Full interview with Group Captain John Rushton Gard'ner

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1 hour 30 minutes (click "audio mp3" above to listen)

´╗┐In 2006 Jim Walsh interviewed Group Captain John Rushton Gard'ner. An article about his life and links to audio snippets from that interview can be found by clicking here.  

 The following transcript is kindly provided by Kim Megson.


Interviewer:               Jim Walsh (JW)                       

Interviewee:             John Gard’ner (JG)

Date Recorded:       31 January 2006

Duration:                   1hr 30min 57sec

Date Typed:              26 October 2012  


JW:        My name is Jim Walsh and I’m interviewing an ex RAF pilot by the name of Group Captain John Rushton Gard’ner.  He’s a New Zealander.  He lives in Tauranga, New Zealand.  Today’s date is Tuesday, the 31st of January 2006.  Well, John, it’s a nice interesting time to sit down with a person of your background.  Could you just give me some brief inkling of your family background and how you eventually came into the RAF and joined.

JG:        Well, I was born in Dunedin, New Zealand way back in 1918, and I recall ... we lived out in Musselburgh,Dunedin, which is quite close to the mudflats in Anderson’s Bay at the bottom of the Otago Harbour.  Well, I remember when I was about ten years old, a flight of New Zealand Air Force Bristol aircraft, I think they were, three of them, came and landed on the mudflats inDunedin, and of course I was very excited about this.  We lived only about ... well, half a mile away, leapt up to my bicycle, rushed down to see these aeroplanes.  I remember getting down there and standing beside these, what seemed to be huge, big aircraft, and I recall their great big propellers on the front end of them and sort of round ... all things on the side, and I thought from that moment on, I thought, well, flying, that seemed to be the thing to do, but after that we never ... I never saw them again.  Then my father died and we ... actually, my mother remarried in about 1930, so this visit of the fighter aircraft would have been in about, oh, 1927, I suppose.  Anyway, we went up to Nelson, and then whilst we were in Nelson, Kingsford-Smith’s aircraft ...

JW:        Oh, yes, the Southern Cross.

JG:        The Southern Cross came to Nelson and landed in the ... our ... in a big paddock, which became the Nelson Airfield in the ‘30s, and I was able to ... I managed to get ten shillings from ... whether I’d saved it myself or my parents gave it to me, my stepdad.  Anyway, I got a flight around the Nelson area in a Focker tri-plane, which I think was the ... Kingsford-Smith’s aeroplane.  Or there’s a piece ... Elm, Elm.

JW:        Yes, Elm was another famous Australian navigator.

JG:        I’m not ... my memory’s a bit vague here and I can’t recall whether it was Kingsford-Smith’s or Elm, but it was a three-engine aircraft which looked a bit like a ... corrugated iron.

JW:        Was it like a bi-plane, was it?

JG:        A bi- ... it had the engine in the front and two on either side.  And from then on I just went ... flying was of interest to me.

JW:        Ok, well, of course you had your schooling in Nelson, I presume.

JG:        Yes.

JW:        And did you have any other further opportunities to even fly or go up with other people?

JG:        Yes, in 1937, the New Zealand government started a scheme for a reserve of pilots and I put my name forward and I became the first boy in Nelson to be taken on with the ... under this scheme of the pilot reserve, reserve of pilots, and by this stage this paddock in ... out in ... near Richmond, oh Stoke – between Stoke and Richmond, out of Nelson, was the airfield used for the very initial flying that went on from Nelson.  I was accepted in a reserve of pilots in 1937, and I did a couple of hours’ flying in a Gypsy Moth, and what I remember about it was a long, thin airstrip, and only when the wind blew up or down the airstrip could you fly, because it was too narrow to fly across it.  

JW:        And were they the crosswinds, I suppose?  They had some ...

JG:        So if there were crosswinds, we didn’t fly.  But, anyway, I managed about two hours, as I recall it.  At the same time, advertisements, and I can’t recall where they were, but they were advertising for short service commissions in the Royal Air Force. 

JW:        And this was in the newspaper, was it?

JG:        I think it must have been in the local newspaper.  Anyway, I put my name forward for that, and this would have been in 1937.  And I was accepted to go across.  I flew across to Wellington and on the ... just before I went, I began to feel a bit unwell and, in fact, by the time I got to Wellington I had a nasty sort of cold which I think developed into a bit of the flu.  So I went up in front of the Board over there and they simply said to me, “Well, Gard’ner, I think that you’re unfit to take ... even for us to consider.  You go home and reapply again when you’re well.”  So I did, I went back to Nelson very disappointed, and we were flying with the Nelson Airways then and they were Dominees, I think, a four-engine, two-winged thing.  I think they were de Havilland Dominees, because the Nelson Air ... Nelson Airways ... Airline.  Anyway, so I got back and I got fit and then I reapplied and, six months later, I went over toWellington again.  And what I recall of that interview was that they knew my academic qualifications, I had the matriculation and aUniversity of Entrance examination.  So they weren’t interested in that at all.  They were interested in how I played rugby, cricket, tennis and those sorts of things.  So I was accepted on that.  But, as a matter of fact, coming back to my qualifications, one thing I’ve never been able to do in my life is write English.  I failed matriculation two years in a row when I was at Nelson College.  I was in the fifth form.  I failed English the first year, I had to sit the whole thing again because that’s what they did in those days, had another year, I failed English again, and going into the third year I was fed up with it and I decided when the chap came around looking for boys to go and work in the local office in town, Levin & Co, which was a stock and station agent, I think, I simply walked out of the ... my classroom, because this chap was sort of out in a corridor outside, and I talked to a chap out there and he said, “I’m looking for an office boy.”  And I said, “Well, I’d like the job.”  And, as far as I’m aware, on first interview I was accepted.  And I went back into the classroom and said, “I’m leaving school.”

JW:        And tell me, did this difficulty you had with written English, did it stay with you for your life?

JG:        All my life really.  I hate writing reports if I’ve had to do them, and I hate public speaking.  I don’t like that sort of thing, but I’ve got through in my military career.  I went to Staff College and I was really lucky.  I was sent to Staff College when I wanted to go and fly.  This goes back to 1943.

JW:        Ok, well that’s sort of the initial phases then.  When were you finally successful in gaining entry into the RAF?

JG:        Well, I was accepted to go to Britain in 1938, and a group of us went ... sailed, as civilians, we sailed from Auckland, New Zealand in the good ship either the Rangitata or the Rangitiki.

JW:        Oh, right, the three ‘R’s.

JG:        One of the three ‘R’s, one of those ships, and arrived in Britain in January of 193- ... yes, in 1939.  So that would have been in 1938.

JW:        Pretty cold.

JG:        Mmm, and we arrived over there.  There were 18 of us, including one Colin Gray who became New Zealand’s top ace; he was in my group.  And when we got toEngland we went as civilians to Hatfield and we were trained – our ab initio training on Tiger Moths was at Hatfield.

JW:        I remember Hatfield myself.  I think there was a house there where Princess Elizabeth ...Elizabeth I was kept imprisoned by one of the Tudor Kings because she might have been aspiring to the English throne, so I remember that from my own history, Hatfield.  Carry on, yes.

JG:        Anyway, yes, I think it was about ten weeks at Hatfield, and because I’d had those two hours of flying out in New Zealand on the old Gypsy Moth, I got through my ... I went solo in, I think it was just seven and a bit hours at Hatfield, which apparently was quite good, although I do know of people who, without any previous flying, were just about the same – chaps like Colin Gray and so on.  He was a natural.  So then after that we went on to Uxbridge.  We had ... there we were inducted into the Air Force at Uxbridge and we became Acting Pilot Officers on probation.  We did sort of a drill, we got kitted out in uniform and that sort of thing, and after the two weeks there we were posted.  Nine of us went to Shawbury, and the other nine went up to Drem.

JW:        Where’s that?

JG:        Drem is in Scotland.  And that was a ... mine was number nine; I went on number nine flying training course at RAF Shawbury, Shrewsbury, Shropshire.

JW:        Oh right.  Yeah, Shrewsbury, yes, that’s right, it’s on the border there with Wales.

JG:        Yeah.

JW:        And ... ok, now ... and this is engaged, all this training, how long did your period of training last?

JG:        Well, the official period was nine ... was supposed to be six months.  Well, I ... when we got there, I was, for some reason, selected to go on to be trained on Oxfords, which was disappointing because the people who really thought we wanted to fly would go on to Hawker Hinds, which are single engine things.  The Oxford is a twin-engine aircraft and more designed to be for heavy ... for learning to fly heavy ... bigger aircraft.

JW:        Bombers or something like that?

JG:        Bombers and ... chaps like Colin Gray, he was one of the lucky ones of ours.  We all thought ... he went on to the Hinds, Hawkers Hinds and some of the other aircraft; I can’t remember what it was.  But, anyway, this brings ... we went on there and I had ... one of the difficult subjects for me was the law and administration when I was at the flying training school, and there were two or three of us who struggled with it and that, and when the RAF ... when the first results came out to present you with wings, I was one of about four people there who didn’t get our wings initially because we failed in law and administration.

JW:        And how many hours of actual flying by yourself did you have to qualify to get your wings?

JG:        That is lost in antiquity because I’ve lost my log book.  That’s one of the problems.  I lost my log book somewhere in exchange when I got ... when I moved home from Te Puna to here four years ago.

JW:        Oh, that’s a pity.

JG:        That’s my first log book.  I’ve got others as well.

JW:        And so you ...

JG:        Anyway, it was during this period that things were hotting up in Europe and I was still under training.  We got to the point where I recall ... I recall all the business of Chamberlain going over to Berlin and coming back waving a piece of paper and saying, “Peace in our time”.

JW:        Famous words.

JG:        And all that stuff.  And then there was just nothing, you know, life went on, until suddenly the Germans went into Poland and the British then had to go to Poland’s aid and they went to war.  And I recall a Flight Lieutenant Farmer, who was my instructor, calling us into the Officers’ mess, his particular group of students, and I remember going into the billiard room, and he was sitting in the billiard room with his legs dangling over, swinging his legs, and we all came in, all us Acting Pilot Officers on probation, and he said, “Well, gentlemen, we are at war.” 

JW:        A very profound statement.

JG:        A very profound statement.  And then things speeded up a bit because I had to do another test or another exam in my law and administration and I suddenly find myself, along with the other three who had failed with me, we all were given our wings.  And then we were given our various postings and I was ... at this point I’d bought myself ... in fact, when I was down at Hatfield, I’d bought myself a 1935 Hillman Minx, and I paid £28 for it. 

JW:        £28, my word.

JG:        Yeah, 1935 and this, remember, was 1938/39. 

JW:        Mmm, so that was a pretty new car.

JG:        Yeah, so I paid that, which was all my worldly wealth, because I left New Zealand with a suitcase and NZ£35 in my pocket.

JW:        And what was the value of the New Zealand pound in Britain at that time?

JG:        As far as I recall, it was more or less equal.

JW:        More or less equal?

JG:        Mmm.

JW:        Oh, right.

JG:        I don’t really remember. 

JW:        So you got this Hillman Minx and you got your wings.

JG:        I got my wings and I was posted to Scotland, to Grangemouth in Scotland.  So I headed off and I got as far as Carlisle on the first leg of my trip, with my worldly wealth in a suitcase and the car, and I recall overnight I was ... I was 20 ... I was only 20 when I left New Zealand, and my mother had given me my father’s signet ring which had a bloodstone in it with the Gard’ner crest in it, and I had lost the crest doing my ab initio training.  I presume it came off out of the ring when I was wearing flying gloves, and I didn’t notice it was gone for some time.  It was never found, the bloodstone with the Gard’ner thing on it.

JW:        Oh, that’s a pity.

JG:        It was one of those ones you could take, you know, imprints and ... wax.

JW:        Oh, like a seal with wax.

JG:        A seal, a seal type thing.  So, anyway, in Carlisle I had put my ring without the stone in it on the thing and went up to the bathroom or somewhere, and when I came back it had gone. 

JW:        Oh dear.

JG:        So I lost that.  Anyway, I finished up in Scotland going to join 141 Squadron, which had no aeroplanes.  We went to RAF Grange- ... it was to the station, it was an airfield, Grangemouth Station, which Scottish Airways actually operated out of that.  There was one big building which had a conning tower which they could operate ... which they controlled aircraft from.  It was just a great big square grass field, paddock.  When we went there there were no aeroplanes and, as I recall, the RAF commandeered the Scottish Airways Anson aircraft.  Whilst we were there we kept a bit of flying training going.  We who had done flying on Oxfords were allowed to do circuits and bumps and things in Scottish Airways Anson aircraft.

JW:        What are bumps?

JG:        Bumps ... you take off, come around, land, touch down without ... go off again.

JW:        Oh, I see, so quick takeoff?

JG:        Quick take off, yeah, like that, just to keep flying around a bit, come back, touch down and take off without completing a landing – circuits and bumps.

JW:        Oh right, and so when did you first ... well, you’ve been posted now, and did you have any instance in Britain at the time of the first of the blitz or the Battle of Britain or the first ...

JG:        No, whilst we were up there, the winter of 1938/39, we couldn’t do any flying.  We got a bit of flying in but then it fogged up, and I spent most of the winter, as far as I recall up there, going to the ice rink, Falkirk ice rink, learning to skate.  I learnt to play ice hockey and to dance.  I had two ... I bought myself ice hockey skates; flat, sharp things, and I bought myself a pair of curved ones where you could dance and pirouette and all those sorts of things.  And then as the time went by, we started with ... the Blenheims started being available down ... a way down in the south, and we used the aircraft to fly pilots down to somewhere in the south, don’t ask me where, and we’d pick up Blenheims and we’d picked up some Gladiators.  And I was one of the ones that picked up Blenheims, and some of the other chaps picked up Gladiators.  And so our squadron initially formed in Grangemouth with a flight of Gladiators and a flight of Blenheims.

JW:        Are they bombers or fighters?

JG:        Well, the Blenheim was a ... supposed to be a long range fighter; fighter escort type aircraft.  And whilst we were there we ... actually, my first operational patrols were ... was in a Blenheim night fighter over the Firth of Forth area, which was heavily defended by searchlights and that sort of thing, which were terrifying to get caught in the searchlight.

JW:        Did it distract you from flying?

JG:        Very distracted because it can blind – you know, they’ve got several searchlights coming in through, and we were patrolling at no more than sort of 8, 10, 12,000 feet and the searchlights would be kept right up and you could just see the solid thing. 

JW:        So where they intersected you got blinded on all sides?

JG:        Yeah, you’d come in like that, sort of thing.  Then we were declared operational with ... I don’t know what happened, honestly, with the people on the Gladiators, but I knew all us Blenheim people were absolutely ... bizarre to have a flight in a Gladiator ‘cos we managed ... I think most of us managed to get one or two sorties in a Gladiator.  Then the powers that be decided that the Blenheims and the Gladiators should be replaced by Defiants, and so we who were flying the Blenheims had to be transferred, as it were, onto single-engine aircraft, and they brought in an old Fairey Battle, and we used the Fairey Battle for circuits and bumps, and it was an old ... a very old model, and if you had your wheels and flaps down, you couldn’t go climbing anywhere.  You’d take off, and all they wanted you to do was get the hang of flying with a single-engine aeroplane.  So I think some of our exercises were to take off in this thing, don’t raise your wheels and flaps, ‘cos you had to wind the wheels up, apparently, do a circuit, come down and land.  That was our transition from Blenheim-type aircraft to single-engine aircraft.  And coming back to the Blenheims, of course, there were no twin-engine ... there were no twin controls, dual controls, and so when we first flew our Blenheim, it was one of the most frightening experiences, particularly at night-time.  You went up with an instructor and you sat beside him and he showed you what knobs and switches to pull, that sort of thing, you came down and landed, got out of the aeroplane and said, “It’s yours, take off.”  And that was my conversion ... my training initially onto a Blenheim.

JW:        Trial and error learning.

JG:        Trial and error, mmm.  And at night-time at that airfield, when they decided we were going to do night flying, a chap used to go out with a big sort of flat-top thing – a lot of monkey ... just flares on the thing, and there was one big thing that was on wheels that they used to wheel out which had a huge big sort of basket thing that had a big flame on top.  The rest of them were just monkey flares, we called them.  That’s the thing you hook up, and the chap would go out, find which way the wind was blowing, come to the far side of the field and walk out with this long truck beside him, and every hundred paces or whatever it was, he’d take a flare and put it down until you got out to the end.  And at the end of the runway, which is where, as I recall it, was where you had to be airborne or else.

JW:        What did they have out there? 

JG:        They had some light there.  They had the big one, which was the beginning of the runway, and then these monkey flare things going out, and that’s where we did our ... we learnt to night fly in Blenheims. 

JW:        And, of course, there would have been restrictions in cities and towns of lights at night and things like that.

JG:        Oh, well, it was all blackness. 

JW:        Blackness.  So when you did that night flying it was inky blackness?

JG:        Into black- ... inky blackness, and I recall to this day my first takeoff in a Blenheim.  I was sitting in there by myself, of course.

JW:        Anybody else on board?

JG:        No, nobody else in the aeroplane, and you took off, and I recall going off there and you had to ... because you ... once you left the little bit of lights, there was nothing, so you were just ... definitely on Insulin.  And I remember watching that horizon there.  I didn’t throttle back or anything until I got to about 4,000-odd feet.  The engine was still going flat out.  I was making sure we were going straight and level. 

JW:        Well, I’ve only flown a light plane once and I was told that you’ve gotta keep your plane level with the horizon.  And I found it very sensitive, very sensitive.  Now, there is one question there.  Did you have any radio contact at all?

JG:        We had primitive radio and it was primitive all my ... in my early Battle of Britain period and all that sort of thing.

JW:        Well, you’re practising with all these various types of aircraft, you’ve done your initial training, when was your first introduction or your initial time when you made that first confrontation with the enemy in the air, when was that?

JG:        Right, well, after we’d been equipped with the Blenheim ... ah, with the Defiants, we were taken down to ... I think it was Biggin Hill.

JW:        Oh, yes.

JG:        Biggin Hill.

JW:        A very famous one.

JG:        We were based at Biggin Hill.

JW:        In Kent.

JG:        But there was a grass airfield called Gatwick.  Well, it’s out ...

JW:        Oh, which is now the second airport to London, yes.

JG:        Now the ... yeah.  Anyway, that was a big grass airfield with a little white building at the end of it, and that was our dispersal place.  And our particular ... our squadron went down there, and it was just the one squadron that was on that thing, and every day when the aircraft were ready, we flew them up to ... oh, whoever was on duty, flew them up to Biggin Hill.  And at that point, you see, this is where my log book would have come in handy because I simply don’t recall how much flying we did there, because I know that we used to go from there down to places like Hawkeinge and Manston.

JW:        Oh, Manston, yeah.

JG:        And go on to ... go be on duty down there, but on my ... then, ‘cos at this stage it was in the early ... oh, middle of July/early ... yes, late July, and my particular ... the squadron went ... was ... I think ... and I’m pretty sure we operated out of Hawkeinge on the particular day that we were sent off, and that was my third time I’d got into the air – two previous patrols to that.

JW:        And what were you flying then?

JG:        Defiants.

JW:        Defiants they were, right.

JG:        We ... this is ... the squadron was on the Defiants at that point.  And this is where we’d been declared operational, and this is where I mentioned that Churchill and Dowding apparently had some doubts about whether our particular squadron should be brought down and put into action, because it was soon discovered that the other Defiants, the sister Defiants squadron had become sort of ... had ... was virtually decimated.  Fairly quickly, once the Germans understood that it wasn’t a ... the way to attack a Defiant – and the Defiants did very well in the early stages.  The first ten days they shot down a lot of German aircraft, and then the Germans suddenly realised how a Defiant should be attacked, and from then on just sort of knocked them out of the sky.

JW:        Took control.

JG:        Yeah, and when we went down we went down into that sort of ...

JW:        Where there’s a big question mark against ...

JG:        A big question mark about whether we should have gone.

JW:        About that.

JG:        Yeah.

JW:        And so the ...

JG:        Anyway, the third patrol ... I went on two patrols and we did nothing, saw nothing.

JW:        This is ... where did you patrol?  Through southeast England onto the Coast ofFrance?

JG:        Yeah, mainly we were supposed to be covering the convoys.  The convoys were being attacked and our idea was to give convoy cover, as I understand it.

JW:        And that’s the convoys going toMurmansk, was it?  The Russian convoys?

JG:        Well, they were coming up the channel.

JW:        Coming up through the channel.

JG:        Yeah, coming from the southwest, coming up ... and I presume they were coming up the channel.  They may have been coming up there and then coming round into the Thames, I don’t know, but there was a lot of ...

JW:        ‘Cos the convoys were important toRussia, weren’t they at that time, to Murmansk ???????

JG:        Yes, but I don’t ... I suspect that our particular convoys were coming in from America to Britain.

JW:        To bring food supplies and ...

JG:        Bring that sort of thing, yeah.

JW:        And so you were just patrolling the first time and then was it ...

JG:        The second time, and then the third time when we were involved we had 12 aircraft ordered off for patrol, just after midday on July the 19th.  Three of them had engine trouble when they got out to the end of the runway, and returned to base, and nine of us took off and formed up into a formation that ... a tight formation of three groups of four aircraft.  Ah, sorry, three groups of three aircraft, and we were on patrol and, as I recall, about 8/9,000 feet, and we were jumped ...

JW:        From behind?

JG:        From behind, the ?????.

JW:        Defiant.

JG:        The ME109s.  And in, I think that book that I mentioned, it mentions what the particular German squadron was that hit us and who the officers were in the ... German officers who hit us.  And the ... if you can picture, there were one air- ... three up front here, three there and three there, and numbers two and three there and, in my case, numbers two and three there, those two went down in flames immediately.  This chap went down in flames, and that was me, and I was hit and I didn’t go down in flames.

JW:        And where were you hit, what part of the aircraft?

JG:        Oh, I recall that the ... my impression was suddenly thud, thud, thudding on the aircraft, which I think probably was my gunner getting a few shots in, I don’t know, but it had coincided with white streaks going under my armpits and out through the front of the aeroplane.

JW:        They were bullets?

JG:        I suppose they were.  They were tracers, tracer bullets.  I mean, that’s my impression.  I know for years afterwards, if I ever flew into snow ... course you’d fly into snow – that’s coming that way, but it had the same feeling on me, that I was being ...

JW:        And you were in a cold sweat?

JG:        Yeah, very much so.  And then, of course, at that point in time, a terrible smell of cordite and the cockpit full of sort of smoky stuff.  And my impression was, ooh, get away from this.

JW:        And so you peeled off?

JG:        I peeled off rapidly and I peeled off like that, and I went down ... I went down very, very fast, thinking is that chap still sitting on my tail.  I couldn’t get any response from my gunner behind me. 

JW:        And when you say gunner behind you, is he in the same cockpit or ...

JG:        No, no, he’s in a turret.

JW:        In a turret at the back?

JG:        In the back, yes.  Just like a ...

JW:        A bubble, like a bubble?

JG:        Yeah, a turret, and it was four-gun turret, sticks up out of the back.

JW:        Like a bubble?

JG:        Well, he’s in a sort of a bubble-like thing, but just the turret, the whole thing moved.

JW:        Moved, rotates round there.

JG:        And this is one of the weaknesses.  A hell of ... weighed a ton or more, the turret, and the poor gunner ...

JW:        And they’re pretty exposed, aren’t they?

JG:        They’re very exposed.  And I think ... as a result of the fact of what ... my bullets appeared to me to be coming straight through me, through that ... he’d have caught it.  Gone through the turret first, because I was sitting with heavy armour behind me.

JW:        And when you say heavy armour, is it a sheet or something?

JG:        A sheet of steel.

JW:        Steel, I see.

JG:        Which is behind there, a sheet a bit like that and out like that.  And I got cut up on the back of the head here, and I presume that something must have hit that thing and ricocheted off and cut me up there, through my helmet and all that sort of thing.

JW:        Oh gee.  And so you peeled off at breakneck speed.

JG:        I peeled off, yeah, and went down, and I found that my rudder ... I had no rudder control.  They shot away at the controls.

JW:        Which is your wing.

JG:        I had the wing control.

JW:        Oh, the wing’s ... right, it’s the up and down you lost, up and down.

JG:        Yeah, that sort of thing.  And I went out ... I discovered the engine had just died, and I suddenly thought ... my impression was that the engine had stopped and the propeller had stopped spinning, but that can’t be right.  That’s only in my imagination.  I ... I ... you know, it’s very difficult to actually recollect that ... what went on, because I dived down and I sort of looked up and I saw down below me was a ... what looked like a British small Man-of-War of some sort.  I thought, well ... the engine had stopped.  I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere because I was right out in the middle of the channel, and I thought, well, I’ll have to try and land beside this boat. 

JW:        Can you aquaplane in an aircraft like that, you know, sort of veer the ... sort of level off and ...

JG:        Well, this is what I tried to do.

JW:        Oh, right.

JG:        But, anyway, as I came down, I was going so fast that I shot well beyond that little ... that boat there, and I went on and on and on.  I mean, the speed.  I don’t know what ... I can’t remember what the speed was, but it seemed to take an awful long time to drop off.  And in the meantime I thought, well, perhaps I can turn ... and I went ... shot a way down, turned around slowly, because I had no rudder, and how I ... I don’t know how, but using the stick I managed to keep the aeroplane from just ...

JW:        Flipping over.

JG:        ... flipping over.  I used the stick and perhaps come around, and gradually I began to slow down, but I’d lost sight of the ship altogether.  Then I got to the point I knew I was going to have to make a landing, so I thought ... I got it back, the ... gradually got it back to almost to the point of stall, and then I felt it go, like, ‘plonk’, you see, and I don’t know why I did it but I thought I’ve got to get out of this aircraft pretty quickly.  I undid my straps which was ... maybe it was a ... not a fatal mistake, I might not have got out altogether, I don’t know, but I think, as a result of that, when I hit the water, I pulled the hood back all ready to get out and then thought I’ve got to get out of this quickly but, thinking back, I was going to hit the water at about 90 miles an hour and, of course, the big scoop underneath the fuselage ... and, of course, when you’re trying to land on the water, it just scoops ... it hits the scoop there ... fwwwwwickk ... like that.

JW:        Oh, right, forces the nose down.

JG:        Yeah, nose-dive.  Because the pictures that we’ve got ... I’ve got this all on film.

JW:        Oh, amazing.  And ... ok, and were you knocked out by the impact?

JG:        I was knocked out.

JW:        And what’s the next thing you remember?

JG:        And the next thing I was in blackness in water.  And I thought, well ... when I came to I must have seen some glimmer of light because I seem to recall getting out, and I’d undone my straps and everything, so that was probably lucky.  I wouldn’t have been knocked out, I suppose, had I not undone my straps, but I don’t know, ‘cos I had all sorts of cuts which I couldn’t ... it wouldn’t have been from my face hitting anything in front of me, ‘cos I had no gun side.  There was nothing there but just the ...

JW:        Panels.

JG:        ... the panel, you see, so I’d obviously hit the panel.  And then I ... so I started ... I got to the surface and I still had my flying boots on, and in those days you wore your – what they call your field dress.  We didn’t have ...

JW:        Life jackets?

JG:        Yeah, we had ...

JW:        Inflatable ones?

JG:        We had inflatable jackets, and I remember my parachute came out.  I took my boots off and they were side-by-side in the water.  And I was there ... nobody ... I was out in the water.  And suddenly chug, chug, chug and a little naval torpedo boat came up alongside me and snatched me out of the water.  I said, “Can you get my parachute there and my flying boots there?”  But nobody took any notice.

JW:        They were more worried about you.

JG:        [Laughter] And at this point I realised I had blood streaming down here, my forehead had been taken across here, and I had a great flap of thing.  You can’t see anything now, it’s all disappeared.

JW:        No, amazing.

JG:        Yeah.  And I nearly lost that eye.  You can just see some marks there.

JW:        Just round the outline there.

JG:        But I was a bloody mess. 

JW:        I bet.  And how long did it take you to recover after that?

JG:        Well, I was in the ... I was taken over to Dover and I went into the Dover Hospital, and I was in the Dover Hospital for about ten days, and during that time there I recall I had a bed that was over close to a window and I was able to get to the window and look out of the window and see beautiful blue sky and all the vapour trails of the battle going on a way, way up. 

JW:        Yes, ‘cos that was a very intensive area where air ...

JG:        And I had no idea then how the rest of the squadron had done.  I had no idea about that for weeks.

JW:        What about your rear gunner, he lost his life?

JG:        Oh, he went ... oh, he would have gone down in the aircraft because I had no communication. 

JW:        Tell me, did you have any lucky charms on your plane or anything like that, or any ... you know, some people have a red handkerchief, some people ... ? 

JG:        No.

JW:        I remember as a boy of coming across a crash site in England and they landed in this ... a Messerschmitt landed in a churchyard, and I remember seeing the pilot hanging from the ... all burnt ... remembered his body hanging from the trees, and before the police cordoned off we, as young fellows ... I was only about, say, eight or nine or ten at the time, fossicked around and we picked up a shell, a canon shell, and the head of the canon shell had been fired and it was just empty, and inside it was rosary beads, so obviously the pilot was ...

JG:        No, I had nothing like that, no.

JW:        And what about your friends back home?  Of course you weren’t allowed to report things like that, were you, they’re censored?

JG:        Well ... ‘cos after that I came out of that hospital and I was sent on leave, and I spent ... my next Battle of Britain was nearly ... up until October I was on sick leave, ‘cos presumably with all this head ...

JW:        And this would have been 1939?

JG:        ’39, and that would have been ... the actual ... the day I was shot down was July the 19th, and I didn’t get back to the squadron ‘til about sometime in October, by which time the Battle of Britain is ... the period known as the Battle of Britain, was finished.  So, my Battle of Britain actually was just those first few days of the actual period, and the actual period of the Battle of Britain, I think, is about the 15th of July, and I was caught on the 19th.

JW:        So those planes on your tail that caught you, really, were just in a defensive position really, defending the coast ofFrance?  They weren’t doing those great big raids that came across with fighter ... support those bombers and things like that, was it?  That wasn’t the ...

JG:        Well, they were ... the Germans operated ... when they started sending their bombers over, they had so-called bomber escorts.  Then they had aircraft escorting the escorts, as it were, that were supposed to try and deal with the Royal Air Force people coming up to attack the bombers.  So, it’s ... as you ... when you read about it or ... the first ... after the first rush in, as it were, it’s bedlam.  Nobody knows where anybody is.  And all of the ... there’s no such thing as ... well, you read all the difference between the ... Bader wanting his wing formations and Keith Park wanting just small squadron methods of attacked.  Keith Park actually held the day, ‘cos they ... he and the AOC of 12 Group, which was Bader’s business of the massive wings.  Those two Air Vice Marshalls never got on together, and it was the ... Park who was eventually ... was pushed to the side after the Battle of Britain, and the other fellow went on up the scale to higher things. 

JW:        Oh, well, that was your first escape.  There was another one on the ... towards the end of the war, 31st December 1944.  What can you tell us about that one?

JG:        On New Year’s Eve of 1944, the whole ofEurope was fog-bound. Britain was fog-bound.  They didn’t send any aircraft out ofBritain.  The Germans were able to send off aircraft, but when they went over there they couldn’t see anything.  But we were stationed at Amiens-Glisy, by which time I’d got into 488Squadron,New Zealand Squadron. 

JW:        And where was that located?

JG:        That’s inFrance. 

JW:        InFrance itself, theNormandy coast?

JG:        Yeah, after D-Day, we went intoFrance three weeks after D-Day because they had to go and repair some airfields.  We went over there as night fighters, so the day fighters were ahead of us and they could operate out of ... they operated out ofFairfield, which had to be repaired, of course, before they could operate.  When we got over there, most of the airfields that we were operating out of had already been repaired.  In the early days of the invasion, we operated over the beachhead areas at night and just intoFrance with the idea of stopping the bombers coming over toBritain.  Now, as the allies moved forward inEurope, so airfields were released, repaired, and so we moved over ...

JW:        Leap-frogging type of thing.

JG:        Yes.  We moved over into France, and the first place we went to was Amiens-Glisy.  And we were there for the ... oh, let me think ... anyway, I was operating out of there on the night of December 31st of ’44, and we were the only squadron, the only Air Force squadron, apparently, that took to the air at all.  And our chances of landing somewhere were a bit tight.  They said you’d probably be able to land at Brussels Melsbroek. 

JW:        And what were you flying then, what type of aircraft?

JG:        This is Mosquitoes. 

JW:        Mosquitoes, right.

JG:        See, I’d gone through ... between being with the New Zealand squadron ... when I went back to night fighting on the Defiants, from then onwards I went to the Canadian squadron, and eventually finished up with ... then a British squadron, then a New Zealand Squadron, and it was with the New Zealand squadron that I eventually got over into France with the New Zealand 488 Squadron.  Anyway, when we were up there, we took off and I was somewhere, I reckoned, over in the Rhine area when I found ... one of the few times when I had a target in front of me and we were chugging along.  I hadn’t got up to visual looking at it yet, but we’d been chasing something and my navigator said, “Well, it’s four or five hundred yards.”  And so we were closing on the thing, and suddenly heavy aac aac opened up and suddenly there were shell bursts all around the place and one burst right under the nose of my aircraft, and there was a hell of a great woooof, and what I recall about it, my aeroplane was upside down.  I struggled to get it up the right way again, and which I eventually did and, of course, we were cursing like mad because here was a target.  Of course, I was one of the chaps that flew hundreds of sorties but never saw a damn thing, and here we had a chance of something.  Well, we never got that chance.  But while ... and I got the thing back up in the right side up again.  My navigator said to me, “God, this is something ...” and he reached down and he picked these ... he had a piece of shrapnel, hot shrapnel in his hand, and it had come through the side of the aeroplane.  And then we noticed that the right ... the starboard engine was suddenly running a bit rough, and the gauges showed it was overheating.  So I thought, “Christ, that’s been hit.  Close the engine down straight away.”  So I had to call ... I called in and said, “Returning to base”, and they said, “Well, you can’t come back to Amiens-Glisy, you’ll have to go to Brussels Melsbroek. 

JW:        Right, this is part two of my interview with Group Captain John Rushton Gard’ner of the RAF, and this took place in Tauranga in his home in the North Island, New Zealand, on Saturday the 4th of February 2006.  Well, John, it’s been very interesting talking to you in the first part of your life in the RAF, particularly the active war service you underwent.  There were some tales, obviously, we went through and PC Snooks amused me.  Could you just briefly recap on that one there, PC Snooks.

JG:        Well, PC Snooks was a little incident ... a funny little incident that happened in my earlier part of my wartime career.  Actually I was staying at a little village called Farnley Tyas near Huddersfield inYorkshire, in the period when I was courting my first wife.  Anyway, at Farnley Tyas I was staying with her sister’s family and I was asleep one evening or night in my bed when an aircraft came across flying very low, obviously in distress, from the noise it was making, and immediately afterwards there was a huge great bang and I knew that this aircraft had crashed.  I leapt out of bed and put my great coat on, put shoes ... and I obviously put a helmet – my hat on, service hat, and I rushed out, and I could see some flames down the road a bit so I ran down the road and saw what was a huge fire with explosions, presumably ammunition and stuff exploding, and I realised that it was just a ball of fire and I thought, well, there was nothing that I can do, so I turned round and started trudging back up the hill.  As I was coming up this hill, down the road came our local constable on his bicycle in his uniform with his British helmet, a funny Constable helmet on.  So he went by me, he looked at me, and I saw that he was wondering, but he continued on down and I trudged off home and went back to my sister-in-law’s place ... well, sister-in-law to be’s place, and told them what it was and that there was nothing I could do, so we decided we should get back to bed.  Well, that was all right, but the following morning, quite early there was a knock on the door and there was a civilian at the door, and he introduced himself as Inspector so-and-so from such-and-such police.  I can’t remember what the police force was, but he said, “I understand you have an airman here from the aircraft that crashed last night.”  And I looked at him and I said, “Sorry, no.  I’m the airman that ... I was down there and I came back up here and I saw the Constable ... Snooks going down the road, but ...” I said, “I certainly didn’t come from that aeroplane.”  And I looked at Constable Snooks and I saw his face drop, and the Inspector man turned round to him and he said, “Well, Snooks, looks as if we’ve made a mistake here”, and they went away.  And I thought, well, poor Constable Snooks.  He’d been in that village all his life, village policeman, and this was going to be his big day of reporting something as interesting that has happened in his life, and this was how it finished for him.

JW:        Well, he certainly fell flat on his feet there.  Well, there is another escape you had.  You’ve already mentioned the one on 19th of July.  There was another one – the 31st of December 1944.  Can you just briefly recap on that one, please.

JG:        Yes, now we were operating from Amiens-Glisy, and the whole of sort of western Europe was in fog, Britain was in fog, we were all fogged up down at Amiens-Glisy, but somebody ... it was decided that our particular squadron could become airborne on patrol work because apparently Eastern Germany was still ... they were still flying out of Eastern Germany, and we understood that there were some raids coming over towards Britain.  Anyway, we were told to go off, and the chances of ... if we had to land anywhere, the most likely place where it would be available would be Brussels Melsbroek.  Anyway, I was up on patrol.  Of course we were going off singly – we were night fighting, and I’d got up ... been airborne some time, and for one time in my career I was with my radar operator, we actually had a target, and my radar operator was telling me we were getting closer and closer to this target in front of us.  I couldn’t see it but he said, when we got to about 400 yards ... and I thought, well, any moment now, surely, we’ll be able to see what the target was.  It was fairly ... it showed up as a fairly big target, so we assumed it might be a bomber, a big aircraft anyway.  We didn’t know whether it was friend or foe actually but, anyway, suddenly the aac aac ... heavy artillery opened up from below us somewhere and I found myself in the middle of anti-aircraft shells blasting off around me.  And one went off immediately under the nose of my aircraft, and that was a ... well, I have the impression of a hell of a great bang and, anyway, the aeroplane was upside down and I realised that ... I struggled to get it the right way up again, which I managed to do, cursing at the time that we’d lost our target.  So, having got it level, I realised that they ... suddenly the starboard engine started running rough, and I saw from the fuel gauge ... ah, petrol ... from the temperature gauge, it was suddenly overheating, but at the same time my navigator, or radar operator beside me said, “My God.”  He said, “Look what I’ve got.”  And he’d picked up from underneath the seat a lump of hot shrapnel which had obviously come through the side of the aircraft.  So that ... also at that time I realised that we’d have to shut down the engine.  I shut down that engine and had to turn round and head back towards base.  I called in and said, “Returning to base.  I’ve been hit by ... hit returning to base on one engine, hit by heavy aac aac fire”, anti-aircraft fire, and they said, “Well, you’ll have to go to Brussels Melsbroek.  That’s the only place that we think that we can send you back to.”  So I was given the right course to steer and backed it towards Brussels Melsbroek and, from the altitude that I was at, I could see ... roughly see the ground.  I could see more or less where we were, and we got in towards Brussels Melsbroek Airfield and I was given permission to land.  So, on one engine, of course ... I was slowly losing height to get down to this airfield, but they told me that the visibility was virtually nil on the airfield, but I was committed.  And so I circled the airfield, losing height, and finally as I got down to ... I knew exactly what direction of the air- ... of the runway, and my last recollection was turning round towards that runway when we went into fog and I lost all sight of it.  So I simply, at this point ... I had lowered the wheels and flaps and, having done so, I knew I was committed to land, because there was no way I could take ... put on power with this particular type of Mosquito.  With its wheels and flaps down, there was no way I could gain height to go round again if I missed the runway.  Anyway, as we got down, my navigator was telling me, “400 feet, 300 feet, 200 feet, 150 feet” etc, “100 feet”, and when he got down to ... when he said 100 feet, I suddenly saw a light in front of me and I realised that I was actually coming down the centre of that ... of the runway, and so I couldn’t see more than about two or three lights ahead, so I immediately cut the engine, so I was going to land what you might call deadstick.  I cut the good engine and prepared for a landing.  I had no idea how far up the runway we were, but I managed to get the aircraft down onto the ground, and the brakes were still working, so I was able to put the brakes on and get the aircraft to a stop.  And I got towards the end of it and I suddenly saw the ... what was left of the airfield, there wasn’t any, so I made a quick turn to the right and sort of skidded sideways.  Why I didn’t lose the undercarriage, I don’t know, but it turned sideways onto the taxi track and came to a dead stop, and a sigh of relief.

JW:        Well, that must have been one ... a very close experience and a close call.  Well, during the war years you had some lucky escapes and you still maintained your position in the RAF.  What rank were you when ... the end of the war in 1945?  What rank were you then?

JG:        Oh, at the end of the war I was a Squadron Leader.

JW:        Squadron Leader, and you stayed on in the RAF?

JG:        Yes.

JW:        And, of course, there were some scares during that time.  You had creation of a state of Israel, you had the Korean War, you had the Suez War, and obviously involved in some of those in some way, but there is one interesting experience you had, shall we say, the peace-time RAF and we still had the Cold War, as I said, going on, was in Nairobi.  Could you tell us more about that one?

JG:        Oh, you mean the time that I was flying fromAden?  I was in the headquarters at the RA atAden.

JW:        That’s correct, yes.

JG:        And our territory covered down intoKenya, and ... on the air staff there.  One of my jobs was to sort of liaise with RAF Eastleigh down inNairobi ... down near Nairobi, Kenya, inKenya.  And I was flying ... we used to fly down there in an old Meteor aircraft which had been fitted with wing tanks so that we could make the flight from Aden down to Eastleigh near ... near the airfield of Nairobi, in three stages – from Aden to Hargeisa, from Hargeisa across to Mogadishu in Italian Somaliland, and then the longest leg was from Mogadishu down to Eastleigh.  Well, we used to do this trip always at ... we used to climb through altitude, and you had to use the fuel out of your wing tanks to complete the journey from Mogadishu right down to Eastleigh.  And one of the things was that when you were flying at this altitude that we used to get up to, 32/33,000 feet, you had to exercise the cock, which allowed the fuel to come from the wing tanks into the main tank for use in the engine.  And on that particular leg from Mogadishu, on this particular trip I was flying with my SASO, my Air Commodore, who was my boss, and he ... it was my turn ... we used to fly each leg, each one of us taking ... being Captain of the aircraft.  I was flying as Captain of the aircraft fromMogadishu down toEastleigh, and my Air Commodore was seated in the passenger seat where you had to exercise the fuel cock to make sure that it didn’t freeze up at altitude.  Anyway, when it came to the point of no return fromMogadishu toEastleigh, when the time came to take the fuel from the wing tank into the main tank, the cock was frozen and it couldn’t be unstuck.  So the only way to unstick it was to come down to low altitude, and coming down to low altitude you didn’t have enough fuel left to climb up again and to make the rest of the trip to Eastleigh, so we were committed somewhere to do something about landing.  Well, now, we were above cloud and we shut down one of the engines and proceeded from then onwards on one engine, and losing height – deliberately losing height – because we knew we had to come down to land somewhere.  Saw a hole in the cloud, went down through this hole in the cloud to about 2,000 feet and found ourselves over a big, wide river.  In the meantime, the SASO had taken the controls over, being the senior person in the aeroplane.  We had twin controls, although the cock was in the seat where the passenger, the chap who wasn’t Captain of the aircraft, always sat.  So, anyway, we were going down this river at about 2,000 feet and I remember wondering what do we do about this – crocodiles in the river, snakes, wild animals in the jungle – ‘cos all you could see was jungle on either side of the river as we cruised down this river.  Now, I suddenly saw on the horizon a white sort of speck, and I said to SASO that I think there’s something over on our portside there which ... we’ve got to head towards that and which he said, yes, we’ll do that.  And as we got closer we realised it was a small building.  As we got closer to it still we realised that alongside this building was a long, cleared strip in the jungle.  And so the SASO sort of ... then we flew around this thing.  We had no contact with anybody, but I must say earlier on before we made our descent, I had called “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” which is the top priority aircraft in distress.  Had no idea whether we’d got in contact with anybody.  Anyway, we came around back in the circuit there ... we came around the circuit not knowing how long this strip was and saw alongside the building there was a windsock, so we realised which way the wind was blowing and made the approach into this strip.  As we got near to the downwind boundary, we cut the good engine and dead-stick landed.  To our surprise, we only went about a third of the way up the runway and, of course, came to a dead stop, and that was that.  Almost immediately a jeep came out from the area where the building was, and it turned out to be the British resident of the area.  Again, I can’t recall the name of it or anything much about it, but here he came out dressed in white with a white (muffled) and announced who he was and we told him what we want, and he said, “Oh, well, we’ll go back and we’ll call your base.”  So we went back to his headquarters and called the base and, in the meantime, my mayday message had been picked up by an East African Airways pilot who had passed it on to the search and rescue centre back down atNairobi.  He also reported that he had seen a column of smoke coming up somewhere, and it was assumed that we had actually crashed, because we’d been able to make no contact with anybody.  But, however, that was all ... those thoughts of a crash were dispelled and our people atEastleigh sent out a small aircraft with 40-gallon drums of aviation fuel aboard, over to this airstrip, to pick us up.

JW:        Well, lady luck rides with you again.

JG:        That’s right.

JW:        Quite amazing, and this was in peace time.

JG:        Yeah.

JW:        Well, you also had a period of time, I understand, with the US Marines.  Could you enlighten some of ... a few experiences you’ve had there with the US Marines.

JG:        Well, I was the first RAF officer with a navigator or radar operator to be posted on what they call exchange posting with the United States Marine Corp – Aviation.  This would be back in 1950, and I duly went across toAmerica and was stationed at a place called Cherry Point inNorth Carolina.  I was a bachelor in those days and my navigator and I went across by ship.  In fact, we went in the old Queen Elizabeth.  When we reported at Cherry Point I was met ... we reported to the General who said to us, “Well, I knew you were coming but what am I going to do with you?”  So I told him who ... what we did etc etc, and he picked up a phone and said, “Jim, I’ve got a couple of limeys here.  I’m sending them down to you to put them to work.”  So that was our introduction to the Marine Corp – Aviation.  Anyway, I trained with this particular squadron which was getting ready to go with its ... in the particular group it belonged to, out toKorea.  Anyway, we did all sorts of wonderful things there.  I did dive bombing, rocketing and all that sort of thing, which I’d never done in the RAF, and during that period I was able to fly anywhere I liked every weekend as long as it was ... I went more than 400 miles.  So I flew acrossAmerica a couple of times with my navigator, what we called “flying the beam”, which was quite new to me.  Anyway, we flew the beam acrossAmerica, landing at various airfields en route.  The one I remember most was El Paso where one time we were greeted by armed guard and escorted by armed guard over to the control tower, ‘cos it turned out to be a place which was a graveyard of hundreds of wartime aircraft.  There were hundreds of them in great rows stacked round the airfield.  Anyway, so that was the ‘flying the beam’ thing.  And eventually, as a result of the training there, then suddenly we realised that I was ... that over on the west coast of America they were converting from the piston engine type aircraft that I’d been flying over on the east coast, to the new jet, and I got permission from the British Joint Services Commission and therefore from Air Ministry, London to go across to California to fly ... have an experience on the new Skyknight jet aircraft which the Marine Corp had just acquired over at El Toro.  So my navigator and I drove acrossAmerica.  Took us three weeks, so we did a bit of sightseeing on the road.  We arrived over there and I was immediately ... the Station ... the Squadron Commander appointed me as his Operations Officer and I was made responsible for converting the squadron ... or doing the training for the conversion of the squadron from twin engine Tigercat piston engine type aeroplanes onto the Skyknight.  And whilst we were over there, of course, I had an accident one or two weeks ... I’d fly from there.  I flew down to ... well, actually, we had a lot of experimental work to do there.  They were trying to work out blind shooting against ???droves??? with targets unseen, and this is where we had great ... well, my navigator had a lot of reporting to do back to Washington and thence to London, on progress that we were making on the ... what the Marine Corp were trying to do with their blind firing tactics.  Anyway, from there we went ... the squadron eventually got a ... converted on to these Skyknights and we took the aircraft down to San Diego where they were loaded onto an old aircraft carrier, wings folded.  They were carted on there.  They were just put on, and put on the top of this old aircraft carrier and we went out to Japan, and thence to Korea.  And I did my flying inKorea with that particular squadron that I had been responsible for converting from piston engines to the jet engine.

JW:        And in your servicing career, you flew patrols there with the ... in these jet planes, did you?

JG:        Yes.

JW:        Could you give me a bit more detail about the ... ‘cos when I think of jet engines and jet planes, the first introduction ... my own experience, that it was just called the Meteor.

JG:        Ah, yes.

JW:        Yeah, so can you just give us a brief description so as I get the idea what these ...

JG:        Oh, the Tiger- ... the ...

JW:        The American plane you were flying, yes.

JG:        Yes, the American aircraft that I was flying was the ... I think it was the Grumman Skyknight – Douglas, a Douglas Skyknight.  It was a twin engine thing with the two engines more or less buried under the fuselage, and it had four cannons in its nose, and it was ... and folding wings, of course, ‘cos it was originally designed to be used on aircraft carriers.  And it was found that the ... on carriers it had insufficient power to do what the Navy, the American Navy wanted, and so it was handed over to the Marine Corp to do what they could with it.  The Marine Corp was ... tended to be looked upon as the poor relations of the ... Aviation is the poor relations of American ????

JW:        And what maximum speed would that get up to, shall we say, approximately?

JG:        Oh, it certainly was nowhere near Mark I.  You could get ... you could do Mark I at a gentle dive in it, but I think that the speed was, oh, 100 ... for cruising speed or operating speed that we were doing is only about 500 and ... between 500 and 600 miles an hour.

JW:        And what armaments did it have on it?

JG:        Well, it had those four cannons.

JW:        Four cannons.

JG:        Which were buried in the ...

JW:        And would it ... did it have rockets under its wings or anything like that?

JG:        No, we didn’t, no.  We were designed to be entirely as a defensive or attack thing, but we ... I think it could have carried rockets, because most of those American aircraft were capable of being made to carry rockets without too much trouble, but we certainly didn’t in the squadron I was with.  But, actually, the squadron I was with inKorea was mainly formed ... called, as a result of the Korean War, and most of the pilots there were reserve officers, and so the particular squadron that I was with had 52 Majors.  There were two ... 50 Major ... American Marine Corp Majors, all World War II veterans, so there were some highly experienced people in that squadron.  And then, of course, numbers of ... there was a big squadron, ‘cos we had PB4Y2s and ... as well as my particular part of it.  We had a little jet aircraft – I can’t recall the name of it.  The PB4Y2s, Corsairs – it was a huge squadron.  It was so big that you really didn’t get to know part of what your own squadron was.

JW:        Right, now you ... that’s all active service and obviously ... can you remember what time did you actually get out of planes, shall we say, and became more, shall we say, administrator in the RAF?

JG:        Well, after I’d finished my time inKorea and back toBritain, I went back toBritain with a new American bride, and my first job there with the RAF was as a ground controller in one of the fighter sections of the Fighter Command Number 11 Group.  And my office was 120 feet down in a hole in the ground in the chalk hills of ... nearBath, and we controlled aircraft from there.  We controlled aircraft ... it was in our sector that came from Tangmere, Biggin Hill, ???Filton??? – oh, other airfields which escape me at the moment, I’m afraid.

JW:        And, ok, you had a stint there, and I believe you went to theStaffCollege, did you, about that time or near that time?

JG:        No, my Staff College training was actually during the war.

JW:        Is it during the war, oh right.

JG:        During the war, and I ... it was between ... I did several, what they call, several operational tours during the war, and it was during ... between one of these tours that I was on at headquarters staff up at ... actually Newcastle-on-Tyne, and I was the Squadron Leader – Ops, I think, there, under a famous New Zealander, Al Deere – he was my boss.  He was a ...

JW:        Nine lives, yes.

JG:        Yeah, nine lives Al Deere.  He was my wing commander.  Anyway, SASO, the Senior Air Staff Officer there decided that I should go toStaffCollege and he said, “I’m sending you toStaffCollege”, and I said, “Sir, I want to get back to Squadron.”  And he said, “No, you’reStaffCollege material and that’s where you’re going.”  So off I went to Staff College, and when I came back from Staff College, I thought, well now I’ll get back on to flying, but instead of which I went straight up to headquarters of Number 13 Group, which was right up in Scotland.  So I found myself doing a desk job up in ... way up at Inverness in Scotland.  It was interesting enough because I flew quite a bit there just from staff flying from Inverness up into the Orkneys, Shetlands and all around northern ... all around Scotland.  And I looked up once or twice up and down the Firth of Forth to see if I could find the monster, the Loch Ness Monster.

JW:        And how far was that away from Lossiemouth, ‘cos I have personally been to Lossiemouth.  That’s the big ... was that in ... at that time in ... when you were in the RAF, was that still an airfield there?

JG:        No, Lossiemouth was very much still going then, butInverness is a way, way up ...

JW:        Up in the northeast corner, is it?

JG:        Well, it’s in the ... between the north, it’s halfway width.

JW:        Mmm, halfway up on the eastern side?

JG:        Well, it’s up on the east.  You come well in.  From the east coast you come well in across the top ofScotland into ... I can’t ...

JW:        The Shetland, Orkneys and ...

JG:        Yeah, the Shetlands and Orkneys, you fly north from this particular point, or almost north-easterly to get up to the Orkneys.

JW:        Yeah, I remember SOS –Scotland, Orkneys, Shetlands, that’s how I remembered it.  Not technically ... perhaps you might remember it.  Are there other postings there you’d like to comment on? Staff College we’ve talked about and Fighter Command and Inverness and Newcastle-on-Tyne.  Any other postings intervene there before you finally came out of the RAF?

JG:        Well, I think my last ... well, when I came out of the ... in 19- ... let’s see ... I think in 1953 I was posted as the RAF Liaison Officer in ... let’s see, about 1955 ... 50- ... yes, ’55, to the School of Anti-Aircraft Artillery, which is a branch of the Royal Artillery Regiment, down at ... down in southwest England, down near ???Tenleigh???.  And I was there for 18 months, and it was during that time that applications were required for Flying College, and I was on the special duty list down there, and so I answered direct ... from there, direct to Air Ministry.  Well, I approached the Commandant, who was an Army Brigadier then, saying, “Look, I’m applying forFlyingCollege, will you give me a reference?”  And he said he would.  And so he gave me an excellent reference there, went straight up to Air Ministry and, to my surprise, I was accepted toFlyingCollege.  Now, had I been on a station, my application would have had to have gone through the Station Commander, the Group Commander, Fighter Command, and thence to Air Ministry.  And somewhere along that line I felt sure that somebody would say, “No, Gard’ner is not really the right sort of chap.”  So I went toFlyingCollege.  From ... with my experience as ... in Fighter Command ... all my career, except for those very early days, as a night fighter.  When I came out of Flying College, I thought, well, now’s my chance to get into a different command, but I was posted back to the RAF Leeming, which was in ... Leeming is in Yorkshire, I think it is, where they were converting or bringing in the new Javelin aircraft.  I was posted there as Wing Commander – Flying, which was ... I was responsible for the running of the airfield, but they had other people there who were actually responsible for the actual conversion from, in those days, Meteor night fighters to the Javelin.  I did get a few flights in Javelins and flying in various exercises that we were doing there, but there again, you see, I never got away from fighter type aircraft.  But once I was at the Flying College I did have the opportunity to fly Panthers, Canberras and, of course, Meteors there, which I had to show my skills in blind flying and aerobatics, that sort of thing, and I did get trips actually in the Lancaster aircraft, but just as navigators, never as a pilot.

JW:        And were there any other significant postings you’d like to comment on now before we go to your final ... leaving the RAF and your retirement and what you’re ...

JG:        Well, I think, yeah, the final ... my final job after Aden, of course, and I’ve talked about Aden earlier on, that’s where I had my experience of the ... over Africa, I ... after Aden I was posted to the British Embassy in Brussels as the RAF or the  British Air Attaché.  And I had three years inBrussels.  I knew when I went there that that was going to be my last posting in the Air Force.  Anyway, I had an enjoyable three years inBrussels, but it wasn’t really my love of life, as it were.  It was all too much sort of unnatural ... well, not unnatural, too artificial.  It was a very artificial life – cocktail parties, dinners, visiting stations.  Everywhere you went you were ... I went as ... I was a Group Captain at this point.  Everywhere I went I was treated as a Senior Officer on the stations and ...you know, it was in some ...

JW:        Did that mean that everybody had to sort of button up, shine their buttons and things like that?

JG:        Oh, yes, they did all that sort of stuff, and we had what I used to call the “silly season” when ... I reckon as a New Zealander I’ve laid more wreaths than any other New Zealander, because here I was in a British Embassy and I’ve laid wreaths all over Belgium and have gone to functions down in France and in Holland representing the British ... representing Britain on these functions, and ...

JW:        The diplomatic circuit.

JG:        The diplomatic circuit.

JW:        Sort of unreal, isn’t it?

JG:        It’s not really the life that a serviceman likes, but I ... when I knew that ... I made the best of it, made the most of it whilst we were there, and we had ... looking back on it, a most enjoyable time.  I was my own boss.  I was able to take all the leave that was ever ... that you ... you know, one could have had.  It was the only time in my service career that I was able to take every bit of leave that I was entitled to and, of course, with a caravan with my family, I travelled ... caravanned over into France, Spain, Italy, Holland, into Germany and so on.

JW:        Yes, well, as you know, there’s a lot of American troops stationed in Europe, and I remember when we went toParis with the children in 1975, we met a Major there from the American Army and he was taking his family around in the caravan, and we were sort of really privileged, I suppose.  There was four children, my three and my sister-in-law’s child came over fromIreland, and our car broke down and we had to hire a car, so we were crammed in a tent.  So they took pity on us, invited us over to their tent, their huge great tent, and they had wine and cheese and all sorts of things, they had all the luxuries, and we were just scrounging a living, shall we say, living in the campsite.  So there was obviously a lot of people like yourself and forces stationed inEurope doing this sort of thing – an ideal time to show their family other parts of the world.  So you finally came out of the RAF as a Group Captain, and that was your final posting, you say, as Air Attaché to the Belgian Embassy. 

JG:        The British Embassy.

JW:        And where did you retire to and what did you do then?

JG:        You said Belgian Embassy. 

JW:        Yes, it was the French Embassy, was it?

JG:        No, no, I was in the British Embassy.

JW:        The British Embassy.  I beg your pardon.  I beg your pardon.  Yes,Belgium.  Yes, I was thinking ofBelgium.  The British Embassy inBelgium, that’s right, yes.

JG:        I was repatriated by air.  All my goods and chattels were sent out by ship, and I ... because I was a New Zealander and my last posting was overseas from the Royal Air Force ... I was in the RAF.  Had I been an Englishman, I would have had three months’ pay and allowances when I retired, because I retired from overseas.  Well, I ... because I was in the RAF, I came out to New Zealand on three months’ full pay and allowances when I arrived in New Zealand in October 1965.  I delayed my ... I retired in June of ’65 but didn’t come out here.  I stayed on inBritain camping in my caravan waiting for my children to finish their term at school inBritain before we came out here.  And when we got out here I’d been briefed by another ex RAF Officer who I’d met in Belgium who told me when we came out to New Zealand, come and stay with him, with your caravan ... ‘cos I’d told him I was bringing a caravan, on my little orchard in Bethlehem in ... just outside Tauranga, and see what you ... look around and see where you’d like to live from then.  We duly did that.  We came out toNew Zealand and we stayed on his property, looking for a property to live, and finally bought a little orchard, or a little farm which I turned into an orchard, within 400 yards of where my caravan was parked on this ... on my friend’s property inBethlehem.  And we stayed there ... we stayed 11 years there before I finally retired in, well, I suppose you might call it, in 1976.

JW:        And your family’s scattered around the world now, isn’t it?

JG:        Yes, well I’ve got ... my American wife I had a ... she had a ... I took on her small son of four years old, and now through him I have four granddaughters and a great-granddaughter in America.  He went back toAmerica in 1967 and has lived there ever since.  So he’s ... I am ... as far as he’s concerned, I’m his father and I did all his schooling and everything for him and all that sort of thing, and my elder daughter by my very first wife, who died when she was about 30 years old, hence my marriage, second marriage to my American girlfriend, to my American bride, they live in ... she lives in Belgium and will remain there for the rest of her life there.  She’s married to an Irishman, and they’re going to ... they’re retired, he’s retired, and they’re living inBrussels.  And I’ve got my youngest son by my American wife who, with his family, live in ... just south ofAuckland.

JW:        And you’ve had some honours bestowed upon you and recently you’ve visitedLondon.  Could you tell us all about that memorial there to pilots involved in the Battle of Britain.

JG:        Well, yes, one of the ... as I was involved in the Battle of Britain, for the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, there’s been a monument erected on the banks of the Thames in London, organised by the Battle of Britain’s Historical Society to commemorate who they call “The Few”, and it’s to honour “The Few”.  And this monument is a magnificent monument which is the story in figures of the actual battle.  Every walk of life of the Battle of Britain is shown ... is sculptured on this magnificent monument.  And every individual who fought during the Battle of Britain has their name on the monument.  We in New ... one of the New Zealanders, of whom 147 were eligible for that, are ... all their names, including the live ones like myself, are on that monument, and it really is a fantastic monument, the cost of which was described by the people of Britain, nothing to do with the British Government.

JW:        That’s amazing, that’s amazing.  Yes, well, that’s sort of ... as I say, that ... you have said remarks on these points before, but just to go over them, ‘cos I think they’re important.  I asked you before what the main ... your main recollection about the meaning and purpose of war – is it justified war, you know, after what you’ve been through in war time and peace time, you have an all-round view of your role in the RAF as a peace time Officer and a war time Officer, what is your main recollection or meaning or purpose of war?  Is it justified?

JG:        Well, thinking over ... I’ve put a lot of thought into this and, to me, war doesn’t seem to achieve anything in the long run.  It destroys ... it kills, it destroys a lot of people, it destroys a lot of what the human race has built up over ... in many cases, over centuries anyway in some areas.  What does it achieve?  It seems to be absolutely necessary to be strong, to show your strength, but as time has shown ... well, it seems in the last century, the losers seem to have been just as well off in the long run as the so-called winners, and so I suppose the quick answer to your question is no, war is not necessary.  Whether or not the human race could ever really get down together and work things out by discussing it, is doubtful.

JW:        Yes, we see little pockets of war, civil wars all over the world, and there’s never a year without full peace throughout the world, is there?

JG:        No.

JW:        No, that’s true.  I’ve also asked you this question about the updating of fighters and planes of the nature you ... well, obviously more advanced and go faster, can do more and things like that, but the nature of air war being fought, how do you see it in the future?  If there is another war, how would it be fought, because we have had smaller wars.

JG:        As far as air war is concerned, the way things are going now, pilots will become redundant.  The only thing that the pilot still does ... ENDS.

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