Jack’s war 18 Apr 2006
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As ANZAC day approaches this is the story of an ordinary Kiwi who like many found himself in the upheaval of WWII.
Jack Harrall was born in Christchurch in 1924. The son of a WWI veteran Harrall attended Linwood Avenue School and was attending Christchurch Technical College when war was declared in August 1939.
"The war had not been declared long and the things I remember were the searchlights at Lyttleton Harbour and the huge number of men from our community who disappeared overnight to Burnham camp for training.
"A highlight from those early days was when the liner Queen Mary sailed into Lyttleton to pick up the soldiers and take them to the Middle East".
Two of Harrall’s cousin’s had joined the army and had gone to the Middle East. Harrall remembers not being too concerned when Japan entered the war, "we saw many Americans arriving to defend New Zealand if required".
As with many of his generation Harrall was fascinated by flight and as a school boy had joined the Air Training Corps where he learned the basics of navigation and while on camp in the school holidays learned a lot while flying in Tiger Moth bi-planes. Due to the number of men going overseas there was a shortage of students at Canterbury College (now known as Canterbury University) so 17-year-old Harrall and others found themselves attending a year earlier than in peacetime. Harrall’s degree in mathematics was suspended when at 18 he joined the Royal New Zealand Air force to train as a pilot.
"We went to Ashburton airfield where there was a camp for elementary flying. My first experience in the human cost of war was when one of our class was killed while learning to fly; his empty bed was a constant reminder of the serious business we were in".
From Ashburton Harrall went to Canada for further training and gained his "wings" before arriving at Gourock Scotland in August 1943.
"We then went to Brighton on the South Coast where all Kiwi and Australian airmen were billeted before being assigned squadrons.
I remember that we had a big hotel with all the good furniture and decoration removed.
"While there the German Air force attacked the town regularly but they only seemed to machine gun the promenade so we were safe in the hotel!
"At Brighton our group of Kiwi pilots was told that there were enough fighter pilots in the RAF but there were plenty of pilots needed to fly transport aircraft. We hadn’t come all this way not to have a crack at the enemy so to a man we all volunteered to fly in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm as apparently they were short of pilots – we soon found out why. I transferred to the Navy with rank of Temp Sub Lieutenant R.N.Z.N.V.R and learned to fly Seafire fighters [a naval version of the Spitfire] off and on aircraft carriers".
Those from New Zealand found the wartime rationing in the UK very different from home.
"I visited family friends and relatives who were always pleased to see you but it became clear that because I was coming they were using a lot of their small ration allocation to put on a nice spread for me. I was uncomfortable with this and stopped visiting".
Harrall’s first ship was the aircraft carrier HMS Battler based in Scotland where he was transferred to the Barracuda dive bomber for "Norwegian operations". Further operational training was completed in the North Sea and during this time Jack met his future wife Marjorie in Dundee.
There were many crashes and as Jack relates "the reality of war was that many airmen lost their lives during operational training when we learned to fly with weapons and in very congested skies".
As it was late in the war attention had turned to defeating the Japanese. Harrall was then posted to HMS Implacable in the Indian Ocean but luckily he was to fly the Seafire fighter which was more than a match for the Japanese Zero fighter. After serving in the Far East Harrall was called home quickly in mid 1945 to see his gravely ill mother in Christchurch. After three weeks he arrived home and during this time the war ended.
As with many from his generation Harrall is genuinely modest about his service on our behalf. In 1946 Marjorie travelled to New Zealand as it’s their 60th wedding anniversary this year. Harrall completed his degree and then took a research post at Cambridge, England, before returning to New Zealand in 1950. He then lectured at Canterbury College.
Like many New Zealand airmen he answered the call a second time for the Korean War and while he arrived in Korea too late to see action he stayed in the Royal Navy until retiring in 1976.
Today Jack and Marjorie live in Dundee where they met during the dark days of war.
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