Les Munro
Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is also sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. In these...

 John Leslie (Les) Munro CNZM
New Zealand Order of Merit
The New Zealand Order of Merit is an order established in 1996 "for those persons who in any field of endeavour, have rendered meritorious service to the Crown and nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits."The order includes five...

Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.Instituted on 6 September...

Queen's Service Order
The Queen's Service Order was established by Queen Elizabeth II on 13 March 1975, awarded by the government of New Zealand "for valuable voluntary service to the community or meritorious and faithful services to the Crown or similar services within the public sector, whether in elected or...

Distinguished Flying Cross (United Kingdom)
The Distinguished Flying Cross is a military decoration awarded to personnel of the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force and other services, and formerly to officers of other Commonwealth countries, for "an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against...

, JP
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...

 (born 5 April 1919) is the last surviving pilot of the Dambusters Raid
Operation Chastise
Operation Chastise was an attack on German dams carried out on 16–17 May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, subsequently known as the "Dambusters", using a specially developed "bouncing bomb" invented and developed by Barnes Wallis...

 of May 1943.

Born at Gisborne
Gisborne, New Zealand
-Economy:The harbour was host to many ships in the past and had developed as a river port to provide a more secure location for shipping compared with the open roadstead of Poverty Bay which can be exposed to southerly swells. A meat works was sited beside the harbour and meat and wool was shipped...

 on New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

's East Coast, Munro lived there on the family farm until he enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force
Royal New Zealand Air Force
The Royal New Zealand Air Force is the air arm of the New Zealand Defence Force...

 on 5 July 1941.
He was originally turned down because of unsatisfactory scholastic ability, but studied by correspondence and was finally accepted.

Munro learned to fly in Tiger Moth
De Havilland Tiger Moth
The de Havilland DH 82 Tiger Moth is a 1930s biplane designed by Geoffrey de Havilland and was operated by the Royal Air Force and others as a primary trainer. The Tiger Moth remained in service with the RAF until replaced by the de Havilland Chipmunk in 1952, when many of the surplus aircraft...

s at the RNZAF's Flying Training School at Bell Block
Bell Block
Bell Block is a town in Taranaki, New Zealand. State Highway 3 runs through it. It is 6 km north-east of the centre of New Plymouth and 1 km from the outer edge of New Plymouth at Waiwhakaiho. Waitara is about 9 km to the north-east...

 near New Plymouth
New Plymouth
New Plymouth is the major city of the Taranaki Region on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It is named after Plymouth, Devon, England, from where the first English settlers migrated....

, and on graduation chose to fly bombers so was posted to Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 for initial bomber training. He moved to England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 in October 1941 for further training, and joined 97 Squadron
No. 97 Squadron RAF
No. 97 Squadron, was a Royal Air Force squadron formed on December 1, 1917 at Waddington, Lincolnshire, first as a training unit, until moving to Netheravon in March 1918, and re-equipping with the Handley Page O/400 heavy bomber. The squadron served in France for the remainder of the war...

 at Woodhall Spa
Woodhall Spa
Woodhall Spa is a civil parish and village in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England within a wooded area on the Southern edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, about south-west of Horncastle and about east-south-east of Lincoln...

 in Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...

. There, he flew Avro Manchester
Avro Manchester
|-See also:-References:NotesCitationsBibliography* Buttler, Tony. British Secret Projects: Fighters and Bombers 1935–1950. Hickley, UK: Midland Publishing, 2004. ISBN 978-1857801798....

s and then Avro Lancaster
Avro Lancaster
The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force . It first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF, and squadrons from other...

s in 1942/43 and while there his DFC was gazetted, on 11 June 1943.

The Dambusters

He was one of hundreds of aircrew volunteering to be part of the secretive 617 Dambusters Squadron
No. 617 Squadron RAF
No. 617 Squadron is a Royal Air Force aircraft squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. It currently operates the Tornado GR4 in the ground attack and reconnaissance role...

 being formed at RAF Scampton
RAF Scampton
Royal Air Force Station Scampton is a Royal Air Force station situated north of Lincoln in England, near the village of Scampton, on the site of an old First World War landing field.-First World War:...

, and joined it four days after it was formed, on 25 Mar 1943.

The squadron was created to attack the dams of the Ruhr in an effort to wreck the industrial capacity of Germany. Of the 19 Lancasters that flew on that full-moon night, only 11 returned. Munro, as pilot of AW-Willie, was scheduled to bomb the Sorpe dam. His aircraft was damaged by flak over Holland, which knocked out all communications, and after a vote among the crew it turned back to land in Lincolnshire, still carrying its mine. His DSO was awarded while he was with 617, on 28 March 1943.

Munro was promoted to Squadron Leader on 14 February 1944 and was posted to command 1690 BDTF Squadron (Bomber Defence Training Flight) on 13 Jul 1944. He was released from the air force on 5 Feb 1946, a veteran of 58 missions, and he retired from flying.

Wartime incidents

In an 2006 interview Munro said "I would be the first to admit that I was pretty lucky. Most blokes who survived even a couple of operational tours would say that luck was on their side."

He experienced numerous wartime incidents, and his logbook shows that when departing Scampton to bomb Bremen
The City Municipality of Bremen is a Hanseatic city in northwestern Germany. A commercial and industrial city with a major port on the river Weser, Bremen is part of the Bremen-Oldenburg metropolitan area . Bremen is the second most populous city in North Germany and tenth in Germany.Bremen is...

 with four 500 lb general purpose bombs
General-purpose bomb
A general-purpose bomb is an air-dropped bomb intended as a compromise between blast damage, penetration, and fragmentation in explosive effect.-Characteristics:...

, his aircraft crashed and burned shortly after takeoff, but the crew escaped.

Munro took part in Operation Taxable
Operation Taxable
Operation Taxable was the codename for one of the deception operations used by the Allied forces during World War II in connection with the Normandy landings...

 in conjunction with the D Day
Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II by Allied forces. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings...

 landings in Normandy in which the Lancasters flew precise, elongated circuits dropping Window (aluminium strips), to convince German radar installations that a huge flotilla of ships was approaching Cap d'Antifer. The ruse was successful and the last of the 617 squadron Window droppers witnessed German shore batteries firing on the "Ghost" convoy

Munro described the operation in his logbook as:
"The creation of a tactical surprise to support the landing of troops on the opening of the second front. The most hazardous, difficult and most dangerous operation ever undertaken in the history of air warfare. Involved flying within at least nine miles of the enemy coast without fighter cover, and in conditions of bright moonlight and at a height of not more than 3000 ft (three thousand) at which the aircraft was open to attack by the deadliest of all weapons - light flak."

Munro's co-pilot on this operation was Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire
Leonard Cheshire
Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire, VC, OM, DSO and Two Bars, DFC was a highly decorated British RAF pilot during the Second World War....

, the squadron's commanding officer who later won the Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....


Post military

Following his career in the military, Munro returned to New Zealand where he worked as a property valuer for a time and then on farms in the King Country
King Country
The King Country is a region of the western North Island of New Zealand. It extends approximately from the Kawhia Harbour and the town of Otorohanga in the north to the upper reaches of the Whanganui River in the south, and from the Hauhungaroa and Rangitoto Ranges in the east to near the Tasman...

 before establishing his own farm near Te Kuiti
Te Kuiti
Te Kuiti is a small town in the south of the Waikato region of the North Island of New Zealand. It lies at the junction of State Highways 3 and 30 and on the North Island Main Trunk Railway, 80 km south of Hamilton....

. For some time he was involved in local politics as a councillor, and served as Mayor of Waitomo District
Waitomo District
Waitomo District is a territorial authority in the north of the King Country region in the North Island of New Zealand. A small part of the district, the town of Tiroa, however, lies in the Manawatu-Wanganui region....

 Council from 1978 to 1995. On retirement he moved to live in Tauranga
Tauranga is the most populous city in the Bay of Plenty region, in the North Island of New Zealand.It was settled by Europeans in the early 19th century and was constituted as a city in 1963...


Munro attended the 60th Anniversary commemoration of the Dambusters raid, along with the Queen
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

 and the Duke of Edinburgh
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is the husband of Elizabeth II. He is the United Kingdom's longest-serving consort and the oldest serving spouse of a reigning British monarch....

 in May 2003 at RAF Lossiemouth
RAF Lossiemouth
RAF Lossiemouth is a Royal Air Force station to the west of the town of Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland. It is one of the RAF's biggest bases and is currently Britain's main base for Tornado GR4s. From 2013 the Northern QRA force of Typhoon F2 will relocate to Lossiemouth following the closure of...

. He was also present, along with Richard Todd
Richard Todd
Richard Todd OBE was an Irish-born British stage and film actor and soldier.-Early life:Richard Todd was born as Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Andrew William Palethorpe Todd, was an Irish physician and an international Irish rugby player who gained three caps for...

, the actor who played Wing Commander Guy Gibson
Guy Gibson
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, RAF , was the first CO of the Royal Air Force's 617 Squadron, which he led in the "Dam Busters" raid in 1943, resulting in the destruction of two large dams in the Ruhr area...

 in the 1955 The Dam Busters
The Dam Busters (film)
The Dam Busters is a 1955 British Second World War war film starring Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd and directed by Michael Anderson. The film recreates the true story of Operation Chastise when in 1943 the RAF's 617 Squadron attacked the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany with Wallis's...

film, for the 65th anniversary commemoration held at Derwent Reservoir (Derbyshire) on 16 May 2008. As the last living pilot of the strike team, Munro, joined the production crew in Masterton as technical adviser on a remake of the film.

Munro’s signature was appended to two sets of souvenir first day covers issued in Britain to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Operation Chastise. One, postmarked “Scampton, 17th May 2008”, was signed by the six surviving crew members who flew on the raid, and the other, postmarked ‘’617 squadron, Scampton’’ was signed by Munro alone.

In 2009 Munro took part in filming for the documentary Into the Wind, directed by Steven Hatton. The film, a feature length documentary about the veterans of Bomber Command is due for release in 2011.

He has a street named in Te Kuiti, Les Munro Place.
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