25 Apr 2024

Anzac Day: Servicemen's story tells of ties between NZ, Australia

9:08 am on 25 April 2024
Flight Sergeant David 'Derek' MacLean of Whanganui was killed in action in World War II.

Flight Sergeant David 'Derek' MacLean' was shot down over Malta. Photo: Supplied/Air Force Museum of New Zealand

New Zealand Defence Force Chief Air Marshal Kevin Short has recalled the ties that bind New Zealand and Australia, through the lives of two servicemen.

Short told the national Anzac service in Wellington of shared sacrifices through the story of two young men who fought in Malta during World War II.

When flight sergeant David 'Derek' MacLean was killed in action, his Australian friend Bob wrote to MacLean's mother in Whanganui to express his admiration for "Young Mac", Short said.

Bob wrote that Mac was "lost doing a very courageous thing", Short said.

According to the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, he had been tasked with intercepting an incoming raid of more than 50 aircraft.

He took off in his Spitfire with eight others, but was shot down into the sea near Comino Island.

Short quoted from Bob's letter: "It takes great courage and resolution to attack a formation of bombers like that singlehanded.

"Mac had always plenty of spirit and I shall always value his friendship.'"

Bob went on to write that he knew how hard it was to lose a loved one, Short said.

"'My older brother was killed on 4 November in Libya and I know how my parents felt.

"'I hope that this letter conveys a little to you of my regard for Mac.'"

According to the Air Force Museum, MacLean grew up in rural Whanganui and studied at Victoria University College before enlisting with the Air Force as an airman pilot on 1 March 1941.

He left for Canada in June and trained there and in England before embarking for the Mediterranean.

MacLean's body has never been found. He is commemorated on the Malta Memorial.

Australian Defence Force chief General Angus Campbell also spoke at the dawn parade.

He said an "unrivalled heritage" of service linked Australia and New Zealand.

Their story was one of "mateship, bravery and determination against the odds", he said.

"Today, Australia and New Zealand stand together in an increasingly challenging world. Together, we continue the Anzac story."

The Australian High Commissioner also attended the service.

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