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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. D H Ward

 

Derek Harland Ward was born at Whangarei, New Zealand on 31st July 1917. He learned to fly at Waikato Airport, Hamilton in early 1937. He applied for an RNZAF short service commission in March and reported to Wigram on 23rd May. Ward began flying training a month later. He was awarded his flying badge on 10th December. After completing the course on 1st April 1938, he sailed for the UK on the 23rd in the SS Tamaroa and transferred to the RAF on 1st June 1938 with a five year short service commission.

He joined 151 Squadron at on the 15th. Ward was still with 151 in May 1940. On the 16th, in company with five other ferry pilots, he delivered a new Hurricane to 87 Squadron at Lille-Seclin. The squadron had suffered heavy losses and with no definite orders, the six pilots decided to remain in France with 87. On the 18th Ward destroyed a Hs126 and on the 19th damaged a Do17. The squadron was withdrawn on the 20th and he made his way to England in a badly-damaged Hurricane, reaching Debden after a few narrow escapes. Ward was taken on to the strength of 87 Squadron.

 

 

On 11th August 1940 he was appointed 'B' Flight Commander and claimed a Me110 destroyed on the 15th. From the beginning of September 'A' and 'B' flights alternated at Bibury on night duties. On the 3rd Ward damaged an enemy aircraft at night. During the flat period after the Battle of Britain, Ward organised a squadron aerobatic team comprising of himself, P/O RP Beamont and F/Sgt. IJ Badger, who had flown in a 151 Squadron aerobatic team before the war. The team became very proficient and its displays contributed greatly to squadron morale.

Ward destroyed a He111 during the night of 7th May 1941. He was awarded the DFC on 17th October 1941. He was posted overseas on 20th September 1941 and joined 73 Squadron at El Gamil, Egypt at the end of the month as a supernumerary. Ward took command in early October. From mid-November a flight of 73 operated from landing grounds in the Western Desert, as part of W/Cdr. EW Whitley's 'Whitforce'. Ward himself led this flight on bomber escorts, offensive sweeps, scrambles and ground-strafing operations. On 8th December he destroyed a Ju88 and two days later damaged another. The flight was withdrawn for a rest on 11th December. Operating with the squadron from El Adem on 9th February 1942, Ward destroyed a He111, on the 13th he probably destroyed a Me109 over Tobruk and on 1st May he shot down a four-engined enemy aircraft, probably a Fw200 Kondor, during a strafing attack on Barce airfield. Ward was awarded a Bar to the DFC on 22nd May 1942. After a three-week leave he rejoined the squadron at Gambut on 1st June and the next night damaged a Ju88 over Gasr-el-Arid.

Soon after midday on 17th June Ward led the squadron off as part of a fighter escort covering Bostons. After returning and very low on fuel, the Hurricanes were jumped by four Me109’s as they were about to land. The Germans were led by Oberleutnant H-J Marseille. He shot down two Hurricanes on the first pass. Both pilots baled out. Not realising what had happened, most of the Hurricanes landed but Ward went back to cover the pilots coming down by parachute. Marseille returned and shot Ward down, probably killing him instantly. His Hurricane crashed two miles south of Gambut and he was buried nearby in a grave marked by a small wooden cross. Ward was later re-interred in the Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery. His DFC and Bar were presented to his parents by the Governor of New Zealand at a ceremony in Auckland on 31st May 1944.

 


 

 

Photographs courtesy of Colonel C R Romberg RA, British Embassy Cairo


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