On the morning of 21st February, after the night time patrols had ended, a pre-dawn attack was identified and crews were scrambled to engage the enemy – several for the second time that night. Amongst those who took off were Tohunga “Ricky” Riwai, the Squadron’s only Maori aircrew, and his navigator, Ian Clark. For reasons unknown, Ricky’s aircraft crashed into the steel anti-invasion defences beyond the airfield perimeter and both men were killed instantly. Leslie Hunt recalls how several individuals ignored the threat of the adjacent minefield and ran to give assistance to both men, albeit in vain.
Riwai and Clark had only been posted to the Squadron 75 days before, but all the background information I have read about the Squadron shows the high regard in which this crew were held, especially Ricky who was an extremely popular member of the Squadron.
Hunt said: “Words cannot express the feelings of the squadron after this tragedy – we had all come to regard Rick as one of the grandest types any of us have ever known, and with his shy but equally popular navigator, made a crew which we were confident would achieve great things” [Leslie Hunt – “Defence Until Dawn”].
Riwai and Clark were in the squadron photograph taken some 3 weeks before their death. I think that Riwai, sitting on the front row in flying boots, with arms and legs crossed exudes a mass of confidence and self-assuredness!
“Ricky” Riwai and Ian Clark were interred in the New Zealand Section of Brookwood Military Cemetery, next to the graves of their mates “Snowy” Watson and Ernest Edwards.
The photo below shows the graves of 4 airmen of 488(NZ) squadron side by side – 4 brave Kiwis who came to England to fight for the freedom of the British Empire, and now lie many thousands of miles from home.
As part of my research for this blog, I visited Brookwood and gave my thanks to these men for their sacrifices so that I could bring up my children in a free world. With each loss I record, the more and more of the reality of war is revealed to me. I feel a sense of huge sadness each time an anniversary is reached, and cannot even begin to imagine how these losses impacted on the members of the squadron who survived each clash with the enemy as they saw their friends die.
The loss of Riwai and Clark takes to 14 the total number of aircrew who have given their lives since the start of Broody’s tour in September 1943. Their names are duly recorded in the Roll of Honour.