The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. J A A Gibson
John Albert Axel Gibson was born in Brighton, England on 24th August 1916 and moved to New Zealand in 1920. He was educated in Auckland and New Plymouth Boys High School.
In late 1937 Gibson applied for an RAF short service commission and, after provisional acceptance, sailed for the UK on 7th April 1938 in the RMS Rangitata.
He began his flying training at 4 E&RFTS Brough on 16th May 1938 and on 9th July he went to No. 1 RAF Depot Uxbridge for an induction course.
He moved on to 3 FTS South Cerney on 23rd July for intermediate and advanced training. With the course completed, he was posted to No. 1 AACU at Farnborough. He later served with 'C' Flight, No. 1 AACU which moved from Weston Zoyland to Penrhos on 4th December 1939. On this day Gibson was attached to 9 Air Observer School.
He had married Ethel Geraldine Formby, younger sister of the entertainer George Formby, in October 1939 in Blackpool.
He was posted to No. 1 RAF Depot at Uxbridge on 20th May 1940 for onward movement to France.
Gibson joined 501 Squadron at Anglure on 21st May. He destroyed a He111 and shared a second on 27th May, during which action he was himself shot down, crash-landing in a field near Rouen and having to abandon his Hurricane.
On the 29th he got a probable He111, on the 30th shot down a He111 and damaged another, on 4th June damaged another and on the 5th probably destroyed a He111 and damaged another.
On the 10th Gibson destroyed a Me109 but was himself shot down and baled out near Le Mans. His final success in France was a Me109, possibly shot down on the 14th. 501 Squadron was withdrawn from France on 18th June, operated from Jersey on the 19th and re-assembled at Croydon on 21st June.
Gibson claimed a He111 damaged on 9th July, a Do17 destroyed on the 13th, a Ju87 destroyed and another damaged on the 29th and a Do17 damaged on the 31st. He destroyed a Ju87, damaged another and destroyed a Me109 on 12th August. When he landed back at Hawkinge, Gibson ran his Hurricane, P2986, into a bomb crater.
On the 15th he shot down a Ju87 and damaged another. In this action, Gibson's Hurricane, P3582, was set alight by return fire. He steered it away from Folkestone, bringing it down to 1000 feet before baling out.
On 24th August Gibson destroyed a Ju88. On 25th August he was appointed 'A' Flight Commander and promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant next day.
On the 28th he damaged a Me109 and on the 29th he shot down a Me109. In this combat he was again set on fire and baled out of Hurricane P3102 over the sea, two miles offshore, and was picked up by a motor boat.
Gibson was awarded the DFC (gazetted 30th August 1940).
He damaged a Do17 on 2nd September, shot down a Me109 on the 6th and damaged another on the 7th. His last operational sortie with 501 was on 23rd September. The following day he evidently became ill and was admitted to Princess Marys RAF Hospital at Halton.
He was posted away from 501 on 2nd October 1940.
Gibson joined 53 OTU Heston on 28th May 1941 as an instructor. In early January 1942 he went to 457 (RAAF) Squadron at Jurby as a Flight Commander. On the expiry of his short service commission he returned to New Zealand in May 1942 and was attached to the RNZAF from 13th June.
Gibson joined the newly-formed 15 Squadron and went with it to Tonga, where it took over the P-40s of the 68th Pursuit Squadron USAAF with which aircraft it eventually became operational.
Gibson returned to New Zealand in mid-December 1942, to a staff job at Air HQ Control Group. In May 1943 he went on a course at the Army Staff College at Palmerston North. On 15th December he returned to 15 Squadron, this time as CO.
The squadron took part in the heavy fighting of the Bougainville landings. Gibson destroyed a Zeke fighter on 23rd January 1944.
The squadron returned to New Zealand for a rest on 11th February and returned to Guadalcanal in May 1944, moving in June to Bougainville. Tour-expired, Gibson returned with the squadron to New Zealand in late July and was posted away in August. He left for the UK on 31st October 1944.
Gibson flew with 80 Squadron at Volkel from 3rd March to 2nd April 1945 and was involved in the Rhine crossing, covering the airborne operation. His Tempest was shot down and he was wounded in the shoulder.
He was awarded the DSO (gazetted 11th March 1945).
On 1st December 1945 he ceased his attachment to the RAF and transferred to the RNZAF but on 24th December 1946 he rejoined the RAF.
In 1947 Gibson was pilot of Montgomery's personal aircraft, in 1948/49 he was personal aide and pilot to Marshal of the RAF Lord Tedder. He retired from the RAF in 1954 and went to live in South Africa, where he flew for the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg.
Gibson later moved to their forward base in Bechuanaland, where he operated nine DC-3 and four DC-4 aircraft, both as CFI and until 1965 as a Line Captain. He then formed Bechuanaland National Airways and was its General Manager.
In 1969/70 Gibson took part in 'sanction-busting' after UDI in Rhodesia. He flew supplies in and brought refugee children out of Biafra during the war there. On these flights his son, Michael, flew as co-pilot.
Gibson later formed an air charter company, Jagair, operating from Kariba, Zimbabwe.
He retired in 1982 and returned to the UK in 1987, settling in Nottingham.
Gibson died in July 2000.