Brothers discover the heroics of their WWII fighter pilot father in new book
Their father never pretended to be a war hero, and they never pushed him to elaborate about his experiences during the Second World War.
But now two brothers from Christchurch, Kevin and Barrie Mallon, have discovered that their dad, Bill Mallon, completed several crucial missions as the pilot of a Lancaster Bomber during the war.
The missions included bombing key Nazi military targets, and dropping food supplies to starving people in the Netherlands.
The revelations are contained in a book that was recently published entitled the 'The Mallon Crew'.
The brothers knew their dad was a pilot, and Kevin recalls one occasion when he was taken to see the Lancaster at the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Auckland.
"He took me right into the cockpit and I sat in the pilot's seat and he talked me through the whole process of taking off.
"That was a fabulous experience. That was probably the closest talk about the war that I ever had with dad for any length of time.
"That was pretty exciting, really. Something I'll remember for ever."
Bill Mallon had been among the thousands of New Zealanders who served in the Air Force during the war, and he was among 6000 kiwis in Bomber Command's 125,000-strong aircrew.
"He told us about flying and about it being cold and about wearing his flying suit. Anecdotes like that," says Kevin, who now lives in Christchurch, not far from Barrie.
"They all wore parachutes but dad said there was no way he was going to jump out of the plane. But he never told us about flying over a target or dropping a bomb."
But five years after their father's death, and twelve thousand miles away in Britain, amateur historian Vic Jay started researching his own father's role in the war.
This eventually lead to him tracking down the Mallons.
Bob Jay, who died aged 55 in 1974, had been the flight engineer, and he was one of three Britons and four New Zealanders in the seven-man crew, which was part of No. 75 (NZ) Squadron.
The Lancaster was the plane that turned the war in the Allies' favour. It could carry a maximum bomb load of 22,000lbs over a range of 1,500 miles.
According to Royal Air Force statistics, 7,377 Lancasters were built, and 3,500 were lost during operations.
"You just can't imagine, can you, how frightening that must have been," says Vic, down the line from his home in Yorkshire.
He has learned the stories of every member of the Mallon Crew, including the fate of Mallon's two brothers.
There was Jim Haworth, the navigator, from the South Island. He was the only member of the crew, apart from Bob, who was married, and the only one who had children at the time.
Haworth's letters proved invaluable to Vic's research.
Ken Philp, from Wellington, was the bomb aimer, Frank Symes, of Wairoa, was the wireless operator, while Britons Denis Eynstone,19, was the rear gunner and Don Cook, 20, was the mid-upper gunner.
The crew flew between March and April 1945 on missions to bomb marshalling yards and the naval port at Kiel, as well as Operation Manna, dropping food supplies for starving people in Holland just before VE Day.
They also flew in the oil campaign that attempted to stop the Germans' supply of synthetic fuel.
Kevin and Barrie's uncles, Jack and Tom Mallon, both died flying planes during the war.
"We never spoke about either of the brothers dying," says Kevin. "Vic absolutely brought new information."
Jack joined the Civil Reserve as a pilot in 1938 and applied for a commission in the RAF in 1939. He joined No. 53 Squadron, a Strategic Reconnaissance Unit based first in France and then, as losses mounted, back in Britain.
His war did not last long. On October 8, 1940, his plane was reported missing.
For decades, all the family knew was that his plane crashed and he was buried in the town of Guînes, in the north of France. Jack was only 24.
It wasn't until Vic got in touch that the family learned how Jack died.
He had been shot down over France and, although he survived the crash, unlike his two crew members, he had been badly wounded and died in a German military hospital three days later.
Tom, meanwhile, trained in Canada and transferred to England in 1944.
He joined No 488 (NZ) Squadron and within weeks was supporting the invasion forces following the D-Day Landings on June 6.
But on night patrols in the Netherlands his luck ran out. He took off at 04.25am on March 12, 1945 on what should have been a routine operation.
But, writes Vic, "Minutes after take-off they crashed into a barn 2.5km from the runway."
With two of his brothers dead, Bill's family applied for him to return home - but by that stage the war was practically over.
He eventually moved to Gisborne, married, and enjoyed a quiet life with his family. He never talked about the war.
- The Mallon Crew is now available from Amazon and Kindle. It can also be found at Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).
- Sunday Star Times