Brave bid saved Kiwi es­ca­pers

Central Leader - - News -

Welling­ton politi­cians said their res­cue mis­sion was too danger­ous to try but a cap­tain and his vol­un­teer crew ig­nored them and risked their lives to save oth­ers.

Lit­tle-known facts in this col­umn about the Ja­panese be­head­ing of young New Zealand vol­un­teer Coast­watch­ers and their es­corts who were left to their fate by the war­time New Zealand gov­ern­ment were a re­minder of the crew’s brav­ery. I heard from es­ca­pers’ plight and po­si­tion. But no res­cue was launched, deemed too danger­ous for an Al­lied ship to ap­proach Tarawa, par­tic­u­larly since the es­ca­pers were be­ing hunted. Dis­gusted, Cap­tain G J Web­ster and his crew of vol­un­teers de­cided to sail the mo­tor ves­sel Degei from Suva to the Gil­berts to at­tempt a danger­ous res­cue re­gard­less.

They did, evad­ing Ja­panese air and sea pa­trols in their suc­cess­ful high­risk mis­sion. On the voy­age back, Doug Hunt’s fa­ther was one of the res­cued who signed a thank you to their res­cuers.

Doug sent me a copy of that yel­low­ing, his­toric let­ter. It talks in old­fash­ioned, un­der­stated style of “our safety and com­fort on the haz­ardous voy­age now hap­pily end­ing”.

Doug con­trasts the brav­ery of Cap­tain Web­ster and his crew with the in­ac­tion of the New Zealand gov­ern­ment who left the Coast­watch­ers to their fate – 15 of them ex­e­cuted. Later Welling­ton cov­ered up their cap­ture and deaths.

Doug writes: “Many Coast­watcher fam­ily mem­bers suf­fered in si­lence the hu­mil­i­a­tion of hav­ing their sons and broth­ers la­belled as cow­ards and dis­par­aged for spending the war on some Pa­cific Is­land par­adise while other young men were go­ing off to fight.”

He says it’s pos­si­ble the Ja­panese rounded up and ex­e­cuted the Coast­watch­ers as re­tal­i­a­tion for them help­ing the es­ca­pers by ra­dio­ing their re­quest for help and pin­point­ing their lo­ca­tion which led to the Web­ster res­cue.

“It seems in­evitable that they would be cap­tured, al­though the men were hid­den and pro­tected by the lo­cal Gil­bertese. It’s said most of th Coast­watch­ers vol­un­tar­ily sur­ren­dered be­cause of threats – some car­ried out – to kill Gil­bertese un­til all the Coast­watch­ers were cap­tured.”

His re­search shows the New Zealand gov­ern­ment – at the re­quest of the UK Com­mand, ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Archives – re­fused to tell the fam­i­lies of their sons’ fate. How­ever, un­of­fi­cial news leaked out, pos­si­bly from the crew of the in­ter-is­land ves­sel Viti who sailed to Be­tio within days of its re­cap­ture by the US forces in 1943.

The per­sis­tence of the mother of one of those killed forced a break­through. She pressed many times for of­fi­cial news on their fate and af­ter a per­sonal re­quest di­rect to Prime Min­is­ter Peter Fraser their mur­der was con­firmed.

Doug also writes: “It would also seem that such was the feel­ing at the time among the US forces that the few Ja­panese on Tarawa alive af­ter its re­cap­ture were ‘lost over­board’ from the US ship they were on dur­ing their jour­ney to de­ten­tion.”

Same war, dif­fer­ent the­atre: Just a few let­ters from The Last Post on Sir Keith Park. ply. Your quote from Lord Ted­der con­firms this sta­tus. Thank you for bring­ing this great man to our at­ten­tion.”

“Con­grat­u­la­tions on high­light­ing his war­time achieve­ments. He is the great­est New Zealan­der who ever lived. As a child, I was brought up not far from his Uxbridge Bat­tle of Bri­tain head­quar­ters and there­fore un­der the pro­tec­tion of No 11 fighter group. Early in 2008, I wrote to He­len Clark ask­ing if New Zealand could recog­nise Sir Keith Park in a per­ma­nent form. Her re­ply – the gov­ern­ment thought his name on the Mo­tat hangar was suf­fi­cient. A sad New Zealand end­ing for a great man.”

“As some­one who as a child lived in Eng­land dur­ing World War Two, I’m among his most ar­dent ad­mir­ers and when Great­est Ever New Zealan­der polls “Your col­umn on Sir come around, he tops my Keith was highly ap­pro­list pri­ate in light of the deYet oddly –and cer­tain­ci­sion in Lon­don to erect ly among my gen­er­a­tion a statue hon­our­ing him. – he is bet­ter known and Over the last few years more highly re­garded I’ve of­ten asked peoin Bri­tain than in his ple whether they knew home­land. Be­cause he that the man who saved re­ally did save us. the world was born in “What makes his Thames? And, of course, achieve­ment even greatre­ceived a mys­ti­fied re-er is that he fought not only the en­emy but his own high com­mand – the ‘big wing’ group led by Dou­glas Bader and Leigh Mal­lory. Both were ex­traor­di­nar­ily brave and gifted pi­lots but their tac­ti­cal think­ing and pres­sure on Air Chief Mar­shal Hugh Dowd­ing would have been fa­tal to the RAF. And such was their op­po­si­tion to Park that af­ter the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, they got him moved side­ways in the up­per ech­e­lons of com­mand and into the shad­ows of his­tory.

“The ‘big wing’ group be­lieved ev­ery pos­si­ble air­craft should be put in the air to op­pose the Ger­man raiders. Park knew that if that course was taken, the RAF would not run out of planes but of pi­lots. So he sent up only as many air­craft as nec­es­sary to hold the line. He ro­tated his pi­lots so they had spells of re­lax­ation in Scot­land and the North of Eng­land in be­tween their bat­tles.

“As a re­sult, when the fi­nal all-out Ger­man at­tack came in Septem­ber of 1940, the RAF could muster enough – just enough – planes and pi­lots to de­feat it. And, as the finest of all the Ger­man aces Adolf Gal­land, said many times later, the Luft­waffe never re­cov­ered from that de­feat.

“All, thanks to Park. He de­serves so much more recog­ni­tion here in his home­land. Hope­fully ar­ti­cles such as yours will help rem­edy this sad ne­glect of a true New Zealand hero.” • The big mail wasn’t all on ‘big wing’ tac­tics. “I was an ap­pren­tice at New Zealand Rail­way Otahuhu work­shops and a mem­ber of the No 3 Squadron ATC and No 1 Ter­ri­to­rial Air Force Squadron at When­u­a­pai when the Spit­fire he got for the mu­seum ar­rived.

I climbed in­side and tight­ened all nuts on to the bolts of the tail sec­tion as they were added.

I met Sir Keith Park twice at the Bat­tle of Bri­tain pa­rades at the ceno­taph, there in his uni­form and with sword.

He’d al­ways speak to the ATC cadets who were not fright­ened to speak to him.

He tow­ered over most of them and all the gold braid could have seemed quite in­tim­i­dat­ing. But there was some­thing about his man­ner that put you at ease.”

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