Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Start of the Blog and the End as well

Editors note:
Blogs are in chronological order: fine if you want newest first! Not so good if the main page needs to be here, so I have copied the very first post and reposted it here. You would have to go back to April 2009 to get the start of the diary.

History of Cliff Le Couteur


Cliff Le Couteur was my father. My name is William Le Couteur, and I have two brothers, Allan and Peter. I have decided to write what I know of his life mainly to provide a record for interested parties, as well as for my brother Peter's sons Allan and Tim, and my other brother Allan's children, Mark and Kim, as well as my daughter Fleur.

With this story goes many black and white photos, which I hope to post on this blog, or on the online photo storage Flickr. The above photo is one I found in his collection and I believe it would be the Catalina used on the Pacific Island Survey he went on in 1951.
The one below is I'm pretty sure him on the wing of the Catalina.

He was born in Dunedin, on 1st of October 1913, and died in 1993. His wartime nickname was Kiwi, which he kept. I remember him telling me that he was brought up near the beach called St Kilda, near Dunedin, and that he said that he still went swimming even though the sand was frozen. The family home was 24 Larkworthy St. He left primary school about the age of 12 and started work in a foundry in Dunedin.

This was not to his liking and he applied and was accepted to be an apprentice carpenter. I believe he served out his time, but the depression then struck the world around 1929, which would make him about 16 years old.

Unable to find work, he headed across the countryside of Otago, working at various farms for board and food. At some stage in this, he met my mother, Doris Kempthourne, who lived near the small town of Heriot. He must have heard that things were better in South Africa, because he took a trip there in 1936, and was not only able to work there, but learn to fly there.

This money must have been enough for him to return to New Zealand and marry Doris in 1937, and once they were married, he took her to South Africa.
They then returned to New Zealand in 1939 and had my two elder brothers, Allan and Peter.
Around 1940, he was called up to fly in the RAF. He trained to fly bombers, but during training, he broke an arm playing rugby, so he ended up training on flying boats.

During the war he flew the Sunderland and also the PBY Catalina. He must have done quite a bit of flying in the Mediterannean, because I remember him talking of flying out of Gibraltar and Malta. I remember asking him if he ever had to fight against another aeroplane, and he told me of the time he was attacked by a JU88? (a German transport aeroplane).
He said they escaped by using the slow speed of the Catalina and showed me scars in his neck where bits of something hit him. Apart from this story, I have no idea why he would have been accorded a DFC.

Apparently I can contact the RNZAF to find out, but cannot seem to bring myself to do so. At the end of the European war he returned home to New Zealand, and was expecting to go and fight against the Japanese, but he was not needed because of the atomic bombs that ended that war.
After the war, he started work with Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, (TEAL) which was providing the first passenger air services to and from New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands. At this time, 1946, I was born. I understand that it was pretty special to have survived the war, and I have an idea that I might have been spoiled a little.

He was given a "State" house at 34 Stewart Rd in Mt Albert. Many of his neighbours were returned servicemen, and I was told later that they had a neighbourhood tomato fight - grown men standing on the tops of the little potting sheds in the back garden flinging tomatoes at one another.I guess it would be as good a cure for the terrors of war as anything.
He made stilts. Not just little ones. Big ones. On completion of these he proceeded to demonstrate how they should be used to my two elder brothers. After walking around the back yard for some minutes, he said:
"Now, if you need a rest, all you have to do is back up to the house and lean it."
Which he proceeded to do. The women next door who was watching all this just about had a nasty accident laughing so much, because he chose to rest against a window, which he broke.

I remember that he used to take me to the Parnell Baths for me to learn to swim. He owned a 1928 Dodge, which he called Esmeralda. He was very pleased with this car, but the split rims caused him some anguish! It was a romantic time for the flying boats, and it would have been fantastic to be on one of those flights. There was a special expedition mounted in a Catalina, and he was one of the pilots. This expedition's purpose was to survey and clear landing spots in the coral reefs. I think he enjoyed this immensely, and told me stories of taking dynamite down in the water to blow up bits of coral reef. I have his diary of the trip, and one of my tasks is to translate his writing and show it on this blog.

Around 1952, he bought a section of land at 28 Glen Atkinson St and proceeded to build a house there in his spare time. I realise now that this was an undertaking he should not have attempted, though he did gain much satisfaction from the various stages of completion. For my part, I thought we would never get above the mud and concrete of the foundations. He finished building the house around 1962 (enough for us to live in).

At around the mid fifties, TEAL brought into service the DC6, a land plane with four piston engines. On my 12th birthday I remember him saying: "Do you want to fly with me to Fiji for the weekend?" These were more relaxed days, and I was able to sit in the seat in the flight deck normally have been occupied by the radio operator, which they did not have.
He had the extra responsibility of being the Safety Officer. I have a feeling he enjoyed getting crews to use life rafts in the Parnell Baths.

The planes he later flew were Lockheed Electras, and Douglas DC8's. Retirement at 55 years was mandatory in those days and he felt a bit bitter about that, because he felt he could have lasted a little longer. After some years of trying to be retired, he started work again as a carpenter, and managed to do this until he retired properly. I worked for a small time as an architectural draftsman, and redrew dad's house on my computer. I was quite surprised that any alterations I made to his design immediately looked wrong. This house is still standing at 28 Glen Atkinson St and his insistence on heart rimu for the framing means this is one solid house.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

South Pacific Survey 21th July 1951

Spent most of the morning writing and the afternoon on the reef just outside the door with goggles on. The number of fish in the lagoon has to be seen to be appreciated and can only be seen from underneath.

Had a little nap in the afternoon, to get ready for a little party the Salters are having for us and as we are probably flying tomorrow on photography, we will have to stick to Ginger Ale. The party was quite a success, the native girls doing the hula, which was not quite as good to look at as the Bora Bora. They did it here in dresses which probably detracted from the dance considerably.

After a very nice supper, I retired, as we have to get up at 6am.

Editors note: This is the last entry in the diary-I presume he got home OK!
At last my job here is done. My next task if I get round to it is to gather all the posts together into one Microsoft Word file and maybe make this available for download from my CAD site.

I found a letter from Geoff Wells, who was Engineering Manager at the time, (he has written a book too!) which advised Lauthala Bay RNZAF that the plane was due back on 3rd of August, and to give the plane a wash down etc. It was to remain there until 29th of August, so I imagine Cliff would have gone home by other means. I am intending to read Maurice McGreal's book, "Civil Aviation in New Zealand" which will probably detail this out.

The only other things I can think of to do are to scan things like his Pilot's Licence and so on.
Any other photos I can rake up might get posted too.

I can now go back and label some of the pictures that I was unable to title at the time of posting.

I found as well a sheet labelled Air Department, which listed travelling expenses for the various islands. You might be amused to know that Aggie Grey's in Western Samoa clocked in at 25 shillings per day. That is about $2-50!

South Pacific Survey 20th July 1951

Spent some of the morning writing to the boys and Doris to send some stamps. Cost me 1 pound and 6 shillings for stamps too. The Public Works people let us go to "town" in their truck which was going out to forage for food.

After posting the letters we went off around the hills and bush to see the breadfruit man, the egg man, and the taro man. Each one we came to supplied only one commodity and I guess that it must be almost as expensive to live here as it is in NZ.

Eggs 2 pennies each but by the time you put fuel on, wear and tear, the driver's time, and the purchaser's time, an egg must have cost as much as 5 pennies.

It was however an interesting drive, all the native houses set in amongst coconut and banana palms. No one very sick, no one very poor, but in the main, happy.

Spent the afternoon cleaning up my writing and went for a short walk.

South Pacific Survey 19th July 1951

The party spent the day down the lagoon and I spent most of it writing. Not much to write about today as far as the Airway is concerned.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

South Pacific Survey 18th July 1951

The day broke cold and stormy with the seas pounding the reef not far away from our quarters and some concern was felt for the old Catalina at moorings down the far end of the lagoon.

After breakfast went up to the meteorological office and from the rather meagre information I was able to gather, and a signal which came in later it was evident that we were in for a rather bad blow.

I estimated that there was a depression to the east, not far away and it would cross Aitutaki. The barometer was falling and the wind rising, so I suggested to take the crew down to the aircraft to ensure it was secure at the moorings.

The rain was torrential, and we pushed out onto the lagoon and after a 50 minute run, we arrived at the Catalina. It was too rough to go alongside with the launch, so I swam over and climbed aboard.

The old Catalina was riding the weather well, and after putting on another rope as a precuationary measure, pumping the bilges dry, turning the engines over once again, closed all hatches and then leapt into the sea and swam for the launch.

The storm abated in the afternoon and after frittering most of it away gathering some shells, went off to bed.

South Pacific Survey 17th July 1951

A little work in the morning, but spent most of the afternoon writing and in the evening went to bed for the want of something interesting to do. Some of the party spent a rather miserable afternoon on the lagoon in the rain.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Meeting with Maurice McGreal

(This is Bill speaking here, not Cliff)
About two weeks ago I had the honour to meet with Mr Maurice McGreal, who was the first officer on the South Pacific Survey Trip.

He has written two books on his experiences, and these can be found in public libraries in New Zealand.

One is called "A Noble Chance" and can be found at:
http://search.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz/?q=a%20noble%20chance

The other is called "Civil Aviation in New Zealand" and can be found at:
http://search.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz/?q=civil%20aviation%20in%20new%20zealand

Maurice obviously had a thorough knowledge of the survey and in fact had taken many of the photos posted here, and I am afraid I dragged him through a whole bunch of them asking where they were taken. One of my next jobs is to go back through the postings of the photos and label them.

Additionally, he was able to give me some information which he said was OK to post here, so this hopefully will get done over the Xmas holidays.

On a connected note, I see that the hanger at Motat (The Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand) is looking about finished.

The Short Solent Mk. IV ZK-AMO, is out in the elements at the moment waiting to go back under shelter. I found a photo at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/flissphil/4495896115/

I have looked for quite a while (Even on the Motat official site!) but the best photo of of the new hall is here:
http://www.nzstrong.co.nz/portfolio/project/25/

I thought it was a $2m building, but apparently is $10.9M, so it should be pretty impressive when finished.