Newspaper Article 2015 – French honour WWII pilot

French honour WWII pilot


Seventy years after leaving the armed forces a Napier veteran has been honoured by the French.

On Friday evening Max Collett was one of three World War II pilots awarded the French Legion of Honour medal aboard the Prairial, a visiting French naval frigate visiting the Port of Napier.

Collett summed up the evening as “absolutely marvellous”.

The 92-year-old piloted a Spitfire aircraft for the bulk of his service and the award acknowledged his contribution to France.

Collett said when he and other visitors were welcomed aboard the large grey frigate by the ship’s crew members who created a guard of honour.

“My son came over from England and my granddaughter and grandson came up from Lower Hutt,” he said.

After some brief speeches and the medal presentations, guests enjoyed nibbles on the ship’s large deck, normally used as a helicopter landing site.

Medals were also awarded to the families of flight lieutenants Eric Brunton and John Caulton, who have passed away.

Collett grew up in Waipawa and enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force on his 18th birthday, and begin training April 1942.

Once his training was completed Collett described his role as “doing what ever the army wanted them to do” which included escorting bombers over France and dive bombing sites.

Generally his squadron worked with Canadian ground troops and “leapfrogged” them as they captured airports during the trek across Europe.

He flew 74 missions including offensive sweeps in preparation for D-Day, but missed the actual day of operations after he broke his ankle two days before.

Many of these flights were made in his Spitfire, named the “Waipawa Special” after his home town.

On [In] December 1944 he and a fellow flying officer destroyed three midget submarines. Collett believed this was the only recorded occasion of a Spitfire in the Royal or New Zealand air forces sinking submarines during the whole war.

Photo caption – Max Collett with his Legion of Honour award and a painting of the “Waipawa Special” Spitfire which he flew in World War II.

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Newspaper article

Date published

25 November 2015


The Napier Mail

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