About The Book

Under a Bomber’s Moon is the true story of a New Zealand navigator-bomb aimer with the Royal Air Force and a German night fighter pilot as they fight for success and survival over night time Germany during the bitterest years of the Second World War. In early 1944, after completing one tour of operations and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exploits, the New Zealander, Colwyn Jones, was killed during a raid on Berlin.

READ MORE

About The Night War Over Europe

During the Second World War the night sky over Europe was one of the most lethal places to wage war. By 1945 almost half of the airmen who flew with Bomber Command and a third of the Luftwaffe night fighter crew pitted against them had been killed. Many German cities became moonscapes of rubble, their inhabitants the first to experience the reality of ‘total war’ – itself a glimpse of the destructive potential of the nuclear age about to explode in the Far East.

READ MORE

Between Oceans

Col Jones reached Vancouver after a three-week Pacific crossing, described in this website in the chapter 'Landfall'. The additional bonus material that follows is his description of travelling across the Rockies and spending six months training to be a navigator and bomb aimer in Ontario and Manitoba.

Crossing the Rockies

Letter finished Friday 22 November 1940 on the train at Broadview.

We are just about a third of the way on our 2800-mile journey across Canada to a place called London. Today we are crossing the prairies – mile after mile of flat country; flat, dull, covered patchily with snow, hardly a house, with the railway line running before and behind as far as the eye can see. They have time zones in Canada and, as you go east you put your watch on.

Now, to return to the Rockies. I don’t suppose I’ll ever see anything like them again. We left Vancouver at 5pm on Wednesday. We began to climb straight away, not into the Rockies but into a range running roughly parallel. All night we climbed, and when we awoke in the morning we were high up in a world of snow-capped peaks. We descended a little in the early part of the morning, but about 10am we began to climb again – this time into the real Rocky Mountains. We were in them all day, and finally left them at just before 6pm in the gathering gloom.

It is impossible to describe the great peaks in detail. We saw vast canyons with gushing torrents far below. Everything was white, and the glorious mountains lifted up their heads far, high, unattainable, sublime. We were especially fortunate in as much as we crossed those mountains on a cloudless, glorious day. You can imagine what the sun did to these mountains, range after range, peak after peak, mile after mile. We went through a pass or a canyon, called ‘Kicking Horse’ Canyon. The line twisted and turned, climbed and fell for a long time and sometimes just a few feet and sometimes far below the river ran. This stream, the Kicking Horse River, was too fast to be frozen yet.

There was a mountain which I thought the grandest of all, called Castle Mountain. What struck it into everlasting memory was the sight of it in the afternoon sun. A great mass, tower after tower, bastion after bastion, great rock face 1500 feet sheer rose from a cloak of timber. Quite suddenly, the afternoon sun fell on it, turning it into a soft, effulgent orange. A cloud floated by and stayed to rest on the mountain. It, too, flushed orange.

The tunnels were marvels of engineering. The train puffed its slow way straight into the face of one mountain and when we came out of it we had curved round inside the mountain and were on a path at right angles to that on which we originally entered. Then we entered into another tunnel which had a double track right through. It was about five-and-a-half miles long, and is the longest double track tunnel in the British Empire.

Then we saw our moose. We were passing through some country of small timber, when we saw this great, black beast half hidden in the scrubby trees. We passed along a little further, and there was the moose – an enormous beast. Unfortunately, however, it did not have horns. Still, it was a real life moose, in its own natural surroundings. After that we saw some deer which they called elks. They were like our own deer, but perhaps slightly bigger.

How different the scene was when we awoke the next morning – Thursday the 21st. We were in the prairies. All day long, mile after mile. For hundreds of miles we drove on at perhaps from 35 to 60 miles an hour, and we passed over this desolate plain. Snow was more prevalent and all day long it was snowing slightly. Paddocks which looked dozens of acres in extent were slowly becoming covered with white. The track was covered, and little villages we passed also were beginning to wear the look they would wear until the winter was passed.

At times the railway line ran absolutely without a curve as far back and as far forward as the eye could see. You have spoken about the Canterbury Plains and I have seen the [Hauraki] plains near Te Aroha. You could have dropped them into this vast expanse of flat and never have noticed where they had gone. Roads ran off into the distance and you could not see where they had gone. Sometimes the wheel marks would be covered with snow, and the roads looked like a double ribbon of white, stretching far and away. The far houses were not very prepossessing and almost invariably they were without paint. They – grey themselves – somehow merged into the greyness of the fields and of the day.

The barns were almost larger than the houses; but they were also grey. These were the famous Canadian what lands; and by Jove, their extent was amazing. The Canadian Air Force officer who traveled with us told us that Canada at that point stretched over two thousand miles north and about the same distance east and west. You could have dropped the whole of New Zealand into one corner and never have missed it.

All day long we passed through little villages at which we did not stop, and at larger towns where we stopped for a minute to take on more coal or water. The lads were so weary with the travel that they jumped at the opportunity of getting out even for a minute. Looking back, even though that part of the journey was the day before yesterday, the towns through which we passed blurred. I can’t remember the different towns. I can’t even remember the place from which I sent the cable. It will have the name on it. But it was a beautiful little place. The post office was in brick, but there were other houses in wood.

The snow was thick there, and several sharply contested snow fights developed. One of the boys decided he would have a go on some skis which he found. He tried, but he fell ingloriously; and just as he was about to lose his balance, someone threw a most accurate and very large snowball. He threw his arms wide, and that opened the way for the great ball of snow to hit him fair on the side of the face. He was helpless with the skis on his feet and so became the target for many more snowballs. It was fun for those throwing, but it wasn’t so good for him. He did not mind, though.

The next day, Saturday, was different again. We awoke to a world of white, of complete white. Everything was under snow. We were passing through the forests of Ontario. The trees were not big, but they were covered with snow. For all the world they looked like the traditional Xmas tree. Everything was still and there was no sound at all. The trees did not even whisper to themselves. There was no bird life, no animal life. Winter was just laying its icy fingers on the autumn. No longer were the streams partially frozen. They were just a mass of ice. Their banks of white sloped down to an icy path. This was the land of forest and lake and little stream. In it all there was no movement, for even the waters were stilled. Lakes about the size of Lake Takapuna [Pupuke] lay in a glistening, white sheet. It was an amazing spectacle. I had never dreamed of anything like it. The scenery was wonderful for a time; but after a few hours even this became monotonous. We sat back to have a yarn, play a game of cards, have a read, or a snooze and perhaps an hour later we would look out of the window and for all the difference in the scenery, we might have been standing still.

Later in the day we drew near to Lake Superior, along whose shores we went for over 100 miles. The lake is simply astounding. Canada is a big country and everything in it seems to be big. This lake is about the size of the Tasman. They have as bad storms on it as on any sea; and they had one just a week or so ago in which more than 100 people were drowned. If you looked straight out, there was water for as far as the eye could see. We had a negro porter on the train and we used to pull his leg unmercifully. He was telling us with considerable gusto about Lake Superior, when one of the boys told him that that was nothing at all. In our country, he said, we had a lake called Lake Tasman which stretched all the way between NZ and Australia and was 1200 miles across. We also had a bird called the moa, which was killed with guns an inch across. We promised to send him a baby one, 6ft high, as a souvenir. “Say boss,” he replied, “you sure got a great country.”

We went to bed that night with the scenery imprinted on our minds, and this morning awoke to find ourselves in Toronto. Unfortunately it was nearly dark so we did not see much; but as the station where we are is not more than four hours from Toronto we will see more of it. As a matter of fact we have not had much opportunity of seeing any of the cities across Canada. We arrived at them either in the early morning or late at night. We had about 20 minutes’ leave at Calgary, were we left the gunners. We arrived at Winnipeg at 6pm and had a walk up town. By Gad it was cold. My ears lost all feeling and my hands were cold even through my gloves.

At midday today, Sunday, we arrived at London, our destination; and I am writing this in our dormitory. The journey today was made through country which was entirely without snow. It was a curious contrast to the previous day. But you will see by the map that we were going south all day today, so that probably accounts for it. The country was rolling gently, something like that near Cambridge; and in place of the grey, dusty fields of the prairies the paddocks were greener, and more like New Zealand. But they do not seem to have the lush pastures of New Zealand. I don’t think we realise how lucky we are. The camp is not properly finished yet, and so far we have nothing in which to put our clothes. They have promised it to us; but as we are the first overseas fellows to get here, and the first crowd to be trained, things are a little disorganised.

I forgot to say that the highest point that the train reaches on the Rockies is the Great Divide – 5332 feet.

Letter to Mother, posted January 1941

We flew again on the morning of New Year’s Eve, I landed at 12.15pm and an hour later was off in a motorcar to Toronto to spend the New Year. Another chap and I decided to go and when we had the chance of a lift that clinched the matter. We arrived in the big city of Toronto about 5 o’clock only to discover that by the time in Toronto it was 6pm. We did not know exactly where to stay but we finally decided to stay at the Royal York. You may have heard of this place. It is 17 stories high and is the biggest hotel in the British Empire, I believe. I did not know whether I could afford it, but I said to myself that New Year came only once a year, so I chanced it. As a matter of fact the charge was most reasonable. It was 5 dollars (about £1/10/-). But the place is enormous. Seventeen stories. You have never seen anything like it. I do not know how many rooms there are, but there are hundreds.

This is a meeting place for society folk, apparently, so we saw something of the elite of Toronto. Personally I was not impressed. The place seemed full of airmen and in one lift in which I happened to be traveling there were two Australians, a Norwegian, two Poles, two Canadians and two New Zealanders. The Poles and the Norwegian were there training – in Toronto, I mean. It was like a small League of Nations.

The chap I was with rang some people in Toronto whom he knew and they came round for us. We went in their car for a drive through the streets.  It was great fun and we enjoyed it. The streets were crowded and it was hard to realise there was a war, except for the number of men in uniform. Then when we had driven round for about an hour and after I had seen more big cars in one area than I have ever seen in my life, we returned to a coffee house and had some supper. We just got out into the streets in time to see the New Year in. The people cheered and shouted and all the cars blew their horns and made a hell of a noise.

Well, that was the way we saw the New Year in. We were driven back to the Royal York Hotel and after a bit of a yarn with the people who had driven us round, we went to bed. That was about 2am; but as far as the hotel was concerned, the fun was just beginning. There are 17 floors in the hotel and a great burst of noise seemed to be coming from each. The lifts shot from floor to floor, filled with people all bent on making all the noise they could.

During the early part of the evening, we telephoned the (NZ) Trade Commissioner in Canada, Mr Firth. He and his wife invited us to go and have dinner with them on New Year’s Day. We did so, and had a wonderful; time. I was taken right home to the days when we were all together. The Firths had as guests two Americans, a man and his wife and the man was one of America’s young and coming composers, who has just finished a big American tour. He played for us and the first two he played were those short preludes of Chopin’s, which [sister] Gwen used to play so gloriously. I just sat there and in imagination I could see Gwen sitting at the piano. It was marvelous. He played on for about half an hour, wandering from one classical piece to another, quite without music, just suiting himself. He said afterwards that he thought we might be bored. If only he knew how I loved it. He and his wife were quite unassuming as, indeed, were the Firths. We had a grand afternoon.

For dinner we had a chicken and green vegetables, followed by Xmas pudding with brandy sauce. Mrs Firth opened a bottle of jolly good wine for the occasion and we toasted the New Year and the war and New Zealand, and the time we should all meet again. After coffee we just sat round the table yarning, and then adjourned to their lounge and yarned again about all the subjects under the sun. Mr Firth told us about the New York World Fair [in 1939-40] and about his travels in Canada and America. It was dam’ interesting. They have two small children. We were made to feel at home, and I am sure they were pleased to have us. The afternoon gradually wore on to evening, and we had tea. By that time it was about 9pm, and soon after that we took a tram home. It took us 35 minutes in the tram to get back to our hotel.

New Year’s Day (Wednesday) was a perfect day, absolutely cloudless and warm. Before we went to the Firths we went up to the garden away on the 18th floor and I took some photographs. It was amazing in the lift to see floors 5,6,7,9,10,11 and so on slip past until I thought I had found the gateway to heaven. Away on one side stretched Lake Ontario, with the city’s airport in the distance. On the other lay the city, stretching away and away as far as you could see. Some of the buildings are immense, the largest I have seen. Toronto has some 700,000 people there and it looks it. The CPR [Canadian Pacific Railway] station is amazingly large. It is quite easy to get lost in, and they have everything under one roof – shops, eating houses, everything you could think of – just like the Royal York Hotel. They have everything there, from a barber to a fellow who cleans your shoes and charges 10 cents for it.

Well, it’s now a quarter past 10, and I must away and clean my buttons. We were flying today and it was perfect. The sun was corker and warm and you could see for miles.

(Monday 6 January) On Sunday we have a system whereby we can go out to dinner in the evening to the homes of people who want to entertain us. They get in touch with the Adjutant on this station. On Sunday we went to a lovely home. Another chap from Auckland and I told the Adjutant we would like to go in to some home. We were called for and we were received by a butler-cum-serving man, who took our coats. Then we went upstairs to a lovely library and had afternoon tea. They made fresh tea for us and made some toast. The people were a little formal, and we made pleasant conversation for a while. Then the time came for dinner – or supper, as they call it here.

We went into one of the most tastefully appointed dining rooms I have ever been in. The table was lit by four candles set in heavy silver candle sticks. The table was covered with silver cutlery, silver bowls and jugs.  In the soft light of the candles the silver shone and gleamed like a thing alive. It was really beautiful. The meal was not so extraordinary, but it was very nice. After the first course the mistress pressed a soundless bell and in came a prim maid and cleared away the doings.

The next course was served and then when that was over, the maid brought in a massive, silver coffee set. What was better still, the coffee was excellent – just as I like it, and I am fastidious about coffee. We took our coffee up to the library again and dawdled over it and a cigarette. We lived for a little while in the lap of luxury. I forgot to say that the table was a thing of beauty, apart from its appointments. It was of an inlaid rosewood, with the chairs to match. The table legs and the chairs were carved in Chippendale fashion. The light was reflected so softly from the silver on to the polished surface of the table.

Then, when we were going home, the host went out of the room and using a house telephone said “Perkins,” or some name like that, “bring the Ford round will you.” After a little while we went to collect our coats and went out to a beautiful car, the door of which was opened by a liveried chauffeur. We did things in style. The Ford seemed to have a special sort of body. It was deeply upholstered in leather. It was a pleasant evening, though I have met people just as nice in less costly homes. Our hosts were a man, his wife and two children. They were nice folk, who definitely unbent as the evening progressed.

Fingal, Ontario, Monday 24 February 1941

We have advanced another stage on the journey. We have left Crumlin, and are now at Fingal for bombing and gunnery. We are here for 6 weeks and then we go on to an obscure, God-forsaken hole known as Rivers, in Manitoba. We have been at Fingal a week last Sunday. The station is much larger. There are air gunners as well as some Canadian observers here – quite a few flying personnel in all. To see the numbers here is to realise that in quite a little time Mr Hitler will have his hands full. They are a good crowd; but they are different from us and I don’t think quite so good. Some of the Canadians have met the Australians. They did not like them. The story of the last war seems to be repeating itself. They seem to like us all right, but our own crowd are better.

The food at Fingal is not as good as at Crumlin, the worst feature being the perfectly abominable tea we get. We have given the matter a good deal of thought, and we believe that they make the tea with the soup or the dish water, whichever they think is worse at the time of the tea-making. We have also come to another Rotorua, at least as far as the smell is concerned. The water positively reeks of sulphur. You can’t drink it and you can’t let it inside your mouth. All the drinking water comes from the town each day. Someone definitely blundered when they built this place. The reason is that they did not bore the wells deeply enough when boring for oil, and they struck a sulphur belt. All the boys carry a whiff of sulphur as soon s they come out of the shower.

Do you remember me telling you we hoped to get a little leave after leaving Crumlin? We had it – two days. A good many of us went to Toronto, and we had a jolly good time. We rang up Mr Firth, the New Zealand Trade Commissioner there, to tell him we were coming. He did his best for us, and arranged a lunch given by some New Zealanders living in Toronto. We had a good yarn. They just longed to hear about New Zealand and we could not tell them enough. It was amazing the questions they asked. Little details to which we had never paid any attention they asked us and listened to what we had to say with absorbed interest.

Fingal, Ontario, Monday 17 March 1941

We are having a blizzard now, the first really bad one since we have been in Canada. This is a beaut.’ I have never felt wind so bitterly piercing. All day long the wind has been wailing round the buildings, and as I write I can hear it shrieking along the walls and round the eaves. The air is filled with fine, driving snow and the ground is frozen again. What a few days ago was mud is now a frozen, solid mass. We heard over the wireless last night that about 16 fishermen were floating on an ice floe on Lake Superior, and the rescue operations were made difficult by the fact there were waves 25 feet high on the lake. Then this morning we heard that they had not been found, so they must be dead. I don’t see how anyone could live in the cold of last night.

We have another two weeks to go here. We have finished our bombing and nearly finished the gunnery; and all that remains are a few odd exams.

Rivers, Manitoba, Sunday 6 April 1941

Rivers is definitely the back o’ beyond. It is stuck in the middle of the prairies, with nothing beyond and the same nothing behind. We look out of the windows and see just miles of flat dam’ all. Rivers is near Brandon, and about 200 miles west of Winnipeg. There is nowhere to go if we get leave, though if we get 48 hours off in the weekend, we are going to try to get to Winnipeg.

We are learning how to navigate by the stars. We do not have to go into the mathematics of astronomy much, for much is a matter of learning how to use various tables; but the tables are complicated, very complicated, and I never did like mathematics. We learn how to use a sextant and how to take ‘shots’ of the sun, moon and other heavenly bodies. We have also to learn the names and position of certain stars, like Sirius, Venus, Jupiter, Orion, Scorpio, the Dipper and other constellations about which you will probably know more than I. We have had a lot of fun over one star, whose name is Betelgeuese, but which is pronounced exactly like “Betel-juice.” Whenever we hear the name we laugh like silly school kids.

(Continues 26/4)
We were told we had to study heavenly bodies, or stars. But we had a different idea of heavenly bodies, for that is what some of the lads call the girls they meet. The result is that one blackboard at Rivers is covered with drawings and photographs from different magazines of all the luscious looking women we can find. We have named them Heavenly Bodies. We have about 20 of the most marvelous women in the world.

We are flying twice a night, and for some three hours each time. We start off about 8.45pm for the first trip and we land back some time about 11.30pm. Then some time about midnight, we start off again, and land back about 3am. We watch the station lights fade away, and then set about our job of navigating. There are usually three observers in each plane. The first navigator has control of the trip, and he has a lot of fun. We draw a line between the starting point and the finishing point, and that is the track we have to follow. When we get in the air we see the towns or other prominent landmarks over which the line passes and if we are properly on track we should pass over those places in the air. We watch the towns loom up and make sure we are not too far away. If we don’t pass over them we draw another line on the map setting out where we are going actually. This is what is called pin-pointing and that is the job of the second navigator. He has to take shots of the stars with a sextant, much the same as is done at sea, and then work out calculations from them. By some ingenious way it is possible to find out where you are by this use of the stars. This, in fact, is what is known as astral navigation. There is not much spare time, I can tell you. You have a feeling of isolation when the plane is a dot in all that void of blackness, but there is no feeling of loneliness or insecurity – rather one of comfort and cosiness. Sometimes we see another plane passing. It looks ever so small in all that blackness. We can’t see it, but only its red and green riding lights.

For the past little while the Great Northern Lights have been more than usually bright. Great searchlights of light move up and down from the horizon to the top part of the sky. They look awe-inspiring from the tiny speck that is the plane. They were something like the Aurora Australis we saw some years ago, remember? These lights are white. They wave about and change colour, and then hang, like a sword of Damocles, then dash off into the blackness, then change again to converge in a vast mass of light overhead, only to disperse again. They look magnificent from the air. I feel that I don’t know much yet, though.

There are a number of Australians at this station, and I must say that they are a very decent crowd. If anything they are quieter than we, and we have the reputation of being well behaved. Perhaps they are not the average, but they are certainly a good mob. We persuaded the powers that be here to give us a holiday on Anzac Day. We would not have got it had the exams not been finished; but they were so what the hell, I suppose the authorities here thought.

Between us we arranged an Anzac Day service on the station, at which an Anglican, a Roman Catholic and a Methodist padre participated. The order was quite undenominational, and quite simple. We simply sang a hymn or two – ‘O God our Help in Ages Past’ and ‘Recessional’ were two. Then someone sang ‘There is No Death,’ after which a bugler played ‘Reveille’ and ‘Last Post.’ It was marvelously impressive. The service was held in the recreation hall, with the Union Jack over a temporary altar. It was a glorious afternoon, and little swords of light crept in through the curtain chinks. It was so quiet. And the padre spoke of what Anzac meant in the history of the world, and what it was meaning in Greece now. Everything was so peaceful and the outside world and the war seemed so far away.

Suddenly the bugle played the ‘Last Post.’ It reminded me of what I had felt at the first dawn ceremony at the Cenotaph at the [Auckland] Domain. The thin, clear wail of the bugle cut the peace of the hall, and all the memories of the service were like a clarion call of the present. It seemed to pass out of the hall and out into the workaday world outside; and as if to give added emphasis, there came the roar of one of the planes overhead. The roar of the plane and the clear call of the bugle entwined into one challenging noise. There was still a war to be fought, still a name to be maintained. We left the hall glad we were Anzacs and knowing for certain that we were citizens of no mean city. If those who want to abolish the day in NZ or turn it into an ordinary holiday could have been present at that small service so far away, organised and attended by a handful of men. They would know that the spirit lives yet.

We also played a game of football against the Australians. We called it the first test, and it was the fun of cork. I did not play but appointed myself official newspaper correspondent. I shall send out a copy to the ‘Star.’ It was not a very good game and it was played in all manner of clothes or lack of them. We chose the level ground between the runways where it was reasonably soft. There were no goal posts and the field was marked off with coats. The fun was fast and furious; and everybody was tired out. When anyone got tired they simply strolled off the field and someone else took their place. The referee was quite easy as to the rules.

The trouble was that there is some small, thorny plant in Canada, which seemed to concentrate for the day just where the game was being held. The result was that the next day all the players were limping around, sore and stiff, pausing the while to moan about the thousands of thorns they had in different parts of their anatomy. The game was played in perfect friendliness and we all had a lot of fun.  New Zealand won the first test by 6-3. The Aussies are whispering darkly about a return match, but the fellows are all so stiff and limping that we hope there won’t be a return match.

Embarkation Depot, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Friday 16 May 1941

We have been told we are to leave Halifax and cross the Atlantic shortly. Halifax is definitely an uninteresting city. It is a place of slums, dreary, grey houses badly in need of paint, with water dripping from broken drain pipes. Kiddies play in the streets and the wet mist hangs all over the place. There are hundreds of sailors here, literally hundreds, both Royal Navy and mercantile marine. In fact, it is a city of sailors. What with men in the army and men from the Air Force, it is a regular city of the armed forces. It is unusual to see anyone not in uniform.

 

Saturday:

We listened to an RAF officer talk to us about England this morning. He told us that bombing in England has not had as much effect on morale as even the papers have said. He told us that if we heard a screaming sound, we were not to take much notice, because that meant the bomb would be a fair distance away; but if, on the other hand, the sound was a whistling sound, then we had better dive for shelter. I’ll remember that.

Copyright: underabombersmoon.com