Second World War pilot. Died aged 81.

George Culliford had a rare military honour for a New Zealander - the Virtuti Militari, Poland's highest award for military valour.

He won it for his bravery as a 22-year-old RNZAF pilot, flying a top-secret wartime mission into German-occupied Poland and bringing back plans of Hitler's deadly V2 rocket.

Culliford was part of the RAF's transport command squadron, which specialised in drop-offs and collections behind enemy lines.


His opportunity came on July 25, 1944, after Polish underground fighters captured a German V2 rocket.

Culliford's assignment was to make a six-hour night flight in his unarmed twin-engined Dakota from Brindisi in Italy to a remote Polish airfield and pick up five Polish VIPs and two sackloads of V2 components and technical drawings.

The operation, codenamed "Motyl" (Butterfly), was a priority for the Allies. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was said to be anxious about its completion.

Culliford told the Herald in 1989 how his mission almost went badly wrong when the plane's undercarriage got stuck in mud.

He unloaded the plane and stuffed planks and straw under the Dakota's wheels to gain traction but the wheels refused to move.

With dawn fast approaching and Culliford fearing he would have to set fire to the plane so it would not fall into enemy hands, he made one last attempt.

This time the wheels gripped and Culliford returned to Brindisi and then on to London. The drawings and parts gave the RAF valuable information about the V2, although Germany still hit London with more than 1300 rockets.

After the war Culliford returned to his studies at Victoria University, where he became an English lecturer and later an administrator. He retired in 1977 as deputy principal of the university after overseeing its building expansion programme.


A rugby fanatic, he was a strong supporter of the university team and served for a year as president of the Wellington Rugby Union.

In 1974 he and his wife June returned to Poland for a reunion with the Polish underground fighters who had captured the V2. As well as his Polish medal - he was one of only two New Zealanders to receive the honour - he was awarded the DSO.