Derek Erskine was born in the Ship-Building town of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, in 1921. He
joined the RAF when he was called up in 1939 and was initially stationed at Cardington for basic
training. This is where the large Airships were built many years earlier. Derek was employed as a
pay clerk until March 1941 when he was accepted to train as a pilot.
In May 1941, he set sail, along with a few hundred others, for Canada aboard the Cruise-Liner
Windsor Castle. Eventually reaching Calgary, he started his training in Tiger Moths. During this
time, he met Ellen Jacobson and they dated until Derek left Canada to enter active service in the
various theatres of W.W.II. . He told her that he would marry her if he survived the war and in 1946
they married in Derek's home town.
He received his RAF Wings in October 1941 and was soon after transferred to Scotland to do
more training so he could fly Hurricanes. In January 1942, he transferred to Hawardin, Cheshire to
train on the Spitfire. With 214 hours under his belt, he was posted to the Orkney Islands and flew
Hurricanes. He also flew Spitfires later on and was based in North Africa, Italy, Malta, Sicily,
Cyprus and by January 1945 he was now a Flight Lieutenant. He was demobbed in December
1945. With 884 hours and 45 minutes of military flying under his belt, he was now a civilian once
again back in Newcastle.
He wrote to Ellen advising her that he would make arrangements for her to travel to Newcastle,
arriving 3rd September 1946. With her, she brought the wedding cake and 23 days later they were
married. They left from Southampton for New Zealand 13th December 1947, on the HMS Akaroa.
They settled initially in Dunedin and then moved to Christchurch where Derek began flying again
with the newly established NAC flying school (Tiger Moths). He then joined Airwork to commense
his topdressing career - beginning in Tiger Moths. When Airwork secured the Piper agency, Derek
demonstrated the new Piper Cub around New Zealand and then went topdressing in this marque -
a big change to the Tiger Moth.
He then flew the Piper Pawnee topdresser and then the first Beaver topdressor in the South
Island - ZK-BFO. He was based at Domett, near Cheviot, North Canterbury. He also had an Airwork
Piper Cub on the strip that he used to train locals to fly. This Piper still survives in a hanger on
Banks Penninsula. Derek and family then moved to Nelson where he was the CFI and manager at
Nelson's Aero Club for 3 years. Derek and family then moved to Dannevirke where he worked for
Aerial Farming Ltd flying a Commonwealth Ceres. He disliked the performance of this aircraft
when loaded and most of these topdressors crashed in NZ because of their bad habits when
loaded. The Ceres Derek flew (ZK-BPU) is now on display at MOTAT in Auckland.
Derek then joined Fieldair from January 1965 to the end of 1970 as Manager of the Dannevirke
base and during that time flew a number of well known Beavers including AZB, BBX, CKD and
others during that time. Derek developed diabetes in Dannevirke and lost his pilots licence
including his "A" catagory instructor rating. Derek and family then moved to Upper Hutt where
they brought and operated a Dairy and Derek then worked for Unilever as purchasing manager
Derek and Ellen remained active with community work long after retirement and Derek was
invested by the then Governor General into the Venerable Order of St John and he remained with
that organization for many years. He was also treasurer of the Upper Hutt Food Bank. His health
deteriorated as he grew older and he passed away on December 19th 2010, aged 89. I was lucky
enough to share correspondence with him via telephone and e-mail and got to spend a few hours
with him & Ellen at their home in May 2009. Ellen has also passed away, on 24 December 2014,
aged 96. I have wonderful memories of them both.
A few photos above of Derek during WWII.