Manukau Courier : April 24th 2015
Friday, April 24, 2015 From Spitfire to Otahuhu Airmanrecalls everyminute By SHILO KINO THE peaceful suburb of Otahuhu is a stark contrast to the ear-splitting interior of a Spitfire cockpit. Former Flight Lieutenant James O’Conner remembers every inch of the aircraft he flew during the Battle of Britain. The 91-year-old is one of the last remaining Spitfire veterans. He was born in Scotland and tried to volunteer for the Royal Air Force as an eager 16-year-old. He was ordered to go home. ‘‘They said thank you very much and don’t do it again,’’ he says. But O’Conner persisted and eventually he was called up in 1941. ‘‘There was just something in me. I didn’t have to fight. I could have stayed reserved [occupation] in a coal mine throughout the whole war but I wanted to fight.’’ He was ‘‘young and stupid’’ but he also feared for his country. ‘‘Britain was going to go down the gurgler and we would have been invaded by the Germans.’’ The Spitfire is the fighter aircraft credited by some with saving Britain during World War II. O’Conner still remembers the thrill of soaring high above the clouds in one. ‘‘You were the king and that was it. You were in control. You didn’t have a care in the world. I’m in a Spitfire so catch me if you can. ‘‘It was kill or be killed. ‘‘It’s been 69 years but I know every movement still. I could still go in and start that aircraft and fly it.’’ O’Conner left the air force in 1946 and went back to ‘‘normal life’’ working in a coal mine. He and his wife Anne moved to New Zealand in 1971. Anne died in 1997 – they’d been married for 49 years. O’Conner’s mind boggles at how much the world has changed but he delights in his quiet lifestyle in Otahuhu surrounded by family and friends. Every year he honours the Anzac soldiers who fought at Gallipoli. ‘‘New Zealand is a small country and if you think about what they gave . . . Flight LieutenantJames O’Conner in his glory days. You don’t get two chances in life so make the most of it while you’re here. You can’t come back and do it again.’’ ❚ THE WAR AT HOME P6 Otahuhu residentJames O’Conner, 91, is one of the last remaining veterans who took to the skies in a Spitfireduring the Battle ofBritain. Flax poppies a Kiwi touch at Gallipoli By ANNA LOREN Soldiers who fell half a world away will be reunited with a piece of New Zealand tomorrow. Poppies made in Weymouth by traditional Maori weaver Francis Conrad will be laid at servicemen’s graves during Anzac Day ceremonies at Gallipoli. The 48-year-old has made 4000 of the flax flowers over the past week. Some are also being used at Anzac Day parades in Kaikohe and Opononi and more poppies have been shipped to Wellington. Returned servicemen will wear them in their buttonholes and they have also been made into wreaths for the parades. Conrad grew up in Te Kao in the Far North and was taught to weave by her grandmother, Kerewai. ‘‘As a child I hated it because we were brought up on it. We were like an assembly line,’’ she says. ‘‘When I moved out I told my grandmother I’d never do it again. It wasn’t until she died that I started it back up.’’ She now runs her own small busi- ness, Kanara Arts, out of her home and makes kete, hair pieces, flowers and jewellery. All the pieces are made from flax collected around her house and dyed with natural dyes. Drying, scraping, boiling and dye- ANZACDAYSERVICES Returned servicemen and women across the region will be out for this year’s Anzac Day parades andservices tomorrow. Members of the public are Weaver Francis Conrad with some of the poppies she hasmade for Anzac Day. Photo:ANNALOREN ing the flax takes a long time but ‘‘the weaving part is easy’’, she says. ‘‘I can make 45 kete in a day. It’s relaxing. I can sit there and do it and be my own boss.’’ Conrad will mark Anzac Day at the dawn service in Manurewa. It’s ‘‘very special’’ to know her creations will be left at Gallipoli, she says. ‘‘We have so many New Zealand- ers over there, so many of the fallen, so now there is something from New Zealand going back to them.’’ invited to join in the remembrance services at: Mangere Bridge Civic service: 10am at MangereBridge Memorial Hall on Domain Rd. Parade assembles at 9am at the corner of Coronation Rd and Church St and leaves at 9.30am. Manurewa Dawn service: 6am at the cenotaph on the corner of Great South Rd and Hill Rd. Parade assembles at 5.40am at Manurewa RSA on Maich Rd and leaves at 5.45am. Civic service: 10.30am at the cenotaph on the corner of Great South Rd and Hill Rd. Parade assembles at 9.45am outside Manurewa RSA and leaves at 10am. Otahuhu Dawn service: 6.30am at Otahuhu Lawn Cemeteryon the corner of Luke St and Atkinson Ave. Civic service: 9.30 am at Otahuhu War Memorial on Great South Rd. Parade assembles at 9am at the south end of Piki Photo: SHILO KINO Thompson Way and leaves at 9.15am. Otara-East Tamaki Civic service: 7.45am at the cenotaph at East Tamaki Domain. Parade assembles at 7am at Church of the Nazarene, 182 East Tamaki Rd, and leaves at 7.30am. Papatoetoe Dawn service: 6am at the war memorial at Manukau Memorial Gardens, 361 Puhinui Rd. Parade assembles near the Puhinui Rd entrance at 5.45am and leaves at 5.50am. Civic service: 10.30am at Papatoetoe RSA on Wallace Rd. There will be a wreath-layingat 10am at Papatoetoe Central School on the corner of Great South Rd and Saint George St. Parade assembles outside the school at 10am and leaves at 10.15am.
April 23rd 2015