ITINERARY & COSTS:
New Zealanders in Fighter Command.
There were many New Zealanders among 'the Few', and like their Australian counterparts – serving within RAF squadrons. Of the 135 New Zealanders who served in RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, 20 lost their lives and 8 in Coastal Command. Many of these young men were also aces, such as Al Deere, a Whanganui law clerk before joining the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1937. He was already an 'ace' before the Battle of Britain - unofficially credited with more than five victims from the retreat from France.
A member of 54 Squadron, he added significantly to his reputation during the Battle of Britain, shooting down another four enemy planes and having so many narrow escapes that he would entitle his memoirs 'Nine Lives'. Another New Zealander flying Spitfires with 54 Squadron, Colin Gray, had also joined the RAF in 1937. He was a brutally effective combat pilot, destroying 14 enemy planes during the battle and sharing in the destruction of two more.
He would end the war as New Zealand's highest-scoring fighter pilot, with at least 27 enemy aircraft destroyed and 22 probably destroyed or damaged. Gray was one of 17 pilots who claimed ten or more victims during the battle. Brian Carbury serving with the Spitfire-equipped 603 Squadron, was another New Zealand 'ace', shooting down 15 German planes during the battle.
On one day alone, 31 August, Carbury shot down five enemy planes in three encounters. Some New Zealanders also made their mark in the battle against night raiders. Flying a Bristol Blenheim, Michael Herrick, a 19-year-old from Hastings, shot down three of the four German night bombers downed in September.
While the Kiwis serving with Fighter Command were most directly engaged with the enemy, many other New Zealanders played a part in the battle. Some manned the bombers that destroyed at least 10% of the German invasion craft and damaged ports and other facilities. Others served with Coastal Command or flew air-sea missions that rescued pilots who ditched in or bailed out over the Channel.
New Zealander Air Marshal Sir Keith Park's role in the battle was instrumental - in most historian's opinion -along with Dowding – in saving England from invasion and the awful consequences that would have brought to the world. In marshalling the scarce resources of his fighter group, and successfully employing tactics that allowed timely interception of the enemy forces, he excelled in the most significant wartime role ever undertaken by a New Zealander.
His reputation has only grown as the years roll by - with historical assessment of the battle. A man who did not take officialdom easily – like Dowding - Park was transferred to a training command in December 1940, although in July 1942 he became RAF commander of the strategically vital base of Malta.
Of very great importance and often also overlooked is another New Zealander was prominent in the treatment of the unfortunate men shot down and terribly disfigured through burns and injuries - plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe. He pioneered the treatment of severe burns by saline baths - a method that reduced the scarring that resulted from such injuries.
McIndoe was also instrumental in establishing the 'Guinea Pig Club', which gave moral support to hideously disfigured men.