Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Article nb 700 : All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has special reason to recognise Armistice Day


Richie McCaw, the All Blacks captain, will be among those who pause at precisely 11am on Armistice Day to reflect on those who served and died and those who served and survived.
By Brendan Gallagher Last Updated: 8:19AM GMT 11 Nov 2008
--Left to right: JH McCaw, Allan Smith, Andy Brown (pic in the middle)
--McCaw was based with 486 'New Zealand' squadron based at RAF Tangmere and Marston (pic on the left)
--Reason to remember: Richie McCaw will recall his grandfather J H 'Jim' McCaw (pic on the right)

McCaw, probably the world's best rugby player and a 21st Century sporting icon, still appreciates and honours those who fought for our freedom.
He will lay down his tacklebag at All Blacks training, stand ramrod straight, gaze into the sky and call to mind a special person in his life. His grandfather J H 'Jim' McCaw.

The All Blacks captain is 27 and in his pomp. At the same age his exhausted grandfather had just returned to New Zealand to an uncertain future after a notable shift at the coalface on behalf of the 'old country' with the 486 'New Zealand' squadron based at RAF Tangmere and Marston.

His flying duties were many and taxing – he flew over 300 operational sorties mainly in Tempests – but in the summer of 1944 he was exclusively employed taking out the murderous V1 and V2 missiles that were randomly launched at London, looking to kill and maim as many citizens as possible as the Nazis played their final card. Hiwa hau Maka – beware the wild winds – as the squadron motto so aptly proclaimed in Maori. Dangerous times.

The Hawker Tempest MK5 – armed only with four deadly Hispano 20mm cannon – was brilliantly manoeuvrable at low speed, the fastest piston plane engine in the RAF and McCaw and his colleagues, defended the realm with typical Kiwi tenacity.

Officially, he was credited with 19½ kills but he also managed to shepherd – wingtip – a number out to sea when he had run out of ammunition. Thousands, probably tens of thousands, of Londoners owe him their lives to Richie McCaw's grandfather and his colleagues. On one evening alone in July 1944 he destroyed four V2s heading towards the suburbs, finishing his patrol by scraping into Biggin Hill well past midnight with his fuel tanks showing empty.

A couple of days after that epic he was hastily awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation read: "Flight Lieutenant McCaw has completed a large number of sorties, involving many successful attacks on the enemy's railway communications, mechanical transports, and other targets on the ground. He has also participated in several attacks on shipping, during which time 73 vessels have been destroyed. He is a most efficient flight commander, whose ability and keenness have been reflected in the fine fighting qualities of his flight."

"The 'old fella' was a great man and we were very close before he died in 1996," McCaw recalls fondly. "I stayed up at the family farm in Kurow regularly in the holidays – he used to run a gliding school there as well – and sometimes we would disappear and go fishing and he would tell me all the old War stories. I dare say he embellished some yarns and others he must have told me a hundred times but the really scary ones he made light of or just didn't mention at all. You had to talk to his mates in the bar to find out the truth about those.

"There's a famous piece of footage – it's in all the World War documentaries – which is taken from the gun turret of a Tempest and the pilot has possibly misjudged his approach. Anyway he was very close when he finally managed to loose off his cannon effectively and blow it up and the pilot had to fly through the explosion and all the shrapnel and debris. It's pretty terrifying. Carnage. That pilot was the old fella. He came out of the other side."

Others didn't. It was a game of Russian roulette. Ten of his immediate colleagues and friends in 486 were killed that summer by V2 explosions as they attacked the bombs with suicidal bravery. In total they destroyed 223 headed our way. Shades of Churchill's "few" all over again.

"The whole family was – is – very proud of him," continues McCaw. "Like so many young Kiwis he did what he felt was the right thing when World War Two was declared and joined up to fight for the old country. He was proud of his Scottish roots – his grandfather was born in the Borders – and safely sitting out hostilities from 10,000 miles distance wasn't an option. That's how it was in those days. Nearly 12,000 of those young Kiwis didn't come back.

"Flying in is in the family. Or it is now. The old fella was the pioneer although I'm never quite sure why he opted for the RNZAF when he joined up. A hidden dream perhaps or possibly youthful bravado? My dad and uncles all fly, and me as well. I learnt to fly exactly where the old fella learnt. I lead a very lucky and privileged life and want for nothing but if I could be granted one wish it would be to tog up and fly for real in a Tempest. Just to get a feel of what it was like and experience in a very small way what he went through.

"I'm told they were incredible, very fast and untouchable in a dive but I'm not even sure there is one left in the air, although there are a couple in museums. He wasn't a rugby man really but he was a great support in my career until he died. The moment he saw I loved the game he was on the touchline in all weathers with the family. I wish he had still been alive for my All Blacks debut. That would have meant a lot.

"Of course his experience – and that of every serviceman – puts sport in perspective. When I travel these days to Britain or Europe with the All Blacks I give my heart and soul for the New Zealand cause – I know of no other way to play rugby and am so proud captaining the All Blacks – but ultimately, in the big scheme of things its still not a matter of life and death. That thought helps if things go wrong."
11.11.2008. Message to the WW1 foreignh troops : juste MERCI without you in 1918 and some 25 years later, I don't know where we'd be... alors MERCI!!

Hawker Tempest gun camera : http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=fQTfXVqNo9A
Thanx Nancy :)

Grandpa Jim was in this report, May 4, 2006: Richie McCaw (12:09) : http://tvnz.co.nz/view/video_popup_windows_skin/710660


Nancy said...

Thank you for posting this, Mary.

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