Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter. As of April 2020 Uplink ALPA is a 6-monthly publication.

Call to arms and the sky

Photo by Daventry B, Royal Air Force official photographer, Brewster Buffalo, August 1940

Determined to fly for his country in World War Two but barred by his father,  Derek Moreton tells his story about joining the Navy in order to defend from the skies.  Story and photos reprinted with the kind permission of ‘Anglican Life’, January-February 2017

Derek would have liked to join the Air Force but instead he became a pilot, landing planes on aircraft carriers for the Navy. He served in many parts of the world before being shot down over Japan.  Fortunately, he was picked up by an American submarine. 

Derek was serving in the army in 1940 and was awaiting officer training.  He felt there must be a better way than walking to war so asked his father to sign his papers for the Air Force, but his father refused because there had been several fatal accidents at Wigram about that time.

Derek was determined to go.  “It was my big chance to go overseas and everyone else was going,” he remarked. So sometime later he tried again but this time he asked his father to sign the papers for him to join the Navy.  His father accepted that Derek was determined to go, and signed the necessary papers.

He eventually reported for duty in February 1942 and went on board a transport ship as honoured guests of the Canadians. On reaching Canada, however, the reality of Navy life kicked in.  Various training courses followed and Derek was chosen to train as a pilot after completing basic training in England.

“Landing planes on moving ships was pretty scary,” he admitted.  They trained on the ground having to land within a restricted space, but landing on a moving ship was quite another matter. Not only was it moving forward, it also rolled up and down and from side to side, sometimes pitching up to forty feet!”

Avro Anson and airmen planning their next mission.

He learnt to fly in a single engine plane called a NP1 before progressing on to the Stearmans, which he describes as magnificent training planes. Later he flew the well-known Harvards. There were two planes he did not like. One was the Corsair, which he described as “a bit frightening and difficult to land”.  Another was the Brewster Buffalo about which Derek commented, “Dreadful machines at first but gradually we came to realise what good planes they were.”

He met many interesting people but one was a very special friend. Derek met him in a bar in Detroit while on leave. The man asked if Derek and his friend would like to go home with him.  Derek accepted and that was his introduction to the Williams family who became his family away from home.  “They more or less adopted me and I was free to come and go from their home very much  as I pleased. They were very good friends to me all the time I was in the States.” 

He was lucky enough to make a few other trips during his leave. “The order to only travel within a fifty mile radius was seldom observed!” On one occasion, he hitch hiked to Buffalo to see the Niagara Falls and other places visited include Chicago, New Orleans and Toledo.

His ship was shot several times and the aftermath was often quite chaotic. In 1945, he was shot down over Japan. Two flights were flying together but the leader was shot down.  Derek took charge but an anti-aircraft bomb was let off from the ground below and it exploded just under Derek’s plane. It fractured his petrol system and the floor of his cockpit was floating in petrol. He had just enough fuel left to fly out over the sea before hitting the water.

The other pilots radioed back that Derek had gone down and before long he was rescued by an American submarine and was transported to Sydney where he re-joined his colleagues.  While in Sydney he spent a memorable night out, during which he met Pamela, the love of his life. They married later that year on September 3rd and shared many happy years together. 

While still in Sydney, he met Admiral Fraser who enquired how long Derek had been away from home.  “Three years, Sir,” was Derek’s reply. Before he knew it, all the New Zealanders in his group were flown home to New Zealand for two weeks of leave.

When he was asked what he had learnt in serving in the Navy he replied, “I learnt lots about discipline, both personal and within a group and this stood me in good stead in my working life. I learnt how to gain respect and how to care for others and to use discipline sensibly.”


In April’s edition of Uplink, we will be sharing some stories and treasured photos from those who have served as pilots in the Air Force or Navy in honour of ANZAC Day.

If you or anyone you know has a story, memories or thoughts you’d like to share, please get in contact via email daisy@conv.co.nz or phone 03 943 0587 before March 23 please.

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