Retired Pongakawa farmer Marcus Wilkins has tapped into the artwork of a World War II Spitfire pilot to launch a campaign to not only keep New Zealand's current flag but add a silver fern to avoid confusion with Australia's flag.

He was inspired by his late neighbour and fighter pilot Vernon Benner who returned from WWII determined to end the situation where raising the New Zealand flag in England was greeted with comments like "the bloody Aussies have arrived in camp".

Mr Benner's original flag was now in the hands of Mr Wilkins who has used it to produce a glossy leaflet called "The New Zealand Flag deserves better".

"I can remember him in the 1950s with the flag. He flew it on his own home's flagpole."


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Mr Wilkins, whose father fought at Passchendaele in World War I, said he wanted younger generations to recognise the sacrifices made under the flag, with the silver fern a symbol of respect for war heroes.

He has mailed the leaflet to every RSA in New Zealand and his campaign will soon appear in the media throughout the Bay of Plenty.

Marcus Wilkins with the flag that adds a silver fern to easily differentiate the New Zealand and Australian flags. Photo / Ruth Keber
Marcus Wilkins with the flag that adds a silver fern to easily differentiate the New Zealand and Australian flags. Photo / Ruth Keber

Mr Wilkins, 80, said the flag debate had become political, whereas the issue around the flag could easily be resolved by just adding a silver fern to the current flag.

He submitted his altered version of the Benner flag to the panel considering a new flag but it failed to make the top 40.

"People never got the opportunity to see the flag, no one saw it."

Mr Wilkins' campaign was also to honour the memory of his cousin Jack Wilkins, a WWII bomber pilot who was killed when his badly shot-up plane crash-landed.

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His air crew were amazed at how he kept the plane aloft for long enough for them to all parachute to safety, but not long enough for him to get out.

One survivor who made a special trip to Te Puke to meet the dead pilot's relatives said: "How he kept the plane flying to get us out, I will never know."

Mr Wilkins said the $26 million the Government was spending on finding a new flag would have been better spent to secure, for future generations, all the memorabilia on display in RSAs that were slowly going broke and closing.

He said he did not like the alternative flag because when it hung limp on a flagpole it looked mostly black, with very little colour. "Black flags indicate death."

Mr Wilkins has asked people who want to keep the current flag plus a silver fern to text "Love the flag" to 022 084 3517.

Key elements of the Benner flag:

* The silver fern that marks soldiers' graves overseas

* The Union Jack symbolising Britain's contribution to New Zealand's history

* The Southern Cross star cluster only visible in the Southern Hemisphere