15 October 1953: The worst RNZAF air accident in New Zealand

A crash at Wigram in 1953 remains the worst RNZAF crash in New Zealand history, killing seven men.

Two Royal New Zealand Air Force De Havilland Devons, the NZ1811 and NZ1810 from RNZAF Station Wigram, collided over Wigram Aerodrome. They had been part of the  last section of a 27 aircraft flypast over Harewood International Airport (as Christchurch airport was then called) marking the 1953 London to Christchurch Air Race Prize Giving Ceremony.

De Havilland Dove ZK-AQV aircraft, location unidentified.
De Havilland Dove ZK-AQV aircraft, location unidentified. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-12933-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23036102.
The Dove is the civilian version of the Devon

When the formation broke up as the aircraft prepared to land back at Wigram, NZ1811 was struck on the wing by its “No. 2”, NZ1810.  Both aircraft immediately lost control and plunged to the ground in a paddock at nearby Halswell, killing all aboard. This is still the highest loss of life incurred by the Royal New Zealand Air Force in a single New Zealand accident. They were:

Squadron Leader: Sholto R Duncan

Pilots: Flight Lieutenants Ebbett and Flight Lieutenant Ziesler.

Crewmen: Brian J Keogh, Eric Melrose, William Sharman, Russell Woodcock.

Now this terrible accident has been commemorated in Wigram by naming two of the new streets Edwin Ebbett Place and Erling Ziesler Lane

To read the original account in The Press of 16 October 1953 p. 10, you can visit the Central Library Manchester Street, and see the pages in microfilm – ask one of our lovely staff for assistance if you haven’t used microfilm before.

Following the 75th Anniversary of Wigram Air Base on 25 August 1992, it was closed on 14 September 1995.

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Looking again at 1914 – an interview with military historian Peter Hart

pete03Peter Hart has been Oral Historian at the Imperial War Museum since 1981. He has written a number of books about various aspects of the First World War, including Gallipoli and aerial warfare. His latest book is Fire and Movement, which takes a fresh look at the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914.

In this book you look at some of the myths that have grown up around the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in 1914. How far do you feel that anything new can be said about the First World War?

It is not so much that anything new can be said – it is that ideas and concepts hitherto largely the province of historians and academics can be presented to a wider audience in a manner which is readable and entertaining. This is greatly helped by using carefully sieved personal experience accounts to bring the mingled drama, horrors and dark humour of the battlefield home to the reader. Popular histories often merely regurgitate myths based on wishful thinking and wartime propaganda. This is especially the case early in the war where we have the legend of the ‘Old Contemptibles’ of the BEF on the Western Front in 1914. Sheer nonsense that ignores what the Germans and French Armies – the main fighting forces during the huge Battle of the Frontiers and the Battle of the Marne – were doing in favour of nationalistic breast-beating myths. The real story of the BEF is far more believable and interesting. We should take pride in what people actually achieved – not in popular myths.

You mention that the British had prepared for war ‘but not for the type of war that faced them in 1914’. Why was the actual war different to what was expected?

There are a variety of reasons. It is always difficult to prepare for the unknown, armies nearly always reach back to their last major conflict for inspiration and a tactical guideline. In the British case this was the Boer War which proved sadly misleading. Little could be gained in preparing for a continental war with armies counted in millions, by analysing skirmishes with Boer guerrillas. The eventual British success based on fast-moving columns and blockhouse bases, led to a fixation with mounted infantry (later overthrown) and light artillery. Officers were thinking, developing their tactics and bringing in new weapons, but Britain had no large-scale training grounds on which to have full-scale realistic exercises. Budgetary constraints imposed by the government also meant that identified needs – such as more machine guns – were refused on financial grounds. Britain was not alone in this problem, but her situation was far worse as she had allotted most of the defence/war budget to the Royal Navy the force on which the whole British Empire depended. The army was a small afterthought, deployed with little strategical analysis to bolster the French Army. Thus the BEF was thrust into a continental war for which it was not prepared.

You’ve now written many books about the First World War, what is it about this conflict that keeps you coming back for more? What First World War books have inspired you?

I have always been fascinated in the Great War since I saw the television series in the 1960s and began reading the veterans published memoirs as a young bespectacled geek. Of these I particularly remember the Joseph Murray book Gallipoli As I saw it and the John Terraine masterpiece, Douglas Haig: The Educated Soldier. When I began to work as the oral historian at the Imperial War Museum back in the 1980s I had the pleasure of interviewing over 150 veterans in great detail – of which one was Joe Murray who recorded over 20 hours – wow! The synthesised results are finally being published in August of 2015 – in some ways the culmination of my professional work. I think I was attracted to the war because we all wonder how we would have coped with those nightmarish conditions and the hell of ‘going over the top’. At first I was filled with a fury at the ‘stupidity’ of the generals.

Later on, I was taught the reality by a combination of the veterans, my colleagues and some brilliant historians like John Terraine. Now I find the sheer complexity of the war mindboggling, there was no ‘easy way’ to victory and if you engage in continental warfare with a major power then hundreds of thousands of men will die. Put bluntly: to beat the German Army you have to kill 2-3 million of the best trained and equipped soldiers in the world. This is a murderous business however you look at it.

Do you have any thoughts around how public libraries can engage with the First World War centenary?

I think the Great War is not something to be celebrated. Personally I am interested in the war as a historical event to be studied and understood as widely as possible – the sentimental centenary side of it passes me by a bit. Yet I fully accept that we should never forget all those on all sides who died or had their lives ruined in that terrible conflict. I just think their memory is best served by establishing what really happened to them and why. Having said all that then Canterbury Library seems to be on the right track! Making historical resources freely available so that people can look up relatives/local people and see what they wore, how they lived and where/why/how they fought. Small on-site displays can be very effective in sucking in interest. Online exhibitions are great and the use of social media including Blogs, Facebook and Twitter feeds can help increase awareness of our subject. Booklists are great in leading people towards a new world of learning – as long as they are not merely a list of books spouting mythologised nationalistic rubbish. The centenary could be an opportunity to gain a realistic perspective; but it could be a disaster if we fail to challenge historical untruths – or as some would call them – lies.

See our page on WW100 commemorations.

One hundred years on from the outbreak of war

For the past few months interest in the centenary of the outbreak of World War One has been growing. This major anniversary is now upon us and over the next four or so years we have the opportunity to reflect on and discover all aspects of this global conflict at a local, national and international level.

A month after the assassination on 28th June 1914 of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Over the next few days other countries and empires declared war on each other, with Britain declaring war on Germany on 4th August. This news was received in New Zealand on 5th August. Many New Zealanders had close ties to Britain and there was strong support for the war. The conflict we now call World War One or the First World War had begun.

Cover of From the TrenchesBefore the month of August was out the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) sent to capture German Samoa had succeeded in their objective – this was the second Germany territory to fall to the Allies in the war. The main body of the NZEF set sail in October 1914, seeing service at Gallipoli, on the Western Front in France and Belgium and also in Egypt and Palestine.

In Canterbury on 12th August 1914 men started to report to the mobilisation camp at the Addington Showgrounds to establish a mounted rifle brigade. Many had brought their own horses and where suitable these animals were taken into service by the government and then re-issued for use to their former owners. Many more reported than were taken into the regiment and the medical test was a significant reason for large numbers to be turned away.

The regiment was equipped and trained at Addington and Sockburn until 23 September 1914. In the early hours of the morning the Canterbury Mounted Rifles left the mobilisation camp for the last time and rode to Lyttelton. Their route took them across the Avon where they watered their horses, on over the Heathcote Bridge, Ferry Road and through Sumner to the transport ships. They were taken first to Wellington and in October that year they sailed for Egypt via Australia and Sri Lanka.

Want to know more about the outbreak of war or about how to research those who took part?

Want to find out about projects to commemorate the war?

Hot off the shelf: Battles and Brides

The day of battle: The war in Sicily and Italy 1943 – 1944 is the second volume in Rick Atkinson’s trilogy about the liberation of Europe. The first, An army at dawn, won the Pulitzer Prize for its dramatic and authoritative account of the North African campaign.

In The day of the battle Atkinson follows the Allied armies as they invade Sicily in 1943 and fight their way north towards Rome.  The story of the Italian campaign is a compelling one; the invasion of the ‘soft underbelly’ of Europe was hotly debated by Roosevelt, Churchill and their military advisers and its outcome was never certain.

The great sacrifice and suffering of the campaign has particular resonance for New Zealanders, with the terrible casualties of battles like Monte Cassino etched on our national consciousness.  

Atkinson has combined impressive research, drawing on a wide range of primary sources, with a compelling and readable writing style to  create a first-rate narrative history.

It seems almost obscene to put a book about a subject as serious as the Second World War with one about a subject as frivolous as how to have a fabulous wedding, but that’s the way they arrive on the new books shelf, and there may be a military history buff out there who is planning a 2008 wedding. InStyle weddings is one of those big books that is slghtly terrifying in the level of detail it lavishes on something that should really be quite minor. After all, it’s only one day, and is it true that the more attention devoted to the wedding day the shorter the marriage?

Cynics and hairdressers who specialise in weddings might say yes, but the whole-hearted attempt to make one perfect day as outlined here is strangely seductive. The pictures are so beautiful (the dresses), the ideas so bizarre (the rows of green apples anchoring the escort cards – what is an escort card anyway?) and the budgets so astronomical it’s hard to look away.