Thomas Fredrick Duck Dedication and Reunion at MOTAT

Artworks and caricatures painted on the nose cones of military aircraft became popular during World War II and were believed to bring their crew luck. Well, in the case of Thomas Fredrick Duck, this luck must have worked as the crew of Lancaster GT-T went on to survive the war, completing nearly 60 operations. Five out of the seven crewmen were New Zealanders and all were decorated with at least one, if not two gallantry awards.

The Thomas Fredrick Duck nose art is now on display at MOTAT’s Aviation Display Hall. Two versions of the lucky duck symbol were produced by artist H.G. Maund in about 1944. One was applied to the nose of Lancaster GT-T and is currently exhibited at the Royal New Zealand Airforce Museum, Wigram, and the other was presented to Captain Jack Wright at the end of operations.

The artwork is displayed alongside the original ‘D’ for Duck sketch by crew member Nick Carter. It was used to paint the duck design on the Wellington AA-D bomber which flew with 75 (NZ) squadron before being destroyed by fire during a crash-landing in 1942. An oil painting by Ken Athy of this aircraft was commissioned by Mr Carter and is included in the exhibition. The ‘D’ for Duck nose art was the inspiration for the later Thomas Fredrick Duck, which Carter also crewed. The artworks have been kindly donated to the New Zealand Bomber Command Association by the Wright and Carter families.

“The RAF Bomber Command aircrew had about a 30 percent chance of being killed every time they went on an operation over Europe, so it was an incredible feat for the Thomas Fredrick Duck crew to survive not only one but two successful tours of 30 operations each” said Mr Peter Wheeler from the NZ Bomber Command Association.

75 (NZ) squadron was the first WWII Commonwealth squadron to be created in 1940 and most of the crew were New Zealanders. Kiwi airman, Ken Crankshaw, had one of the most perilous jobs as a rear gunner on the Lancaster GT-T Thomas Fredrick Duck. He survived an incredible79 bombing operations and was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Distinguished Flying Medal. Ken became known as ‘Ring the Bell Crankshaw’ because he would ring a bell with the sound booming out over the plane’s transmitter whenever the bomb doors opened over a target. His widow, Val Crankshaw, still has the bell at her home in Australia.

After a break as instructors, most of the crew of 75 (NZ) squadron went on to reunite for a second tour, this time with 156 Pathfinder squadron. The lucky duck emblem was recreated on their new aircraft to ensure their ongoing good fortune which saw them safely through to the end of the war.

The surviving families of this remarkable crew came together at MOTAT on Tuesday 2 February at 10:30am to remember those who flew with Thomas Fredrick Duck and witness the dedication of the display in their honour.  The service was conducted RNZAF Chaplain Squadron Leader Stuart Hight from Auckland Base and attended by NZ Bomber Command Association members, MOTAT management, veterans and families.

“This ceremony was a milestone occasion and we were honoured to have all five of the New Zealand Thomas Fredrick Duck crew represented by surviving family members, said Mr Wheeler. 

  • The 'Lucky Duck' tribute at MOTAT

  • Oil painting of Wellington bomber AA-D, by Ken Athy, 1986

  • Thomas Fredrick Duck by H.G. Maund, 1944.

  • Cam Drew, Stephen Kelly, Lesley Hill (Jack Wright, the skipper, was her father), Shirley Carter, Clayton Crankshaw. Photo NZ BCA

  • The surviving families of the crew came together to remember those who flew with Thomas Fredrick Duck and witness the dedication of the display in their honour

The crew of Lancaster GT-T 'Thomas Fredrick Duck' was as follows:

Squadron Leader J. Wright, D.S.O., D.F.C. (New Zealand)

Squadron Leader C. Kelly, D.S.O., D.F.C. (New Zealand)

Flight Lieutenant A. S. Drew, D.F.C. (New Zealand)

Flight Lieutenant M. Carter, D.F.C. (New Zealand)

Flying Officer R. Reynolds, D.F.C.

Flying Officer K. Crankshaw, D.F.C., D.F.M. (New Zealand)

Flight Sergeant H. Hammond, D.F.M.