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War in the Air Exhibition – An Interesting Pilot

Unusual Bomb-Dropping Technique

During the research for our War in the Air Exhibition on the First World War, several interesting and sometimes odd stories came to light. One of these lighter moments concerned Neville Harston of Hawkes Bay, who certainly stood out from the crowd. Neville trained with the Canterbury Aviation Company and took his 'ticket' (aviator’s certificate) with several other pupils on 24 August 1918, watched by military observers, press reporters and Sir Henry Wigram himself. He then did something a little different, as the watching press observed:

"There was a very interesting incident when Harston took up a number of potatoes for bomb-dropping practice. Flying at an altitude of 600 feet, while doing his "figure of eights" his first shot fell just three yards wide of the mark, and a second shot just missed the chairman of the company (Mr H. F. Wigram) who was standing close to the mark. The potato whizzed down within a foot of Mr Wigram's head, and he laughingly secured it as a trophy of the occasion. Harston's shooting was conceded to be extraordinarily good especially in view of the fact that, he was turning at the time, and his feat gave promise of success with the "real thing"."

You can read the original newspaper article here:

Neville reached the rank of Second Lieutenant in 1919 with the Royal Air Force in England, and also served with the inter-war New Zealand Air Forces. He also served with the RNZAF in World War Two as an airfield controller.

Neville Forsyth Harston

Neville Forsyth Harston Photo
1987/398.42 Studio portrait of Neville Forsyth Harston, seated wearing his Royal Air Force uniform, holding a cane. Stamped on the reverse: "Studio by W. G. Parker, / 288. High Holborn./ London. W.C." Handwritten: "179154 / Neville Forsyth Harston. RAF."

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Find out more about the brave New Zealanders who took part in the First World War at our War in the Air exhibition, which explores the first ‘war in the air’, from the perspective of those who took part.

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Unknown civilian man holding a pigeon. England. Original caption reads: "British Official Photograph CH5011. How 'Winkie' an RAF Pigeon Helped Save the Crew of a Derelict 'Beaufort' The crew of four of a 'Beaufort' aircraft of Coastal Command, RAF, forced down into the North Sea owe their rescue partly to a pigeon known as 'Winkie' one of two pigeons carried. When the aircraft was forced down the Wireless operator got out the tin pigeon container. 'Winkie' had broken out; the other, sent off with a message attached, failed to report. The base aerodrome picked up a weak call sign giving a vague indication of the position of the crew in their dinghy - the aircraft having sunk very quickly - but the arrival at her loft of 'Winkie', wet and oil clogged after a 100 mile flight in bad weather, enabled calculations to be made which narrowed considerably the area of search. The crew were eventually located and taken aboard by an RAF high speed launch. The RAF pigeon 'Winkie', which flew a hundred miles in bad weather back to its loft, this materially aiding the rescue of the 'Beaufort' crew. See Air Ministry Bulletin 6428."

Messenger Pigeons of World War Two

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