The Air Force Over Cambridge

The Royal New Zealand Air Force made several appearances over wartime Cambridge during WWII, and at least one Royal Australian Air Force bomber also visited our skies, for various purposes. Examples collected together so far are thus:

19th of March 1942 - Pilot Officer Alfred Noel Arnott did an official beat up of Cambridge in Vickers Vildebeest NZ111, from No. 3 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron, which was based at RNZAF Station Whenuapai, Auckland. The aircraft, which was affectionately known on the squadron as 'Old Nelson' due to the 111 in its serial number, also carried Aircraftman Griffin and Aircraftman Ernie Burrowes, a Wireless Operator-Air Gunner, as passengers. The flight from Whenuapai to Cambridge, including the beat up and return to Whenuapai lasted for a duration of 2 hours 40 minutes. Source: Noel Arnott's flying logbook - Note, this is probably the same occasion that the late Ross Paton recalled seeing when an Air Force biplane bomber made mock attacks on the town, the siren went off and eveyone was expected to take part in an exercise to prepare the Home Guard and Emergency precautions Scheme staff, plus the police, fire and ambulance people, in case of an invasion by Japan.

11.15am, 14th of June 1943 - The RAAF Avro Lancaster bomber "Queenie VI" that was touring New Zealand on a war bonds drive made a special low flypast over Cambridge to give the townsfolk an idea of the sight and sound of the Lancasters that many of their boys were overseas flying in. This was part of the morale-boosting trip from RNZAF Station Whenuapai on this day that visited Rotorua, Cambridge, Hamilton, Thames and Auckland city before landing back at Whenuapai.

Circa Mid-1943 - Bryan Cox wrote in his book Too Young To Die (1987) the following: "About this time I was staying with my cousin Bob Peake at Roto-o-Rangi during summer holidays when I caught my first glimpse of the RNZAF's latest aircraft, the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk. We were walking over the hills at the back of the farm going around the sheep when from above the broken cumulus cloud there gradually developed an almighty screech from what could only be the 1150hp V12 engine of a P-40 in what we then called a power dive. Sure enough, looking up at a large gap in the white clouds we saw the source of the deafening sound diving vertically towards the neighbouring farmland but grdually pulling out and heading towards Rukuhia, disappearing again all within the space of a few seconds. From my aircraft recognition lessons in the ATC I immediately identified it, and my heart missed a few beats when I realised that before long I would probably be sitting behind the controls of such a frightening piece of machinary.

10th of October 1944: Cambridge pilot Norm Rosser was one of four RNZAF Station Ardmore-based pilots from No. 24 (Fighter) Squadron who overflew Cambridge in their Corsairs while undertaking a formation cross-country flight that took in Tauranga, Rotorua, Cambridge, Hamilton and return to base. Norm was flying Corsair NZ5340.

1944-1945 - Bryan Cox did go on to become a fighter pilot and he has related the story that on occasions when flying Corsairs from Ardmore he would fly down to his old home town of Cambridge to buzz friends and relatives, watching them come out of their homes and wave. One of those occasions was quite probably the 6th of November 1944 when he did a solo cross-country flight from Ardmore to Woodbourne in Corsair NZ5517, landed, and later in the day he flew back to Ardmore. Again, another occasion this may have happened was the 13th of March 1945 when Bryan underwent a practice flight in NZ5555 solo from Ardmore.

Date Unknown: The late Ken Russell who lived at Hautapu during the war recalled RNZAF fighters circling overhead in the night skies, and watching the Hamilton searchlights trying to spot them in an exercise to train the city's defences.


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