Laid-back achiever clocks up 100 years of ‘good clean living’ which saw him through wartime scrapes.

Today, Trevor Strong marks off another accomplishment in a long and remarkable life; tackling it in the same steely, unruffled style he has approached all of his missions.

There was the time in World War II when, at the controls of a heavy bomber aircraft struck by enemy fire over Germany, Flight Lieutenant Strong nursed his spluttering Avro Lancaster back to its English base on just one engine.

Then on his 45th mission as a bomber pilot - the final foray which would have earned him a ticket home to New Zealand - he was shot down over the devastated German town of Russelheim, landing in a cornfield and evading Nazi soldiers in a forest. Once captured, he survived nine cold, hungry months in a German prisoner of war camp.

After the war, determined to use planes in a less destructive way, he co-founded an international mission flying aid to some of the world's most remote spots.


And unassuming war hero Trevor Strong turns 100 today.

He will celebrate with a family lunch at Whenuapai, a stone's throw from a base of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, in which he bravely served for three years in the theatres of war. He will wear his medals - including the Distinguished Flying Cross for valour, presented at Buckingham Palace, and the Legion of Honour, France's highest military honour, for the courage and sacrifice shown in his role in the D-Day landings.

While the decorations are a source of great pride, so are his family. Trevor and his wife, Joan, who died 17 years ago, raised four children, and a number of foster children. There are now eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

His daughters, Colleen and Beverly, say the dad they know has always been a gentleman; a carpenter who's lived a very traditional family life, with church twice on Sundays.

Recovering from a fall two months ago which has clouded his memory, Trevor thinks long and hard about his secret to surviving a century. "Good clean living" - he never smoked or drank - "lots of cups of tea and a stress-free life," he finally says, breaking into a trademark beaming smile. "Being in the air force helped, I think; they really looked after us."

Born in Waihi on November 29, 1914, Trevor grew up in Helensville, where his father was a railway engine driver and the town's mayor.

He learned to swim in the Kaipara Harbour, and became competitive; he still has the trophies to prove it. Out of Kaipara College, Trevor ran a grocery store in Birkenhead until, at 28, he joined his friends signing up. He learned to fly at Wigram before heading to England in early 1943.

Trevor became the pilot of a Lancaster, the most successful Allied bomber aircraft of the war. He was part of 7 Squadron in the Pathfinder Force, an elite team of target markers formed to improve the Allies' poor bombing accuracy.


His plane, known as ND 852 MG-D, was almost lost on an early mission, when three of its four engines were shot out.

As Trevor nursed it back to the station at Oakington, near Cambridge, his squadron had given up hope of ever seeing the crew again.

"We certainly surprised them when we arrived home safely," Trevor says. Almost 2000 of his Kiwi comrades died serving with the Bomber Command.

Once an aircrew in 7 Squadron had completed 45 sorties, they could stand down from service, and Trevor was looking forward to going home. His 45th mission, on August 25, 1944, successfully bombed the Opel car plant in Russelheim, where German flying bombs were made. But turning to fly back to base, the plane was hit by fire from a Messerschmitt fighter. Trevor threw the plane into a dive and ordered his crew to bail out; as pilot, he was last to leave the crashing plane, parachuting into a cornfield. Six of the crew survived but 22-year-old Pilot Officer Raymond Benjamin Ede from Ashburton did not.

For days, Trevor walked through a forest, surviving on stolen apples and sleeping on logs before he was eventually caught while searching for water in a small village. After interrogation, he was sent to Stalag Luft 1, a POW camp at Barth, near the Baltic Sea, where 9000 British and American airmen were imprisoned.

He remembers it being bitterly cold in winter and surviving on little food. "He won't eat brussels sprouts to this day," his daughter Beverly says. "But he was always thankful for the Red Cross parcels that arrived; he still has the wrappers they came in."


Trevor is reminded daily of his only war wound, a badly buckled knee, from landing on a rock during an impromptu rugby game with other POWs.

There were attempts to escape from the camp, through tunnels dug by other airmen. "We had a shot at it, but it was pretty difficult. So we decided to wait because we thought the war was nearly over," says Trevor, who spent nine months in the camp before it was liberated by Russian troops.

"It wasn't exactly a hard time, but it was a difficult time being a prisoner. It was cold, food was scarce, and we felt isolated. But we were treated reasonably well."

Back in England, Trevor met up with fellow New Zealand pilot Murray Kendon. They set up Mission Aviation Fellowship, a group of young Christian airmen who would deliver supplies and relief workers into isolated areas.

"I just thought it was a pretty good thing to do - to use planes for something good after using them for something so destructive," Trevor says. Today MAF serves relief organisations in 30 countries with a fleet of 140 aircraft.

Trevor's hopes to become a professional pilot at home in New Zealand were dashed by poor hearing - a consequence of both swimming and bombing. So he retrained as a carpenter, building houses and a church on Auckland's North Shore.


Trevor's longevity would not have surprised his late wife.

"Mum always told us 'Your father will live to 100, because he's so laid-back'," Beverly says.

"He's never stressed about anything. His attitude has always been: 'What's there to stress about, why worry?'"