Sunday, 16 August 2020

James Anderson 1897/28/4/1911.




DUNEDIN, April 29

James Anderson, aged fifteen, fell off the platform of a carriage in the Caversham tunnel last evening. He dropped under the train and was killed. His body was frightfully mangled.  -Northern Advocate, 29/4/1911.


Mr C. C. Graham, coroner, held an inquest at Fairfield on Saturday concerning the death of the lad James Anderson, who fell from the platform of one of the carriages of Friday's 5.15 p.m. train for Mosgiel while the train was passing through the Caversham tunnel. 

John Anderson, the boy's father, identified the body. 

John Hollows, aged 16, employed in the State coal office, said that he travelled on the train with deceased and another lad named McCallum. They were in the habit of travelling on one particular second-class carriage on this train, and as it was full the previous evening they stood on the platform of it. After leaving Caversham deceased crossed over to the platform of a first class carriage to have a better place from which to observe the Otago Central train when it passed them in the tunnel. Deceased went to lean on the gate of the platform on the first class carriage, which must have been open — it was too dark for witness to see whether it was or not — and fell out off the train. There was no skylarking going on among them. Witness thought that the gate was shut when the train pulled up at Caversham, but two passengers had left the carriage there, and possibly the gate had been left open. 

George McCallum, aged 16, employed at the Otago Daily Times office, corroborated the evidence of the last witness, and denied that there was any skylarking going on. He himself could not see whether the gate was open or shut.

William Rush, railway porter at. Caversham, said that the stationmaster called on him to leave the signal box and go into the tunnel with a lamp, as Burnside advised that a boy had fallen off the train which had recently left. The stationmaster suspended traffic through the tunnel pending witness reporting himself at either Caversham or Burnside. Two porters left Burnside at the same time with a stretcher. Witness found the boy about a quarter of a mile from the Caversham end of the tunnel. Anderson was then quite dead. He was lying near the "down" road, with his face six inches from the right hand (or inner) rail. On the porters arriving with the stretcher the body was conveyed back to Caversham, whence it was taken to his father's residence.

Thomas F. Scully, guard of the train by which deceased was travelling, did not remember seeing him on the train that day. Witness was first informed of the accident by George McCallum when the train reached Burnside. Witness at once informed the stationmaster at Burnside, and suggested the suspension of all traffic through the tunnel. Witness instructed his two assistants on the train to remain at Burnside to form a search party to go into the tunnel. Witness had not noticed the gate of that carriage open at Caversham. Some passengers alighted at Caversham. Witness always kept a sharp look-out for open gates on the platforms, especially when leaving stations, and his two assistants, stationed one at the front and one in the centre of the train, were also instructed to do so. The boy fell off the platform of a first class carriage, and passengers holding second class tickets had no right on such platforms. Deceased had evidently crossed over to this platform while the train was in the tunnel. His train passed the Otago Central train about 300 yards from the Burnside end of the tunnel, so that the accident occurred before the two trains met. There was plenty of room on the train for all the passengers it carried. The boys would have had to go through one carriage to obtain seating accommodation.

William Johnston Will, medical practitioner; said he examined the body yesterday at Caversham station. There was a large scalp wound over the right temple and a deep wound at the back of the skull, where there was a depressed fracture. The face was covered with skin abrasions. There was a compound fracture of the right leg above the ankle. The injuries were quite sufficient to account for instantaneous death. 

In reply to the Coroner, the witness Scully said the train was going about 20 miles an hour at the spot where the body was found. Possihly an axle box had struck deceased after he fell. 

The Coroner said that the evidence showed that death was caused by an accidental fall from a train, and that no blame was attachable to anyone. The railway regulations were very explicit about passengers riding on platforms, and anyone doing so did it at his own risk. It was possible that at small stations, where trains did not stop long, an open platform gate might be overlooked, and the evidence did not show whether it was shut or open. Presumably it was open, or deceased would not have fallen out. The verdict was "Accidental death, caused by a fall from a train."  -Otago Daily Times, 1/5/1911.

Green Island Cemetery, Dunedin.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Maribel French Muirhead, 1884-16/12/1926.




[BY TELEGRAPH, —OWN CORRESPONDENT. ] DUNEDIN. Thursday. The Dunedin police have received telephonic advice from. Poolburn that a passenger by the Central Otago train, believed to be Miss M. Muirhead, fell from the train at Poolburn Gorge and was killed. She was travelling on the return half of a Dunedin-Cromwell ticket and was alone. No one saw the accident. The body is being brought on to Dunedin by this evening's train.  -NZ Herald, 17/12/1926.




[BY TELEGRAPH.—OWN CORRESPONDENT.] DUNEDIN, Friday. The inquest was opened to-day into the death of Maribel French Muirhead, a single woman, 42 years of age, who fell from the platform of the Otago Central train yesterday and was killed. As far as can be ascertained no one saw the accident, the victim being the only occupant of a second class carriage. 

Mr. H. W. Bundle S.M., was the coroner, Sergeant McCarthy representing the police. 

Margaret Muirhead identified the body as that of her daughter, who had lived with her at St. Kilda. The deceased had been in ill-health for some time and received medical attention. She was returning home from a holiday with her sister at Alexandra when she met her death. The inquest was adjourned sine die.  -Otago Daily Times, 18/12/1926.

An open verdict was returned at the adjourned inquest in Dunedin on Maribel French Muirhead, whose death occurred on December 16 as the result of being run over by a train on the Otago Central line. The Coroner, Mr. H. W. Rundle, said the evidence showed that deceased was the only passenger in the carriage adjoining the van. The gangway and the rails between the van and car and the gates on the car were in good order. The gates being shut at the time, it was impossible to say how deceased’s body got on to the track. Whether she fell off the platform, or whether the mishap occurred as the indirect result of her bad health, was unknown. The coroner found that there was no possible negligence on the part of the Railway Department.   -Poverty Bay Herald, 24/1/1927.

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin. DCC photo.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

2414 Lance Corporal Colin Campbell (Bos) Boswell 25/1/1915-26/4/1941.

 Colin Boswell was a builder when he joined the NZ Army in 1940. His profession made him a valuable recruit for the  NZ Engineers and he served in 6 Field Company.

The Engineers joined the British response to the German invasion of Greece in 1941 and they did much work during the retreat in the face of German armoured units, delaying them with demolition and mines. By late April the 6th Field Company were in the vicinity of the Corinth Canal - an area of vital military importance, especially the bridge which crossed it.  It was vital that it be kept usable for the continued retreat of friendly forces.  It was equally vital to destroy it before it fell into enemy hands.

It was probably not known to the men in the field until just before the crucial event but was certainly known to their commanders that the Canal was an essential part of the German plan for the invasion of Greece.  A fuel tanker was waiting for it to be secured so it could head through and reach the nearby port of Piraeus to unload fuel for the arriving tanks and other vehicles.

German troops on the Corinth Canal bridge.

The story is best told by J F Cody, the author of "New Zealand Engineers, Middle East," one of the volumes of the Official History of NZ in the Second World War, published in 1961:

Sixth Field Company, which we left on the road to and on the bridge over the Corinth Canal, did not embark as a company. At the time the others were moving to the beaches, the company was wandering in small groups all over southern Greece. That is, those of them who were not already prisoners of war.

This was the way of it — Lieutenant Kelsall decided to move to a quieter area nearer Corinth so, leaving Sergeant Jay and a sub-section guarding mined road blocks, the trucks and crews were moved after dark (25–26 April) into a lemon orchard a couple of miles south of the bridge, where it was possible to get some sleep.

The sleep had a sudden termination at daybreak. Kelsall's diary explains why:

‘0530 hrs: Heard noise of straffing and was told by sentry that paratroops were landing on the undulating ground to the E. Dumfounded. Started to put the orchard in a state of defence: 1 and 3 Secs running N-S and facing E and S. HQ Sec covering the SW. We could not see the bridge for the trees and we were probably not seen ourselves in the orchard. The paratroopers were jumping from about 500' and fighter planes were skimming the tops of tall pines bordering the orchard. It was possible to see inside the planes thro’ the open doors.

PAGE 118

‘As my troops were not trained infantry, told the sec commanders to husband ammunition and not to fire until the enemy were at least 400x away. No. 3 section a bit eager must have fired at 800x and perhaps let the enemy know we were there…. At 0650 hrs a terrific explosion and it seemed to me that the br had gone up…. The show began with fire from automatics and when our resistance stiffened mortars were brought into action….

‘0900 hrs: Decided to make a break, ordered all trucks to be emptied of equipment with the intention of racing trucks out and going south. I climbed a tree … and saw to my horror blazing tanks of 4H—at least three (men had run to them and then been shot at I think), and Bren carriers in an open field. The Messerschmidts were taking to them very successfully and the rd out was dead straight and ideal for straffing. With 6 wheeled 30 cwt Morris trucks decided to stay and fight….

‘1300 hrs: Running very short of ammo — no communication with the bridge. I decided to make a break with the rest of the Coy — 140 men. We divided into small groups (NCO and 6 ORs) to fight our way out and make for the coast.

‘1430: Decided to order the move….’

No. 2 Section was wakened by the usual morning hate and was preparing for the day's work when, to their paralytic astonishment, they saw parachutes dropping from the sky. Some stood petrified with amazement, others grabbed their rifles and waited for instructions as to what to do next.

Lieutenant Wheeler ordered them to disperse before they were surrounded by the waves of dropping paratroops and to concentrate again behind Corinth village. Some made it but the majority did not, for there were Germans all over the area. Major Rudd, who as acting CRE had his small headquarters in rear of 6 Field Company, went forward to see what was happening and collected approximately twenty sappers whom he led to eventual embarkation at Monemvasia. Wheeler with another dozen or so embarked after much marching and hiding at Argos. Lieutenants Kelsall and Wells and party were betrayed, one of the few cases on record; Lieutenant Chapman with twenty others, after island hopping in borrowed and stolen boats, evaded capture; another score or so found various embarkation beaches; still others got as far as Kalamata beach, where 5000 waited and only 500 could be taken; some escaped even after that, but approximately seventy more sappers of 6 Field Company joined the forty taken at the Servia Pass.

PAGE 119

It only remains to describe the end of the Corinth bridge, and to do so it is necessary to go back in time a few days.

It was originally intended to embark 4 Brigade from the Athens area, but force of circumstances had compelled a change of plan and 4 Brigade Group was now to follow 6 Brigade down into the Peloponnese, only a few hours' run from Crete. Lieutenant Wheeler's instructions regarding the canal bridge, pontoon bridges, ferries, etc., ended with the intimation that the order to destroy the bridge would be given in writing by an officer from Force Headquarters, and that he (Wheeler) would ensure that the bridge did not fall into enemy hands intact.

Some time during the 25th and unknown to Wheeler, who was working on the pontoon bridge moored to the far bank of the canal, a staff officer whom it has not been possible to identify added a verbal order that on no account was the bridge to be demolished for another twenty-four hours, during which time 4 Brigade Group would pass across. From the section camp a mile and a half away, Lieutenant Wheeler was sure the bridge had been blown.

‘In all the complexity of noise it had been impossible to tell whether the bridge had been fired but I didn't entertain any doubt. The picquet had clear written orders. “Under no conditions will you allow the bridge to fall into enemy hands intact.” But the fate of the boys themselves was more uncertain. Their chances would be pretty lean.

‘It was not given to me to know that a few hours earlier that a Very Senior Officer had stopped to have a word with the sappers. And that he had firmly impressed on them that there was another convoy yet to pass through. He added that “under no conditions was the bridge to be destroyed for at least twenty four hours”. Which put the n.c.o. in charge of the party in rather a spot when the band began to play in the morning. Disobey a written order from a subaltern or a verbal order from a Staff Officer with red braid all around his hat? He did the obvious thing—left the bridge cold, jumped a truck, came out through a hail of lead. Happily ignorant of this development, I watched the fourth or fifth row of parachutes laid neatly across what had been our camp. Not a sign of the lads and another trio of 52's hove in sight. I deemed it high time to head for the horizon.’

The bridge was thus seized intact, no mean prize to a commander who wanted to push south after the elusive Anzacs. 
PAGE 120
And no mean embarrassment to a commander who had planned to move the rest of his division into the Peloponnese and embark from beaches there.

The German elation terminated when, with a roar followed by an immense smoke cloud, the structure collapsed into the canal.

A mass of conflicting evidence has been collected regarding the cause of the explosion that wrecked the Corinth bridge, but there is at least one witness who is quite certain that two New Zealand sappers lost their lives in the attempt.

Here is the testimony of Gunner H. E. Smith who had been wounded at Tempe, missed embarkation at Megara, and was being taken by truck to another beach:

‘We were hardly across the bridge, travelling south, when the blitz started…. we jumped the transport and I made for a clump of rocks. I was still hugging a bren and some ammo picked up the night before. It was here that I first met the two engineers. One remarked that if Jerry hit the bridge she'd go sky high as it was loaded to the gills with TNT. The longer the raid continued the more they remarked on it not getting hit. They couldn't understand it…. I looked up and saw the Parachutists dropping. We jumped up, and being firmly convinced that the parachutists wouldn't take prisoners we decided to sell out as dear as possible. I made for a mound, followed by the two sappers and it was then we saw the bridge still intact. One sapper said to the other, “They're after that bridge Boss” (It was either Boss or Bossie)…. It was here that the idea came to blow the bridge. There was a hurried huddle to see whether the three of us went or one or two. It was decided on two and I'd cover with the bren as the Huns were well on the ground and making things hot. From where I was I could give complete cover as the bridge was plain ahead. The next second the boys were gone and so long as I could I kept them in my sight, but believe me, trying to keep up with the Huns didn't leave much time.

‘Quite a fair bunch of Huns were coming in from the northern end and soon apparently guessed what was going on and endeavoured to stop them. Just short of the bridge, one of the boys fell. The other made the bridge for sure as he came right in sight. For a moment I thought he'd been hit as he seemed to fall but the next I saw he was coming back. He looked to have cleared the bridge when it seemed to heave and the next moment she was sky high. Considering the sapper's position it doesn't surprise me to hear there's no trace of his or the other sapper's body as by the blast and the rock that came over they must have been blown to pieces.’

There is an equally convincing account by two British officers who believed that they exploded the charges by rifle fire. But no trace was ever found of Lance-Corporal (‘Bos’) Boswell and Sapper Thornton of 6 Field Company.

It is also claimed that the charges on the Corinth Bridge were set off by a nearby British anti-aircraft battery or a lucky artillery hit from further away.

The charges explode.

The Canal bridge collapsed into the Canal, delaying German movements by two days - not long enough for the retreating New Zealand forces which were evacuated from a different port. A temporary bridge was built but the Canal was blocked until May 17 - a valuable delay for the resupply of the German blitzkrieg.  The fuel tanker had to take the long way aroubnd to reach port and unload for the mechanised troops.

Colin Boswell was posted missing in May, 1941.  With no reports of his burial by German forces, or appearance in a military hospital or POW camp, his death had to be assumed.


BOSWELL.—No. 2414 L/cpl. Colin Campbell, 1st Echelon, 2nd N.Z. Expeditionary Force, N.Z. Engineers, previously reported missing, now listed killed in action in Greece, April 26, 1941, dearly beloved youngest son of the late Charles and Elizabeth Boswell of' Ravensbourne, and brother of Miss A. Boswell, Ravensbourne, Mrs K. Richdale, Maori Hill, F. D. Boswell, Michie street, Roslyn, and Charles and Walter, Wellington. 

He did his duty.  -Otago Daily Times, 4/10/1946.

"He did his duty" - he certainly did.  Just how well, we will never know.

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.  DCC photo.

Patrick Dempsey (1845?-10/2/1875) and Thomas Kerr (1839?-10/2/1875)- Chain Hills Tunnel

 The Chain Hills tunnel was one of two which were dug in the 1870s to connect Dunedin with the Taieri Plain and form part of what was intially known as the Clutha Railway.  It is now, after a long process, soon to be part of a cycle trail which will be the most scenic way to enter the city of Dunedin from the south.  Photos of the tunnel as it looks today can be found here.

Railway workers at Chain Hills tunnel | NZHistory, New Zealand history  online
Dunedin portal of the Chain Hills Tunnel. Hocken Library photo.



A serious accident happened at the Chain Hills Tunnel this morning, resulting in the instant death of two men employed on the work. The accident happened at the north, or top end of the tunnel, and this side is divided into three shifts (that to which the accident occurred consisting of fifteen men), under the direction of Mr Kerr. From what we could learn, it appears that about seven o’clock this morning Thomas Kerr (foreman), Patrick Dempsey, Geo. Turnage, and -- Wedlock, and others commenced working on the tunnel, and after they had been so engaged for about an hour, some seven or eight feet of bluestone fell from the roof of the tunnel, covering the four men named. Wedlock and Turnage were the first to be got out, and as both were seriously injured, they were immediately taken to the Hospital; the others must have been instantly killed, for when their bodies were uncovered, life was extinct. Kerr's head was split open from the right eye across the temple, and his neck was broken; Dempsey’s skull was split open about 3in. wide behind the right temple and across the face to the left eye. The upper portion of the head was almost severed from the lower part, and a more complete disfiguration could hardly be imagined, while any attempt at identifiettiun of the features would be atlogether out of the question. Kerr’s watch, which was broken, had stopped at five minutes past eight. Kerr was a married and his wife and seven children reside at Fairfield, close by, and his eldest daughter was working within a very short distance of the scene of the accident. He was about forty years of age, had been fourteen years in the district, had been working at the tunnel for about twelve mouths and was greatly respected. Dempsey was about thirty years of age. In his purse was found a ticket for admission to the hospital, bearing his name. 

William F. Pattison, who was in charge of the shift, saw the stone after it fell, and uncovered the men at the risk of his own life, as the stone continued falling after they were got out. The tunnel was timbered within five feet of where the men were killed, and bricked to within twenty feet; this would be about seven chains from the mouth of the tunnel. Sergeant-Major Bevan, from Dunedin, was almost immediately on the spot, and had the bodies removed to Jenkins’s Rose, Shamrock, and Thistle Hotel where an inquest will probably be held to-morrow. The saddest part of he affair is that Dempsey, Wedlock, and Turnage only went to the works for the first time an hour before the accident occurred, and all had been thoroughly enjoying themselves at a ball held at Green Island on the previous night. About sixty men are now working in the tunnel and after the accident work was immediately suspended. On making inquiries at the Hospital this afternoon, we learned from the injured men that no warning was given of the ground falling. Wedlock has his right leg broken, Turnage both legs broken, one being a compound fracture. He is besides very much cut and bruised about the head.  -Evening Star, 10/2/1875.


Dunedin, Feb. 11. It was stated at the Hospital this morning that Fredk. Tornage and Thos. Wedlock, who were seriously injured by the fall of seven or eight feet of bluestone from the roof of the Chain Hills tunnel on the clutha line, were getting on as well as can be expected under the circumstances. Wedlock has his right leg broken; Turnage’s legs are broken, one being a compound fracture, and he has also several severe cuts on the head. It is expected that Wedlock will soon recover, but the same favourable hopes are not entertained as regards Turnage. An inquest on the bodies of Thomas Kerr and Patrick Dempsey will be held at Green Island at two o’clock to-day. Kerr’s head was split-open from the right eye across the temple, and his neck was broken. Dempsey’s skull was split open about three inches wide, and the upper part of the head was almost severed from the lower. Dempsy, Wedlock, and Turnage went to work only an hour before the accident occurred, and all three had been enjoying themselves at a ball at Green Island on tbe previous evening.   -Lyttelton Tinmes, 12/2/1875.


Dunedin, Feb. 12, An inquest was held at Green Island yesterday touching the death of Thomas Kerr and Patrick Dempsey, killed by a fall of stone the previous day at the Chain Hills tunnel. From the evidence of Mr W. F. Patterson, miners Dempsey and Turridge were two of four strange men who went to work at the tunnel on Wednesday. At 8 am. that day witness heard a noise as from a blast and proceeded to the spot. Turridge had just been extricated from the stone, Wedlock had a rock on his leg. It was removed with crowbars. Dempsey's head was smashed, and Kerr was covered with rock. While witness had Kerr in his arms a fresh fall of earth took place, separating them and again burying Kerr. No warning was received that the ground was weak, nor was anything suspicious observed. It was the business of the men to ascertain whether the ground was safe. Mr A. J. Smythe, agent for Messrs Brogden, said he had entrusted the control of the work to Kerr, who was an experienced miner, and instructions were given that all possible care should be taken to guard against accidents. He had suggested to Kerr on the previous week that it would be more economical to adopt the top heading. The Coroner said the fact of no accident having previously ocourred was a proof that considerable care was taken. The occurrence was evidently one of pure accident. A verdict of accidental death was returned.  -Star, 13/2/1875.

The unfortunate men, Thomas Kerr and Peter Dempsey, who were killed at the Chain Hills tunnel on Wednesday, were buried yesterday at the Green Island Cemetery. The Rev. Mr Watt read the funeral service. The funeral was attended by a large numher of relatives and friends of the deceased men, and nearly all the men employed about the tunnel. A movement is on foot for the relief of Kerr's family.  -Otago Daily Times, 13/2/1875.

Peter Dempsey was not buried at Green Island, but in Dunedin's Southern Cemetery.  Thomas Kerr's widow, Janet, was buried beside him 47 years after her husband's death, in 1922.

It will be seen from an announcement elsewhere that an entertainment, consisting of a concert and dance, is to take place at the Temperance Hall on Thursday week. The entertainment is to be held with a view of aiding a labourer named George Turnage, who was crippled for life at the Chain Hills tunnel some few months ago, and who has just left the Hospital. There will be a well selected programme, and performers who are favourites with Dunedin audiences. These recommendations, together with the charitable object for which the concert is to be given, and the attractions of a dance, should be sufficient to draw a good house. The Artillery Band have given their patronage, and will play selections. Mr John Moran, on account of the entertainment being for a charitable object, has cheerfully given his valuable services, though, he has to leave the Province on the following day.  -Otago Daily Times, 13/6/1875.

Green Island Cemetery.  DCC photo.

The grave of Peter Dempsey, Southern Cemetery, Dunedin. DCC photo.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Neale and Gwenda Sutherland, Richard Mansfield, David Farquharson. Died 5/5/1949.



Aero Club’s Proctor Stalls after Take-off 


Staff Reporter INVERCARGILL June 5. Four Dunedin persons were killed when a Percival Proctor aircraft belonging to the Otago Aero Club crashed in a field adjourning the Invercargill airport at 11.30 this morning. The plane was completely wrecked and the occupants must have been killed instantly. A Daily Times reporter, who reached the airfield shortly after the crash, saw all that remained of what had been a familiar aircraft about the Taieri aerodrome. It was a tangled mass of debris. A suitcase, a fur coat, a flying jacket, a shoe — these and other personal items of luggage brought home the real tragedy of the crash. The ground was saturated with petrol, but fire did not break out.

The occupants of the plane were:— Neale Cook Sutherland, the pilot, aged 27 years, married, of 57 Sutherland street, Dunedin.

Gwenda Sutherland, aged about 25 years, wife of the pilot.

Richard Ernest Mansfield, aged 23 years, tally clerk, single, of 153 Leith street, Dunedin. 

David Farquharson, aged about 36 years, single, clerk, of 40 Crosby street, Mornington, Dunedin.

The Proctor had been flown to Invercargill to take part in an air pageant, and, piloted by Sutherland, who was an assistant instructor of the Otago Aero Club, had just taken off on its return north when the tragedy occurred. The plane circled once round the aerodrome and from a height believed to be little more than 100 feet, the pilot apparently attempted a steep climbing turn. The machine appeared to stall and then crashed nose first into the field. So great was the impact that the nose was embedded in the ground with only half a propeller showing.

At the time of the take-off the weather was excellent for flying. The day was clear and there was practically no wind. The Proctor was a four-seater, single-engined low-wing monoplane. A police guard was placed over the wrecked plane and members of the public were not permitted to go near it. Hundreds of sightseers drove out to the scene of the accident and looked at the wreck from a distance. The police guard is being maintained to ensure that no part of the wreckage is touched before it can be inspected by the appropriate authorities. 

Today's crash is the first fatal accident which has occurred at the Invercargill aerodrome. 

The pilot of the plane, Mr Sutherland, was a former member of the RNZAF and served in fighter squadrons for three operation periods in the Pacific. He joined the Air Force in 1942 and was stationed at Taieri as an instructor for 18 months until he went overseas. He was mentioned in despatches for gallantry. He was an old boy of the Otago Boys’ High School. Mr and Mrs Sutherland had been married for about three years and had a daughter aged two. 

Mr Mansfield, who was aged 23, was a tally clerk employed by Dominion Industries, Ltd. He had recently been selected for the regular Air Force He was a keen member of the Dunedin Air Training Corps, and held the rank of warrant officer. In 1947, he was awarded the Bledisloe Trophy for the most promising pilot in New Zealand. His parents are Mr and Mrs Richard Mansfield, of 153 Leith street, Dunedin.

Mr Farquharson was the elder son of Mr and Mrs M. Farquharson, of 40 Crosby street, Mornington. He was a clerk employed by W. Gregg and Co., Ltd. He was an associate member of the Otago Aero Club and a member of the Otago Officers’ Club. Mr Farquharson served for several years in the 2nd NZEF and rose to the rank of captain. He was a single man.  -Otago Daily Times, 6/5/1949.

Percival Proctor of the Otago Aero Club.

Neale Cook Sutherland served with No. 14 Squadron, RNZAF. He was promoted from Flight Sergeant to Pilot Officer in July, 1943 and then to Flight Officer at the beginning of 1944.  I assume that it was then that he joined No. 14 Squadron, RNZAF, flying the Vought F4U Corsair fighter. The squadron had previously flown the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk against the Japanese air forces with some success, considering that the P-40 was being phased out from the USAF at the time. By the time the Corsair was in service, Japanese planes were few and the Squadron was mostly engaged in ground attack missions.

Gwenda and Neale were engaged in September, 1946 and Neale had put the war behind him.  They were married three years, with a two year old child, when the crash occured.

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin. DCC photo.



“I have no doubt that Sutherland was an experienced pilot but the evidence leads me to believe that, just as in everything else, constant usage leads to a certain amount of contempt. I fear that familiarity, which breeds contempt, led to the present accident,” said the coroner, Mr. W. A. Harlow, at an inquest into the deaths of four people which occurred when a Percival Proctor aircraft crashed at the Invercargill airport on Sunday, June 5.

The victims of the crash were Neale Cook Sutherland, his wife Gwenda Margaret Ann Sutherland, David William Farquharson and Richard Ernest Mansfield, all of Dunedin. The coroner added that Sutherland was in sole control of the machine at the time of the accident. The machine was in sound condition. 

Unsafe Manoeuvre It attempted a manoeuvre that could not be undertaken safely at the speed and height which the machine had attained at the time. The machine was loaded in excess of the total authorised and, in any case, the manoeuvre attempted was not of the kind that was prudent for the type of aircraft. The coroner found that the victims died as a result of the multiple injuries they suffered in the crash and that in each case death was instantaneous.

Sergeant N. Kempt conducted the proceedings and Mr. C. N. B. French appeared for the Otago Aero Club, owner of the plane. 

William James Nesbit Macintosh, farmer, Quarry Hills, said he served throughout the last war as a fighter pilot. He knew Sutherland and his wife and drove them to the airport. Farquharson was waiting at the airport and Mansfield was starting up the motor of the plane to warm it. The motor was checked and the switches were tested. The plane took off at 11.30 a.m. with Sutherland as pilot. 

Witness shook hands with them all and was the last person to speak to them before they took off. Sutherland was at the controls with his wife on the front seat beside him. There was practically no wind. 

The plane took off normally from the front of the clubhouse in a westerly direction. The pilot held the plane low down above the ground until he had almost reached the western boundary of the aerodrome and then took it up in a gentle left-hand circle of the aerodrome. When he reached the south-east corner of the airfield at a height of about 700 ft. he put the plane into a gentle left-hand dive which brought it down past the front of the clubhouse, travelling in a westerly direction.

25-30 ft. From Ground When the plane passed in front of the Aero Club buildings it was about 25 to 30ft above the ground and was travelling at 160 to 170 miles an hour. The pilot held the plane right to the top of that zoom and levelled out in a gentle left-hand turn at what appeared to be a safe flying control speed above a stall. The pilot continued the left-hand turn, neither losing nor gaining height and the plane appeared to be picking up speed. When the plane was southwest of the clubhouse at a height of about 400 to 500 feet, and not less than 300 feet, it went into an almost vertical bank. From that position it stalled into a violent left-hand turn with the left wing down. 

With the motor apparently full on it appeared to witness that the pilot was struggling to get control of the machine. The plane straightened up from the violent left-hand turn with the left wing still low and the plane rapidly losing height. Just before the plane hit the ground it again made a violent left-hand turn which looked as if the pilot was trying to head the aircraft to the left of the wireless huts. The plane struck the ground with the left wing slightly down. 

During the time the plane was at the Invercargill airfield witness added that he noticed there might have been something not right about the starboard landing flaps. When this was mentioned to Sutherland he did not seem greatly concerned. In the opinion of witness a loose flap on the starboard wing could account for the plane going into a violent bank from a, gentle lefthand turn.

To Mr. French, witness said in his opinion Sutherland had sufficient speed to make a gentle turn but not a steep bank turn. If it was a voluntary turn Sutherland did not have sufficient speed to make it.

No Structural Failure Frederick Jones, garage proprietor, said he had been a member of the Southland Aero Club for 12 years. The weather was perfect for flying at the time. The accident, in his opinion, was not caused by any structural failure. 

Robert Middleton Poyneter, aircraft engineer employed by the Southland Aero Club, said the aircraft had no defects and was fit for flying. 

To Mr. French, witness said there was no sign of looseness in the wing flaps when he inspected the aircraft. A Percival Proctor was not intended for aerobatics and the steep bank turn similar to that described by other witnesses was not suitable for this type of aircraft.

Sergeant Kempt gave particulars from a report on the accident prepared by Mr. R. C. Kean, inspector of civil air accidents. The aircraft was not licensed for spinning, aerobatics or violent manoeuvres. The weight of the plane with its four passengers at the time of take-off was 3332 1b. and the authorised maximum weight for the plane was 3250 1b. Therefore, the plane was 82 1b. overloaded, but this was not sufficient to have caused the centre of gravity to move outside the prescribed limits.

The opinion formed from particulars gathered was that the aircraft lost flying speed in a voluntary left-hand turn and dived into the ground out of control from a height too low to permit recovery. There was no evidence of the failure of the aircraft or engine before the crash. The weather did not contribute to the accident. 

Recalled by the coroner, the witness Jones said in his opinion the final turn of the aircraft was not a safe manoeuvre at the speed at which it was flying and at the height attained.  -Gisborne Herald, 5/8/1949.

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin. DCC photo.

The Grave of Daivid William Farquharson, Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin. DCC photo.

Friday, 7 August 2020

35720 Lance Sergeant Peter Swan, 1914?-17/8/1942



Nino Bixio was an Italian General from the era in the 19th Century when the Italian nation was formed from the kingdoms and principalities of the old regimes. It’s an era I studied in high school history.  Although best known as a general, it was perhaps his earlier naval career which was the reason for a modern freighter to be named after him on its completion in 1941. 


Less than a year after commissioning, the Nino Bixio sailed from Benghazi in Libya for Italy, presumably a return trip after taking supplies to Africa.  On board were 3200 allied prisoners of war, including Lance-sergeant Peter Swan. 


The Nino Bixio sailed in convoy with another freighter full of POWs, two destroyers and two torpedo boats.  They were intercepted off the southern coast of Greece by the British T-class submarine “Turbulent.”  The submarine fired four torpedoes at the convoy.  One suffered from gyroscope trouble, circling the submarine three times.  The others hit the Nino Bixio. 

One grazed the rudder, not exploding but disabling the ship’s steering.  One hit the engine room.  One hit the number one hold which was packed so tightly with men that they could not sit down.  Two hundred men were killed in a matter of seconds, from the explosion and the wall of water which flooded the hold, with another 60 wounded. 

Peter Swan died on board after the attack, one of 116 New Zealand soldiers who died there that day. The ship took on water and many men jumped off, sure it was sinking, but one of the destroyers towed it to the Greek coast where the soldiers - living and dead - were taken ashore.  A German propaganda team tried to film the scene as an example of Allied atrocity, but the Italian Captain refused entry to his ship.   The Nino Bixio and the other freighter were not flying flags which indicated they were carrying POWs or wounded soldiers. Freighters in convoy with warships were always fair game.

In researching for the story of Peter Swan, I happened upon a New Zealand online forum which contained an interesting statement to the effect that the “Turbulent’s” captain, Commander John “Tubby” Linton, was aware of the convoy’s existence and had positioned himself to intercept.  It was also stated that Linton was aware of the presence of POWs on board when he ordered the firing of four torpedoes at the convoy. 

How would this have occurred?  Quite easily, given that the British at Bletchley Park were reading encoded radio signals as fast as the enemy could, thanks to the Enigma machine.   

Why would this have occurred? The reason offered on the forum was that, with the surrender of Italy imminent, British submarines were ordered to spare Italian warships but keep sinking freighters to prevent their ongoing resupply of axis troops in North Africa. The stated source of this information is a “Turbulent” crewman who was unable to join the submarine on its last and fatal cruise due to sickness. 

I doubt the stated reasoning behind this decision for the following reason: vital though it was for the Italian Fleet to “lie at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta” as eventually signaled to the Admiralty by Viscount Admiral Cunningham, it was equally, if not more, vital that the Italian merchant fleet be available for future operations in Allied hands.  And, surely, it was not worth the sacrifice of those who had already “done their bit,” let alone the opportunities for enemy propaganda. 

Peter Swan was buried with others Pylos, where the ship was beached. His name and others are on the memorial at the Allied War Cemetery at Phaleron, Athens.  The Nino Bixio was towed and sunk as a blockship outside Venice and raised after the war.  It made several visits to New Zealand ports in the 1950s. In Wellington, on January 25, 1955, a wreath-laying ceremony occurred on the ship’s foredeck, above the No. 1 hold. 


Andersons Bay Cemetery. DCC photo.