Date of Birth: 26th of October 1908, at Hautapu, Cambridge (Hautapu School record says 1909)
Personal Details: Harold was the son of Arthur Langford Souter and Josephine Des Prez Souter (nee Giffney). Harold's siblings were William Burns Souter, John Langford Souter, and Stanley Arthur Souter who were all born at Hautapu. Harold was educated at Hautapu School, starting there on the 8th of April 1914 according to records; and later he attended Auckland Grammar School where he was a member of the First XI.
Before the war he worked as a company manager at Todd Motors Ltd, Wellington. Harold was married to Betty Mary Souter (nee Pountney).
Service Details: Harold joined the RNZAF at the Initial Training Wing, RNZAF Station Levin, as an Air Observer u/t on the 19th of January 1941. He remustered as an Airman Pilot u/t on the 21st of March 1941. Two days later he began his flying training at No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School, RNZAF Station Whenuapai, on de Havilland Tiger Moths. During this time he encountered illness or perhaps injury as he was on sick leave from the 1st to 7th of May and then the 16th of May to the 1st of December 1941.
He returned to his training and was posted to No. 3 Service Flying training School at RNZAF Station Ohakea on the 22nd of December 1941, flying Hawker Hinds. He received his 'wings' Pilots Badge on the 10th of February 1942.
On the 8th of March 1942, Harold was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and posted to RNZAF Station Wigram's No. 1 Service Flying Training School to continue his training.
On the 7th of April was posted to the Central Flying School at RNZAF Station Tauranga to learn how to be an instructor.
After this course Harold returned to Levin on the 26th of May 1942, perhaps training the new inductee recruits there. On the 8th of June however he moved on again, back to No. 1 SFTS at Wigram now as a Staff Pilot. Two weeks later, on the 20th of June, he was posted to No. 2 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Flight, in which he flew several aircraft types, training anti-aircraft gunners in how to train their sights on his aeroplane.
Harold moved on to join No. 6 (Army Co-operation) Squadron at RNZAF Milson, Palmerston North on the 26th of July 1942. He flew Hawker Hinds again here, working with the army in training the troops how to defend against aircraft attacks, and how to achieve good camouflage against being spotted from the air, etc. Army Co-op flyers also flew reconnaissance missions for army units on exercises.
When No. 6 Squadron was split in half to become No's 20 and 21 Squadrons on the 27th of October 1942, Harold was allocated to No. 21 (AC) Squadron which stayed based at Milson.
On the 21st of November 1942 he was injured when approaching for a landing his aircraft struck power wires, crashed and burned. He recovered however.
Between the 2nd of May and 6th of June 1943, Harold was in Australia where he attended a Royal Australian Air Force SAC course.
On return to New Zealand, Harold was posted to No. 2 (Fighter) Operatinal Training Unit at Ohakea on the 9th of August 1943, where he converted onto flying the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk. He then became a member of No. 18 (Fighter) Squadron (flying P-40's) on the 11th of September 1943. Six days later on the 17th the squadron shipped out to the Pacific. He flew his first operational tour with No. 18 Squadron and returned to New Zealand around the 29th of November 1943.
After a break in New Zealand over Christmas, the squadron returned to the Pacific front line on the 10th of January 1944, based at Torokina, Bougainville.
Date of Death: 13th of February 1944, aged 35, killed in aerial combat
Details of Death: Harold took off from Torokina airstrip on Bougainville, Solomon Islands, in Curtiss P-40N Warhawk NZ3137 (Coded 'N') at 09.15hrs. Twelve aircraft from No. 18 Squadron were undertaking an escort duty for sixty US Navy Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers and 24 Grumman Avenger medium bombers that were to raid the Japanese held Vunakanau airstrip at Rabaul, New Britain. Harold, flying in a section of four, was attacked and shot down into the sea on the way back from the target. The other three in the section witnessed the attack and reported on Harold's loss after returning to base.
Flying Officer J.W. Gerard wrote in his report afterwards, "Just after we crossed the coast of New Britain over the mouth of the Warongoi River and I was behind F/O Souter on the outside of our weave, I saw what appeared to be cannon fire pouring into F/O Souter's aircraft from quarter astern. I continued my weave and, when coming back, saw an enemy fighter pulling away to the rear. I did not see F/O Souter again."
This attack was witnessed by also by Sgt G.S. Bayley who got a good look at the Japanese fighter and identified it as possibly being a Nakajima Ki-44 Shoji, or Allied code name 'Tojo'. Bayley reported, "I turned towards the attacking aircraft which broke away before before I could line my sights on him. As the enemy fighter broke away I noticed that it had elliptical wings and a very stubby fuselage. It was camouflaged a dark greeny brown and the red roundels were very prominent. It was travelling very fast. The P-40, which had been attacked, turned slowly on its back. As I turned again, I observed the P-40 in an inverted glide toward the sea at an angle of 60 degrees. No smoke or flames were visible and there was no explosion when he hit the sea. The pilot did not bale out."
Flight Lieutenant 'Jim' Balfour, who was the leader and other member of the four-ship section, had also witnessed the attack, and had swung around to try to assist but there was nothing he could do. At the same moment as the attack on the RNZAF Warhawks took place, Balfour also saw a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M 'Zeke' attacking a US Corsair. Balfour fired at the Zeke which broke away. He then turned back and noticed an aircraft missing from the section, just in time to see Harold Souter's aircraft crash into the sea.
Harold was the oldest ever RNZAF fighter pilot to fly in the Pacific War, at 35. He was also killed in the second to last air to air combat action for the RNZAF over Rabaul.
Commemorated: On Panel 4 of the Bourail Memorial
Connection with Cambridge: Harold was born at Hautapu, Cambridge, into a well known local family. His grandfather, Captain William Burns Souter, had retired from his seagoing days as a Master Mariner in merchant shipping to Cambridge. He'd lived in the home still known today as Souter House, on Victoria Street near the high level Victoria Bridge. William had established a general store and seed, grain and timber business in Cambridge called W. Souter & Co. which later Harold's uncles Joseph and Edwin took over. The timber side of the company was sold in 1908 to Harold Speight who with three partners renamed the business Speight Pearce Nicoll and Davys (or SPND for short).
Meanwhile W. Souter & Co. imported the first ever Ford motor car into the Auckland Province in 1908, the same year that Harold was born, and the business developed into a car garage which continued to exist for many decades.
Thanks To: David Duxbury for providing the initial details on Harold Souter
Other Sources: Air To Air - The Story Behind the Air-To-Air Combat Claims of the RNZAF by Chris Rudge; and For Your Tomorrow Volume Two by Errol Martyn. Family information comes from the Cambridge Museum website and some online geneaology sites.