NZ drops veteran from tripTRACY NEAL
An English-born pilot who cheated death on wartime raids over Europe has been grounded from attending a special memorial service in London.
Nelson pensioner John Beeching, 88, was initially accepted as one of the few surviving ex-Bomber Command members to be part of a dedication and unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in London in June.
He has now been told he cannot be considered in the official New Zealand veteran delegation because he did not belong to the Royal New Zealand Air Force when serving as part of Bomber Command.
"If I can get to London it means I can mentally say goodbye to all the blokes I flew with, and whom I lost in the war," he said from his small pensioner flat, adorned with sepia-toned photos of a proud fighter squadron.
Mr Beeching was born in London and flew with the Royal Air Force in World War II, but has lived in New Zealand for 60 years and became a Kiwi 30 years ago.
He was told in a letter from Veterans' Affairs that funding provided by the New Zealand Government for veterans to attend overseas commemorative activities was strictly for those who served in the New Zealand armed forces.
Veterans' Affairs is a division of the Defence Force which is working with the New Zealand Bomber Command Association over attendance plans for the ceremony.
Nelson theatre company director TJ Ramsay is behind a campaign to draw attention to Mr Beeching's plight.
His omission from the ceremony was appalling, Ms Ramsay said.
The Bomber Command and all crews of the RAF were made up of men from countries England considered its colonies, she said.
"The cause they fought for was the same regardless of where they were born.
"The fact that this distinction is being placed on the few men who survived shows an appalling lack of sensitivity and respect."
Mr Beeching took command of 57 different Mosquito combat planes during the war.
He is one of only three men remaining from the 169 Special Duties Night Fighter squadron that once roared through war-torn skies over Europe.
With his most trusted navigator Fred Herbert beside him, the pair survived near-impossible odds in the "Mossies" they guided on daredevil pathfinder and bombing missions.
A profound memory was flying towards the German city of Giessen when they crossed over the "glowing mass" of Dresden the night the German city was destroyed in a bombing firestorm. Mr Beeching's pristine log book has it perfectly recorded.
Mr Herbert died last year, after a long post-war career with the mounted police in Canada.
Mr Beeching was a London toolmaker who survived air raids over the city and the Battle of Britain before signing up to the RAF.
He learned to fly in a Tiger Moth with the Empire Air Training Scheme in Canada, and took his first flight over enemy territory on New Year's Day in 1945.
"The aircraft would do two runs to Berlin and back in one night. We'd take one big 4000-pound bomb, drop it, fly back and re-load. A new crew would take over before the engine cooled off."
Mr Beeching and Mr Herbert would fill flying time between combat action talking about "women and booze".
"Some trips were up to six hours long and he [Mr Herbert] would nod off.
"It was pure luck we got through the war."
The nature of the fast dive-bombing raids meant they flew with no lights but relied solely on radar, which at the time was still in its infancy.
"I was never afraid – I liked flying at night. We had to rely on speed to get by, but it was seat-of-the-pants flying."
Mr Beeching said they never really thought about the consequences of what they were doing. He saw what the enemy had done to his home and people.
"Morally we didn't really think about it. We were just boys – boys of 19 don't really have deep-seated thoughts. That hasn't changed because I read the paper and see what goes on in Bridge St on Saturday nights."
After the war Mr Beeching joined Mr Herbert in Canada, but the winters were too hard. He settled in Christchurch where he married and raised three adopted children.
He is re-married to Wendy and now works each day at Nelson's Cawthron Institute as a handyman.
Mr Beeching said going to London in June would provide closure on a daring chapter in his life.
"It's my last chance, ever."
CAN YOU HELP? We think John Beeching deserves the chance to fly to London for the Bomber Command Memorial ceremony. If you can help contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 03 546 2881
- © Fairfax NZ News
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