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An early MOTAT Society project was the joint venture with the NZ Fighter Pilots Assn to provide the memorial to eight RNZAF pilots lost in January 1945, World War II, as part of an air raid on the Japanese base in Rabaul, New Guinea. It now stands adjacent to the Sir Keith Park memorial Hurricane in the front of MOTAT Aviation Hall.

The key organiser was the noted Auckland aviation identity Brian Cox, President of the NZ Fighter Pilots Assn and well known to most of the MOTAT Aviation volunteers. Notably at the blessing of the memorial, along with a large number of old wartime fighter colleagues, was Mrs. Francis McConnell, the wife of F/L Frank Keefe whose parachuting into Rabaul Harbour from his burning Corsair aircraft initiated the action.

Above: Brian Cox and Mrs Francis O’Connell at the memorial unveiling.

The Society co-ordinated the function at MOTAT and donated the rock slab on which the memorial plaques are mounted. A display related to the incident was part of the museum at the time. Family members of the lost aircrew still place flowers on the memorial each ANZAC Day.

The text on the memorial reads:

“This memorial is for the memory of eight young New Zealand pilots lost on 15th January 1945 F/L Frank Keefe bailed out from his burning Corsair over Rabaul Harbour in the morning, and later in the day after an unsuccessful rescue attempt, another seven pilots crashed whilst returning to Green Island after flying into a tropical storm in darkness. Five pilots were from No 14 Squadron and three from No 15 Squadron.

They were:

F/L FG Keefe F/O AN Saward F/Sgt JS McArthur F/O G Randell

F/I BS May

F/Sgt LJ Munro

F/L RF Johnson

F/Sgt RW Albrecht

F/L Frank Keefe was captured, but died whilst prisoner two weeks later, from injuries suffered when his Corsair was hit by ACK ACK during a dive-bombing attack and caught fire. WE WILL REMEMBER THEM This Memorial was sponsored by Marvin Birk of Brooklyn N.Y. who was based on Green Island in the US Navy at the time of this loss and also by members of the NZ Fighter Pilots Assn.”

- by Bill Rayner -

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