Life story

Life Story: Bill Warwick was one of the last Kiwi Spitfire pilots and a pioneer of the jet plane

OBITUARY: When Bill Warwick was a little boy, he was taken for a ride in a Tiger Moth biplane over North Canterbury.

The flight sparked a fascination with airplanes that led to fighting in a Spitfire over Europe and becoming one of the first New Zealanders to fly a jet plane.

But, once the Second World War ended, he quickly returned to New Zealand to take over the family farm in Hawarden, north of Canterbury, raise four children with his wife, June, and become the doting grandfather of his nine. grandchildren, who knew him by the nickname Papasan.

After leaving the Air Force in 1947, he never flew again.

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His daughter, Paula Sheldon, remembers him as a hard-working, supportive and loyal father and grandfather.

“He had nine grandchildren who absolutely adored and revered him. He just had this presence around him,” she said.

“He just listened well and spoke to them.”

Warwick, who was one of the last surviving Kiwi Spitfire pilots, died aged 101 in Christchurch on May 17.

His life began in Hawarden on September 10, 1920. He worked in the post office and telephone exchange before that fateful trip in the Tiger Moth, which took off from a country fair at the Hawarden golf course and took the scenic Sumner Lake to the northwest.

He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force on August 17, 1941, just before his 21st birthday and as war raged in Europe.

Warwick, third from left, in front of a Spitfire during World War II.

Provided

Warwick, third from left, in front of a Spitfire during World War II.

After training at Tiger Moths in Levin, he was soon sent to Canada for training, taking a nine-week trip on a boat full of butter and cheese. He then crossed the Atlantic to Britain in a convoy.

His first operational flight in a Spitfire was a convoy escort across the English Channel in 1942. He was with No. 504 Squadron and over the next two years escorted bombing missions and carried out other operations across the Occupied Europe.

Interviewed in 2020 by the Otago Daily Times, he said he was never shot down, but had close encounters with the enemy.

“I’ve been chased a bit, most of us have been.”

But he said he was in constant danger. “All the time. Everyone was in the same boat.

“Many of you were in danger just because you were there. We got used to it and just hoped to be home for tea.

During the war he flew Harvards, Spitfires, Typhoons, Oxfords and Hurricanes. When the war ended, he became one of the first New Zealanders to fly the Gloster Meteor, a new jet aircraft. It was a popular element during victory parades.

The Gloster Meteor was the first jet aircraft used by the Allies during World War II.

Ross Ewing

The Gloster Meteor was the first jet aircraft used by the Allies during World War II.

“We thought we were the cat’s pajamas. We were just messing around. It was really a waste of time,” he said. Things in 2012.

In 1947 he returned to Hawarden after his father gave him the family farm. He returned with his new wife June, whom he married in Essex in November 1945.

They ran the farm until 1971, raising four children: Michael, Paula, Timothy and Judith.

The family then sold the farm and moved to Christchurch, where Bill Warwick became assistant greenkeeper at Russley Golf Course and chief greenkeeper in 1975.

He retired in 1985 and moved into a nursing home in 1995. June died in 2012.

After moving to the city, he became a member of the Christchurch Brevet Club, which is for pilots in the armed forces. Former chairman John Lay described Warwick as a “robust gentleman”, while current chairman Kevin Jones said he was a “lovely, quiet guy”.

Alan Frewer, left, and Bill Warwick, former WWII Spitfire pilots, at the opening of Spitfire Square in 2015.

David Walker / Stuff

Alan Frewer, left, and Bill Warwick, former WWII Spitfire pilots, at the opening of Spitfire Square in 2015.

His daughter Paula remembers him as a hard worker, as well as an avid golfer, cricketer and small arms shooter.

“He was very honest and loyal to his family. He supported us a lot.

“The cards we received after the funeral were quite moving. People had met him, talked to him, and remembered him as very well brought up.

She said he was reluctant to share his wartime experiences. “I think he was happy to have survived.”

But, over the years, a few details have come to light.

“He chose to fly single-seat planes like the Spitfire, rather than a bomber, because the death rate was lower. He was 23 and he was making these kinds of decisions about his life.

“After a mission, once he was back on the canal to England, he was hurdling. They were flying so low over the countryside that they had to climb up to clear the hedgerows.

“It was the joy of coming back alive.”


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