VETERAN LOOKING FORWARD TO MEMORIAL TRIP
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.