Tonga’s flying Baron served with RNZAF in Pacific during Second World War

It is almost 76 years since the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No 6 Squadron  arrived in Laucala Bay in Fiji to fly Catalina flying boat.

Among the aircrew who would be manning the long range flying  boats on patrol and rescue missions was  George Alipate Tupou or Baron Vaea.

According to an article by Sarah Chandler in Air Force News, he was the first Tongan and probably the first Pacific Islander to enlist in the New Zealand air force.

He had been sent to attend Wesley College in Auckland in 1938 and after leaving school he volunteered for service in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Baron Vaea said later that the exoticism of flying appealed to him.

“Coming from the islands, flying was something new, and it just settled in my mind,” he said.

However, he didn’t get into the air force immediately and ended up in the 4th Battalion of the Auckland Regiment instead.

He finally transferred to the RNZAF in 1943 learned to fly in New Zealand on Tiger Moths and Harvards.

Although he had dreamed of flying in Spitfires in Europe, he was assigned to Catalinas. The No 6 Squadron flying boats carried out maritime patrols and air-sea rescue operations from Fiji, New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and the Solomon Islands.

The squadron undertook many open sea rescues.

He said later he enjoyed flying Catalinas, but said they were more difficult than the aircraft he had trained on.

“You have to manoeuvre it like a ship because you are thinking about the wind,” he aid.

Despite being the only Tongan serving alongside the palagi, he said  the spirit of comradeship was marvellous.

“I was accepted just the same as anybody else … I was very proud to be in the Air Force and my people here [in Tonga] were also very proud of me,” he said.

Baron Vaea wanted to stay on in the air force, but was persuaded that as a member of the nobility he had a duty to Tonga.

After leaving the RNZAF, he worked for the Tongan government and served his Aunt, Queen Salote, as Aide-de-Camp until 1958.

He went on to be Tonga’s first High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and was appointed Prime Minister in 1991.

The main points

  • It is almost 76 years since the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No 6 Squadron  arrived in Laucala Bay in Fiji to fly Catalina flying boat.
  • Among the aircrew who would be manning the long range flying  boats on patrol and rescue missions was  George Alipate Tupou or Baron Vaea.
  • According to an article by Sarah Chandler in Air Force News, he was the first Tongan and probably the first Pacific Islander to enlist in the New Zealand air force.

For more information

The two Vaeas: Tongan PM and RNZAF pilots

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1006/S00082/the-two-vaeas-tongan-pm-and-rnzaf-pilots.htm

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