28 December 2022

(3) Cliff Lewis' Air Travel Memoirs

Part 3 of a twelve part memoir written by Cliff Lewis, an Air Travel (NZ) pilot... 

This memoir relates to my my larger post on Air Travel (NZ) Ltd which can be found here -


Chapter 3 - A Company is Formed


All very well, three aeroplane, three pilots, where did the money come from?

Young Jack Renton’s assurance to Bert Mercer had borne fruit. Here are the people South Westland have to thank for all this to come about.

The late Dorothy Theomin of Dunedin
Bert Chapman of Hokitika
Paul Renton Snr of Hokitika
Harry Worrall of Christchurch
Arthur Wilkinson of Christchurch

The arrival of Air Travel (NZ)'s de Havilland DH83 Fox Moth ZK-ADI at Hokitika on 13 December 1934

They floated the company, directed its business and issued the shares. Every business is bugged by paperwork. Air Travel (NZ) was no exception. It had to have a company secretary. Mr Maurice Dawe of Hokitika accepted this responsible job and executed his duties to the greatest satisfaction of everybody concerned right up to the time of his ill fated death in one of the company's aeroplanes on Mount Hope.

At Hokitika aerodrome, an office had to be manned. To start with, Bert Mercer’s own to daughters, Billie Mercer and her sister Marie, assisted their father. Billie later left to marry and live in Christchurch so Hugh Drummond of Hokitika came to the aid of the company. He really executed a magnificent work, so much so that Marie Mercer was able to be released. He not only controlled all our records and bills of loading but also acted as receptionist to all passengers. Everybody who landed at Hokitika aerodrome or departed from it will always remember Mr Drummond for his unfailing courtesy and personal attention. He was our ambassador while we were away fighting the elements of South Westland's weather and the vagaries of its intricate landing places. Mr Drummond, we all thank you for a magnificent job.

Behind every successful man there must be a successful, patient and encouraging lady. Bert Mercer, Jim Hewett and myself all had the lovely privilege. To our wives, who were caused many an anxious hour, goes my utmost respect for the continued faith in our ability to master all difficulties and return home safely, even when sometimes we were held up in the far south for days at a time and had no communication to assure them that we were okay.

We were really fortunate in having a devoted ground engineer in Owen Templeton. He often drove all us pilots mad when we wanted our aeroplanes in a hurry. Owen would not let us have it until he was perfectly satisfied it was 100% airworthy. We were grateful and just walked around in ever diminishing circles smoking endless cigarettes until Owen was happy. Thanks Owen! Bert Mercer knew the men he employed and he picked them out meticulously!

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