John Gyzemyter

1915 - 1999

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Aviation identity John Gyzemyter passed away suddenly at Brisbane on 30th April 1999 aged 84. Born in Rotterdam, Netherlands on 24th February 1915, John joined the Dutch airline KLM as an engineering apprentice in 1930. In 1935 he was called up for national service for which he joined the Air Force but later transferred to the Navy Air Arm with whom he commenced pilot training. Sadly, this ended in a medical discharge and he returned to KLM as an engineer. This was to be the beginning of a long and distinguished career in civil aviation. One of his first duties at KLM was to assist with the assembly of a new DC-3 which had been shipped to Holland from the United States. Once the DC-3 had been assembled, the KLM engineers donned their Sunday best to pose for a photograph in front of the DC-3 which carried the bold registration letters PH-ALW. It was KLM practice to name their DC-3s after birds, with the name beginning with the last letter of the registration. Thus the PH-ALW became the "Wielewaal" (Golden Oriole). John’s association with this particular DC-3 was to be a long and, at times, dramatic one. Indeed, the association was to last 62 years, for both John and the "Wielewaal" came to Queensland to retire! The "Wielewaal" is better known to Australians as VH-ANR, now in retirement at the Queensland Air Museum at Caloundra on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Just before the outbreak of war, John accepted a posting to Batavia in the Netherlands East Indies where he joined KNILM, the local KLM subsidiary. As a Flight Engineer, he made many trips to Australia, mainly on Lockheed 14 Super Electras. With the outbreak of war in Europe, the KLM route to Batavia was disrupted, so several KLM aircraft were seconded to KNILM, including the "Wielewaal". Indeed, it was the "Wielewaal" which operated the last flight from Europe to Batavia, arriving the same day that Singapore fell.

Under the threat of imminent invasion, the KNILM aircraft were painted in camouflage and some were given rudimentary armament for which John undertook basic gunnery training. Most operations were at night, with the aeroplanes being dispersed during the day under trees, some alongside highways which were used as makeshift runways. The entire KNILM fleet together with all available military aircraft were pressed into service evacuating civilians to Australia. To maximise uplift, all aircraft operated without seats, the only means of passenger restraint being lengths of rope tied to parts of the airframe. With the invasion just hours away, John found himself in charge of five dispersed KNILM aircraft with no crews to fly them and local authorities wanting to destroy them before they fell into enemy hands. While an urgent call for pilots went out, John prepared the aircraft for immediate departure, warming their engines and taxying them into position. The pilots duly arrived on an RAAF Hudson and the aircraft were saved.

The Gyzemyters were evacuated to Australia on an aviation rarity, a Douglas DC-5, of which only twelve were built. Five minutes after the DC-5 departed Broome, an enemy air raid destroyed many aircraft on the ground and in the harbour with major loss of life. Amongst the few possessions the Gyzemyters were able to take with them was the photograph of John posing in front of the newly assembled "Wielewaal". The honour of operating the last civilian flight out of the Netherlands East Indies fell to the "Wielewaal".

With the congregation of all of their aircraft in Australia, KNILM possessed a significant component of the civilian air transport fleet which General Douglas MacArthur was reluctant to see remain in civilian hands. Consequently, a "deal" was struck whereby all the KNILM aircraft were handed over to the U.S. military for a fixed price. This did not sit well with the KNILM staff who had fought so hard to maintain their aircraft and protect them from destruction by enemy forces. Under the terms of the sale, all aircraft had to be test flown before delivery to the U.S. military, so the proud KNILM staff contrived to have all ten aircraft ready for a simultaneous test flight over Sydney Harbour on 14th May 1942. As a further manifestation of their outrage, three of the fleet (a DC-2, a DC-3 and a DC-5) were flown under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, once in each direction. The DC-3 was the "Wielewaal". The Flight Engineer on board the DC-5 was John Gyzemyter. Thus John was able to claim to have flown under the Sydney Harbour Bridge twice in a DC-5! A record which will certainly stand for ever. John later joined No 18 (NEI) Squadron at Canberra where he prepared B-25s for action. Later he went to Laverton where he installed self-sealing tanks in B-25s. A period of service with the 39th Troop Carrier Squadron of the USAAC followed, after which John joined No 1 Netherlands East Indies Transport Squadron where he resumed flying training. Sadly, eye problems resurfaced and John returned to flight engineer duties. In recognition of his engineering talents, John was tasked with converting a B-25 to VIP configuration and setting up maintenance bases at Biak and Morotai. After the war John went to the USA for an engineering course on the DC-4.

He then returned to Jakarta as Chief Flight Engineer with the reborn KNILM, until the airline was merged into KLM on 1st June 1947. John then returned to Schiphol as Superintendent of Periodic Maintenance on KLM’s Constellation fleet. An overseas posting as Maintenance Manager Jakarta followed. During 1953, John was posted to Brisbane to co-ordinate the handling of KLM’s DC-6 entry in the London to Christchurch air race. He later went to Karachi to assist Pakistan International Airlines with the introduction of their Constellations. After this, John took up an office job at Schiphol, but he did not enjoy the work or the climate so he tendered his resignation from KLM in 1956 with the intention of migrating to Australia. Such was his value to KLM that the company persuaded him to stay on and he was posted to Rome as Maintenance Manager Italy. In 1960 he became Maintenance Manager New York. During his time in New York he was involved in the successful recovery of a bogged KLM DC-8 (in an almost identical situation to that of the Boeing 707 in the original "Airport" movie!). In November 1963 John resigned from KLM after 34 years service and migrated to Australia with his family. Keen to have a break from aviation, he ran a newsagency and general store at Quakers Hill, NSW for less than a year but he soon yearned for a return to aviation. He joined Hawker de Havilland at Bankstown as a DC-3 parts procurement officer but left on the third day. In October 1964 John joined Qantas, having walked in off the street to apply for work. Despite his exceptional qualifications and his contacts within Qantas, John chose to start at the bottom on his own initiative. Having served with the world’s oldest airline (KLM) it was appropriate that John should move on to the second oldest (Qantas). After three weeks in the hydraulic overhaul section, John’s talents could no longer pass unnoticed and he was appointed as a Special Projects Officer responsible for developing the facilities and the training syllabus for Qantas’ new apprentice training scheme which had been based on a Dutch model. In less than two and a half years, he had risen to the position of Apprentice Training Controller. John retired from Qantas in 1975 after nearly eleven years service. Combined with his 34 years service to KLM, John had served civil aviation for 45 years, during which time he had seen aviation progress from the Fokker FVII to the Boeing 747. In recent years, John became a member of the Queensland Air Museum and thus renewed his acquaintance with the very DC-3 which he had helped to assemble in Holland more than sixty years previously. The Queensland Air Museum looks forward to the day when their DC-3 can be fully restored as a memorial to a man who assembled her, maintained her, flew her and protected her from enemy action. John Gyzemyter leaves behind a rich legacy of achievement in civil aviation.

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