Today I thought I’d share a snippet of aviation history that I found during some “front-line” ephemera collecting. It also has a bit of cricket geekery thrown in for good measure along with a D-Day reference AND a tropical cyclone.
In the digital age most of my collecting is now done over the internet and while this can make it easier to find awesome stuff I do often lament the decline of collectable fairs and antique shops. Fortunately it seems that secondhand bookstores are slightly more resilient and they remain a regular source of interesting historical ephemera. Some bookshop owners make a point of trading vintage postcards or photo albums but there are also others that simply come across interesting bits and pieces of ephemera by chance; often these are items that have been used as bookmarks.
Here is an interesting exercise – have a rummage through some of your own books and see if you can find any ad hoc bookmarks that you had forgotten about. Perhaps you might find a grocery shopping list from 2006, or a postcard someone had sent you, a receipt from your last overseas holiday sitting in an unfinished novel or perhaps if you are lucky a banknote! Secondhand book dealers regularly find random bits of paper inside books that they have purchased and that is what I go hunting for.
What I love about this way of collecting is that it really is a lucky-dip draw, I never know what might show up and as always it is up to me to do the research and give the item some context. Here is one such find I picked up from a local bookstore:
Here is the back:
This is a flight information sheet that was once passed from passenger to passenger on a commercial aircraft, filling the role that the speaker system does today. It notes everything from the altitude and air temperature to the arrival time and the latest cricket score. What else can we figure out from the details it gives? What year could this be from?
First of all, NAC stands for the National Airways Corporation. The NAC set up regular routes throughout New Zealand shortly after the Second World War and while it wasn’t the country’s first commercial aviation service in many ways it was the birth of domestic aviation as we know it. The NAC operated from 1947 until 1978 when it became the domestic arm of Air New Zealand.
Thanks to this fantastic photograph of the Pakara from the Alexander Turnbull Library we can see what aircraft the passengers of Flight 101 C were traveling in.
The ‘Pakara’ was a Dakota, or Douglas C-47. During the Second World War while pretty planes like the Spitfire and the P51 Mustang were hogging all the limelight it was the Dakota and its variants that were the true work horses of the air. Perhaps their most well-remembered use was the role they played in the airborne operations on D-Day (think Band of Brothers). Here are some photos I took of a C-47 on display in the Airborne Museum at Sainte Mere-Eglise in Normandy.
At the end of the Second World War the aviation world was flooded with leftover Dakotas and many of these ended up in the hands of air carriers. In fact, during the NAC’s history it operated a total of 27 Douglas DC3 Dakotas.
Thanks to this page at the Queensland Air Museum’s website I can tell you a bit more about the ‘Pakara’. It was delivered to the USAAF on 14th March 1945 and transferred to the RNZAF the following month. On 11th March 1948 it was named ‘Pakara’ and began its career in the NAC. It flew with them until it was withdrawn from service and given an overhaul in Christchurch in 1963 before being operating in Polynesia, Indonesia and then ending up unused and unloved in Darwin, Australia where it was wrecked by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. A sad end to a beautiful aircraft.
By the way, if you want to fly in one of these aircraft in New Zealand skies then you are in luck. You can charter one here.
So we know that this inflight information sheet was passed around between passengers on NAC’s ‘Pakara’ sometime between 1948 and 1963. Can we find a more specific date than that? Fortunately there is a clue – the cricket score.
This is what made me chuckle the most when I picked up this item, I can just imagine the pilot listening over the radio for the latest cricket score and then scribbling it down for his passengers. Something about that amuses me.
MCC vs. WGTN
WGTN ALL OUT 127
MCC 2ND INN
SIMPSON NOT OUT 15
GRAVENY NOT OUT 35
A rookies mistake would be to presume that MCC stands for Melbourne Cricket Club (I’m the rookie, I wasted half an hour or so). It is of course the Marylebone Cricket Club. Their home ground is Lords, which is rather famous in the world of cricket.
After a bit of hunting I found the right match. Simpson and Graveney opened for the MCC in Wellington during their tour in 1955. You can see the final score here. Wellington got thrashed. Here is a photo of Simpson and Graveney striding out to the crease at the start of the first innings.
So for Simpson and Graveney to be starting their second innings that means that the captain of the Pakara scribbled this note on March 21st 1955.
The passengers of flight 101 C arrived safely at Taieri Airport near Dunedin. I expect that the landing might have been a little bumpy by today’s standards considering that the runway wasn’t sealed until 1962. The Invercargill passengers changed flights and the Dunedin passengers probably grumbled about having an airport so far away from their city.
The MCC won their match by 187 runs. Graveney would go on to play 79 tests and 732 first class matches. In 1964 he scored his hundredth hundred, the first player to achieve this since the Second World War. He is in the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.
The ‘Pakara’ would continue to fly with the NAC until 1963. It would eventually get trashed during Cyclone Tracy, one of Australia’s worst natural disasters. Today the undercarriage doors from the ‘Pakara’ are in the Queensland Air Museum.
The flight information slip was presumably used as a bookmark by one of the passengers and it disappeared until being rediscovered in 2012 by yours truly in a secondhand book store. However it did survive, and it can still tell a story or two. I hope you enjoyed its journey.
As a side note, my grandfather was an engineer with NAC in Christchurch so it seems quite possible that he worked on ‘Pakara’ when it was given an overhaul there in 1963. Come to think of it, when I was an aviation-enthused teenager he gave me a prop cover from a DC3 that he had once worked on. Call it a flight of fancy but maybe, just maybe, part of the ‘Pakara’ is sitting in storage with the rest of my antiques collection…
© Lemuel Lyes