Topic: Wartime memories from Group Captain John Rushton Gard'ner

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In January of 2006, Jim Walsh interviewed Tauranga resident Group Captain John Rushton Gard’ner. His widow kindly lent the cassette tape to Tauranga Libraries which was then digitised by the New Zealand room and made available to Tauranga Memories. His story is made all the more precious to Tauranga residents by his passing on May 6, 2011 at the age of 92. Tauranga Memories is keen to hear from any locals with wartime memories (personal or handed down), be they written, recorded or photographs from wartime, including those who saw combat and those who did not.

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You can hear the entire interview with Group Capt. John R Gard’ner by clicking here, or you can hear short stories from within the interview by following the links below.

Childhood and early training

Gard’ner recalls as a ten year old, three NZ Air Force Bristol Aircraft (such as the one first pictured) landing on the Dunedin mudflats near his home (click here to listen). This experience began his love of flight.

As a child his family moved to Nelson. In 1937 the NZ government began a scheme to train a reserve of civil pilots and John Rushton Gard’ner became the first New Zealander to sign up. He did some training in Gypsy Moths (2nd plane pictured) which put him in good standing to take up a position for short service commissions in the Royal Air Force in 1937.  







Gard’ner was accepted to travel to Britain in 1938 and at 20 years of age sailed in the good ship Rangitata (pictured from arriving in 1939. Included among the 18 men also with him was Colin Grey, later to become New Zealand’s top fighter Ace.  Gard’ner trained on Tiger Moths and “went solo” in just seven and a half hours. After being inducted into the Air Force he was posted to Scotland. He was selected to train on Oxford aircraft, which were twin engine craft suited to training bomber pilots.  


 Early missions and being shot down.

While still training, Europe was hotting up. Gard’ner recalls being told “we are at war” by his training officer and shortly afterward, getting his wings and postings. He joined 141 Squadron in Scotland which commandeered aircraft from Scottish Airways. His first operational patrol was in a Blenheim (a long range Fighter Escort such as the one pictured in colour). He recounts the frightening way pilots were trained to fly these aircraft. 

  Before too long the RAF moved from Belnheims to the Defiant (pictured with gun turret at rear of aircraft). By the early days of the Battle of Britain, Group Captain John Rushton Gard’ner had flown three combat operations, covering convoys under attack by the Germans from within France. The Defiant, though very successful during the first ten days of use, had by now taken heavy losses and there was some doubt about their value in the war effort.

Gard’ner, flying in a squadron of nine Defiant aircraft, describes how they were “jumped” by the Germans. He alone survived the assault. You can hear the dramatic retelling by clicking this link.

 Other incidents.

After recovering from his injuries, Gard'ner flew operations in Beaufighters and Mosquitoes over Britain and, later,  over France and Holland after the D-Day invasion.

He recounts an amusing case of mistaken identity while home in Britain which can be listened to here.

Later in the war while flying over Belgium at night in thick fog he found himself having to make some quick and difficult decisions. You can hear him recount this brush with death by clicking here. 

After the war Gard'ner accepted a permanent commission with the RAF (1948)  flying  the Gloster Meteor. In 1950  he trained American pilots on Meteors and flew missions over Korea in American Skyknight jet fighters. He also flew for the RAF in Africa and was once presumed to have gone down in Kenya. You can hear that story by clicking here.

Beginning in 1956 he held diplomatic postings in Aden and Brussels, and described these as not exactly "the love of my life". On his retirement in 1965, Gard'ner returned to New Zealand and moved into the Bay of Plenty. Group Captain John Rushton Gard'ner, one of  "The Few", died on May 6, 2011 at the age of 92. "The Few", was a term Churchill coined to refer to the fighter pilots of the Battle of Britian.

Obituaries and articles about John Rushton Gard'ner can be read from the following papers.




This page archived at Perma CC in September of 2016:


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Wartime memories from Group Captain John Rushton Gard'ner

Year:c.1937, c.1940, c.1950, c.1960, and 2011
First Names:John Rushton
Last Name:Gard'ner
Place of Birth:New Zealand
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Wartime memories from Group Captain John Rushton Gard'ner by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License