Unravelling their fathers' Lancaster bomber story
AN Englishman’s researches into the war exploits of his father in RAF Bomber Command’s 75 (New Zealand) Squadron has resulted in him contacting the families of two crew members who lived in Wairoa and Gisborne.
The two, both now deceased, were wireless operator Frank Symes, of Wairoa, and pilot Bill Mallon, who lived in Gisborne after the war.
Mr Symes and Mr Mallon were two of four New Zealanders in the seven-man crew of the famous four engine Lancaster.
Vic Jay, son of the English flight engineer Bob Jay, has compiled his research, including a blog, into a book of more than 40 chapters and 50,000 words, naming it The Mallon Crew.
Mr Jay traced the New Zealand families by contacting New Zealand Woman’s Weekly,
He started his research with just a handful of photographs, his father’s log book and the name of his New Zealand pilot.
“I needed answers to questions I had never asked.”
Three weeks after contacting the magazine, the first break through came with an email.
It read: “Hello. I am the daughter of Frank. Can I help in any way?”
“It’s hard to convey the excitement when you receive a message like that,” Mr Jay said.
The email was from Yvonne Wairau, the only daughter of Mr Symes.
A few hours later her son, Frank’s grandson Warren Wairau, also emailed Mr Jay.
“What was wonderful about this part of the story was Frank’s wife Winnie was still living at Nuhaka,” Mr Jay said.
“Thanks to Frank Symes’ grandson Warren, I learned that Frank had lost both his parents by the time he was 16 and enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force when he was just 18.”
Education at NuhakaMr Symes was educated at Nuhaka Primary School and Hastings Boys’ High School where he played cricket and rugby.
The Mallon Crew, including the Kiwis, survived the war but as Mr Jay recounts in his book, “their lives would never be the same again”.
Mr Symes was repatriated to New Zealand in December 1945 and demobbed in March 1946.
He first returned to the Wairoa District before moving to the Mahia Peninsula, where he was employed by the Mahia Freight Company.
Later Frank met Winnie Smith, who had moved to New Zealand from Fiji when she was 17.
The couple met while she was working at the Morere Tearooms.
They married in November 1954 and settled in Wairoa, where Frank took a job at the freezing works and later at Deluxe Ford.
The couple went on to have seven children, six sons and one daughter: Stuart, Yvonne, Graeme, John, Anthony, Stephen and Cecil.
Car accident at MorereStuart ran the fish and chip shop at Nuhaka. He was killed in a car accident near Morere in 2012, at the age of 56.
Frank Symes died in 1979 at the age of 55.
He was the same age as Bob Jay who had died five years earlier.
The pilot’s son Barrie Mallon later contacted Vic Jay.
“Hi Vic, you have just given me an OMG moment,’’ wrote Mr Mallon.
“I have just read about Frank Symes and it mentions Frank meeting Winnie at the Morere tearooms. Well, the tearooms have a long history in our family. When we were young and lived in Gisborne, our annual bank holiday was to Morere and the tearooms camping ground.
“Looking at their website, it has not changed since we were there, which would have been in the early to mid-1960s.
“We and our friends from across the road in Gisborne would pack up our caravans and spend the long weekend there. The thermal hot springs are the attraction.
“Frank worked for the Deluxe Ford service station and as dad was a travelling salesman for a car spare parts and accessories firm in Gisborne, his calling area would have been to Nuhaka and Wairoa — so he must have had had contact with Frank. Regards, Barrie.”
Warren Wairau said his mother Yvonne, after reading Mr Jay’s material, later recalled Bill Mallon did meet up with her father Frank from time to time in Morere and Mahia.
Mr Jay said that four years after he began the story, surprises continued to keep him enthralled.
“On March 1 this year, I received an email informing me that one of the men who flew with the Mallon crew as mid-under gunner on three operations, Charles Green, is still very much alive.
“I never dreamed my research would culminate in me having the opportunity to meet and have a long conversation with a man who shared with my Dad the cramped space inside a Lancaster more than seventy years earlier.
“Sadly, the rest of the Mallon crew had died by the time I embarked on this project but writing this book, 70 years after the war, has given their families the opportunity to learn more about their experiences.”
“It has also enabled me to get that bit closer to my Dad, who missed most of the milestones in my adult life.”
— Wairoa Star