Air Force stalwart dies at 91

By Don Farmer

A Masterton man who was granted rare life membership of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Association has died.

George Bates, 91, died at Kandahar Rest Home last Friday.

His death ended an extraordinary life of service to his adopted country.

Mr Bates was born in England, the son of a Castleford coal miner and could recall years later hearing, as a child, the sound of miners going to work in wooden clogs at 4am.

His dad suffered serious injury in a mines accident and was in hospital for six months, at a time when there was little, if any, financial compensation.

Mr Bates, when interviewed by Wairarapa Archive staff in 1999, said his childhood had been quite a happy one despite the hard times, especially during the "big strike" in 1926.

Mining areas had pit hills where spoil from the mines was dumped and he and other children used to go coal picking to keep the home fires burning.

His mother baked her own bread and cakes and grew vegetables on an allotment which young George and his siblings sold.

He left school at 14 to work in a Leeds factory making cartons, biking the 15 miles from his Castleford home each day.

Later he became an apprentice plumber and fitter in Castleford.

He joined the Air Force at age 18 and was posted to 77th squadron just as World War II was ending.

He was put on the staff of an engineering office doing conversions from single and two-engine planes to four-engine aircraft, prior to leaving the air force.

About this time he met his future wife Phyllis and in 1948 the couple married.

They lived in a council house but when a job in New Zealand was advertised Mr Bates applied and, after interviews, secured the position with Masterton District Council.

This meant packing up house and sailing to this country on the Captain Cook which left from Glasgow.

They firstly stayed in the Victoria Hotel then lived in Worksop Rd, Perry St and High St before buying their own home in Kummer Cres.

Mr Bates worked at the Masterton Gas Works and later for a plumbing firm in Masterton.

Not long after his arrival in New Zealand he linked up with the Savage Club, which became one of his great interests, but it was his work with the Royal New Zealand Air Force Association (RNZAFA) and St John that reflected his service to the community as a whole.

He was a Serving Brother of the Order of St John , a former president of the Wairarapa branch of the RNZAFA, involved with the Air Training Corp and served on the National Council of the Air Cadet League for many years.

Brent Smith of the RNZAFA, Wellington, described Mr Bates as a "true officer and gentleman" who was one of less than 15 people ever to be awarded life membership of the association "with the gold badge and diamond".

George Bates is survived by his wife Phyllis, three three sons, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

A service is to be held for Mr Bates in Masterton tomorrow.


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