Shot down during the Battle of Britain

Filename: John_R_Gardner_-_shot_down_in_a_Defiant_v2.mp3 ( download )

Size: 2.3 MB

Recording type: audio/mpeg

5 minutes 38 seconds long (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.

In this audio excert you can hear Gard'ner describe how his vastly inferior single engine Defiant  was shot down during the Battle of Britain.

The following transcript is kindly provided by Kim Megson.




 File ID:                        John_R_Gardner_-_shot_down_in_a_Defiant

Interviewer:               Jim Walsh (JW)                       

Interviewee:             John Gard’ner (JG)

Date Recorded:       January 2006   

Duration:                   5min 38sec

Date Typed:              26 August 2012

JG:        The powers that be had decided that the Blenheims and the Gladiators should be replaced by Defiants, 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.  We’d been declared operational, and this is where I mention 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 Defiant squadron, had become sort of ... had ... was virtually decimated.  The day I was shot down was July the 19th.

 JW:        And this would be 1939?

 JG:        ’39.  Nine of us took off and formed up into a formation, a tight formation, three groups of three aircraft, and we were on patrol at 9,000 feet, and we were ‘jumped’.  My impression was suddenly thud, thud, thudding on the aircraft, which I think probably was my gunner getting a few shots in, but it had coincided with white streaks going under my armpits and out through the front of the aeroplane, a terrible smell of cordite and the cockpit full of sort of smoky stuff.

 JW:        And so you peeled off?

 JG:        I peeled off rapidly and 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.  After the first rush in, as it were, it’s bedlam.  Nobody knows where anybody is.  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.  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 managed to keep the aeroplane from just ...

 JW:        Flipping over.

 JG:        ... flipping over.  I used the stick and … to come round, 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’d gotten 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 but, thinking back, I was going to hit the water at about 90 miles an hour.  (Well I was?) knocked out.

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

 JG:        And the next thing I was in blackness in water.  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 – 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 I had my flying boots there, but nobody took any notice [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.  Well, I was in the ... I was taken over toDover and I was in the Dover Hospital for about ten days.  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 out.  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


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