10 March 2017

Laucala Bay - Bee Dawson

The Wings over New Zealand forum owner and The WONZ Show podcast creator Dave Homewood steps up as the latest ABR guest reviewer. I hadn’t even known this book was due for release so it came as a pleasant surprise to read Dave’s review. As long-time readers will be aware, anything to do with the RNZAF during the war is always welcome here, but, sadly, it has been a bit conspicuous in its absence of late. It has been a while since Vincent Ashworth’s tribute to his brother, Artie: Bomber Command Legend, and the most recent Kiwi book to feature on ABR, held top billing. The future is looking okay with reviews pending for Vic Jay’s The Mallon Crew and Angela Walker’s From Battle of Britain Airman to POW Escapee, but it has been a long time between drinks for Kiwi content. Andy Wright
I was really looking forward to Bee Dawson’s new book as I have copies of her previous books on Wigram and Hobsonville, which are firm favourites. Having lived, worked and socialised at both RNZAF Bases Wigram and Hobsonville, they are really ingrained in my psyche and it still irks to see what has become of those once fine stations, with so much history lost. But Bee's books are an excellent tribute to the memory of both those amazing places and to the many generations of fine people who passed through them in the service of the RNZAF.
For me, Laucala Bay - or Lauthala Bay as the RNZAF preferred to spell it - is a lot less well known. I never served at this famous station, and I have never had the opportunity to visit Fiji to see its remains. However, I have heard a little about it from talking with veterans who served there with the Short Singapores, Consolidated Catalinas and Short Sunderlands over the years. It always sounded like a tranquil paradise, an idyllic spot in the Pacific, even during wartime.
Having a much shorter RNZAF history than either Hobsonville or Wigram, with the RNZAF presence in Fiji only spanning 28 years, I suspected LB to be a smaller book then its predecessors. I was wrong. It's a really solid history indeed sitting at a hefty 336 pages! That includes an index which is always helpful.
This book is in the same format and layout style as the two previous books which compliments them perfectly. Like the books on Wigram and Hobsonville, LB is rich with historic photos on almost every page. I suspect almost all of the photos have never been published before. The majority come from the archives of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, but there are also excellent shots from private collections.
Of course, interspersed with the photos is the narrative text, which, like the other books, is easy to read and is sort of sectionalised with sub headings so you can either happily read the book from cover to cover or simply cherry-pick a clearly defined topic and read that section.

Of note, despite the name of the book, it does not entirely concentrate on RNZAF Station Laucala Bay. Also covered is the RNZAF presence at places like Nadi, Nausori, Suva and Lautoka. It's an all round history of the RNZAF in Fiji, and so is not just about the Catalina and Sunderland flying boats, but also the Vickers Vincents, Short Singapores, DH60 Moth, DH86 Express, DH89 Dragon Rapides, Lockheed Hudsons and Venturas, the Grumman Avenger, etc. The RNZAF Marine Section, who operated the flying boat tender vessels, are also well covered, and there's a wonderful mix of personal stories too, including the romances that bloomed in the tropical paradise of Fiji.
I am really pleased with this book, it's the perfect companion to its Wigram and Hobsonville counterparts and forms another very fine record of a lost station from the RNZAF’s history. Anyone who served there will be thrilled to see this book, I'm sure, as it will be jam-packed with memories for them. Anyone who has the other two books needs to buy Laucala Bay to complete their excellent set. Very reasonably priced at NZ$45.00 (RRP), I am sure it will be in all good book stores and will certainly be available from the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.
ISBN 978-0-14-377038-1