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War-Time Memoirs Published After 50 Years

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Son Completes Memoirs Of Father’s War-Time Exploits

The son of a New Zealander who played a crucial role in the 1940 Battle of Britain and 1942 Defence of Malta has published his father’s war-time exploits over 50 years after they were written.

Martin Woodhall’s father, Group Captain A B Woodhall, was the acclaimed RAF sector controller who guided Spitfire and Hurricane pilots by radio to successfully repel German and Italian air strikes.

Known universally as Woody, he was widely considered a tactical genius by RAF colleagues including fighter aces such as the legendary legless pilot, Squadron Leader Douglas Bader.

After Bader was shot down over Europe and captured minus his artificial leg, it was Woody who volunteered first to fly over the hospital and drop him a replacement limb.

The full story of his remarkable army, navy and air force career spans both world wars and has been completed four decades after his death by his youngest son, Martin Woodhall of Christchurch.

It is told for the first time in Soldier Sailor & Airman Too and has been published concurrently this month in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Martin said his father began writing his memoirs in New Zealand in the 1950s, but found it difficult to interest anyone in publishing them.

“After he died in 1968 publishers contacted his widow Margot, but she refused to let anyone except members of the family have access to his manuscript and it was locked away.

“It was only after our mother died in 1997 when I studied the documents and realised what a tremendous slice of military history he represented.”

His father had run away from home and Quaker parents as a teenager to fight in World War 1, but was seriously wounded by artillery fire and lucky to live.

After stints with the British Army and Royal Navy, he joined the newly-fledged Royal Air Force in the 1930s when Hitler rose to power in Germany.

“Woody was too old to fly operationally in the Battle of Britain, but his skills were put to use as Duxford sector controller directing fighter pilots by radio to intercept air raids and return safely to base,” Martin said.

“In 1942 he performed the same role in the heroic defence of Malta, when a handful of fighter pilots held out against superior Axis air forces, achieving what Winston Churchill regarded as a turning point in the war.”

In a famous incident Woody duped aerial attackers by broadcasting a mock radio exchange with a Spitfire pilot who was actually sitting in the same room.

The radio conversation was intercepted by the enemy and resulted in two German fighers destroying each other with no British planes in the air.

His exploits were rewarded with an OBE and tributes from leading RAF figures, including Wing Commander Laddie Lucas who said Woody’s role in the Battle of Malta could not be under-estimated.

Lucas told the RAF Historical Society in 1991: “I do not personally believe that in those awful Spring days, when the odds were stacked so heavily against us, we could have held the line as we did without him.”

Martin said his father was an unassuming man who did not seek fame, but who participated at high level in some of the most turbulent and heroic episodes of military history.

“He did not get to see his autobiography in print, but I am sure he would be satisfied to know that others can now read and perhaps learn from his personal experiences.”

The hardcover book, showing a Spitfire close-up in full flight on the cover, is published by Willson Scott (www.willsonscott.biz) and retails for $49.95