WONZ 224 – Laurie Hamlet

Guest: WWII veteran Cpl John Lawrence Ernest Hamlet (known as Laurie), NZ416754, RNZAF Instrument Repairer

Host: Dave Homewood

Recorded: 30th of November 2019

Released: 5th of July 2020

Duration: 1 hour 28 minutes 24 seconds

In this episode Dave Homewood chats with Laurie Hamlet, who was born and grew up in Auckland. Before the war he was apprenticed to an auto-electrician firm. In December 1941 he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and was to train at RNZAF Station Harewood in Christchurch for his recruit training course, and then was posted to RNZAF Station Hobsonville, in Auckland, to undergo training as an Instrument Repairer.

Following completion of his instruments course at Hobsonville he stayed on at that station at the Aircraft Assembly Unit, and worked on assembling aircraft that were arriving from overseas by ship in the Port of Auckland for service with the RNZAF. These included the last Hawker Hind to arrive in New Zealand, and he also worked on assembling Lockheed Hudsons and Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks.

He was then posted back to Harewood where he continued to assemble Curtiss P-40’s which were now also arriving from the US factories via the Port of Lyttleton.

Laurie’s next posting was to RNZAF Station Whenuapai in late 1942 to join No. 15 (Fighter) Squadron who were at that time preparing to depart for Tonga. They were the first RNZAF fighter squadron to deploy to the South-West Pacific.

The squadron went up by ship and they took over an ex-USAAF squadron of P-40E’s, which had not been looked after very well. The Kiwis grounded the aircraft and gave them a good going over to get them up to RNZAF standards. The squadron then began training with the aircraft, and preparing to move over to Espiritu Santo.

Laurie served with No. 15 (F) Squadron in Fiji, Santo and at Kukum Field at Guadalcanal. He was then returned to New Zealand and was posted to the Maintenance Wing of No. 2 Service Flying Training School, at RNZAF Station Woodbourne.

He then spent short stints in the Instrument Sections at RNZAF Station Ohakea, and No. 1 Repair Depot at RNZAF Station Hamilton.

Then another Pacific posting came, and Laurie joined No. 5 (Flying Boat) Squadron at Luganville on the Segond Channel at Espiritu Santo. However he was placed into the squadron detachment at Funafuti in the Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu). He was working on Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina flying boats in this squadron.

Laurie’s last posting was to RNZAF Station Ardmore, and was working on Chance Vought F4U Corsairs there till the end of the war and into 1946 before being demobbed.

He then returned to his auto-electrician trade. Then in 1967 he joined Air New Zealand. He worked on the Lockheed Electra, the Douglas DC-8’s, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10’s, the Boeing 747’s and the 767’s. He retired in 1989.

The following photos are from Laurie Hamlet’s personal collection:

A No. 15 (Fighter) Squadron P-40 somewhere in the Pacific
Laurie Hamlet in 1942
Laurie’s course mates at Harewood during his Initial Training Wing induction
Names on the back of the above Harewood course photo
No. 15 (Fighter) Squadron P-40E’s and Harvards at Whenuapai
One of the P-40’s that No. 15 Squadron took over in Tonga – see here dug in purposely in preparation for an impending cyclone
1943. Laurie Hamlet sitting in the cockpit, with ‘Doc’ Babb standing over him.
Standing, l to r. Harry Aston, “Winnipeg”, Col Clevelend
Kneeling, l to r, Frank Bryers RAF, Jack Rodger.
Jennings (Radio Technician, left) and Sgt Sam McMullan (Fitter, right)
Maurie Rowntree, ‘Doc’ Babb, and Edwards, with Laurie in the cockpit
Les Jackman, RAF
Sgt Sam McMullen
Woodbourne, November 1943

For more on No. 15 (Fighter) Squadron’s history I recommend David Duxbury’s excellent presentation in the recent WONZ Virtual Forum Meet here:

NB: The music at the end of this episode is Wild Flower by Joakim Karud

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