Wanted down under – the history of Kiwi fighter pilot and his King’s Lynn connections

Ernest 'Nipper' Joyce sitting in the cockpit of his Hurricane IIC, October 1942, Egypt, 73 Squadron RAF. The emblems painted blow him resemble his 'victories' - 2 German day, 4 German night and two Italian day victories at this time.
Ernest 'Nipper' Joyce sitting in the cockpit of his Hurricane IIC, October 1942, Egypt, 73 Squadron RAF. The emblems painted blow him resemble his 'victories' - 2 German day, 4 German night and two Italian day victories at this time.

A historian from New Zealand who is researching the life of a Second World War fighter pilot is hoping to learn more of his connections to Lynn.

Ernest ‘Nipper’ Joyce, from New Zealand, was a Squadron Leader during the war but was also a regular visitor to the town.

Connie Lyons, of King's Lynn, 1941.

Connie Lyons, of King's Lynn, 1941.

Now, John Stackhouse, who is a historian and school principal, is looking to find out more about the pilot and his time in Lynn, particularly in regards to his friendship with Connie Lyons, of Sidney Street.

Mr Stackhouse said: “I am writing a book about Nipper’s life and exploits. Having come into the possession of his flying logbook, documents, letters and photos, there is clearly a story to be told, a story that should be told.”

He said from Nipper’s possessions, it was obvious that he enjoyed the ‘tranquility’ of Lynn during the war years.

In a letter to his mother in June 1941, Nipper said: “Lynn is a lovely place, and is one of the oldest towns in England. Sandringham Castle is only 10 miles or so away. The country is very flat, but the small green fields and the ever-present hedgerows make it so pleasant to the eye that my feeling for the peace and serenity, for England, has increased double-fold.

A drawing of Ernest 'Nipper' Joyce as a Squadron Leader, 122 (Mustang) Squadron, 1944, by Olive Snell.

A drawing of Ernest 'Nipper' Joyce as a Squadron Leader, 122 (Mustang) Squadron, 1944, by Olive Snell.

“Even with the war, England, or rather the country towns and villages, haven’t lost one iota of their charm, and it is marvellous just to walk about and feel the age of the place making itself felt. Even the park lawns and trees in Lynn seem as though they have been there since time began.”

Mr Stackhouse said Nipper became good friends with Connie and her family, and mentions her in a letter in February 1941, and goes on to describe the Lyons family as “very nice”.

Having joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in early 1940 and after further training, sailed for England later that year.

His final training was carried out upon his arrival on Hawker Hurricane fighters at Sutton Bridge, and while he was stationed there, he met Connie and her family.

But Mr Stackhouse said it was in North Africa that he made his name as a fighter pilot. With 73 Squadron he went on to fly over 150 operations.

He was noted for his amazing night vision and was widely reported as “the man with the cat’s eyes” – a term he did not like.

By the end of 1942 with 73 Squadron, he had shot down nine enemy aircraft, and become the squadron’s highest scoring desert pilot and one of the leading aces in North Africa.

In 1943, after the conditions in the desert, he was thrilled to be returning to England, which he now considered as his second home, Mr Stackhouse said.

He was soon visiting his friends in Lynn once more.

But sadly in June 1944, Nipper was shot down by enemy fighters as he led an armed reconnaissance over France.

After his aircraft crashed near the small village of Marville de Bois, south of Paris, villagers retrieved his body and held a large funeral for him.

His body still lies in that cemetery, along with four other servicemen.

Mr Stackhouse said: “In New Zealand Maori: Ka hoatu e ia tona tenei ra hoki to tatou apopo – for our tomorrow he gave his today.

“I hope that this outline will prompt people from Lynn who may have known, or known of, Nipper Joyce to come forward and add their information to his story. This information will form part of the book I am writing.”

If you can help Mr Stackhouse, please get in contact with him via: belinda.john@clear.net.nz.