Meet one of NZ’s greatest WWII pilots
Melanie Reid speaks to Allan George, one of the country's most distinguished bomber pilots from WWII and a member of the Pathfinders
Squadron Leader NZ403441, DFC, DFM
"Perhaps we were ego chasers; perhaps we were bloody idiots; I don't know. We got an adrenaline rush; you've got no idea."
Allan George was one of the country’s greatest WWII pilots. He flew 73 missions to bomb Germany and became one of the famed Pathfinder pilots.
The Pathfinders were the elite, usually flying the fast twin engine Mosquito. Their job was to fly ahead of the heavy bombers and light up the targets for the bigger planes.
Chances of survival for Pathfinders were appallingly low - 80 per cent never made it back. But Allan George survived, and for his outstanding bravery in the flak-ridden skies over Germany he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Eight years ago, I was lucky enough to interview Allan George. He was one of six WWII pilots whose war stories I documented. Each man was a true hero – brave, strong, and charming, and gentlemen through and through. I’d been worried that their incredible stories would be lost forever, as these fine Kiwi men were getting on in years and time was running out.
Allan George’s story was one of the six and is my favourite.
He lived in a rambling old farm house in Manaia in Taranaki with his wife Francis, who had been a WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) and they had met on a ship during the war. They had nine children, including two sets of twins. Francis was so intelligent and well read it was like discovering two of life’s treasures. I felt very honoured to later call them both my friends.
At the time of the 2009 interview, Allan took me into his office. It was bursting with WWII memorabilia. I can still remember to this day the smell of his log book and him explaining all the hair-raising missions he’d flown.
As he says in this interview, when flying over hostile Germany there were many “is this it?” moments. “Often you thought, how am I going to get out of this? You’d be caught in the flak and you’d think Jesus, this is it.”
Long after the interview was over I would visit Allan and Francis whenever I was in Taranaki, which was often as my son frequently surfed there. Their lives and stories fascinated me. Listening to them was like being at a gripping movie or reading a book so fascinating, you couldn’t put it down.
Up until Allan died in 2014, I would receive beautifully hand written letters from him around once a month. He always addressed me the same way “My Dear fair lady”.
I flew to New Plymouth on a really cold day, and with my friend Margaret Scannell, drove an hour south to Manaia to Allan’s funeral. I purchased a fake sheep skin coat at the local Salvation Army shop so I didn’t freeze. It was bleak and grey and cold, and my 96-year-old hero Allan was dead.
There was a piped processional and we sang How Great Thou Art. How true that was. I cried a lot as I really felt I had lost something dear and New Zealand had lost another humble hero.
I framed his photo and keep it in my house.
His darling wife Francis died five weeks and three days later.