High flier


Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By EMMA WHIT­TAKER

AN ACT of gen­eros­ity will see World War II vet­eran Doug Wil­liamson fly one last mis­sion.

He is is one of five for­mer British air­men liv­ing in New Zealand who will leave for Lon­don next week to visit the Bomber Com­mand Memo­rial.

The men missed out on the De­fence Force-funded trip to the memo­rial’s un­veil­ing in June be­cause they were mem­bers of the British air force (RAF) and not the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

The up­com­ing trip is be­ing or­gan­ised and paid for by busi­ness­man Ian Ku­pe­rus.

‘‘Ba­si­cally it’s just an op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing for that gen­er­a­tion that made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri- bu­tion to the free­dom we all en­joy,’’ Mr Ku­pe­rus says.

‘‘I’m for­tu­nate enough to be cel­e­brat­ing 10 years of busi­ness and we’re do­ing a cou­ple of things to say thank you.’’

Mr Wil­liamson got a huge sur­prise.

‘‘I feel like I’ve won the lotto with­out buy­ing a ticket.’’

He joined the RAF in 1943 as a flight en­gi­neer.

The Scot was 18 when he was at­tached to New Zealand’s 75th Squadron and flew 32 mis­sions over war­ring Europe. He was forced to bail out over Ger­many on the last mis­sion when his plane was hit by a bul­let fired from the ground.

It pierced a tank of cool­ing fluid which ex­ploded into flames.

‘‘At first there was a big bang and when I looked up into the bomb com­part­ment there was this lit­tle flicker,’’ he says. ‘‘All of a sud­den there was this huge woosh of flame com­ing down the pas­sage like a blow­torch.’’

Mr Wil­liamson was drenched in cool­ing fluid from the tank and knocked off his feet but was mirac­u­lously not burnt.

‘‘I was just ly­ing there in a stu­por wait­ing for the rest of the crew to come along and think­ing what it might be like to be dead.’’

He wan­dered around Ger­many on foot for a cou­ple of days af­ter bail­ing out and reach­ing the ground be­fore be­ing picked up and put in the lo­cal prison.

The Grey Lynn res­i­dent was handed back to the al­lies not long af­ter.

The rest of his crew man­aged to fly their plane back to Eng­land, nav­i­gat­ing with only a charred cor­ner of map that had sur­vived the fire.

Bomber com­mand had the high­est al­lied ca­su­alty rate dur­ing World War II with 55,593 men killed, in­clud­ing 1851 Ki­wis.

It wasn’t un­til this year though that New Zealand’s con­tri­bu­tion was of­fi­cially hon­oured with the large memo­rial in Lon­don’s Green Park.

‘‘It’s good it’s be­ing recog­nised. It suf­fered tremen­dous losses. Af­ter the war it was ig­nored a lit­tle bit – Win­ston Churchill never men­tioned bomber com­mand in his vic­tory speech,’’ Mr Wil­liamson says.

The air­men will also get the chance to ride in a Lan­caster Bomber as it taxis along a run­way. Mr Wil­liamson ex­pects this will be a high­light of the trip.

He’s al­ready stepped inside one of the planes at the Mu­seum of Trans­port and Tech­nol­ogy in Western Springs.

‘‘Go­ing in the one at Mo­tat made me feel re­ally old,’’ he says.

‘‘I’d al­ways thought they were quite large, I was amazed how small it was and how con­fined the blast of the flames must have been.’’

The air­men will travel to Lon­don with their fam­i­lies and Mr Ku­pe­rus.

All set: World War II airman Doug Wil­liamson is head­ing to Lon­don next week to visit the Bomber Com­mand Memo­rial thanks to busi­ness­man Ian Ku­pe­rus.

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