Decorated North Auckland farmer-turned-airman Alan Rhodes survived his World War II bomber's being badly shot up over Germany, and a fiery crash-landing back in Britain.

His family have sent the Herald a photograph of him and his crew with the wrecked plane possibly at Mepal airfield in Cambridgeshire, England.

North Aucklander Alan Rhodes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his bravery in a badly damaged plane after it had bombed Hamburg.
North Aucklander Alan Rhodes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his bravery in a badly damaged plane after it had bombed Hamburg.

They had read in last weekend's Herald on Sunday of the block of polished greenstone inscribed "Auckland" that was found buried in a Mepal garden earlier this year.

The find has raised the question of whether the greenstone was taken there during the war by a New Zealander when the 75 (NZ) Squadron of the Royal Air Force was based at Mepal from June 1943 to July 1945.

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Radio operator and gunner Rhodes, who was later made a commissioned officer, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his brave actions after his plane dropped bombs on Hamburg during a night raid in July 1943.

C Flight of 75 (NZ) Squadron in 1943 with an intact Short Stirling bomber. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library
C Flight of 75 (NZ) Squadron in 1943 with an intact Short Stirling bomber. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

Anti-aircraft fire had ripped a hole in his plane's fuselage and damaged the crew communication system, according to Rhodes' medal citation, published in the Herald in October 1943.

"While the captain was endeavouring to outmanoeuvre an enemy fighter Flight-Sergeant Rhodes attempted to make personal contact with the bomber's gunners.

"Although a gap had been torn in the floor of the aircraft, he crossed it to assure himself of his comrades' welfare."

He went on to fix the communication system.

Son Keith Rhodes, of Warkworth, said his father, who died in 1986, rarely spoke of his wartime experiences, but he did talk of repairing the wiring to the rear gunner's intercom and the plane's damaged hydraulic control system.

While negotiating the gaping hole in the plane he dropped his parachute - and a torch, which he could see as it began falling. In retelling the story Alan Rhodes had said he hoped the torch might hit a German.

Keith Rhodes believes the crash was on the return from the same operation and happened at Mepal.

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The plane, a Short Stirling, had lost power from two of its four engines and its undercarriage had failed. It crash-landed and burst into flames at the end of the runway.

All seven crew made out of the burning plane, only one suffering an injury, to his ankle. They later posed for a photograph in front of the ruined plane.

Keith Rhodes said his father was the last out of the burning plane.

"He didn't think it was a big fire and tried to fight it with a fire extinguisher until someone dragged him out."

Peter Wheeler, of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association, said Rhodes flew a full tour in another squadron before joining 75 (NZ) Squadron for a second tour.

"Not a lot went back on a second tour. If they survived the first tour of 30 [sorties], they were given the option to become an instructor."