'Cobber' Kain was born in Hastings on 27 June 1918.
Following school, he worked as a clerk in his father's warehousing
business in Wellington.
In 1936 he obtained his private pilot's licence with
the Wellington Aero Club before leaving New Zealand in November for London
to join the RAF. Kain began his flying training in January 1937 and in
late November was posted to 73 Squadron. Re-equipped with Hurricanes in
1938, the squadron was fully operational by March 1939 and on 24 August
was ordered to mobilise for war.
Four days after war was declared 73's sixteen
Hurricanes flew across the Channel to France. On 10 September 1939 Kain
flew his first operational patrols, but saw no enemy activity. On a
defensive patrol on 8 November Kain spotted a Do 17 reconnaissance
aircraft ahead and above him. It began to climb and Kain followed, making
two attacks but seeing no results. At 27,000 feet, with his Hurricane
showing signs of strain, he attacked again and the Dornier dived steeply.
Kain followed but pulled out when he saw fabric peeling off his wings. The
Dornier crashed into a village, exploding on impact and killing the crew.
On 23 November he shot down another Do 17. Due to bad
weather there was little flying in December, January and February. On 1
March 1940 Kain fought an action with two Bf 109's. His Hurricane was
already damaged when he shot the first one down in flames. The second
fighter attacked him, stopping the Hurricane's engine with a cannon shell
but then flew off, leaving Kain to glide thirty miles from 20,000 feet to
reach French territory. When his engine caught fire Kain prepared to bale
out but got back in his seat when he saw his parachute strap was not in
position. Fortunately the flames went out and Kain glided on to a
forced-landing on Metz aerodrome.
On 23 February Kain received a Mention in Dispatches
and in mid-March he was awarded the DFC. He was by now the centre of a
blaze of publicity and his was a household name. On March 26 Kain
destroyed a BF 109 and probably a second but then with his own engine on
fire he baled out, with shell splinters to his left leg, a bullet-grazed
left hand and burns to the face.
Kain went on leave to England on 2 April and before he
returned his engagement was announced. Back with the squadron he damaged a
Bf 110 on the 23rd. German air activity now intensified and on 10 May 1940
the blitzkrieg was launched. In the next ten days Kain destroyed five more
enemy aircraft and probably destroyed or damaged another five.
On 22 May he was posted back to England. With other
pilots he left early on the 23rd but on arrival Kain and another pilot
were ordered to report back to 73 Squadron at once. They were put on
administrative duties and Kain did not fly again until the 25th, when he
destroyed a Do 17 but had to make an emergency landing in his damaged
Hurricane. He destroyed an HS 126 on the 26th and another DO 17 on the
Kain continued to fly as his unit retreated from one
airfield to the next and on 5 June he shot down a Bf 109. On the 7th he
was ordered to return to England immediately. The following morning a
group gathered to bid him farewell as he took off in his Hurricane to fly
to Le Mans to collect his kit. Whether he felt that those watching below
expected him to put on a last show will never be known but he performed a
series of low level aerobatics before crashing into the ground. The
Hurricane broke up and Kain, fatally injured, was thrown clear.
Kain's official score is fourteen confirmed victories
but was more likely to be between fifteen and twenty. Whatever the true
facts may be, 'Cobber' Kain - as the first Allied ace of the war - had
ensured his place in history.