Ron Noice, in an elite crew, was shot down and put in a prisoner of war camp, Louise Risk reports.
A Cambridge-based World War II RAF Pathfinder will be flying again today, but this mission is one of remembrance and honour, not target seeking.
Ron Noice, 88, is one of 123 bomber crew members who will be honoured at a service at Wellington's National War Memorial before joining Prime Minister John Key for lunch.
The commemorative day was organised for all bomber veterans who were unable to attend the dedication and unveiling of a Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London in June this year.
Mr Noice said the commemorations had been a long time in coming - even immediately after the war bomber squadron members were not entitled to the same decorations as other servicemen because Winston Churchill disagreed with the bombing of German cities.
Mr Noice was just 17 when he signed up to join the war effort, and having seen his uncle flying a Tiger Moth over the family's King Country farm he knew he wanted to help from above.
A rigorous eight-week training programme in Rotorua saw Mr Noice finish with top grades and he was sent to Canada where he joined an RAF Pathfinder squadron group.
Pathfinders flew first on bombing missions, locating and marking targets with flares, enabling the main bomber force to increase the accuracy of their bombing.
Mr Noice was a navigator and a bomb aimer, a job that required hours on end lying on his stomach in the nose of the Lancaster Bomber "the best seat in the house" looking for the correct landmarks below, and even longer on the ground between missions studying maps of the German landscape.
Mr Noice's seven comrades, two Americans serving for Canada, four RAF Brits and a French Canadian skipper, "Skip", completed 29 successful missions and were one flight away from earning a month's leave when they landed "a meal with the Fuehrer".
"We were hit by an upward firing Junkers 88.
"They shot down eight Lancasters that night."
With flames at both ends of the plane, Skip made the call for the group to jump.
Mr Noice went first, landing in a ploughed paddock, his seven friends all landed in a nearby town.
One of them, an engineer from Blackpool who had done 50 missions before joining the group, was killed when he landed, but the other seven were captured and put into Moosburg 7A, a prisoner-of-war camp. Mr Noice joined the others after three months.
He is the only member of his crew still alive.
Visiting the engineer's family after the war and telling them how their only son had died was one of the hardest things he has done, and it left him shaken for a long time, he said.
Life in the POW camp was made a little more bearable with the receipt of Red Cross care packages.
General "Blood and Guts" Patton led a US Army unit that liberated the camp four months after Mr Noice was imprisoned.
He planned to fly in the Pacific, but the atomic bombs put a stop to that.
Mr Noice said tomorrow's commemoration was not about him, but about the men who flew bombers.
"Camaraderie will never be the same as in a group like that."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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