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.


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.



Running the gauntlet of U-boats, German battleships and dive-bombers to cross the Atlantic to Britain from Nova Scotia, as described in Under a Bomber's Moon, was not the first great ocean crossing for Col Jones. To reach Canada he had crossed the Pacific by ship, an experience common to almost every New Zealand and Australian airman who volunteered for Bomber Command. What follows is Col's description in letters home.

Aboard the Union Steam Ship Company vessel Awatea, Wednesday 6 November 1940. Cabin 135. Letter to Mother

We are well and truly at sea now and so far I am not feeling at all like being seasick. The boat has just heaved a beaut’ and some of the boys skidded across the room. This is the first day out and nothing much has had a chance to happen. We have not met many of the Australians. They seem to be a decent lot; and they are very quiet – if anything quieter than us. That is unusual for Australians.
At lunch today I found a dear little slug in the lettuce. Then later I found another, so we had races with them. We never knew which won because we lost one.
We don’t know whether we will be getting leave at Suva now, because we are told that one of the mob has measles. If we don’t get leave, the youth will be decidedly unpopular.

Thursday night: Now that we are well north of New Zealand, the weather is much hotter. It’s just got as hot as hell and all the lads are lying about with as little on as possible. I have just heard the mail closes tomorrow afternoon, so I think I’ll end the first letter now. I’ll write again from Honolulu.

Saturday 9 November 1940

Well, here beginneth the second letter. I posted the first in Suva. We got leave as soon as the Awatea berthed. A small group of us got together and no sooner had we left the wharf than a lady called out to us and asked if we would like a drive into town. We told her that she was heaven-sent, whereupon we climbed into her car and drove to a hotel and had a drink – the only cold thing we had struck for several days. Later she invited us to dinner; and when we got to her place, we found that she had also asked about half a dozen Australians. We had a very merry time and when the hostess proposed the toast of the “Anzacs” we New Zealanders replied with a song called “Maori Battalion.” It has been adopted by the Maoris as their own song for the war, so it was definitely New Zealand. I enjoyed that song.

Suva itself is a pretty place, with plenty of shady trees. As we drove up the main road, a native traffic cop waved us on. That was the first touch of something really different. Coconuts and all fruit was absurdly cheap.

When I awoke this morning I found that the Awatea was on its way. We expect it to continue getting hotter until we get to Honolulu, about 8 days’ time. The sunset at night was simply marvelous. The whole of the western sky was afire in gold and azure green. There was nothing to hide the full extent of the colour, and I have never seen so much sky lit up before. But five minutes after it was dark. There is no twilight at all. It is light, and then quite suddenly it is dark.
I date this part of the letter Saturday though really it is Sunday in New Zealand. We have crossed the international date line. And this week we have, therefore, two Saturdays.

We are supposed to be having lectures now; but the weather is so hot that the boys simply cannot concentrate. Some of the fellows are greatly affected. They perspire continually and have to be constantly mopping their brows. Our clothes at present consist of khaki shirts, khaki shorts and sandshoes. That is all we wear and it is enough. It is very hot in the cabins, and even the wind is hot. You stand in it and it is so strong you have to hold your hat on. Yet it is warm. The weather remains calm. The sea looks beautiful. It is a deep indigo blue. We have seen hardly a bird. I have seen only three the whole time we have been at sea.

We expect to get to Honolulu about Thursday. We cannot go ashore, but there is some talk of a concert party coming aboard. I hope they do. You know, there is a certain monotony in just going along day after day with nothing to see. After leaving Suva we passed a good many islands, some just tiny dots hardly appearing above the water, and others big lumps of land. I thought I could see palm trees on the smaller ones, but I am not sure.

We spend a good deal of time playing deck tennis and deck quoits and the boys go about in singlets and pants. No-one seems to mind and the passengers are definitely in the minority. They seem a good crowd, and I found three people whom I knew. One was Commander Hull, who gave me so much information on naval defence. I have had several yarns to him, and he and his wife invited me in to afternoon tea with them. We are not allowed into the first class lounge as a rule, but if we are invited in that is a different matter.

There is a great debate going on in our cabin at present as to whether we should sleep on deck. Some of the boys have taken their mattresses up already, but I don’t think I will. The highlight of yesterday’s journey was the passing of Canton Island, you know, that island which the Americans and the British share, and on which a wireless station had been built. The American clipper calls there as well. From where we passed it, though, it looked like a rim of sand, out of which were sticking some long poles – the wireless masts, I suppose. Some of the sailors said there were warships there as well, but I did not see them.

All day long the sea was as calm as a mill pond, and we seemed to be sailing over a vast indigo-blue pond. We saw more flying fish but not many even then. More bird life was noticeable. It is amazing to me how such little birds are seen so many miles from any land. Yet they skim along a few inches above the water, and they seem to be tireless. The sunset last night was glorious, simply wonderful. It was the best I have ever seen or likely to see. The day was cloudless, and when the sun sank below the horizon about 6pm it made a great, blood-red path from horizon to us. Clouds seemed to come from nowhere, and those on the horizon looked for all the world like great icebergs. Some of them took curious shapes. One looked like a great ship; another like a mighty cat sitting up, and still others like great mountains. They turned to pink and fiery red as the last of the sun touched them, and the sea itself seemed to take on an orange look. Fifteen minutes and night had come. There is no twilight.

We passed over the Equator last night, but there was no ceremony and the ship did not bump. All we wish is that the weather becomes cooler. We expect to arrive at Honolulu about Thursday.

Tuesday: The officers and stewards tell us that it will continue to cool from now on and that after we leave Honolulu we will soon want to leave blankets on the bed. The days slip by so uneventfully.

One of the fellows in our cabin was looking out of the porthole this morning and he saw a big shark. So little happens that we were all as excited as billio. As a matter of fact I suppose there are tons of sharks all about us, but we never see them. The only annoying thing about the trip is the blackout. As soon as night comes there are not many places to go for a read.


Some of the boys decided to sleep on the deck again, the imposition on the use of blankets having been removed. All went well until a tropical shower fell, forcing them like drowned rats down below again. We had a concert last night, of which all the items were given by the personnel of the RNZAF and Royal Australian Air Force. On the whole the standard was good. The items were quite unrehearsed and there were no hitches. Our mob gave a mock ballet, and you should have seen fellows tall and thin, short and fat, all builds and complexions, dressed up in paper, doing light fairy dances. Some of them had wings and others tights on over their bathing trunks. The fat and short ones danced like baby elephants, and the stage creaked under them. They had a fashion parade, and when one small, slim and nice-looking girl came on in a beach dress, honestly, the boys did not know for a moment whether one of the woman passengers had consented to lend a hand. But no, it was one of our mob; Gosh, he made a corker girl.

On board Awatea, Saturday 16 November 1940. Letter to Mother and sister, Lass

We have passed the famous Honolulu and are on the last lap of our journey. We expect to arrive at Victoria, some four hours from Vancouver, on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. As I said, we did not get leave at Honolulu, but everyone would have loved to have got ashore there. It is a beautiful place, and at the same time has the appearance of enterprise and industry. All day long the boat rails and indeed every vantage point was thronged with eager, but frustrated airmen wanting to see everything they could. All they saw was enough to make them desperately want to see more. The quay was immediately in front of the foot of the city, and it would have been almost possible to step off the bows of the ship on the street fronting the waterfront. Along the streets swept expensive-looking motorcars, driven for the most part, or so it seemed to us, by pretty girls. Each time we saw a girl we would whistle and wave and shout greetings. The Australians were better at that kind of thing than we were. Nevertheless we did our fair share.

Despite the fact that we were not allowed ashore – or perhaps because of it – we were not neglected. Several Red Cross nurses – and very pretty, too – came aboard and distributed cigarettes and magazines, not to mention the most luscious pineapples I have ever seen. We got in about 7.45am and the nurses came aboard about 9.30. About 10 o’clock a party of natives doing hulas came aboard. They were most popular and the boys applauded them to the skies. They had a sort of choir with them – people with Hawaiian guitars and ukeleles. They sang some of their native songs, and though they were sweet the harmony was not nearly as good as that in Maori songs. Nor were the voices as good.
[Photo Hawaian women performing hula]
Some of the girls looked corker at a distance, but they were spoiled when they talked. They had the harsh accents of the American twang. You know, when our Maoris speak English, they give it their own softness of tongue, and make it as beautiful as Maori. There is nothing harsh about it. But the Hawaiians were totally different. That rather spoiled them for me.

The Americans have an important naval base at Honolulu, and we saw a good many naval vessels of different sorts. We came in sight of land about 5.30am, and for once, everybody was on deck early to see all they could. The sunrise was perfect – a great blood-red sun, casting a red path over the shoulder of a black, black hill. We saw destroyers all over the place. Then before the sun had risen high enough to touch the ship, we heard an aeroplane. There it was a tiny speck, touched to bright silver in the sun it caught, but which at that stage had left us in the coldness which preceded sunrise. Aeroplanes were everywhere – big ones, little ones and all sorts. There must be a very large number of machines based at Honolulu.

I climbed up the rear mast, and the view from there was fine. I could see more of the town and more palms and trees. Everyone who came near the wharves or onto the boat wore a lei, some of them made of paper, but some of heavily scented, gorgeous tropical flowers. One of the Red Cross nurses gave one to each New Zealander and each Australian. We drew away from the quay in water so still that each reflection was perfect and each ripple magnified to look like a futuristic drawing. As the boat moved away, each of the fellows took off his lei and cast it down into the water. They seemed to form a path of multi-coloured flagstones from ship to shore. There were hundreds of them, all colours, all sizes and making all shapes as they fell into the water. One made a perfect heart as it fell, and as it floated away. It was as if we had broken the link between us and Hawaii, but that the link was loth to break. As the Awatea swung round to leave we looked back, and there these bright garlands stretched out, an invitation some day to go back.

November 17

November 17 with us is Sunday. I don’t know what it will be with you. We had a church parade this morning, and I don’t think the padre has had such a large audience on board a ship for a long time as he has had this and last Sundays. We had some good hymns this morning. I am afraid I cannot say what the sermon was about for I went to sleep as soon as he started and only awoke when someone jogged me at the end.

One thing I have noticed about this trip is the way in which the days have shortened. Only a few days ago, for example, we used to go on deck about 6 o’clock in the evening and watch the sunset. I went up on deck just after 6pm tonight, and it was pitch black. Added to the fact that we are going north to a winter at the rate of 500 miles a day, we have 20 minutes taken off each day. We lost 30 minutes tonight.

We are all wondering now where we are going to in Canada. Previously it was enough to know that we were going to Canada; but now that we are approaching the place, we are taking more particular interest. I’ll be both glad and sorry to see the end of the Awatea. We had some good times aboard, but a long sea trip tends to become dull. We were told tonight at dinner that we would land at Vancouver at 4pm on Wednesday, and that we would get leave from that time until midnight. We were told today that we would have to acquire a small suitcase with the traveling necessities for four days on the train, because all the rest of our gear was going to be consigned. That looks as though we are going to be four days in the train; but there is also some talk that some New Zealanders will go to one place and some to another.

Monday 18 November, letter to sister, Lass

Dear Lass, if this writing is a little hard to read, blame two facts: a rocking boat and the fact that I am writing this on my knee. However, we are nearing the end of our voyage. We have seen nothing out of the way. We have seen no sharks, no ships and hardly a bird. We have not seen the sun for two days. The sea, though, remains amazingly calm – in fact, has been all the way from NZ. The lads have their sea legs now.
We are learning some Maori songs and a haka to give in Canada. We have practices after dinner each night, and the lads are picking them up very well. They should be popular. We have three Maoris among the crowd and they have taken a leading part.

Vancouver, Wednesday 20 November

The Awatea berthed at 3 o’clock, and despite the fact we had been promised leave when we arrived, when we actually did get here we were informed that we would be leaving on the train at 5 o’clock, and that there could be no possibility of leave. I had to go and see the people in the Vancouver Daily Province on (newspaper) business for the Star, so I managed to wangle an hour’s leave ashore in Vancouver. I was one of the few who managed to get ashore. My business took about an hour and I was no sooner back on board than we left again for a march to the station via a route through the city.

Vancouver’s reception was magnificent – I don’t think. Precisely three people cheered us – and they were three drunks. Nobody took the slightest notice of us. They led us down to the back door of the station and put us aboard a train. Down in the subway we gave our haka and sang a song, and the walls of the subway gave back the echo. The walls were about our only audience apart from some people who gathered on an overhead bridge nearby. We did not like Vancouver much. Mind you, we did not get the opportunity of seeing much of it, though the buildings appeared to be immense.

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