Virtual Museum - Medals (Other)

Ref. No. 873.  MEMORIAL CROSS FOR 75 (NZ) SQUADRON AIRGUNNER SGT W. A. WATTS, RNZAF.  Sgt Walter Alexander Watts (NZ401449, previously A401449) was born in Alexandra, Otago, New Zealand, on 4 September 1913.  He was the son of Mr and Mrs G G Watts and was educated at Alexandra District High School, being a member of the school’s 1st XV rugby team.  At the time of enlisting, his occupation was given as a fruit inspector with the Department of Agriculture in Wellington.  He enlisted in the RNZAF on 4 June 1940 and initially went to RNZAF Levin Ground Training School as an Air Observer under training, and then No.1 Air Observer School on 29 June 1940.  He remustered as an air gunner under training on 9 June 1940 and attained his Air Gunner Badge and promotion to sergeant on 27 July 1940.  He embarked for the United Kingdom and was attached to the RAF on 10 August 1940, posted to No.1 Depot 30 September 1940, and then No. 11 Operational Training Unit (Wellington) on 19 October 1940.  He was posted to No. 75 (NZ) Squadron on 9 January 1941 and is thought to have completed seven operations.  On about 31 March 1941, he was posted to No. 3 Group Training Flight.

On the night of Sunday 6/Monday 7 April 1941, he was killed, age 27, while on a ferry flight from Stradishall, Suffolk (north-east of London), to Malta flying in Wellington IC N2818, a No. 3 Group Training Flight aircraft.  The pilot was P/O Gilbert Theodore Kimberley (NZ391359), RNZAF, age 24.  The aircraft deviated from track in bad weather and at 0300 crashed five km east of Ras el Akba or four km south of Ain Amara, near Guelma, Algeria. N2818 had been seen descending through cloud with landing lights on and engines throttled back.  As the ground came into view, the engines were opened up, but the bomber crashed into a knoll situated between two large hills and exploded.  It is not known if N2818 was seeking to make an emergency landing or simply trying to establish its position. All six crew members were buried at Guelma, but later reinterred at the Bone War Cemetery – II.D.8, Algeria.  Bone is on the Mediterranean coastline in eastern Algeria, about 40 km from the border with Tunisia. At the time N2818 crashed, Algeria was under Vichy French control, so it is presumed the crash was observed by Vichy French personnel. On the 6 April, the day before the crash, the German General, Erwin Rommel, had occupied Mechilli in Libya and was pushing the Allies back into Egypt.  He had landed at Tripoli on 12 February 1941. 
 
Kimberley had also been with 75 (NZ) Squadron.  Watts had been posted to the Middle East, directly from the squadron whereas Kimberley had been with the Group Training Flight since early March.  Both were leaving Bomber Command for the Middle East by way of the flight.

Wellington N2818 was from a batch of 100 (N2735 –2859) Vickers Wellington ICs that were built by Vickers at Chester.  A total of 1583 Wellington ICs were produced at Chester, with other aircraft built in Blackpool (50) and Weybridge (914).  The IC had two Pegasus XVIII engines of 1050 hp and was built as a medium bomber weighing 28,500 pounds, had a max operational speed of 235 mph at operational height, a normal range of 1805 miles, a max range of 2550 miles, a ceiling of 18,000 feet and a bomb load of 4500 pounds.  N2818 was probably originally destined to be part of No. 205 Group which used Wellingtons in the Middle East from late summer 1940.

Acknowledgments:  Thanks to Errol Martyn for help in researching this information.  To purchase Errol's excellent books on the fates of New Zealanders who have died while serving with the RNZAF and Allied Air Services since 1915, please click here.

Ref. No. 1025. MEMORIAL CROSS FOR P/O G. T. KIMBERLEY.  Pilot Officer Gilbert Theodore Kimberley (NZ391359 – previously 391359) was born in Auckland on 2 November 1916. He was the son of Ven. Archdeacon Oliver James Kimberley and Mrs Hilda Annie Kimberley (nee Kempthorne), All Saints Vicarage, Nelson. He was educated at Christ’s College, Christchurch.  Prior to joining the RNZAF, he worked as a shepherd for J W Trolove at Kaikoura.  He enlisted in the RNZAF on 19 November 1939 and initially went to RNZAF Levin Ground Training School as an airman pilot.  On 19 December 1939 he went to No.1 Elementary Flying Training School and then 1FTS on 13 February 1940. He attained his Pilot Badge on 17 May 1940 and was commissioned on 28 May.  He embarked for the United Kingdom on the Rangitata, was attached to the RAF on 6 June 1940, posted to No. 1 Depot on  21 July 1940 and then 15 Operational Training Unit (Wellington) on 12 August.  On 4 October he was posted to No. 75 (NZ) Squadron (details of operations not known). After being posted to No. 3 Group Training Flight on 31 March 1941, he was killed, age 27,  flying a Wellington bomber on the night of Sunday 6/Monday 7 April.  The aircraft (Wellington IC N2828) was lost while on a ferry flight from Stradishall, Suffolk (north-east of London), to Malta. The aircraft deviated from track in bad weather and at 0300 crashed 5 km east of Ras el Akba or 4 km south of Ain Amara, near Guelma, Algeria. N2818 had been seen descending through cloud with landing lights on and engines throttled back.  As the ground came into view, the engines were opened up, but the bomber crashed into a knoll situated between two large hills and exploded.  It is not known if N2818 was seeking to make an emergency landing or simply trying to establish its position. All six crew members were buried at Guelma, but later reinterred at the Bone War Cemetery, Algeria (Kimberley being buried in plot II D.10).  Bone is on the Mediterranean coastline in eastern Algeria, about 40 km from the border with Tunisia. At the time N2818 crashed, Algeria was under Vichy French control, so it is presumed the crash was observed by Vichy French personnel. A photo of Kimberley appears in the The Weekly News on 5 June 1940 and 7 May 1941.  The full crew were as follows:

Plt Off KIMBERLEY, Gilbert Theodore 391359 RNZAF (Pilot)
Sgt WILLIAMS, Herbert Llewellyn 969577 RAFVR (Obs)
Sgt FAIRLAMB, Robert Whyman 945584 RAFVR (WOpAG)
Sgt McCRACKEN, Robert Cameron 652274 RAF (WOpAG)
Sgt WATTS, Walter Alexander 401449 RNZAF (AG)
Sgt ALLEN, Keith Ruthven 1150195 RAFVR (Pilot)

The cross is without ribbon or case and has not been cleaned. On the rear is “NZ391359 P/O G. T. KIMBERLEY” with the letter “R” and STIRLING.

By a remarkable coincidence, a year earlier, I had bought the Memorial Cross for Sgt W A Watts (see above), the Air Gunner who died in the same crash that took the life of Kimberley.  Both crosses were bought through the New Zealand website Trade Me. In the 18 months I had been looking for RNZAF items on Trade Me, I had only seen three RNZAF memorial crosses for sale. The fact that two of these (both of which I bought) were for aircrew from the same aircraft was an amazing coincidence.

Ref. No. 1185. MEMORIAL CROSS FOR F/O A. N. SAWARD. Flying Officer Albert Norman Saward (NZ4213297) was killed on 15 January 1945 while flying an RNZAF Corsair as part of the rescue attempt of Frank Keefe from Simpson Harbour near Rabaul, which was the Japanese stronghold on the island of New Britain. Keefe had been shot down by flak when dropping bombs on the Toboi Wharf. Saward and six other Corsair pilots crashed or went missing while returning through a tropical storm to Nissan Island, which is also part of Papua New Guinea. Saward's aircraft (F4U-1D Corsair NZ5412) crashed into the sea immediately following a mid-air collision between NZ5408 and NZ5423. At the time of the accident, Saward was 22 years old and had a total time of 538 hours, 226 of which were on Corsairs. He is commemorated on the Bourail Memorial.  The tragedy marked  the highest loss of RNZAF fighter pilots in a single day, as well as the highest loss of RNZAF aircraft..

American Medals Issued to Personnel Serving in the RNZAF

Distinguished Flying Cross.  A total of 15 United States Distinguished Flying Crosses have been awarded to members of the RNZAF.  These were: WWII (Europe) - Nine; World War II (Pacific) - Five; Vietnam - One.  Congress established the Distinguished Flying Cross on 2 July 1926  (the only American decoration authorised for a specific branch of the Military and Naval forces) for members of the Air Corps of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.  The award of the Cross is confined to "any person, who, while serving in any capacity with the Air Corps of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps of the United States, including the National Guard and organised Reserves, subsequent to 7 April 1917, has distinguished himself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight."  The decoration was made retroactive to include services in 1917-1918.  It is made of bronze and bears the design of a four-bladed propeller superimposed on a chased square.

Air Medal.  Seventeen United States Air Medals have been awarded to members of the RNZAF as follows: United Kingdom - one; Middle East - one; Far East - one; Pacific - fourteen.  The medal is a sixteen-pointed star with an eagle in the centre and was awarded to a pilot or a member of the crew of an aircraft who meets one of several requirements, but whose services do not warrant the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

United States Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal.  Although not issued to members of the RNZAF, this campaign medal has been included here for comparison with British Campaign Medals shown earlier.



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