The Captain’s Fancy

On the 1st of March 1945 Gerry’s logbook records a 20 minute “air test” in Lancaster JN-F (NG322), piloted by their Flight Commander, Sqd/Ldr Jack Bailey.

John Mathers Bailey DFC* RNZAF was CO of “C” Flight, an Irishman who had emigrated to New Zealand before the war and taken up farming in the Manawatu. He was known to the airmen as Jack or Paddy, a popular leader and a very capable pilot who had already completed a tour with the squadron on Wellingtons and Stirlings in 1942-43. He had only recently distinguished himself on the 22 February Osterfeld op’ where he had continued to lead the squadron in its bombing run over the target despite suffering extensive flak damage to his aircraft, JN-Z “Zebra”. For this he would be awarded a Bar to his DFC.

He had created squadron history on the 29th of January when he and his crew took his regular Lancaster NE181, JN-M “Mike”, also known as “The Captain’s Fancy”, on her 100th  operation to Krefeld.

The photo above (from the NZBCA archives, Alan Scott collection) was taken as the crew boarded the aircraft at dispersal that cold and foggy afternoon.

NE181 was the first, and as it turned out, the only Lancaster in 75(NZ) Squadron to make the “ton”. In fact she is believed to be first RNZAF aircraft to complete over 100 operations.

Jack Bailey is pictured below in the cockpit on the occasion of the aircraft achieving 101 operations, which he and his crew flew to Wiesbaden on the 2nd of February.

Lancaster NE181, JN-M “The Captain’s Fancy”, with 101 op’s marked, probably 3 February 1945. S/L Jack Bailey DFC* in the cockpit.
– Ron Baker collection, thanks to Don Simms.

Some accounts state that NE181 was retired at 101 and replaced with another “Mike”, but members of Jack Bailey’s crew insist that they flew her on one more op’ on the 16th of February to Wesel. For some reason, the op’s tally marked on the nose was never increased from 101.

Pilot Ed Ware crew and his navigator Colin Emslie also insisted that they took her on three more op’s; to Heinrich Hutte on 14 March, to Regensburg on 20 April and the squadron’s final op’ of the war on 24th of April 1945 to Bad Oldesloe. The Ware crew believed this to be her 104th , probably adding their three to the 101 op’s marked, and took commemorative photos captioned accordingly. This was probably actually her 105th .

She is then thought to have flown on at least one Operation Manna food supply drop to Holland and seven POW repatriation trips from France.

The story goes that after the war, the NZ crew and officers on 75 (NZ) Squadron, led by Jack Bailey, tried to bring this Lancaster back to New Zealand, but the NZ Government would not meet the cost. Sadly NE181 was scrapped in 1947.

Back in 1964 however, the French government generously donated a Lancaster to the people of New Zealand, NX665, which is now cared for by the NZ Bomber Command Assn (NZBCA) and the Auckland Museum of Transport & Technology (MoTaT) in its world-class Aviation Display Hall. A small group of volunteers, many Bomber Command veterans, worked on the restoration of the Lancaster back to wartime Mark III configuration.

One of those volunteers was Johnny (Jack) Wood. Unfortunately Johnny passed away before the restoration was complete, but years later his crewmate Doug Williamson would carry on the connection.

We have a lot to thank “the Wednesday Bomber Boys” for – all the costs of restoration and building a hangar to house the aircraft were achieved via fund-raising and donations. These days the MoTaT Lancaster is in beautiful condition, still lovingly cared for by the NZBCA and MoTaT.

A few years ago, the NZBCA made a case to MoTaT to partly rectify the government’s short-sighted decision back in 1945, by marking NX665 on one side to represent our most famous Lancaster.

Janet & Doug Williamson, MoTaT 2014, with (S/L) Jonathan Pote, checking progress on the re-marking of the Lancaster to NE181, JN-M.
Chris Newey.

I was lucky enough to be involved in Peter Wheeler’s small team researching and applying her history and markings so that her story could be told as accurately as possible – she had fascinated me ever since I first came across her and Jack Bailey’s exploits.

On 8 June 2014 a special service was held to unveil new nose-art and markings on the MoTaT Lancaster in Auckland, NZ, to represent NE181 JN-M “The Captain’s Fancy”, in recognition of her significance to New Zealanders in Bomber Command, and the original efforts to bring her back to New Zealand.

Unveiling and dedication of “The Captain’s Fancy” markings, port side MoTaT Lancaster, 8 June 2014.

Doug & Janet Williamson and I attended, another small link between the aircraft and the JN-Dog boys.

Doug at the unveiling and dedication, MoTaT, 8 June 2014.
Chris Newey.

It was and is pretty special to have The Captain’s Fancy, Jack Bailey and the boys of 75(NZ) Squadron recognised in such a meaningful way.

Ake ake kia kaha

9 thoughts on “The Captain’s Fancy”

  1. John Bailey was my uncle (my mother was Violet Bailey, his elder sister) and found this site fascinating I have a cousin who is doing some research into the Bailey side of our family and I have copied the link to her.

    Hope to get to NZ sometime before I turn my toes up and will try to get to Auckland.

    • Hi Patrick,
      I was interested to read your comment, I was on this site as I have just visited MOTAT in Auckland and seen the replica Lancaster The Captains Fancy. It was great to see it and is so happens that I am also a relation of John Bailey’s though a bit more distant than yourself. My great grandmother was Sarah Bailey who was your grandfathers sister. If you are interested I have a public tree on it is the Linton Family Tree and if you search for John Bailey you should be able to find me.
      I live in New Zealand.

      • Hi Isabel! More family seems I am finiding… so you live in NZ you noted, where specifically? I take it as you wrote this during the pandemic so you would have had to been a NZ resident or citizen. Do you know of Granddad’s history here in NZ before the war and/or also after the war when he returned to NZ after serving in the RAF until about 1962?

    • Really Patrick! Then you are surely family…. John Mathers Bailey is my Grandpa, the Dad my Mum never got to know but whom is on her birth certificate in Ely/Cambridgeshire, England. My Mum is alive and well and when we found everything we have kept her well informed and shared a great many photo’s we have now. I have spoken to Great Auntie Anne’s daughter (your cousin I think…) whom lives in Ireland. Actually my wife often writes her back. We live in the U.S. now but my family lived in Auckland, New Zealand for over 14 years. Though actually I am here now in Auckland once again on work! Where do you live now? Yes, I know the name Violet… Looks like you made this post the day after my birthday last July, though in the U.S. it was my birthday likely…. I am presently literally living just across the road from JN-M 181 Captain’s Fancy replica at MoTaT as I am working for the Auckland Zoo right this moment. Jonathan and Peter Wheeler were kind enough to let me then my family into the Captain’s Fancy to give a toggle to the yolk and other cockpit instruments. I have visited Granddad’s grave site in April 2017 and planted a living Koru at the back of his headstone. I have photo’s I can share and more. Find my email from your cousin maybe. Cheers and be well.

  2. Hi folks, I was doing some research on the original WW2 Captains Fancy, and was surprised and delighted to find an online photograph that showed my Dad (groundcrew man) George Thomson, up a ladder painting on the ‘bomb icon’ that indicated the successfull 101st bombing mission
    A poignant day in the history of a great crew and famous plane

    • Thanks Gordon, I’ve emailed you as I’m very interested in finding out more about your Dad and his time at Mepal. We would like to pay more respect to the hard-working ground crews whose stories have seldom been told in the many books written about Bomber Command.

      • Hi Chris. My interest in the Captains Fancy stems from a cpl of old black and white photos my dad kept. They were crew photos (including ground crew) taken in front of the plane. They foto that captured Dad up the steps came as a pleasant surprise,and ive now got a story to tell my grandkids. I also recall him saying he was stationed in RAF Gibralter for the first cpl of years of the war,before being posted to Cambridge.

    • Hi Gordon, great comments. I love that photo too! Perhaps you could help me as I try to come up with something for the Bombers Association here in NZ to memorialize the crews who flew “Mike” Captain’s Fancy. I am in contact with Simon and others at the 75th Squadron as well but wish to write up some crew history and any stories that MoTaT and the Bombers Association could utilize to bring more personality, history and tales regarding the plane that was brought back to life for New Zealand and the Commonwealth.


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