees and staff were quartered in a number of hotels and boarding houses in the town.
”It seems, in retrospect, that the streets of Rotorua were always alive with airmen either walking about during their periods of rest or marching from one study point to another…”
Gerry passed his course with a 58.6% mark on 28th January, and graduated from ITW on 11 February 1943.
Fourth from left in the front row of the course graduation photo is Gerry’s future crew mate, Jack Pauling.
Jack had enlisted around May 1942 and ended up on the same ITW course as Gerry. It seems likely that knowing each other from ITW Rotorua played a part in them crewing up together in England.
Gerry had 10 days leave over Christmas, and then another two weeks’ leave from January 29th, before sailing for Canada.
Auckland on 12 February 1943 aboard the SS Matsonia bound for San
Francisco, via San Diego. He was one of 172 RNZAF aircrew on board who were
heading for Canada for advanced training on the latest aircraft types. Most
were pilots, and the balance of the aircrew were navigators and air gunners,
who were to be trained in specialist schools.
On this voyage the Matsonia also carried an unknown number of wounded from the US heavy cruiser USS Chicago, which had been sunk in the Battle of Rennell Islands (in the Solomon Islands) with heavy casualties. They were apparently heading for San Diego where there was a large Naval hospital.
They arrived in San Francisco on 26 February 1943, where RNZAF aircrew disembarked and were officially posted to No. 2 Manning Depot, Brandon, Manitoba. They were transferred to railway stations to travel by rail to Vancouver, Canada, then on East across Canada, to 2 MD, Brandon for processing and issuing of basic uniform requirements. Leave was given from two hours to four hours at main points along the route, e.g. Vancouver, Banff, Jasper, and other major cities, making the trip an exciting one for the young ‘Newzies’ travelling overseas for the first time.
From Brandon they were sent by rail to their respective final destinations. Gerry arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 20th of March 1943.