New Zealand Bomber Command Association



Flying Officer Porokoru ‘John’ Pohe – The first Māori pilot in the RAF

Nearly 16,000 Māori enlisted for service in World War Two. Māori participation in the war is perhaps most readily identified with the 28th Battalion, which became one of the most celebrated and decorated units in the New Zealand forces. Less well known are those who served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force or Royal Air Force in both Europe and the Far East. Amongst those Māori who served in Bomber Command, Porokoru Patapu (John) Pohe, holds a special place in history, not least because he is recognised as the first Māori Pilot to serve in the Royal Air Force.

Leonard Trent VC

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest British Commonwealth military decoration awarded for ‘valour in the face of the enemy.’ In World War II, nine VCs were awarded to New Zealanders, three of whom were airmen, James (Jimmy) Ward, Leonard (Len) Trent and Lloyd Trigg. Trent was shot down over Amsterdam while on a bombing mission, codenamed Operation Ramrod 16, on 3 May 1943, becoming a prisoner of war. After the war he was awarded the VC, with a commendation that concluded, “His cool unflinching courage and devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds rank with the fine examples of these virtues”.

A Kiwi’s Home Run

For many prisoners of war (POWs), the idea of escape was a regular topic. Escape attempts were many, but few successfully achieved a ‘home run’ making it back to Blighty. This was hardly surprising given the challenges faced in firstly successfully escaping prison, and then evading recapture to reach neutral territory. Life on the run in occupied Europe was a dangerous situation. Not knowing who to trust made every decision a gamble. Of some 10,000 RAF POWs, just 33 achieved a ‘home run’. Among them, Sergeant-Pilot Gordon Woodroofe was the only New Zealand airman to successfully escape from a German POW camp during World War Two and reach safety.

Britain calls for New Zealand Aircrew

From the formation of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, young men had been trained as officers at Wigram and posted for short stints to the RAF. As the Second World War loomed, the New Zealand government offered more airmen to the RAF. RAF planners estimated that for each year of the war they would need around 20,000 pilots and 30,000 other crew. These numbers could not be resourced from Britain alone. Negotiations began for the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), a plan based on using facilities in the Dominions, as they were then known, to train aircrews from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Why did it take 67 Years for Bomber Command to have its Memorial?

A visitor to the UK will quickly become aware of the large collection of war memorials and tributes – from both famous and less well-known campaigns. Amongst tributes from World War Two, "the Few" of the Battle of Britain have two monuments, in Kent and in London; the Merchant Navy's memorial is at Tower Hill, London; the Desert Rats are commemorated at Thetford in Norfolk; Liverpool has a statue dedicated to those who crewed the ships of the Atlantic convoys, and there is another in Murmansk marking those lost in the Arctic convoys. So why did it take until 2012 for the 55,573 bomber crew members killed to be remembered by permanent memorial?

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