27 July 2014

TEAL's Domestic Route - Wellington to the Chathams

During the course of the Second World War the Royal New Zealand Air Force regularly made use of the Tasman Empire Airways flying-boats ZK-AMA Aotearoa and ZK-AMC Awarua to make a number of maritime patrol flights that searched for enemy surface raiders and checking unidentified vessels. For these flights the civilian boats were armed with 500lb bombs.

On the 25th of November 1940 the German surface raiders the Orion and the Komet intercepted the sighted and captured the steamer Holmwood which was on passage between the Chatham Islands and the Port of Lyttelton. The 29 crew and passengers were taken off, as well as several hundred live sheep, after which the Holmwood was sunk by gunfire. When the ship failed to arrive TEAL’s Short S30 Flying boat Awarua, under command of Captain W. J. Craig was sent from Auckland to search west of the Chathams. The aircraft sighted the Chathams but did not land or overfly them.

In the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand Journal of December 2007 J W Best outlined the development of the Air Force Base and the first visit of an aircraft to the Chathams.

It could not have been long after this that preparations to get the base established were started. A temporary jetty, a large motorised refuelling barge, a launch, and kerosene flare floats, were provided. Two buoys were placed in Waikato Bay, a small inlet off the lagoon. Petrol (20,000 gallons) and oil (176 gallons) was stockpiled. Two sighting beacons were installed on land as night mooring aids. The base was under the supervision of a local resident, Mr Glennie.

Short S.30 Aotearoa (Capt. J. W. Burgess) left Auckland at 2:30 am on 29 April 1941 to undertake a reconnaissance flight around the Chathams. The flying boat searched some 15,000 square miles without incident then landed in Te Whanga lagoon at 11:19 am. Burgess was taken by launch to the refuelling barge. Only 44 gallons of petrol were taken aboard the S.30 "in ... accordance with instructions" Burgess reported. (This first visit by an aircraft was probably made primarily to test the facilities and equipment at the newly established mooring.) Burgess and his crew stayed less than 1 hour 30 minutes at the Chathams. The S.30 took off at 12:45 pm and arrived at Lyttelton at 4:36 pm. They flew back to Auckland next day (30 April), arriving at 3:55 pm.

A war-time visitor, TEAL's Short S30 Empire ZK-AMA, Aotearoa, was the first aircraft to visit the Chatham Islands on the 29th of April 1941.

Following the Second World War the RNZAF made numerous flights to the Chathams and in 1949 the National Airways Corporation tried to establish an air service to the Chathams using their Short Sunderland flying boats. The early hopes for the NAC’s service did not eventuate and NAC’s early involvement in the Chathams ended early in 1950 when it retired its Sunderlands.

In 1949 TEAL added four Mark IV Short S45A Solent flying boats to its fleet. ZK-AML, Aotearoa II, arrived on the 7th of December 1949, ZK-AMM, Ararangi, on the 29th of September 1949, ZK-AMN, Awatere, on the 23rd of October 1949 and ZK-AMO, Aranui, on the 30th of November 1949. A fifth Mark III Solent ZK-AMQ Aparima was delivered a couple of years later on the 15th of September 1951. The Flight International magazine issue for the 29th of September 1949 described the Solents as having passenger accommodation for 30 to 44 passengers with a crew of seven. With a payload of 17,124 lb, including 44 passengers, luggage, mail and freight, it has a range of 1,450 miles, cruising at 200 mph at 10,000ft.

On 1950 the Minister of Civil Aviation approved of Tasman Empire Airways introducing an air service between Wellington and the Chatham Islands. It was envisaged that six return flights per year would be flown and that if the Company felt that sufficient traffic were offering, additional services might be arranged during the summer and the Canterbury Centennial Celebrations. Approval was given for the Company to be subsidised up to £75 per return trip, the payment to be reviewed after four return trips had been flown. The Government thought TEAL’s service could be tied in with TEAL’s plans for its Wellington to Sydney service saving the cost of positioning an aircraft from Auckland as NAC had done.

TEAL introduced its thrice weekly service from Wellington’s Evans Bay to Sydney on the 3rd of October 1950. In support of this service a flying boat base was established at the sheltered western end of Evans Bay beneath Hataitai Point and terminal facilities for the flying boat operation were built. This was also to become the departure point for TEAL’s service to the Chatham Islands. In the event TEAL found it necessary to position a Solent from Auckland to Wellington for the Chathams’ service rather than use the aircraft that operated the Sydney service. This was due to the heavy volume of traffic on the Wellington-Sydney service, the necessity for the aircraft to carry on to Auckland for maintenance, and the upset to the Sydney schedule if the Chathams service was operated.

TEAL set the schedule for the first Chatham Island flight as follows;

Depart Auckland      0330 hours               
Arrive Wellington     0530
Depart Wellington    0700                          
Arrive Chathams      0945
Depart Chathams    1245                          
Arrive Wellington     1530
Depart Wellington    1730                          
Arrive Auckland       1930

The first flight of the bi-monthly service was flown by Solent ZK-AMM, Ararangi under the command of Captain Cliff Le Couteur on the 15th of December 1950. It carried a full load of 48 passengers from Evans Bay to Te Whanga lagoon including children returning home for the Christmas holidays. It returned to Wellington the same day check with 17 passengers. 

Short S45 Solent ZK-AMM inaugurated the regular service between Wellington and the Chathams on the 15th of December 1950. The same aircraft also flew the last scheduled service to the Chathams on the 7th of April 1954

First day cover for the first TEAL flight to the Chathams operated on the 15th of December 1950

For the period from the 15th of December 1950 to the 13th of April 1951, the Company operated five flights to the Chathams. One of these had to turn back after the weather deteriorated at the Chathams preventing it from landing. The first five flights, including the unsuccessful one, cost £4,419.10.6d to operate which was offset by £3,362.4.3d of revenue. This equated to a loss of £1,057.6.3d. If the unsuccessful flight was excluded, the loss was £119 per trip which was considered reasonable taking into account the positioning of the aircraft from Auckland and when a £75 subsidy per return trip for a flight from Wellington had been budgeted for. If TEAL had been able to fly from Wellington, the flights would have shown a small profit, approximately £200.

Flights continued to operate. A TEAL press release on the 30th of October 1951 advertised its eighth flight which was to operate on the 10th of November 1951. A Solent flying boat will leave Auckland at 4.15 a.m. and Wellington at 7.00 a.m. It will return to Wellington, at 4.30 p.m. and to Auckland at 7 p.m. The aircraft is expected to carry a large cargo which will include sausages, ice cream, oranges and bananas. Six flights a year are operated to the Chatham Islands by TEAL. Since the service commenced the company has operated seven flights which have all carried heavy passenger and cargo traffic. The service is operated on dates which best suit the convenience of Chatham Island residents and government departments and private organisations in New Zealand with interests in the Chathams. Further flights will be made on 5th and 15th December, 30th January, 13th March and 3rd April.

The flight the following month, on the 15th of December 1951, carried a special passenger. Father Christmas flew out to the Chathams by the TEAL Solent to bring Christmas cheer to the Chatham Island children.

The service continued to operate for the next two and a half years. In the 1953/54 financial year the six flights operated made a loss of £ 434.1.10d with costs of £6,029.4.1d and revenue of £5,595.2.3.

Passenger accommodation and the galley on the Solent flying boat service between Wellington and Sydney. Photos : National Library

In April 1953, the Whites Aviation magazine captured the importance of the TEAL air service... Ice cream and sausages are two items on TEAL's cargo list, which are greatly looked forward to by Chatham Islanders. In military jargon the flights made to the Chatham Islands by TEAL Solents could quite aptly be termed 'Operation Sausage." In the two years that TEAL has been operating to these outflung islands, 478 miles east of Christchurch, it is doubtful if there has ever been a service on which several hundred pounds of sausages have not been included in the air cargo carried. 

To the Chatham Islander, sausages are a delicacy, almost on a par with Stewart Island oysters or fresh Spring lamb so enjoyed by the "mainlanders." Half an hour after the local store-keepers have set up their improvised branch premises on the edge of Te Whanga lagoon, there is not a pound of sausages to be brought. Mainland housewives would open their eyes in amazement if they saw the way this favourite food is rushed. Happy shoppers walk off with five-pound bundles of sausages under each arm. Anybody who buys less than that amount is thought to be ill or right off their food. 

But eating sausages is not the only pastime in the Chathams. "Outsiders think we are rather backward,” says Mr C. R. Wishart, Chairman of the County Council. "If they were conscious of our difficulties, things would be different. There is a definite move forward here, although farming has been retarded by the irregular freight trips made by ships."' Sea freight to Lyttleton costs £9 per ton. Coal costs £15 per ton and benzine is 6/3d a gallon and has to be ordered in forty gallon drums. With irregular shipping calls, and the Solents unable to operate into the lagoon during the winter months, housewives sometimes have to place their shopping orders six months in advance. It is not uncommon for the family grocery bill to be in the vicinity of £100. And this has to be paid in advance. 

Every visitor is met at the end of the long jetty by Constable Geary, the sole representative of the law on the Island. Law or no law, policeman or not, he is known to everybody as "Aubrey." As crime is practically unheard of, the Constable also acts as Fisheries and Stock Inspector, Marine Department representative, Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Traffic Officer and unofficial Public Relations Officer to visitors. Until recently he was also the local anesthetist, but he passed that position over to the new doctor's wife, who is a trained nurse. 

Everybody tries to be at Te Whanga lagoon when the flying boat arrives. All methods of transport are used to get there. Horses, cars, motor bikes, trailers towed by tractors, and the island's own special brand of horse drawn jogger, all cut a dusty trail for the lagoon. Some of the parties have been on the road for three or four hours. It is a great event. A day for beach picnics and reunions, a day for housewives to meet their friends and exchange gossip. Some have not seen each other since the arrival of the last flying boat, six weeks ago. All along the small, white shelly beach groups gather beside cars and under trees to enjoy this social event. 

A stranger to the Chathams is never lonely for long. Constable Geary sees to that. As "Chairman" of the local welcoming committee he introduces the visitor to different groups, and makes them feel at home. Waitangi, the "capital," is about 1000 bumps away from Te Whanga. In places the road, which winds through paddocks, just comes to an end. With uncanny judgement and without the aid of a compass the driver goes on, turning right and left until contact is again made with the other end of the road. Such detours are frequent. Minor dust storms are common. On the way to Waitangi, the visitor will see the racecourse, run by the oldest jockey club in New Zealand. The big event of the racing calendar is the Chatham Cup, run on New Year's Day. But it is the arrival of the Solent that is really a big day for the island and nobody leaves the lagoon until the aircraft has departed. Air transportation has made a big difference to the lives of those on the Chatham Islands and each flight is eagerly awaited. 

"TEAL" DAY IS REALLY AN EVENT on the Chatham Islands. The islanders receive treasured cargo, such as sausages and ice cream, as well as the more mundane items of freight. The pictures on this page show—above: small boys having a ride and a lot of fun on a Tasman cargo trolley. Below: "setting up shop" presents no problems, and after the Solent is unloaded it doesn't take long for trading to get under-way with improvised stores on the beach.

In 1954 TEAL made the decision to withdraw its Solent flying boats with the exception of ZK-AMO which was kept for the Coral route. TEAL’s plan envisaged this Solent would be based in Fiji and would only come to Auckland for maintenance and over-haul purposes three or four times a year and that was not practical for it to continue the Chathams service during the maintenance visits. The company recognised it would not meet the requirements of the local population “who are more interested in getting two services at a relatively short interval in order to enable islanders to come to New Zealand for a short period or to enable Government officials and others to come from New Zealand to the Chatham Islands for departmental purposes.” TEAL operated their last service to the Chathams on the 7th of April 1954. The flight was operated by Short S.45 Solent flying boat ZK-AMM, Ararangi, under the command of Captain Cliff Le Couteur and Second Officer M. R. B. Wallace.

A second article in Whites Aviation in May 1954 again underlined the importance of the flying boat service...

Last month Tasman Empire Airways made their last scheduled flight of the season to the Chatham Islands, 478 miles east of Christchurch, N.Z. The future of this service is undecided at the moment, but a statement by the Government will be made in due course. The pictures on this page show something of the character of the islands and a flight there is an illuminating and entertaining experience. 

Mr A. Prichard, a well-known figure in New Zealand Civil Aviation Administration circles, sits at the wheel of a Land-rover, a vehicle ideal for the rough, almost non-existent roads of the island. "Prich's" specialty is surveying aerial landing facilities, but most will agree he can put his hand to anything. 

The flying boat lands in the Te Whanga Lagoon, about seven miles from Waitangi, which is the most settled part of the Island. Passengers are brought ashore in a civil aviation launch and a whale boat; with quite a social gathering at the jetty. 

Captain C. Le Couteur, who pioneered the TEAL service to the Chathams in 1950 (second from left) chats with some island personalities. First on the left is Dr. R. G. Howes, Mr J. Jury, Chathams Fishing Co., and Constable Knight. 

A general view of the wharf at Waitangi showing the radio station on the hill. Although shipping is fairly regular, the flying-boat service makes residents feel in touch with the mainland. 

By reason of its climate, cold and very damp, the men are inclined to look a little rugged to the eyes of a mainlander - especially a woman - but kind hearts beat under the sturdy woollen shirts and the local bar is still a good place for a drink and a yarn. 

The flying boat service operated by TEAL to the Chatham Islands is a golden link with New Zealand. One has heard the expression. "no man's land," well this certainly does not apply to the Chatham Islands. This wind-swept group of islands consisting of Chatham Island, or Whare-Kauri and Pitt Island or Rangiauria, with several detached high islets and rocks is definitely a man's land. For them there is plenty of fishing for blue cod and hapuka and good shooting for black swan and duck on the many lakes. 

For the women there is plenty of work. The Chatham Island housewife cannot run round the corner for a loaf of bread, she bakes all her own. Mrs Ruth Knight, cheerful wife of the local constable, maintains her family are spoilt. "They get fresh bread every day. Sometimes I bake in the morning other times I might not get around to it until the afternoon, but every day there's a freshly baked loaf on the table, and don't they love it." Mrs Knight's approach is typical of the cheerful and philosophical manner in which the European women tackle their jobs as housewives on the lonely Chatham Islands. A spell on the islands would certainly bring many a whining mainlander up with a round turn. To the women of the Chathams the flying boat service, that TEAL has been operating for three years, is a golden link with the mainland - New Zealand. It comes as rather a surprise to hear the islanders speak of New Zealand as another country. They talk eagerly with the newcomer and one hears the wistful note in the re-mark-"we hope to get up to New Zealand next year." 

Mrs Ruby Patterson, wife of the commissioner, has been a resident for seven years and loves the life. "I just wouldn't want to change, we have become so attached to the island." A rather shy though very friendly woman, Mrs Patterson soon makes you feel at home and is anxious to introduce you all round. When I made the flight down recently she and Mrs Knight were busy cutting home-made bread for sandwiches on an improvised table as the passengers came off the flying boat. Cheerfully they spread out their wares for everybody to share and Constable Knight supervised the boiling of the billy. Newcomers leaving the flying boat are given the "once over" by the islanders, the native population looking at you fixedly but shyly. It can be rather disconcerting. Everybody is anxious to show you the island's good points and assure you that the climate is really quite good. Indeed the day we were there it was warm and sunny and preferable to the weather we had been having in Auckland. 

However, it is the winter months which are the hardest. Rain falls frequently and no month receives less than 2 inches, the wettest months being from May to August. July is the coolest month with an average temperature of about 45 degrees, and January is the warmest with 58. The population is 520, of whom 290 are Maoris. Sheep grazing and fishing are the main activities. At Waitangi there is the largest settlement with a post office, store, hotel, radio station and wharf. There is also a cottage hospital here, run by four Catholic nursing sisters. 

The resident doctor lives close by the hospital and makes his calls in a Landrover. It was Dr. Ron Howes who drove us from the Te Whanga lagoon over to Waitangi where we enjoyed a most hospitable lunch turned on by his wife. Judy Howes is a slim little redhead, full of fun and good humour. A nurse before she married, she has adapted herself to the local conditions and is now a better shot with a gun than her husband. Mrs Howes has plenty to do with running her household and helping her husband in his work. A big diesel stove, which she calls the "Beast," heats the house and takes care of her baking. Residents of the islands for nearly three years, Judy and her husband flew up to Wellington last November to spend some precious leave. It was two years since she had been off the island, and in her own words, "it's too long." Hungry for news of the latest fashions, shops and restaurants, this bright little helpmate of Dr. Howes, laughingly told us that the only fashions worth modelling on the Chathams were sou'westers and thigh boots. 

On the log books a flight to the Chathams is just another flight, but to the islanders it is an event. Everybody who can get away waits for the arrival and it becomes a real social gathering. Nobody goes home until the flying boat has skimmed the lagoon and is lost in the distance. To those of us who made the trip for the day there was something heart-pulling in the way the crowd gathered at the waters edge to wave a last vigorous goodbye. The women are very loyal to their menfolk, but it is obvious they too, would have liked to be aboard the flying boat, winging their way to a place where they can go window shopping, have morning tea and go to the pictures with another woman friend, buy food that they have not had to cook themselves, and above all see other people. Little things in them-selves but very important when you can't have them. The pioneer spirit of New Zealand women is not dead on the Chathams. The women there are a courageous little band, hewing out a life for themselves and their families under difficult circumstances; predominently cheerful but human enough to be wistful of their mainland sisters. If you told them all these things they would not believe you and laughingly tell you that "it's all in a day's work." They are too busy thinking of others to turn the eye inward. Our hats are off to you, girls. You're doing a grand job and aviation is, we think, helping you quite a bit. You certainly deserve all the assistance and the bright spots modern air transport can give you. DKD. 

Cooking is a very important talent on the Chatham Islands, where shops round the corner just do not exist. Mrs Judy Howes, the local doctor's wife, knows all the finer points of her big diesel stove (left) which she has nicknamed "The Beast!" The arrival of the TEAL flying boat is looked upon by the islanders as a social event and a picnic lunch is provided for everybody. Cutting up homemade bread for sandwiches are Mrs Ruby Patterson (left) and Mrs Doreen Knight. 

After TEAL's withdrawal the Chathams' air service received some flights operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force and later by the Australian airline, Ansett Airways (see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2014/07/ansetts-service-to-chatham-islands.html) before the RNZAF re-established a more regular air service (see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2014/07/ansetts-service-to-chatham-islands.html)

The Chathams was, however, to receive another visit by a TEAL Solent flying boat. On the 17th of October 1956, Short S45 Solent ZK-AMQ Aparima returned to Auckland. A couple of days later, on the 19th of October 1956, TEAL flew a charter direct from Auckland to the Chathams rather than bring an Ansett flying boat across the Tasman for one flight. This was the last time a TEAL aircraft visited the Chathams.

ZK-AMQ, the last Short Solent to visit the Chatham Islands on 19th of October 1956

Subsequently TEAL's Shorts Solents were withdrawn from service and their fates were

ZK-AML         Aotearoa II     Sold to Aquila Airways, UK
ZK-AMM        Ararangi         Sold to Aquila Airways, UK
ZK-AMN         Awatere          Scrapped after a fire sometime before withdrawal
ZK-AMO         Aranui            Retained for use on Coral Route. Preserved at MOTAT.
ZK-AMQ         Aparima         Retained for use on Coral Route until October 1956
Scrapped at Mechanics Bay 1957

1 comment:

  1. ". . .then landed in Te Whanga lagoon "

    One would hope not. Could be fairly dangerous.

    Flying boats do not usually 'land', they 'alight'.