A.F.C. Gazetted 1 Jan 1961.
Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air Gazetted 13 June 1965.
Maxwell Nicholas Sparks was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1920, volunteering for service with the R.N.Z.A.F. in July 1941 and beginning Flying training in Canada in Aug 1941. Sparks arrived in the UK in March 1942 and was posted to 17 O.T.U. before joining 487 (NZ) Squadron flying Lockheed Venturas in 'circuses' over Northern France from 12 Oct 1942. Flying his first circus over Dunkirk, Sparkes would complete a total of 11 sorties in Venturas, before the Squadron converted to De Havilland Mosquitos. On 3 Aug he flew his first Mosquito operation on a raid to Pont Chateau Power Station (his log records he was hit by a bomb blast).
On 18 Feb 1944, along with his regular navigator P/O Dunlop, Sparks was briefed for a daring low level bombing operation on the Amiens Prison, which would become known as Operation Jericho. Sparks was in the first raid behind pilot Smith, with the objective of blowing holes in the prison walls and destroying the German guard post. When the target was reached, Sparks and his navigator drew in close to the two other aircraft in close formation and approached at only 10 feet from the ground, aiming their bombs, and launching into a climb to clear the prison roofs and subsequent 15 sec delayed fuse detonations. This dramatic moment was not just captured by the aviation artist Philip West, but at the time by a remarkable photo taken from Spark's aircraft and showing the initial bursts of brick and masonry. The BBC documentary 'Operation Jericho', narrated by Martin Shaw, attributes the largest breach to one of Spark's bombs; a hole that was rebuilt in modern times and can still be seen in the prison wall today.
In early 1944, the prison was known to be holding 700 inmates, including a large number of political prisoners and Resistance fighters, who, the crews were briefed, were sentenced to death. After the second wave bombed parts of the prison buildings, 258 men and women escaped, including 79 Resistance and political prisoners, and made for the breaches in the perimeter walls. Tragically, operation commander, Group Capt. Pickard, who starred in propaganda film 'Target for Tonight', was attacked by a FW190 which shot off his tail, killing both he and his navigator. Frenchmen recovered their remains and buried them, tracing them to their current and permanent resting place.
On the return to the coast, Spark's aircraft was shot up by flak which put a foot-long whole into his wing right next to the R.A.F. roundel. He managed to return home, and, despite the conditions and a wheel collapsing on landing, belly-flopped at base with the aircraft declared a write-off. With the Third Wave of aircraft called off from the attack after the successful breaches, Sparks was just one of 10 pilots to bomb the target. Sparks was interviewed about the raid in 1944 by BBC radio and would go on to be the last surviving member of the Amiens Raiders, becoming a central focus for BBC's 2011 'Operation Jericho' amongst other documentaries and publications.
On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Sparks flew in support of the Allied Landings and bombed the bridge at St. Lo at low-level at night. With 45 sorties noted in his log book he was screened from operations and posted in late June to R.A.F. Defford, remaining as a flying instructor until in Jan 1945, returning to New Zealand. In 1947 he volunteered his service to the R.A.F. and returned to the UK, first serving with 202 Squadron and later with 19 Squadron which flew the twin-engine Hornet. He later converted to flying helicopters qualifying on the Sycamore, Skeeter, Whirlwind, Belvedere, etc. Sparkes saw extensive service in the Far East and was rewarded with the Air Force Cross in 1961 and Queen's Commendation in 1965, having rescued members of 22 Special Air Service and the R.A.F. from the Malayan jungles and land and sea rescues in Whirlwinds in the UK. Sparks resigned from his commission in 1967 and died in 2013.
Watch the video of Steve Nuwar presenting Maxwell Sparks' amazing collection