Last New Zealander pilot dies

Flight Lieutenant Bernard Brown, the last New Zealander to fly in the Battle of Britain, has died at the age of 99.

Bernard Brown

Flt Lt. Bernard Brown, the last surviving New Zealander to fly in the Battle of Britain

Bernard Brown was born at Stratford, New Zealand on 6 December 1917 and worked for the Post Office before applying for a short-service commission in February 1938. He was accepted and left for England in September 1938.

After training he joined No 613 Squadron at Odiham in October 1939, and in May the following year he moved with the squadron to Hawkinge, flying Hawker Hectors.

On 26 May, 1940, Brown was in one of six Hectors en route to dive-bomb gun emplacements near Calais when his forward gun broke away as he test-fired it. The muzzle flew into the plane’s fuselage, rupturing the main fuel tank. Dumping his bombs, Brown turned for home but ran out of fuel and was forced to land on Herne Bay Golf Course. The squadron was later equipped with Lysanders.

In August 1940, Brown volunteered for Fighter Command, converted to the Spitfire and joined No 610 Squadron at Acklington, later moving to No 72 Squadron at Biggin Hill. Three days after joining No 72 Squadron, Brown was shot down by a Bf109 over Gravesend. He baled out and landed near Eastchurch, wounded in a leg and an elbow by cannon splinters.

After recovering he trained as an instructor and was posted to Rhodesia in a training role. He returned to England in 1943 and, following a Transport Command course, became a ferry pilot, flying between the United Kingdom and the Middle East.

On January 1 1944, Brown transferred to the RNZAF and flew Halifaxes on ferry duties. He was released in 1945 to become a first officer on Dakotas with BOAC. Brown later joined BEA and flew with the airline until his retirement in 1972, when he returned to New Zealand.

Bernard Brown married Joyce Wirrich in 1948. The marriage was dissolved. He is survived by his second wife, Elizabeth, and a son and daughter from his first marriage.

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