Marama Nicholas in his enlistment photograph, 1942. (PHOTO: SUPPLIED) 20112012
This second of two articles, concludes the story of two courageous brothers from Ruatonga, Tatio and Marama Nicholas, who flew with Bomber Command and the Royal New Zealand Air Force in the Second World War. By Rod Dixon.
Part 2 – Flight Sergeant Marama
During the Pacific War, Marama Nicholas was an air navigator on Catalina Flying Boats protecting shipping escorts, undertaking surveillance for Japanese submarines and performing sea rescues out of Halavo Bay in the Solomon Islands. In 1953, he was invited to attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London as a representative of Cook Islands veterans.
In 1942, Marama Te Pou Te
Po Ave Te Ika Moe Ava Nicholas (born June
16, 1914) was working as a draughtsman in the Department of Lands and Survey in
He had left Rarotonga
for education at the Otaki Maori Boys Primary School, then Te Aute College as a boarder, becoming Head Boy in his
last year. Marama had also spent a year training with the New
Zealand Territorial Army as a second world war loomed.
On December 19, 1942,
encouraged by his brother Tatio, he enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force
(RNZAF) at Omaka, near Blenheim. His familiarity with survey works immediately identified
him for the role of flight navigator.
After induction in New Zealand, Marama was sent to
Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme, studying initially as a wireless
operator at RCAF, 2 Wireless School, Calgary, Alberta, graduating on March 9,
1944. This was followed
by air gunner training at RCAF, 5 Bombing and Gunnery School, Dafoe,
From there, he went on to No 5 Aerial
Observer School in Winnipeg for training as an air navigator, studying aerial photography, reconnaissance, observation, mapping, and
target description. At the end of 1944 he spent additional time
at No.1 Air Observers School, Malton, near Toronto studying dead reckoning and visual pilotage, using
navigator’s tools such as aeronautical charts, magnetic compass, Douglas protractor, and Dalton
Navigational Computer, etc.
At the completion of his training Marama was promoted to the rank of Flight
RNZAF No. 6 Squadron Catalina NZ4016 XX-S on patrol over the New Hebrides [Vanuatu] (RNZAF official photo colourised by Daniel Rarity)/ 20112015
Returning to New Zealand in February 1945, Flight Sergeant Nicholas was sent to RNZAF
Swanson, West Auckland for weapons
training and bush warfare prior to posting to the Pacific. He was then assigned to 6 (Flying Boat) Squadron at Laucala Bay, Fiji for training on
Supermarine Walrus amphibious biplanes and Catalina Flying Boats.
Part of the Allied strategy in the
Pacific War was to deny Japan access to Fiji’s harbour facilities, fuel
supplies and communications infrastructure. To defend the main island of Viti
Levu, air bases were built at Nadi, Nausori, and Laucala Bay, with 6 Squadron tasked
to carry out reconnaissance against Japanese forces along a line stretching from
Tonga, to Fiji to Vanuatu.
By the time Marama joined 6 Squadron,
most of its operations had been relocated from Fiji to a forward area at Halavo Bay on Florida Island, north
In July 1945, Marama was relocated to Halavo Bay
where, coincidentally, Percy Henderson was also stationed. After the war they
would become neighbours in Rarotonga.
Bay, 6 Squadron flew Catalina Flying Boats in long range surveillance and
reconnaissance missions, specifically shipping protection escorts, Japanese
submarine surveillance and sea rescue.
Catalinas used in sea rescue came to be known as ‘Dumbos’ - the American code for search and rescue missions, derived from the flying elephant of
the 1941 Disney film. It became standard procedure for ‘Dumbos’ in forward areas to circle close to
an active air raid to rescue ditched aircrews.
In his official history of the RNZAF, Squadron Leader
J.M.S. Ross writes that “The regular patrols flown by No. 6 Squadron from
Halavo Bay were in the main uneventful. They involved flying continuously for eleven
or twelve hours … over
hundreds of miles of empty sea, and not once did the crews sight any enemy
ships or submarines. Special searches for submarines which were reported on
various occasions by Allied shipping or aircraft were equally unproductive.”
other hand, in its air-sea rescue operations the squadron achieved considerable
success” and during
its deployment in the Pacific War, 6
Squadron, was responsible for the
recovery of seventy-nine downed aircrew.
However, as David Bruhn
notes in his book Salvation from the Sky, Catalinas were not well designed for
landing in rough seas or for
taxiing off with a
heavy load. The flying boat
was both awkward in flight and vulnerable to enemy attack.
“Air-sea rescue on the open ocean, particularly in
the Central Pacific, was challenging. Catalinas were employed extensively to
search for survivors, to drop emergency gear, and to circle overhead until a
ship could arrive. They also made rescues in passable conditions and in
protected lagoons. Only the most skillful pilots could land and take off again
in enormous swells.”
Part of the problem was the
Catalina’s tendency to
‘pop’ rivets during a heavy sea landing. In Bruhn’s book, Dwight Messimer
like Marama, would have
“a hefty supply
of wooden pencils on hand for the crew to plug the rivet holes.
Crewmen shoved the
pencil in the hole, broke it off, and used the remaining piece to plug another
worked well enough to withstand a takeoff but probably not the next landing.”
Pilot Officer Percy F. Henderson second from right - Crew on PBY-5 Catalina XX-R, NZ4015 from RNZAF 6 Squadron, Halavo Bay, Solomon Islands, 1945. Note the 7 ''Dumbo's'' painted on the nose, indicating 7 sea rescues. (RNZAF official photo, colourised by Daniel Rarity). 20112014
With the end of the Pacific War in August, 1945, 6 Squadron was disbanded
and Marama transferred to 5 (Flying Boat) Squadron prior to repatriation to the
Personnel Assembly Point in Remuera, New Zealand. The last flight of the
squadron was to drop surrender leaflets over Nauru and Ocean Island, still
under Japanese occupation.
Marama’s rank on discharge was Flight
Sergeant, and his certificate of discharge records his character as V.G. noting
“V.G. is the highest character which can be awarded in the RNZAF.”
After the war, Marama transferred to the RNZAF Reserve. Remaining in New
Zealand, he completed his draughtsman training with the New Zealand Lands and
In 1947, he returned to Rarotonga to join the Cook Islands
Administration as a draughtsman and later surveyor, working both on Rarotonga
and in the outer islands on the citrus replanting scheme, housing developments,
water works, etc.
On July 14, 1949, at the age of 35, he married Tutai Eliaba, the
daughter of Eliaba Orometua and Naomi Teuru.
In 1953 Marama was invited to represent Cook Islands’ war veterans in
the New Zealand Contingent to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London. His
son Philip, born in the Coronation year, was named after the Queen’s consort,
the Duke of Edinburgh.
At home, he was a prominent figure in local sports, and as a team-mate
of Albert Henry in athletics and rugby for Avatiu. He was also a keen golfer.
Marama retired as a surveyor in 1969 and passed away in Auckland in
January 1981 aged 67.