The Allan Alexander Story
When I was a lad growing up at 14–15 years of age in 1934/5, I knew Hera Parata quite well. He lived in the old homestead in Waikanae and he spent quite a lot of time in our home as a good friend of the family. Sadly, when my mother died at the age of 48 in 1936, the family left Foxton where I had been born and raised to come to Brooklyn, Wellington. I was then aged 17. On the first anniversary of my mother’s passing, I met my wife to be, Margaret, who was a friend of my cousin Nancy.
My first association with aeroplanes was my training at Tairei, Dunedin, in August 1941. By the time I was finished I had 52 hours flying time in Tiger Moths. On 4th October 1941 Margaret and I were married in Wellington and I then left for England via Saskatoon, Canada, for more training flying Cessna Cranes. Shortly after arriving at Saskatoon, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and the Americans came into the war, which made a difference for all travel in the Pacific. I finished up at Saskatoon with a total of 205 hours and obtained my wings and became a Sergeant Pilot.
After a short final training in England, I was posted to Dishforth, Yorkshire as an Instructor of “Beam Approach"1. For a Beam approach one needed a runway and a beam. Dishforth had neither and therefore we used Linton on Oise which was a few miles to the east of Dishforth. We flew every day regardless of the weather. In fog we still had to find our way back after our two hours of training our pupils. We accomplished this in a somewhat unorthodox manner. We got down onto the river Oise, which was on the boundary of the Linton airfield. We flew along that until we came to the town of Boroughbridge, near York. We then did a sharp turn and followed the road on the right-hand side until we came to a crossroad. We then followed this road until we reached the main north road, then did a sharp turn to port again, flying very low with the wheels and flaps down, and counting the seconds between the telegraph poles. When the poles stopped, it was a turn to port, throttle back and land straight ahead then taxiing forward until we saw the shadow of the hangars. This may seem unbelievably complex, but we perfected it as we could practise it all the time when the weather was reasonable.
I finally managed to get out of instructing to go onto 75 Squadron. But I won’t forget the day at Dishforth when I took my pupils out for a joy ride around Yorkshire. After returning I was getting my log book up to date for my Commanding Officer to sign, and the Ground Sergeant came through to see me wanting to know why the hell I had not wound in the aerial. I told him I had not used the aerial and to go and check it. He came back very shortly after and said “You crazy fool, you have someone’s clothes line tangled around the tail wheel!”
After training in Wellingtons for a few weeks and then on Stirling four engine Bombers, I was posted to 75 Squadron NZ in Newmarket, Cambridgeshire as a Flying Officer. Shortly after we moved to Meeple, a purpose made airfield near Ely Cambridgeshire (not in existence today) and I was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.
A number of the trips during the tour were a bit dicey but that happened to most air crew. On one occasion I remember, we were attacked by a night fighter Messerschmitt ME109 on the way to a raid over Aachen. Unfortunately for the fighter, he didn’t realise that on this occasion we had a nose gunner who after a few minutes said he could see the nose of the fighter sitting just under us. The fighter gradually edged forward until our gunner could get his twin 303’s onto the cockpit of the fighter. The fighter disappeared straight down and was reported as having crashed by other air crew.
I carried on in the Squadron and completed twenty-seven operations before being posted to Chedburgh, Suffolk as an Instructor. By September 1944 I was doing little actual flying and asked if I was likely to go back on operations and when told “No” I decided to come home to see my wife and daughter.
When I left the RNZAF in October 1944, my crew presented me with a wooden model of a Stirling Bomber, the plane I had flown for much of the time, which they had made themselves and it is one of my most treasured possessions to this day.
I went to the United States on the Queen Mary and had six weeks while waiting for a train across the States. During this time I met many people including having a day with Jack Dempsey, the Ink Spots standing around our table to sing, and standing at the shoulder of Winifred Attwell. We crossed the States by train and crossed the Pacific in the Monterey, arriving home December 1944.
On arriving in Wellington I was joined by Margaret and met my daughter, Lynette, who was 2½ years old. Lyn became very shy in my presence at first. Margaret had told her that her father flew planes, so I took her by the hand and led her to the box in which I had carefully packed my model plane. Lyn completely lost her shyness then and the relationship blossomed. Margaret and I went on to have two more children, both boys.
While in Palmerston North I called into the local airport and having had a chat with the Operations Manager, I was discharged from the Air Force and started with Union Airways in January 1945. (Union Airways was owned by the Union Steamship Company, which became National Airways (NAC) in 1947, and later Air New Zealand.) With them I flew Domini’s, De Havilland 86’s, Lochead Electras, Lodestars and DC3’s. When I began flying domestic planes there were only eleven pilots in New Zealand.
I enjoyed the time flying domestic planes, though there were times when getting back safely was a challenge! I remember flying the Lodestar on one trip - one of the two engines cut out at a very low level while flying below low cloud way out to sea – we were very lucky to get back in one piece. On another trip from Christchurch to Paraparaumu in a DC3, carbon got into the filter of one engine resulting in it having to be shut down, so we flew on one engine all the way to Paraparaumu. Later it was discovered that the other engine was in an even worse state than the one we had shut down due to the wrong oil having been used during servicing.
I flew domestic flights till 1953. In 1951 there had been a large Wharfies strike in Wellington and the Union Steamship Company aircraft were used to carry freight. At the end of a day of flying passengers the seats were taken out and the planes were loaded with freight. This meant that the crew were flying all day and all night – not something which would be permitted today. It was a very stressful and exhausting time. During this time I developed a cold, and ignoring the symptoms, continued to fly day and night. This resulted in my getting blocked sinuses. There was an operation available to clear the sinuses but the success rate was poor, so I declined the operation. The condition continued to worsen and I was eventually declared unfit to fly. This was sadly the end of my flying career.
From there on I went into Real estate and then Secretary/Manager of the Hutt Valley and Te Awamutu RSA’s.
Margaret and I now live in Waikanae and on 4th October 2011 we celebrated seventy years of marriage. We received congratulations from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Governor General Lt. Gen. Rt. Hon. Sir Jerry Mataparae, the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. John Key, and Nathan Guy, MP for Otaki.
In June 2012 in London, a very overdue but welcome tribute was paid to the Bomber Command when the Queen unveiled a statue of figures commemorating their bravery and commitment during the war years.The statue was made from the aluminium taken from a Halifax Bomber which had crashed. A fitting tribute to men of Allan’s calibre, who had given their service and often their lives, to defending their country. Alan died on 12 October 2014, he was 94.
1 The Lorenz beam blind landing system was an air radio navigation system in use from the late 1930’s. The name refers to the company which produced the system. Lorenz used a single radio transmitter and three antennas placed in a line parallel to the end of the runway. A pilot approaching the runway would tune his radio to the broadcast frequency and listen for the signal. If they heard a series of dots, they knew they were off the runway centreline to the left, and had to turn to the right to line up. If they were off to the right, they would hear a series of dashes instead and turned left. This was particularly useful in bad weather, which England was prone to having in the winter.
Story & pictures by Allan Alexander
Click on the individual pictures below to get enlargement and description.
Click on the individual pictures below to get enlargement and description.