A char and a wad

This photo appeared in the book “Lancasters At War 3”, by Garbett & Goulding, but we have just come across a sharper version that tells a more interesting story.

Flight Sergeant Tapua (Tap) Heperi was the Wireless Operator in the Doug Clement crew, “C” Flight, 75 (NZ) Squadron, and this photo of him taken at RAF Mepal on the crew’s return from a daylight raid on Essen, 11th of March 1945.

The Clement crew had flown Lancaster PB820, JN-V that day (their regular kite), landing back at Mepal at 5.17pm.

The photo appears to have been taken out on the airfield beside a mobile NAAFI canteen serving hot drinks and snacks to the crews.   A “char and a wad” (cup of tea and a bun or cake) from the NAAFI was much-loved institution on base.    

And wow …  

The guy behind Tap is LAC J. Dennis Jones RAFVR, engine mechanic (FME) and a member of the JN-D “Snifter” ground crew!  

Dennis’s daughter Glynis has confirmed that it’s him – what a surprise to see his handsome, happy, smiling face?!!

Johnny Wood and the JN-Dog boys were also on the Essen op; it had been a big day.   They had left Mepal just before midnight the day before and they were part of the second largest Bomber Command operation of the war. 1,079 aircraft – 750 Lancasters, 293 Halifaxes and 36 Mosquitos – took part and the stream was said to be eight miles long and five miles wide.

Gerry wrote in his diary:

The biggest daylight effort I’ve seen on one target. The sky was filled with kites from horizon to horizon & they all passed over Essen in 25 mins. The flak had been beaten down by the time we arrived. About 5000 tons dropped. A good trip without any excitement apart from the gigantic armada.

They had landed back at Mepal at 5.14pm, just three minutes before the Clement crew. So they would have all been packing up and milling around the “C” Flight dispersals at about the same time, before heading back to the de-briefing room. Dennis was having a break at the same time and was caught by the photographer in the background, mid-cuppa.  

Tap had done his wireless operator training in Canada at 3 Wireless School, Winnipeg, in the same class as Gerry.

Next Graduating Squadron – No. 3 Wireless School, Squadron 65, Winnipeg, Manitoba, September 1943. Tap far right, back row, Gerry seated centre front.
– “W.A.G. Mag”, September 1943 issue

Obviously respected by his peers, (and promoted to the rank of Corporal by the time he graduated) he is mentioned as a Squadron “senior”:  

“Class seniors, Tap Heperi, Errol Oakley and Jim Sutherland, are due a lot of credit for untiring representation throughout the entire course. From the boys, “thanks a lot”.”

He is mentioned as a member of the Squadron boxing team, and in a report of an away boxing match on June 30th 1943, against No.33 SFTS Carberry:

“Tapua Heperi took the only other decision for No. 3, when he outfought, outboxed and outgrimaced the heavy LAC Ayres from Carberry. Both boxers went at it hammer and tongs for three rounds, but Hepiri was slightly faster and used his left and his deceptive hip movement to advantage.”

– and again in games of “rugger” against Carberry on July 16th, and against No.5 AOS on 21 August 1943, where he helped “provide the power” in the forwards:

Outstanding of these is LAC Heperi, class senior for “A” flight. Tall and well built, this Maori lad likes plenty of fast action, having recently transferred his attention from punching opponents to kicking their shins. With LAC Hicks, another Newzie, he represented the squadron in rugger against Carberry some little time ago.”

Training together and both ending up at Mepal, Tap must have known Gerry  well.   Here he is with his crew at Mepal:

The Clement crew, L-R: F/S Tap Heperi (W/Op), F/L Doug Clement (Pilot), F/O Ross Cato (A/B), F/O Randall Hewitt (Navigator), unknown ground crew, unknown ground crew, Sgt John Wildish (Mid-Upper Gnr), unknown ground crew, Sgt Frank Watts (Rear Gnr), LAC Victor Smith (ground crew), Sgt Alan Richardson (F/E).
– W/C “Mac” Baigent collection, by kind permission of his daughter Jan.

After the War, Tapua Peter Heperi returned to the family dairy farm in in the Okaihau Valley, Northland.  

He passed away on 1 July 1973, aged 50.  

His daughter Lorraine tells us that he left “12 children, 55 grandchildren and over 90 great grandchildren, and still counting.”

Ake ake kia kaha

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