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Remembering Uncle Mick
WAR HERO UNEARTHED AFTER 79 YEARS
A long-time Arrowtown resident, whose RAF Bomber Command uncle has been unearthed after being shot down over Germany 79 years ago, says it’s hugely satisfying for her family to have found him after all this time.
Adrienne Chalmers’ uncle, Sergeant Henry ‘Mick’ Pullar’s remains were discovered in 2019, five metres underground where excavators located the tail of a World War II Stirling bomber. Mick, who was seconded to the British Airforce, was the eldest of the crew at 25 and a rear gunner in the plane which crashed on December 17, 1942, carrying 1000 pound of bombs. Eye witness records from 1942 say the plane exploded on impact and the wreckage continued to burn for about four hours. It had been on a low-flying flight (about 900m) to pinpoint its target when the Stirling was struck from astern by a Dornier DO 217 J-1 launched from nearby Vechta airfield.
Sergeant Henry ‘Mick’ Pullar.
A developer digging a new site uncovered the plane in Vechta, where the remaining crew of the plane were buried after being given full military honours by the local Germans at the time. The plane was shot down while low flying over a KBF (Volkswagen) factory at Fallersleben, which made aircraft parts for the Luftwaffe. The 75th Squadron of Bomber Command sent five heavy bombers off into that moonlit December night. The average life expectancy of a rear gunner was five ‘sorties’.
Mick’s remains have been interned in Reinberg War Cemetery in Germany. He was only identified after Adrienne’s sister, Pam Compton, of Toowoomba in Australia, requested DNA testing to identify the remains. Pam had been liaising with both the German and British authorities for 18 months to get this result. She’d already been researching their Uncle Mick’s war history for a number of years prior to the remains being found, contacting relatives of other crew members in New Zealand and overseas.
“It’s all credit to Pam that he’s been identified as she’s been working so hard on this,” says Adrienne. Pam’s persistence, along with that of other relatives of the crew, in working with the British Defence Force led to the DNA confirmation. “We are incredibly grateful to her for the countless hours she put into this. She did all the liaising with the archaeological teams in Germany, keeping us all up to date, and it took her a lot of effort, but it’s all been so worthwhile.” Confirmation that it was their Uncle Mick’s remains that had been unearthed finally came two days before Christmas last year.
“Mum (Olive Skeggs nee Pullar) would’ve been so thrilled if she was still here,” says Adrienne. “It would’ve given her final closure.”
Whenever her mother’s brother, three years her senior, was mentioned Adrienne says her mother would tear up. She didn’t talk about him much as it was too upsetting.
“Some memories from World War II, like those of Uncle Mick, were just too painful to talk about,” says Pam.
“His RNZAF photo was always on the wall, but whenever he was mentioned our mother would lower her head and say nothing.”
The sadness of losing such a much-loved brother remained for Olive and, sadly, Adrienne, Pam and their other five siblings never knew much about him.
“People just sent them off to war and their families never got their bodies back,” she says.
“We all think it’s quite amazing. He’d been dead for almost 20 years by the time I was born. It’s like Uncle Mick’s been resurrected from the dead,” says Adrienne. “Uncle Mick’s reappeared out of the woodwork after 79 years.”
“We’re just so grateful that this confirmation has given us the closure that many other families never got,” she says. “A lot of tremendous Kiwis served in NZ 75th Bomber Command Squadron and made a huge contribution, flying extremely dangerous missions dropping bombs over Germany.”
Other Kiwis also died on board her Uncle Mick’s mission and the pilot’s body, which was thrown from the aircraft, was interned in a separate grave by the Germans. “I understand that three weeks after the crash the families of the other New Zealand crew from Napier and Christchurch got together in Christchurch,” says Adrienne. Her mother (Mick’s sister), Olive, was also serving in the RNZAF during the war in Wellington as a signaller, relaying highly secret, confidential information.
Adrienne says she’s doubly thankful to her sister as once confirmation came recently that those were Mick’s remains that had been found she discovered her own rich, local Arrowtown family history.
Mick’s mother, Ethel Blanche Welsh, who was born in Arrowtown, died of cancer, aged just 35, when he was only eight, his death during the war adding even more pain for his father, also Henry Pullar (Senior). Henry had become a farmer in Otautau, Southland, where Mick grew up, but Adrienne has since discovered that his mother and grandparents came from Arrowtown. Mick’s grandfather William Welsh owned the Royal Oak Hotel from 1878 until 1885.
“Mum rarely spoke about Uncle Mick as it was very sad for her so I hadn’t realised that my great grandparents owned the Royal Oak,” she says. It turns out the Welsh family owned quite a lot of land around Arrowtown. She’s now liaising with Lakes District Museum staff to glean as much information about the family as she can.