Old white man of the day

Saturday’s old white man was a pioneer in agricultural aviation, today’s old white man transitioned from the military to civil aviation and was heavily involved in New Zealand’s domestic and international airline development. Quote:

Leonard Monk Isitt signing Japanese Instrument of Surrender, September 2 1945

Leonard Monk Isitt was born on 27 July 1891 at Christchurch, New Zealand. […] Leonard was educated at Mostyn House School, Cheshire, England, and at Christchurch Boys? High School. On leaving school he took up farming as a cadet and served in the territorial forces before enlisting in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in April 1915.

Isitt served with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade in Egypt and France and was wounded at the battle of the Somme in September 1916. After convalescing in England he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and trained as a pilot; he then served on army co-operation and in bomber squadrons in France. Following the armistice he completed specialist training with the Royal Air Force. He returned to New Zealand in October 1919 and took up a position with the fledgeling air service of the New Zealand military forces based at Sockburn, where he was responsible for aircraft and equipment, the supervision of refresher training for ex-First World War aviators, and liaison with the Canterbury Aviation Company. […]

[In 1928 he] was appointed to command the new air base at Hobsonville. During the following eight years, Isitt was occupied in developing Hobsonville as a land aerodrome and flying-boat base and in providing a range of military and general air services in the Auckland region and elsewhere.

As the international situation worsened during the 1930s Isitt became increasingly concerned for New Zealand?s defence and saw the need for an air link to North America. In political and commercial circles he quietly but persistently promoted the case for establishing a civil air route across the Pacific, which could be turned to military purposes in the event of war.

When the Royal New Zealand Air Force was established as a separate service on 1 April 1937, Isitt was promoted to wing commander, then group captain. As air member for personnel, he held a key appointment in the time of rapid expansion through to the opening stages of the Second World War. For his contribution to the remarkable achievements of this period he was made a CBE. […]

[…] In May 1942 he was promoted to air commodore and posted to London, where he established the RNZAF Overseas Headquarters. He oversaw New Zealand?s extensive and growing contribution to the air war in Europe and to RAF activities worldwide.

Isitt left Britain in December 1942 and returned to take up duties in the Air Department, Wellington. He became deputy chief of air staff in March 1943 and was appointed chief of air staff with the rank of air vice marshal on 19 July 1943 ? the first New Zealander to fill that office. He was singularly well qualified for the responsibilities of his new post, to which he also brought the advantages of established political relationships and allied military connections.

Isitt used his associations and considerable diplomatic skills to good effect in securing an active role for the RNZAF in the south Pacific for the remainder of the war, and thus helped to maintain a profile for New Zealand?s interest in the region. It was appropriate that he should be chosen to be New Zealand?s signatory to the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. His contribution to the Allied war effort was recognised by the United States in October 1945 when he was made an officer of the US Legion of Merit, and his services to New Zealand were recognised when he was made a KBE in January 1946.

Sir Leonard Isitt retired as chief of air staff in May 1946 and was appointed chairman of the board of the New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC). He was also appointed a director of Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), of which he became chairman in 1947, and the New Zealand director of British Commonwealth Pacific Airways until it was wound up in 1954. He remained chairman of both NAC and TEAL until March 1963, and thus presided over the development of New Zealand?s post-war domestic and international airline interests. […]

Leonard Isitt was a man of personal charm and quiet friendly dignity. He was a keen angler and applied his love of gardening to his home in Paraparaumu. He died at Lower Hutt on 21 January 1976. He was accorded a funeral with full military honours in Wellington. End of quote.

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