By Andrew Matheson
For a remote country with a small population, New Zealand does make its mark on the world. Kiwis are avid travellers, and you can often find fellow New Zealanders and links to New Zealand in remote parts of the world. Sometimes the connection is rather poignant.
Our tour group travelled from northern Sweden to Narvik in Norway, following the rail line that carries iron ore from the mine at Kiruna. While in this port city our tour group visited the cemetery where two New Zealand pilots killed in the Second World War are buried. Germany invaded Norway in April 1940 and the Allies fought a brief but futile defence. For the occupying German forces Narvik became particularly important, because it is an ice-free port north of the Arctic Circle that was within striking distance of the Atlantic convoys carrying vital supplies to Russia.
James Leon Wilkie from Wanganui served with 263 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, based at Bardufoss in northern Norway during the German invasion. On 2 June 1940 he and another pilot flew old Gloster Gladiator biplanes on patrol near Narvik. The other pilot, also a New Zealander, was successful in shooting down three modern German bombers that day. Jim Wilkie went missing, and it is assumed he was shot down during his first attack on the enemy aircraft. The wreckage of his plane was later found, and his body buried in Narvik.
Hugh Morrison from Masterton was in the Royal New Zealand Navy Volunteer Reserve, flying with the Fleet Air Arm. On 4 May 1945 he took part in the last air raid of WW2 in Europe, when 44 naval aircraft attacked a submarine base about 100 km from Narvik. Operation Judgement saw two ships and a U-boat sunk, with no civilian casualties in the nearby village. ‘Hughie’ Morrison’s Grumman Wildcat fighter was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed into the sea. He was brought ashore but died soon after, and was buried at Narvik.
None of us in our tour group have any family connections to either pilot, but we felt it was appropriate to visit their graves and leave poppies from New Zealand. Kiwis travel all over the world. These two didn’t make it home.