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The Airmen's Stories - P/O J R Gard’ner


John Rushton Gard’ner was born in Dunedin, New Zealand on 14th June 1918. He was at Nelson College from 1931 to 1935 and was afterwards employed as an apprentice draughtsman in the Lands and Survey Department.

In 1938 Gard'ner applied for a short service commission and did some flying training at Nelson Aero Club. He sailed for the UK on 16th December 1938 in the RMS Rangitata and began training at No. 1 E&RFTS Hatfield on 23rd January 1939, moving to 11 FTS Shawbury on 15th April.


Above: Gard'ner (right) with two 488 Squadron colleagues who also flew in the Battle, S/Ldr. PW Rabone (left) and W/Cdr. RM Trousdale (centre).


Gard'ner joined 141 Squadron at Grangemouth on 23rd October, the squadron had no aircraft of its own but gradually two flights were formed, one of Gladiators and the other of Blenheims. In March 1940 141 began to receive Defiants, becoming operational on 3rd June and moving south to West Malling on 12th July.

On the morning of 19th July Gard'ner was flying one of the nine Defiants attacked by Me109’s of III/JG51 off Dover. He was in one of the four rear aircraft and was shot down immediately but did not catch fire as the other three did. He landed on the sea four miles off Dover and the aircraft sank. Gard'ner managed to extricate himself from a considerable depth and was picked up after fifteen minutes but his gunner, P/O DM Slatter, was not seen again. Only two of the nine Defiants returned. Gard'ner was admitted to Union Road Hospital, Dover with a badly cut head. He rejoined the squadron in late October after three months sick leave.

On 1st November 1941 Gard'ner joined 409 (RCAF) Squadron at Coleby Grange. Promoted to Acting Squadron Leader in July 1942, he joined 488 Squadron at Ayr on 14th August as a Flight Commander. With his second tour completed in November, Gard'ner was posted to HQ 13 Group, Newcastle as OC Night Operations. Whilst there he did a course at RAF Staff College. Gard'ner transferred to the RNZAF on 1st January 1944 and went to 51 OTU Bedford on 25th April for a refresher course on Beaufighters, he then joined 219 Squadron at Bradwell Bay as a supernumerary.

He returned to 488 in late October as a Flight Commander. The squadron moved across to the continent on 15th November. Operating from Amiens-Glisy, Gard'ner destroyed a Fw190 in December. On the 31st he made a one-engine landing at Brussels-Melsbroek after being damaged by anti-aircraft fire. The following day his aircraft was destroyed on the ground there by a German strafing attack.

Gard'ner was with 488 until its disbandment at Gilze-Rijen on 26th April 1945. He returned to England and was posted to the Directorate of Organisational Establishments at the Air Ministry. He received a Mention in Despatches (gazetted 1st January 1946), returned to New Zealand in March 1947 and went on the Reserve on 12th June.

Offered a permanent commission in September, Gard'ner returned to the UK in February 1948. He held a series of appointments and commands prior to his retirement on 14th June 1965 as a Wing Commander, retaining the rank of Group Captain.

He died on 6th May 2011.


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