Obituary: Battle of Britain veteran dies in Tauranga

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Bernie Brown, last New Zealand veteran of the Battle of Britain, has died in Tauranga, just a few weeks after his 99th birthday. Photo/supplied
Bernie Brown, last New Zealand veteran of the Battle of Britain, has died in Tauranga, just a few weeks after his 99th birthday. Photo/supplied

Flight Lieutenant Bernard Walter Brown, December 6, 1917 - January 23, 2017

A man believed to be New Zealand's last Battle of Britain veteran has died in Tauranga, just a few weeks after his 99th birthday.

Bernard Brown, known as Bernie, died of pneumonia on January 23.

Author Max Lambert, who wrote the 2011 book Day After Day: New Zealanders in Fighter Command, said Mr Brown flew briefly with Royal Air Force fighter Squadrons 610 and 72 before being shot down by a Messerschmitt at the height of the battle and was slightly wounded.

Mr Brown was born in Stratford in December 1917 and was working there as a postman when he applied for a Short Service Commission in the Royal Air Force in 1938.

He was accepted and sailed for Britain late that year. After graduation he was posted to an army co-operation unit flying Lysanders and operated over the front lines in France, spotting the enemy before Dunkirk.

Mr Brown then volunteered for pilot-short Fighter Command and went through the abrupt conversion to Spitfires.

In Mr Lambert's book, Mr Brown said an instructor told him: "Here's the book of [Spitfire] pilot notes, learn it and get up there and fly it."

Mr Brown first served briefly with 610 at Biggin Hill but because the squadron was being transferred to Scotland for rest, newcomer Mr Brown was posted to 72 Squadron.

Mr Lambert said Mr Brown's stay with 72 was short. Attacked from above and out of the sun, he was shot down by an Messerschmitt Me 109 on September 23, 1940 on his second patrol with the squadron.

"A cannon shell came through the side of my aircraft, hit me in the left leg and exploded on the throttle box ... I had no control ... so I thought, 'out you go'," Mr Brown was quoted as saying.

Mr Brown landed by parachute in a marshy field on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent and could not stand up - his leg was bloodied. He was quickly picked up and taken to hospital.

Recovered, the New Zealander was certified unfit to fly fighters in combat again because of his wound's effect.

He instructed for a year in Rhodesia then saw out the war piloting for RAF Transport and Ferry Commands.

Postwar, he flew with British European Airways (now British Airways) for more than 30 years before returning to New Zealand and buying an orchard in Matua.

He married his wife, Elizabeth, a BEA flight attendant, in 1965.

Mrs Brown said her husband was a "very, very practical person" who was very easy to live with.

"We had a very happy life. After moving to New Zealand, we always lived in Tauranga although we moved around often after selling the orchard.

"After the orchard, we retired and always had big gardens, that kept us occupied."

Mrs Brown said her husband was a real handyman who always repaired everything himself.

"He would always repair his own cars. He was a very practical person."

Mr Brown is survived by his wife, his son and his daughter. He also has a grandchild, who is based in England.

A New Zealand Defence Force spokeswoman said Mr Brown was believed to be the last Battle of Britain veteran from New Zealand, but was not able to confirm this with a historian during the long weekend.

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