War memento goes for a spin

A World War I aircraft propeller, smuggled to Horowhenua by mail in 1919, has been returned for a project to preserve its engineering history.

Manakau propeller maker Jeff Fox brought the original Sopwith Camel propeller, spanning more than 2 metres, back from Taupo about three weeks ago.

It belonged to one of the iconic biplanes flown in France during the Great War.

Fox said he was contacted by Taupo man Tony Long, who had seen an article about the propeller-maker in an aviation magazine.

Long's propeller came from a Camel flown by his father in France during the war.

After following up an invitation to go to Taupo and look at the propeller, Fox asked if he could make a pattern from it.

Long gave him his blessing.

Fox has used the propeller to shape a "master" on a copy router, which he designed and created.

The master - half a propeller - could be used as a pattern to shape more propellers for any Camels that were built, he said.

Meanwhile, Long told Fairfax, his father Wilfred Long had the propeller in his possession when he returned to farm north of Levin after the war .

Tony Long said his father enlisted in the cavalry and while in Egypt was wounded and told he was no longer fit for service.

Wilfred Long moved from horseback to aircraft and flew a Camel in combat in France.

When the war was over, he flew to England where he and other pilots slept in pup tents beside their planes, Tony Long said.

"He looked at his mate [in his tent] and said ‘we haven't got much out of this war. I've had a bullet in me, you're wounded. I want something'."

The pair grabbed a spanner then went out and undid the prop off Long's Camel, smuggled it out of the aerodrome, "then posted it to New Zealand, by surface mail".

Tony Long said the propeller lived in his father's house until he died in the late 70s, and he has had it since.

The propeller was in Horowhenua for "most of its life" on the family farm, he said.

Long said he knew little more about his father's wartime experiences because he never liked talking about it.

"About the only thing I remember him saying is they [Camels] were a hell of a thing to fly, and if a Jerry got on your tail you just let go of everything and the machine took off. And then he said the trouble was recovering it again."

The propeller, and a scrapbook of photographs taken during the war by Wilfred Long, will be returned to his son this weekend, and be hung back up on his hallway wall.

Manawatu Standard