RNZAF Wartime Recruiting and Initial Training

Wartime RNZAF Recruiting

As the Second World War erupted in Europe, an immediate expansion in personnel began for the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Germany invaded Poland on the 1st of September 1939, and as that was occurring half a world away, here in New Zealand that same evening , two days before this country had even declared war, a proclamation was made about the RNZAF.

Here is a transcript of a report that was printed in the Waikato Times (a large-reaching regional daily newspaper) on Saturday the 2nd of September 1939 - a report that undoubtedly appeared in all the daily newspapers:


A 1943 Recruiting Poster for the RNZAF





(By Telegraph - Press Association)
Wellington, Friday

The object of the proclamation issued today, transferring all officers and airmen of the Air Force Reserve to the regular Air Force and declaring all officers and airmen of the Territorial Air Force liable for continuous service within New Zealand, was explained this evening by the Minister of Defence, the Hon. F. Jones. The minister said this was a precautionary measure, giving power to call up members who might be required for immediate service.

"Instructions to member who might be required will be issued by telegraph," the minister said, and members who are not advised in this way should continue in their present civil employment until further notice. With regard to the Civil Reserve of Pilots and the Air Force Civil Reserve, members of these organisations will receive individual advice if and when their services are required. It is unlikely, however, that members of these reserves will be required immediately.

As soon as New Zealand had declared war on Nazi Germany, on the 3rd of September 1939, volunteers began to flock into recruiting offices across the country. In fact men were volunteering en masse to serve in all three services, the New Zealand Army, the RNZAF and the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy.

An interesting fact is that throughout the entire war, the RNZAF, unlike the Army and many other wartime organisations, did not rely upon conscription. Men and women were not forced to join the Air Force by a ballot draw, as with the army and 'manpower' services. Almost each and every one of the over 52,000 people who eventually served in the RNZAF volunteered for the Air Force. The only exceptions were a very small percentage of members who were diverted from other areas of the Armed Forces - such as the 2000 or so serving soldiers in the army who were deemed more qualified or better suited to serve in the RNZAF (and this in itself was largely voluntary and optional too), and those in the likes of Aerodrome Construction Squadrons, which were essentially civilian Public Works Department units, who in those days made the roads and other Government constructions, that were simply absorbed into the military.

The fact remains that most volunteered, and it is not surprising because the advent of aviation had begun to boom in New Zealand, and there were so many boys who had dreamed of flying the aircraft that they'd seen giving joyrides at public displays, or at the very least work on and around them. Many A-Grade mechanics were keen to join the RNZAF, and in fact a lot of them had already been approached prewar by recruiters and had put their name down on a reserve list to be mobilised in the event that a war should occur. They would form the core of the maintenance crews in the wartime RNZAF.

Later into the war, when conscription began to take hold en-masse, if a boy of 18 years or older was called up in the ballot, he was given two weeks to decide which service he wanted to join. He could volunteer for the RNZAF or the Navy. If he did not choose to join these voluntary services, he would automatically then be made a member of the Army.

Only weeks into the war and the need for airmen became apparent when the Royal Air Force began to advertise for men. Here is a transcript from an appeal in the Waikato Times from the 12th of September 1939:




Training In New Zealand

Rank of Leading Aircraftsmen

(By Telegraph - Special To Times)

Applications are called for pilots, observers and air-gunners for service with the Royal Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The Minister of Defence, the Hon. F. Jones said today the the men were required for an air-crew section of the Royal Air Force, formed for the duration of the war.

Applicants, who must be unmarried, between the ages of 17½ and 28 years, physically fit and educated up to the standard of school certificate or university entrance (matriculation) examination, will be enlisted for the duration of the war. Their training will be carried out in New Zealand and they will be granted the rank of leading aircraftsman and paid at a rate of £150 a year, plus rations and quarters.

If selected for service overseas, candidates will be granted free passages to the United Kingdom and their pay will continue until they report for duty with the Royal Air Force. Rank on completion of training will depend on the ability shown while under training and the nature of the men's duties.

The scheme replaces all previous methods of entry, and is now the only method for untrained men to enter the flying branch of either service. Inquiries should be addressed to the Air Department, Wellington.


Another notice referring to other trades in the Air Force appeared further down the column in the same newspaper, which read:




Technical Personnel

(By Telegraph - Press Association) Wellington, Monday

"Small groups of the Civil Reserve of the New Zealand Air Force have already been called up, and further calls, particularly of technical personnel, will be made in the next few months," said the Minister of Defence, the Hon. F. Jones, to-night.

"As it will be a considerable time before the bulk of Civil Reserve members can be absorbed into the Air Force, any member who wishes to volunteer for the special military force is free to do so," said the Minister.

"He should first ask permission from the Air Department, and will either be released from his obligation to the Air Force, or advised that his service in the force will be required in the immediate future."


So this is how the expansion of the wartime RNZAF began. Many people came forward of course, including many boys from Cambridge. In these early days there were very few actual Air Force recruitment offices in New Zealand, and volunteers were encouraged to write away to the Air Secretary in Wellington in the first instance of their enlistment. They would then receive instructions from him.

However as the war progressed and things became more organised, eventually the Royal New Zealand Air Force set up several official RNZAF Enrolment Centres in all the main centres. They were situated as follows:

Auckland (in the Banks Box Building, St Paul Street, central Auckland)
(in The Old Savings Bank Building, Victoria Street, Hamilton, which was the former Post Office and is now a gallery called ArtPost)
New Plymouth
Palmerston North
(situated in High Street, Christchurch)

As well as these main centre offices, men could volunteer by writing to the Air Secretary, Mr T. Barrow, in Wellington, or also report for service at their local Post Office, which may have been an initial enrolment point before they went for further selection at the main enrolment centre. Several Cambridge men joined up from the Cambridge Post Office, and that building also held classes on morse code training for prospective recruits awaiting to be called into the services.

In 1940 the RNZAF also began to take on a number of female workers, and on the 16th of January 1941 the Women's Auxiliary Air Force was officially formed in New Zealand to train and administer the women who were in the RNZAF. The WAAF began recruiting en masse and the first such intake took place at RNZAF Station Wigram. Later more intakes were made and other stations also began to train WAAF's including Levin and Hobsonville.


This process has been described on a personal level in many excellent autobiographical books by ex-pilots over the years. Those I would most recommend include Beckoning Skies by Bryan Young, Too Young To Die by Cambridge's own Bryan Cox, and also We'll Be Home For Christmas by Errol Braithwaite touches on many elements of the process too.

Here we shall look at an overview of the training system, and permission has been granted by both Brian Cox and Errol Braithwaite to quote passages from their books to support this page.

The first step for most prospective airmen pilots was to be sent a rail warrant and/or bus tickets to get them to their first training station, which for the first half of the war was usually RNZAF Station Levin, at Wereroa, just outside of Levin. Here they underwent Initial Training. From 1942, Levin's Initial Training Wing moved lock, stock and barrel up to Rotorua. Also, several other ITW's were set up throughout the course of the war, including at Harewood, Taieri, Seagrove and Omaka - the latter being established for airmen who'd previously trained in the Air Training Corps system, so theoretically they could be fast-tracked through.

It has to also be remembered that many new pilots and aircrew members found when they joined that no course was yet ready for them to commence, and their first taste of RNZAF life was in what was known as an Aerodrome Defence Unit, or ADU. These were on every aerodrome, and formed a sort of Home Guard where during the day the recruits would commence classroom studies in the likes of navigation, astronomy and other useful fields, whilst at night they would guard the airfield perimeter against any possible attack or saboteurs. Some units also manned anti-aircraft guns. They wore khaki Army battledress and boots but blue Air Force "glengarry" hats. Airmen could be at an ADU for just a few weeks, or perhaps a number of months, depending when their course became available. They would then move onto ITW.

For the purpose of this exercise, we will assume the recruits have come straight into the RNZAF at an Initial Training Wing. On arrival to ITW the recruits would be blood typed and have a medical check-up. They would then be issued their new Air Force uniforms and allocated a bed in a hut.

The huts were constructed with a wooden base and half sides, with the top of the walls and the roof being made from canvas. They usually slept four men to a hut, on straw paliasses. They were generally very uncomfortable and cold, draughty places to reside in. But it wouldn't be for too long. In comparison to what the Army was billeted in these huts that ranked among the lowest levels of the Air Force's accommodation were actually luxury.

The process of turning these young men into airmen soldiers would then begin. During this first training course they held the rank of AC2, or Aircraftsman Second Class. Much of the course, which was usually three weeks in length but sometimes longer, would be spent in a classroom, learning the rudiments of Air Force life. The rest seemed to be spent on the drill square, learning to march and drill.

This article, which appeared in the Waikato Independent newspaper in Cambridge on Friday the 22nd of November 1940, about new pilots training at Weraroa tells it very well indeed. No credit to the author is given, but there is a probability that this may have been written specifically for the Independent, perhaps even by one of Cambridge's own airmen recounting their own experiences:




The Kiwi of air stations - it possesses no "wings" - Weraroa is the Royal New Zealand Air Force's "intake" point for all pilots, observers and air gunners. It is the place where the men who will have wings are grounded in the first steps of their training.

For this preliminary course the Air Force took over from the Education Department one of its training institutions, a mile or so outside Levin, equipped with well-planned gardens, plenty of green sward and good permanent buildings. For additional accommodation, new dormitories and streets of boarded tents have been spread over the adjoining paddocks.

Immediately on arrival the recruit makes a complete break with the old life by packing up his "civvies" and donning the Air Force blue uniform. In an article Charles E. Wheeler gives his initial issue to the recruit, the complete total of his official possessions: one greatcoat, two complete uniforms, two pairs socks, two pairs boots, two shirts and four collars, clothes-brush, button-brush and stick, tie, gym. vest, canvas gym. shoes, two caps and badges, five blankets (more can be obtained at choice), one pair sheets and a pillow slip (regularly replaced as they require washing).

At first parades of new recruits, uniforms are closely scrutinised, suggestions for improvement noted, and a visit to the camp tailor eventually produces a smart fit.

Much Study Required

"Training makes you one step better then the enemy," is the axiom learned at the first lecture. There is so much study in the Air Force that the men are relieved of most fatigues. The course is intensive. Men must keep their uniforms clean, and modern facilities including a drying-room are available for their personal washing. But there are no cook-house fatigues, nor is the recruit required to clean up the camp grounds - he has quite enough to do with his studies, varied by some early morning physical exercises, and breaks between lectures. Most of the young men get to bed by 9 p.m.

Every man has a wardrobe, and sleeps on a spring mattress. He must be tidy. In the morning bed clothes have to be folded into a neat pile like a sandwich at the end of the stretcher. The men come to mess with their own cups and cutlery; they line up to be served, and find the tables laid for the rest.

Diet is planned to include raw and cooked fruit, and fresh vegetables such as lettuce. The men are represented on a messing committee, with the camp officers including the doctor, the dietary scale is decided periodically.

Service Friendship Developed

Recruits are immediately formed into flights of a convenient number for lectures, possibly 30 in a group. They go through the course together, and are sent as a flight to their next station. They elect two of their number to exercise control, marching them to meals and making sure that every member of the flight attends lectures. This system assists in their development of friendships, and builds a disciplined body with some idea of Air Force traditions and obligations.

The course for pilots is six weeks, for observers two months, and for gunners about a month. Most of the air gunners and observers go straight to Canada under the Empire air training scheme. The "rough spots" have been knocked off. They then know a good deal about the guns used on aircraft, understand much of the technical side of radio transmission, and have a sound groundwork in navigation. So much has to be taught in this first month that only one week-end leave is given during this whole period.

Powers of Observation Tested

Experienced officers, from knowledge of the young airmen and records of their examinations, can determine what they can best do in the Air Force; that an individual is marked out for a pilot, an observer or that he'll develop into a skilled gunner.

The station has many lecture rooms, and a large staff of qualified officers who invite questions and test the attention of the class by occasional discussion. A generous amount of diagrammatic material is available, which the Home authorities have provided. Some of the subjects are best taught through talkie films, others by long series of good photographs. For instance, the young airmen are shown in this way numberless tell-tale features of the landscape as seen from the air. There are points of importance in the landscape which show up vividly, from a height, and the pupil is taught to interpret them. His general power of observation is tested.

An example of this is seen in a photograph of part of a typical English city, with a large church showing in the centre. "At what time of the day, and on what day of the week was this taken?" is asked. The east window of the church provides a clear guide to compass direction, and shadows suggested the answer "3 o'clock in the afternoon." But there is still the day of the week to discover. Not till attention is caught by family washing hanging from many lines in back gardens does one realise the answer must be Monday.

"What makes a good soldier or an airman?" recruits are asked in an introductory address by the station commander, Squadron Leader R.J. Sinclair, on their first day in uniform. He tells them that the answer is: Patriotism and esprit de corps. Discipline. Physical fitness - clean living. Technical skill.

"Your training," he adds, "is aimed at bringing out all these attributes."




***This Page is Still Under Construction***

Other Chapters Planned For This Page - Coming Soon

The Medical

The Drill Square

In The Classroom

The Bull

Physical Training



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