Cambridge's RNZAF Corsair
Copyright Marcus Bridle 2008
Above is the Walsh family's ex-RNZAF Corsair sitting on the lawn of Alf Walsh's Hamilton Road, Cambridge property. This was kindly sumbitted by Marcus Bridle of Auckland. The original photographer and date are unknown


 

Many older residents of Cambridge, and perhaps others who simply passed through the town, may remember that a Corsair fighter was once resident in Cambridge.

This ex-RNZAF fighter came and left Cambridge long before my time, but in the mid-1990's there were questions about it in New Zealand Wings magazine from several readers. As I live in Cambridge my own curiosity was aroused. I had heard the stories that a Corsair used to 'live' here but I knew nothing about it except that the Walsh family had owned it.

So I decided to investigate this for myself, and for the readers of Wings. I went along to see Mr Alf Walsh and his wife Kay, both of whom have sadly now passed away. From them I managed to piece together the story of how this magnificent fighter came to 'retire' in Cambridge.

The 'Cambridge' Corsair was NZ5644, a Goodyear-built FG-1D Corsair that had been brought on charge with the RNZAF by the Corsair Assembly Unit (CAU) at Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands in 1945. NZ5644 had not seen any operational service and was a fairly new aircraft when the war ended.

In September or October of 1945 NZ5644 was ferried to New Zealand from the Pacific. Once in New Zealand the aircraft was sent to the Aircraft Servicing Unit (ASU) at RNZAF Station Rukuhia. Here it, along with hundreds of its fellow RNZAF aircraft, went into post-war storage.

Eventually the Corsair was put up for auction by the War Assets Board, and on the 9th of May 1949 it was sold to Mr Alf Walsh, an ex-soldier, and his younger brother, Mr Manley Walsh who was an ex-airman. Together they were representing their garage business, Walsh Motors of Cambridge. The brothers had originally tendered for two aircraft but were only granted one by the board.

Once the deal was done, arrangements were made to have the aircraft towed behind an RNZAF vehicle from the station's motor pool, to Alf's home in Hamilton Road, Cambridge. This must have been quite a feat in itself, and I can only imagine that they'd have had to take the main highway route to avoid narrow bridges and sharp turns. With the wings folded or unfurled, the Corsair would still have been quite a job to get 'home'.

The Walsh's home was situated between the tearooms and the athletics club, just as you enter the town from the north on Hamilton Road (opposite the water tower). Luckily they had an adjacent paddock, that was perfect to take a sizable aircraft such as a Corsair. Once installed there, the aircraft was apparently clearly visible from Hamilton Road, which is part of State Highway One so travellers were able to see it through the mesh wire fence.

The reason why Alf and Manley had bought the plane was not for any nostalgic sympathy to preserve it. They actually intended to strip as much as they could from the aircraft to use in their garage, because in that postwar period, spare parts for repairing cars were more scarce than hen's teeth.

So over time the Corsair began to relinquish its hoses and wiring, and any other removable items that might make a car serviceable again. Alf remembered that the aircraft's Bowden cables were used to repair car window winders, and that they managed to get "bucketfuls" of nuts and bolts from the airframe.

Alf also recalled that the aircraft made a very popular sight for passers-by, who often stopped to view the old fighter in his garden. Some of those who stopped were more opportunist and would even buy bits and pieces from Alf, perhaps as a souvenir, or perhaps to repair something or rather at home.

At some stage Alf sold the aluminium skin of the fighter to a scrap metal merchant, the hydraulic system went to a man from Auckland, and Manley sold the wheels to a friend who used them on a trailer. Gradually the fighter began to disappear as it was dismantled bit by bit for various uses.

Alf recalled that nobody wanted the engine, they couldn't get rid of it. The last he saw of it was in a shed behind his garage, which in later years passed into the hands of his nephew. The shed, and the original garage, are now no more - a new flash service station having been erected on the site. Who knows what happened to that engine, which must have had very few hours on the clock and would have been very sought after by warbirds owners these days.

One intention that Alf had planned for the fuselage of the fighter was to actually turn it into a racing car! This would have been a sight to behold indeed, but before he could begin, he said someone came along with a cheque book and offered him a good figure, so he let it go.

The final part of the Corsair to reside at the Hamilton Road home was the engine cowling which they had used in their garden. Kay said they had put it over the septic tank outlet to stop anyone from running it over, and eventually a garden was developed inside the cowl. Before the couple sold up the Hamilton Road property to retire into a smaller house in town, the cowl too was removed, sold to a collector from Auckland.

On the 10th of May 2006 the following email from ex-Cambridge resident Keith Rimmer, with his own excellent memories of the Walsh's Corsair, and what became of it:

"Dear Dave

I have read your notes on the FG-1D Corsair NZ 5644 that the Walsh family of Cambridge owned, and may be able to give a few more details relating to its final years.

After the novelty of owning their very own fighter aircraft had worn off, it appears that the fuselage, complete with its engine, was consigned to the rear of the green shed (still standing on the Walsh property at the time of writing) and placed parallel with the fence adjoining the Cambridge Athletic Ground. 

As I used to go the Athletic Ground  frequently,as a pupil of Cambridge Intermediate and Cambridge High School,  I got to know of the existence of the aircraft (you couldn't exactly miss it) and, eventually, summoning up my courage, climbed over the fence one day, and after knocking on the (to me) very big back door, got permission from Mrs (Kay) Walsh to 'investigate' the aircraft.

Permission was willingly given, and subsequently I spent quite a few hours 'playing pilots' around the machine, with the Walsh's being quite happy for me to do so. This would have been during the 1964-1967 period.

It was substantially intact at the time I knew it - complete with engine!!. Having said that, all the ignition harness and 'useful bits' had been removed off the engine so only open-topped cylinders and sundry holes were evident.

The windscreen (with perspex) and canopy (minus perspex) were still in place, and once you'd put it back into the runners, the canopy could be slid backwards and forwards. In the cockpit, the stick was still in place, along with the rudder pedals and control wires .  The fin and rudder assembly was still in place on the rear fuselage, though the fabric had holes in it in various places.

The rudder pedals were still connected via their cables to the rudder and as a result the rudder could still be moved from the cockpit. (very exciting - flying a 'real' aeroplane with 'real moving bits'). The fuselage was sitting on its undercarriage legs,although the wheels had  long gone, though the U/C doors were still in place. The tail wheel had been removed and the aircraft was sitting on the tubing at the point where the arrester-hook and tail wheel suspension arms converged. 

The tail planes had long gone. The starboard wing was still attached, though in a folded state, and I was always afraid that it was going to fall on me - it never did of course! The presence of the wing made getting into the cockpit VERY difficult, as all the spring-loaded handholds were on the starboard side and climbing up a sloping wing stub with a wing leaning over one's head wasn't exactly helpful!  There wasn't much room to climb upwards and forwards (over the flaps),  then to turn around and go backwards and so gain access to the cockpit.  The space when you stood up under the folded wing was very small. (you learnt to duck - eventually).

In retrospect, effectively, at the time I knew the aircraft it was substantially intact. The airframe colour was that very light blue which all the Rukuhia 'stored' Corsairs weathered down to, with the darker blue and white US Star and Bar having worn through the RNZAF roundels.  From memory, the RNZAF yellow circle was in place at various points around the star insignia.

I left Cambridge, in 1969, though I was always watching for the aircraft as I drove into Cambridge from Auckland. and on a return visit early in 1974, (March?) noticed the absence of the aircraft from its long-time resting place. I located it,(accidentally - while doing something else) later that same day, STILL with its engine, up at what was then Walsh Motors (now BP Cambridge) (The exact location was parallel with what is now called the 'Red Church', and alongside a light cream-painted fence that was located approximately  where the end of the garden at the BP station is now placed).

The aircraft  was still sitting on its undercarriage legs, though the U/C doors had been crushed - evidently during the move from the Walsh property to the garage. The windscreen and canopy were  still there, but the canopy was VERY distorted. The wing was still attached, and still folded, which must have made moving it an interesting exercise. Enquiries with Walsh's Service Department as to why it was there got no response - no-one seemed to know (or care. . . )

As a result of all this, I started to keep a watch on it whenever I returned to Cambridge, and late in 1974 (October I think)  discovered it had 'vanished' - again. Again, by accident, I found it in a vacant section on Hall Street - in VERY poor condition. The engine had gone, along with the wing, and  the wing stubs had been cut off the fuselage - en block. What I mean by this is that It was as if the wing stubs and entire centre section (wing intakes etc), had been cut out of the bottom of the fuselage - looking rather like an unbuilt kitset model as a result. 

The centre-section assembly was lying upside down, alongside the fuselage.  Curiously,  the undercarriage legs were still attached, though pointing straight up - very sad indeed!!!

The fuselage and stubs had both been dumped in the vacant section, and the fuselage was lying on its port side - still with its fin and rudder, though all the fabric was in tatters. It had evidently been discarded as unwanted at the garage, though I've never been able to subsequently discover exactly how it was taken to the section where I found it.

Again, having found it, I kept a watch on its location, until eventually it 'disappeared' again - to places at that time unknown. (Oddly, I later found it - again, at Ardmore in 1976, and again by accident - but that is another story).

A conversation I had with Mr Walsh some 10 years later indicated that the propeller had become part of a custom-built Barbary-hedge-cutter, and as to the airframe's eventual fate: "It was in the way at the house, the missus wanted it off the property, so I dumped it up at the garage.  Some bloke from Auckland bought it - can't see what he's going to do with it . . ."

Hope this helps.
Kindest regards
Keith Rimmer"

A conversation in March 2010 has concluded the aircraft's final days. Keith saw the airframe being dismantled in Hall Street, and it seems the reason was it had been sold to a scrap dealer. I have been told that it was cut into sections and transported to a scrap yard in Southdown Lane, Penrose, Auckland. At this time an enthusiast spotted the bits and he approached the scrap dealer. He hoped to save the remains and was told a price by the scrappie. He was given a time period within to raise the funds and the enthusiast attempted to find financial backers to do so. Even though the scrap dealerallowed double the time originally agreed the enthusiast could not find enough interested people to fund the purchase, which was thought to have been $60.00. So, sadly, the remains of the aircraft were allegedly melted down. Only a few parts that were picked up by collectors over the years have survived, including the cowl ring which is now flyng on a Corsair in the USA, and some parts that were donated by Manley to MOTAT for the restoration of NZ5648, and that aircraft is now flying in New Zealand and may well still have bits from the Cambridge Corsair within its airframe.

The rough patch of land where the Corsair once stood was later redeveloped into a lawn and tennis court. No trace of the fighter remains in Cambridge, and the Walsh's didn't even have a photo of the aircraft. Now Alf, Manley and Kay are all deceased. Cambridge's Corsair was thoroughly broken up and dispersed, scattered to the four winds.

 

The following two photos were kindly supplied by Bruce Carter and show him and his daughter
Suzanne in front of the Corsair in 1949

Homepage