Geoff Bryson Fisken, DFC, the Commonwealth's most decorated pilot in the south Pacific in World War 11, died peacefully in Rotorua at the weekend. He was 96.
Flying Officer Fisken was a masterful pilot, registering 11 kills.
He started his war years in Masterton, his celebrity, modestly held, while piloting the P-40 Wairarapa Wild Cat.
Such was his fame that on request he regularly visited the United States for reunions. He did not merely rub shoulders with the celebrated actor Eddie Albert, who also flew in the Pacific, and Admiral Nimitz; they rubbed shoulders with him.
Flint-eyed but with the hint of a larrikin, Geoff Fiskin was hewn from the rugged Wairarapa coastline. As a boy he mustered on the unforgiving tussocky terrain, where a muster of one paddock took up to eight to 10 days.
Because he was in a a 'service' industry critical to the economy of the war effort, Mr Fisken's bid to enlist was rejected.
Eventually, he persuaded his employer he would be more useful in the air _ he made his own glider aged 11 and learned to fly by 14 _ than on the land. To the amazement of his employer, the precocious Fisken once mustered the craggy Wairarapa hills from an aircraft.
Bluff and squarely built, F/O Fisken had a deadly eye in combat flying Buffaloes and Catalinas.
Anxious for active service, like many of his time Mr Fisken was frustrated at the 30-hours a month flying time imposed on NZ pilots.
Eventually attached to 243 Squadron, RAF, squadrons were at times shredded after each scramble, Mr Fisken saw combat in Malaysia (where he contracted dengue fever five times) and Guadalcanal.
His physical toughness became legendary.
Once, following a sortie, Mr Fisken's mechanic fainted when he alighted from his aircraft with a shrapnel protruding from his hip.
''I didn't know it was there,'' Mr Fisken related to the Rotorua Review in 2000 in a rarely accorded interview.
''It felt sore, with blood all down my leg. I tried to pull it out with a pair of pliers at the hospital but it was still too sore. They cut it out and put on some sulthalimide, strapped it up and I was able to fly again in three or four days.''
At most times, allied aircraft were outnumbered roughly 16 to one, Mr Fisken said.
''It was nothing to see 200 or 300 Japanese aircraft in the sky,'' he recalled.
''Anybody in Malaya who tried to dogfight was just a bloody fool.
''It was supposed to be all right in England where there were dogfights all the time, but in Malaya you were dead in five minutes. The Japanese could out-manoeuvre you quite easily with their Zeros.''
Zeros were attacked diving from on high, then flying in an arch from below for a second short in a three- or five-second burst providing the requisite height had been reached. Allied planes would then head for ground when it was realised the Zeroes would not follow.
''Some said the propellers came off the Zeros (at certain velocities) but I don't whether that's true. Whatever the reason, they would never follow you down. But if they were strafing low and saw somebody coming in to land they'd have a go at you _ it was common.''
As his fame grew with his mounting tally, Mr Fisken was sought out by the celebrated Admiral Nimitz at Guadalcanal. Usually, he did not leave his ship but made a concession on learning Fisken was town.
''They gave me five cases of Canadian Club whisky, in little bottles, so I put them in tents for the boys.''
It was American Independence day and Fisken had shot down three enemy aircraft.
The Americans preferred New Zealand pilots as escort cover.
Once covering the cumbersome Catalinas, which were used on rescue missions, Mr Fisken found the flight took them to within 120-130km off the Japanese-occupied land. Relations between the two allies worsened when the New Zealanders found the Americans were farewelling the natives on the island.
''We could have been killed,'' Mr Fisken said. ''The Cats flew only 50 feet above the water and we were less then 500 feet, so we would not have had a show. I asked the Americans if they would pay the bill for our dirty underwear!''
Mr Fisken lived in Rotorua for 31 years. He and his wife Rhoda, who died 14 years ago, had six children, five boys and a girl.
After he sold his Masterton farm, he worked as a manager for TemCo, representing the then Egg Marketing Board. He had also lived in Tauranga and for a short time farmed in Te Puke, retiring in 1976.
Born in Gisborne, Geoff Fisken served from 1941 to 1943, medically discharged but not before he received his DFC in September 1943.
While Mr Fisken said his number of kills was 11, the number can differ between 10 and 13 confirmed victories against probable kills.
He was, however, throughout his life regarded as the highest scoring British Commonwealth pilot in the Pacific.
- Rotorua Review