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Collections Stories

New to the Collection

Gordon Woodroofe's escape clothing

3 November 2020

Among the recent new additions to the Museum's collection is this set of clothing, belonging to Warrant Officer Gordon Woodroofe, the only New Zealand airman to successfully escape from a German Prisoner of War (POW) camp during World War Two.

The escape clothing worn by Warrant Officer Gordon Woodroofe.
The escape clothing worn by Warrant Officer Gordon Woodroofe.

Warrant Officer Gordon Woodroofe was captured after his Wellington bomber ditched in the North Sea on 11-12 September 1941.

While imprisoned in Stalag Luft III in July 1942, Gordon swapped identities with an Australian soldier.  His new identity as an army private meant that he was eligible for a kommando (working party), which presented better escape opportunities than remaining in camp.  He was transferred to Stalag VIIIB and in May 1943, escaped from a kommando near the Germany-Czechoslovakia border.  He succeeded in walking and cycling all the way to the Austrian alps before being recaptured.

Undeterred by this failure, on 17 August 1944 Gordon escaped from another kommando, with German money, forged documents and civilian clothing, which he had acquired in exchange for cigarettes.  Disguised as a free French foreign worker, Gordon travelled by train all the way through northeast Germany to the Baltic port of Wismar, his ability to speak German helping him along.  In Wismar he was assisted by a group of Frenchmen to board a Swedish coal vessel.  The sailors agreed to hide him under the cabin floor, and when the Gestapo came to do their routine inspection, they diverted their attention by bartering with them.  When the ship docked in neutral Sweden, Gordon made his way to the nearest police station, and after receiving a brand new passport, was conducted to the British Consulate in Stockholm.  He realised, with an “intense emotional surge”, that he was free at last, and was flown back to Scotland on 8 September 1944.

Gordon Woodroofe’s escape was an incredible accomplishment, given that only 33 others, from a total of 10,000 RAF POWs, managed to achieve a ‘home run’.  He later received the Military Medal for his efforts.

You can read all about Gordon’s daring escape in his autobiography, GeTaWay. Now out of print, there are limited numbers available for purchase from the Museum Shop.

RNZAF Pilot course 4A at No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School, RNZAF Station Taieri, September 1940. Gordon Woodroofe is seventh from left in the back row. Image ref MUS0901226, Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

Frank Cardwell collection

29 September 2020

We were thrilled to receive recently the personal collection of Pilot Officer Frank Cardwell, who served as a Navigator with RAF Bomber Command in World War Two. The collection, which was generously donated by his family, includes uniform items and insignia, personal effects, service documents, souvenirs, personal papers and photographs.

Studio portrait of Frank Cardwell, wearing his Service Dress uniform. Image: Air Force Museum of New Zealand

Pilot Officer Frank Cardwell served as a Navigator with RAF Bomber Command in World War Two. His first operational posting in July 1944 was with No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, flying Lancasters. In November 1944 he joined No. 617 Squadron RAF, famous for its ‘Dambuster’ raids in 1943 and attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz in 1944. Frank took part in the Squadron’s last Tirpitz raid on 12 November 1944, when the ship was finally sunk.

Medal group awarded to Pilot Officer Frank Cardwell. Consists of the 1939-1945 Star with Bomber Command clasp; the Arctic Star; the France and Germany Star; the Defence Medal; the War Medal 1939-1945; the New Zealand War Service Medal, and the Bomber Command medallion. The Arctic Star is the only example currently in the Air Force Museum collection.

Three standout items in the collection are Frank’s medal group, which includes the Artic Star awarded for serving on the Arctic Convoys north of the Arctic Circle (the only example of this medal in the Air Force Museum collection), the brown leather toy dog that went with him on flights as a good luck charm, and his Navigator’s log book which notably features an entry on the Tirpitz raid.

Toy dog used as a good luck charm by Frank Cardwell.
Page from Frank Cardwell’s log book.
Page from Frank Cardwell’s log book.

After returning to New Zealand in July 1945, Frank remained connected to Bomber Command, with a long involvement in groups such as No. 44 Squadron and No. 617 Squadron Associations. He passed away in 2014, aged 94.

Frank’s 617 Squadron crew after the raid on Tirpitz November 12 1944, Woodhall Spa. Image: Air Force Museum of New Zealand.


Sergeant Phil Lane, wearing a gas mask, on security duty on the tarmac in front of No. 40 Squadron Hercules NZ7003. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Feb-Mar 1991. Image ref PD14-2-91, RNZAF Official.

Remembering Operation Desert Storm: the RNZAF and the Gulf War, 1991

No. 3 Squadron RNZAF 'Helimeet 90' team mascot, 'Crazy Kiwi', now in the collection of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

The story of ‘Crazy Kiwi’

Group of airmen receiving Christmas dinner, served by officers, as is traditional at Christmas time.  Bougainville, 1944. Image ref PR4676, RNZAF Official.

An Air Force Christmas

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