There are many tales that come from war – some sad, some heroic, some bizarre. Tyson Youngfinds out more about the story of Norman MacRitchie, a man with Oamaru connections who served with the Royal New Zealand Air Force during World War 2.
Norman MacRitchie’s story begins at 9am over the Rhine river, in Germany.
The young pilot, from Waiwera South, near Balclutha, is serving in World War 2 with 75 New Zealand Squadron, when he is blinded from an unusual incident inside the Lancaster bomber he is flying over Duisburg, Germany.
His plane is one of the dozens of bombers that have embarked on this mission in an effort to cripple German supplies.
The bomber has just finished a run on enemy territory, 20,000 feet below, when the drama begins.
“The bomb doors had swung shut and I banked steeply to the left so we could look down right into the heart of the target,” Norman tells the Truth in the early 1940s.
Suddenly, there is a loud bang. He is whacked in the head by something heavy – bizarrely, it is an anti-aircraft shell that has flown through the cockpit window of the plane – and his world goes dark.
The shell sits in the cockpit, unexploded, and the bomb-aimer on board the Lancaster asks Norman how badly he has been hit.
“I think in the head,” he recalls.
“Apart from the fact that I’d probably be blind for the rest of my life, which made me feel pretty miserable, I wondered what my crew were thinking as they had heard me tell the bomb-aimer I was blinded.”
The bomb-aimer offers to take the controls but Norman refuses, saying he will fly them out of danger if his crewmate guides him.
Once out of the danger area, the bomb-aimer takes over the controls.
Norman gropes his way out of the seat and sits down on the floor of the plane. He feels like crying as he contemplates a life without sight.
A short time later, he regains control of the plane, as he is determined to see (no pun intended) the mission to its conclusion.
“If my crew felt windy, as well they might, they didn’t say a word – bless ’em,” he tells the Truth
A few hours pass before the plane nears the military base in England.
The bomb-aimer guides Norman down to the runway, counting down the plane’s altitude level, and the flight engineer lowers the undercarriage.
After a gentle landing, the whole crew comes up to the cockpit to check on their pilot.
” Bloody fine show, skipper – but, gee, we’re sorry about your eyes,” one of them says.
But this story has a happy ending.
After being checked out by a doctor, Norman is diagnosed with temporary damage to his optical nerves, and his eyesight returns within days.
He serves the rest of the war as a test pilot, before returning to New Zealand to join the farming sector.
Norman MacRitchie’s nephew, also called Norman MacRitchie, lives in Oamaru and alerted us to this amazing story. Norman jun said he had long been inspired by his uncle’s heroic actions on that day.