Donald Newsham LAW
Known as Don
Serial Number: NZ404382
RNZAF Trade: Pilot
Date of Enlistment: 24th of November 1940
Rank Achieved: Sergeant
Flying Hours: 211 hours
Operational Sorties: 5 Ops
Date of Birth: Born on the 26th of May 1918, at Gisborne
Personal Details: Don was the son of Albert John Law (a bank clerk with the Bank of NSW in Cambridge) and Ivy Juanita Law (nee Curtis). It seems the family moved to Cambridge from Bulls in the Manawatu, and Don was educated at Cambridge Primary School, from 1930-1931, before spending three years (1932 to 1934) boarding at New Plymouth Boys' High School. He then furthered his education with correspondence classes with Entings Commercial College whilst working. His educational qualifications were Junior and Senior Free Place.
Jack West's book (cited below) states, "He was a lively, athletic lad who entered wholeheartedly into all his sports. But without doubt it was rugby in which he revelled. He was a natural on the rugby field, one who had that special mixture of ability and flair on the one hand, and determination and dedication on the other." He also enjoyed playing football, tennis and golf, the latter of which had had a five handicap.
Don left the school when he was 16 and gained employment immediately with the Bank of New South Wales in Hamilton. In approximately April 1939 he transferred to the Kaikohe branch of the same bank. An obituary also states he served time in the Auckland, Te Awamutu, Kohukohu and Kawakawa branches of the bank so he moved round a bit.
Don Law on the step of his Kaikohe batch
Don enjoying the outdoor life
When war broke out on the 3rd of September 1939, Donald really wanted to be doing something. He saw a piece in the newspaper calling for young men to enlist as aircrew with the RAF and RNZAF. He cut this out of the paper and posted it with a letter to Air Department on the 13th of September 1939, stating he wanted to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force. This was received on the 16th, and undoubtedly an official application form was dispatched to him.
Next, on the 19th of September 1939, he joined No. 2 Platoon, North Auckland Regiment of the Territorial Army as a Private.
Just over a week later, on the 28th of September 1939, Don submitted his application form to join the RNZAF. Of note, in his application form to join the RNZAF, Don had written that he'd previously had a fifteen minute flight in an aeroplane as a passenger. No doubt this was a joyride, perhaps in Cambridge.
It appears that by October 1939 he had gotten the impression that the RNZAF did not want him, as he wrote a letter to the Air Secretary, Mr Tom Barrow, requesting, "Please return by first mail my birth certificate if there is no chance of my entering the Royal New Zealand Air Force." He was probably unaware of the huge backlog of men wanting to join then, and the lack of schools to take them all.
Another letter to Mr Barrow almost, after almost a year of waiting for the RNZAF to take him in, shows Don was growing impatient and seeking an alternate route to get into the war. He wrote, "Dear Sir, I wish to know if there is any chance of entering the Fleet Air Arm."
The letter has been written on, probably by Barrow, to say, "Not F.A.A. Advise courses filled. Will enter Levin
So, at last, Don would be entering the RNZAF. He was attested at Kawa Kawa on the 12th of July 1940. Till November came, he continued to work with the Bank of New South Wales, but by August 1940 he'd moved to the branch in Auckland. And then on the form he filled in on the day he started with the RNZAF at Levin, he noted his last employer as the Bank of New South Wales, Te Awamutu, and his permanent home address as being back at Bowen Street, Cambridge, with his parents.
Don had two brothers in the RNZAF, Eric and Ken. Don was engaged to Natalie Buckrell before and during the war. Natalie later married a US Marine, becoming Natalie Bayer, and moved to the USA, where she continues to live there as a widow. She has never forgotten Donald Law however, and she has contributed to this memorial to him via internet contact.
Service Details: Don enlisted at the Ground Training Squadron, RNZAF Station Levin. He arrived there at 10.45hrs on the 24th of November 1940, and was enlisted immediately. He was now 22 years and 182 days old. He had twelve months of Territorial training under his belt by now, so probably found the training at Levin relatively straight forward.
With him on the Levin GTS course was fellow Cambridge airmen Bill Hewett, Bill Suckling, and Horace Sole.
This course was completed on the 27th of December 1940, and Don was posted to Whenuapai. He began learning to fly with No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School at Whenuapai from this date.
On successfully passing the initial training on Tiger Moths, Don was posted on the 9th of February 1941 to No. 1 Flying Training School at Wigram, Christchurch. There he flew the Avro 626 and Fairey Gordon biplane trainers. After the first half of his course with the Initial Training Squadron of No. 1 FTS, Don received his flying badge, or 'wings', on the 1st of April 1941. He moved on to the Advanced Training Squadron next to undergo training in more complicated areas of flying, and on the 3rd of May 1941 he passed out of the course with the new rank of Sergeant.
Home on Leave, with his father Albert Law, and
brother Eric at their Bowen Street home
Don and his mother, Ivy Law, during leave at home
The Law Family. Ivy and Albert in the front, and three Cambridge airmen,
brothers Ken, Eric and Don standing behind
Don was given a rousing farewell in Cambridge on the 14th of May 1941 when a total of twelve servicemen were farewelled, including fellow airman Maurice Walker, who may also have trained with Don. Then on the 26th of May he embarked for the United Kingdom, via Canada.
Eventually the ship docked in Britain, and Don arrived at No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth on the 3rd of July 1941.
This photo is an RNZAF Official shot, possibly taken from the
troopship itself, and shows a bunch of New Zealanders freshly
arrived in the UK and just off the boat. Don Law is seen in the centre
of the photo, with his Sgt's stripes showing to the camera.
Don as a Sergeant on arrival in the UK
During that month he had a brief refresher course at the Empire Central Flying School, Hullavington, Wiltshire, beginning on the 23rd of July 1941.
He was then posted to No. 9 Flying Training School on the same station, Hullavington, where he trained in Miles Master and Avro Tutor single engined types.
On the 30th of August 1941 Don proceeded to No. 61 Operational Training Unit at Heston, Middlesex, where he converted onto the Spitfire. This would have been the final step before an operational posting on fighters. However, fate stepped in. A few weeks later Don was sadly killed.
Details of Death: On Sunday the 19th of October 1941, Donald was practising forced landing approaches and aerobatics including slow rolls. He was under training at No. 61 Operational Training Unit, at RAF Heston, Middlesex.
Donald was flying Spitfire I X4544. At 11:40hrs he executed a loop at 2000-2500ft. He was seen to bank steeply left, level out, then dive and crash at Slyfield Green, a mile north of Guildford, Surrey. An investigator commented he may have actually banged his head on the canopy during the aerobatics in the turbulent conditions and had been rendered unconscious. He was aged 23. His brother, pilot Ken Law, attended his funeral
Buried at: Donald was buried at Hounslow and Isleworth Cemetery in Hounslow, Middlesex. in Plot D Row D. Grave 3. His brother Ken arranged for someone to take photos of the funeral to send hom to his parents and family. These are the sad photos, showing the funeral with full military honours.
Photos of Don's grave at different periods during WWII
The lady he left behind, Natalie
Connection with Cambridge: Donald was a long-time Cambridge resident before the war
Note: Details of this airman have been sourced from Donald Law's RNZAF personnel records, via Pam O'Connor and Gwen Law, memories from Don's fiance' Natalie Bayer, plus local Cambridge records, the Waikato Independent newspaper, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. Further information came from the excellent book "Lest We Forget : Commemorating the Men of New Plymouth Boys' High School, New Zealand, Pupils Once, Who During the World Conflict of 1939-1945 Gave Their Lives for Their Country That Freedom, Democracy and Decency Should Prevail" by Jack West, which was published in 1995 by the Centennial Trust NPBHS Old Boys' Association. Another source has been the excellent volumes of 'For Your Tomorrow' by Errol Martyn. See more details on these highly recommended books here. Photos have been kindly supplied by Pam O'Connor from the Law family collection