Interview with John Benjamin Beeching

Title

Interview with John Benjamin Beeching

Description

John Beeching was born in London and joined the RAF in 1941. His initial training was in Canada. After several escapades John joined 169 Squadron as a night fighter pilot and worked in electronic countermeasures as well as training crews in air gunnery. Post-war he saw damage in Germany and moved on to instruct in blind landings. John left the RAF and went to Canada then emigrated to New Zealand, working in a number of engineering based jobs. John came over to the unveiling of the Green Park Memorial and was active in the New Zealand Bomber Command Association. He gives his strongly felt views on these and other matters.

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Date

2018-01-18

Temporal Coverage

Coverage

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00:53:28 audio recording

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IBCC Digital Archive

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

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Identifier

ABeechingJB180118

Transcription

GT: This is Thursday, 18th January 2018 and I am with Mr John Benjamin Beeching at his place of work, The Cawthron Institute, in Nelson, New Zealand. John was born 19 October 1923 in London, England and joined the RAF in August 1941, his service number 1339821, and as an aircrew pilot to be gained the nickname Kirby. John’s flying career was from 1942 to 1946 and he flew more than twelve different aircraft types. John, thank you for inviting me to have a talk about your career today.
JB: I have to say [Indecipherable.]
GT: Great John. So how about you give me a bit of your history about a - where did you grow up and then why did you join the RAF and how, and so on, please.
JB: Well, needless to say I grew up in that time when, at the age of fifteen, sixteen, I was in the Blitz so I received bombing from both ends, [chuckle] not only receiving them but also delivered them! This was in 1939, when the war broke out, and at that stage I was working in an engineering workshop which axiomatically of course went from making arms and we were making bullet dyes and things like that. After a year that got pretty boring and a good friend of mine, Billy Canwell said we’ve had enough of this, let’s go and join the Army and do some real war work. So we went to the Recruiting Office in Romford, which is also in Essex, and we had a very brief and cursory medical examination and a very dapper little sergeant said okay son, he said to Bill, we’ll tell you when we need you, and he said to me I’m sorry lad, your feet are flat for the Army, we can’t take you so go back to your engineering job, I’m sure you’ll be doing some useful war work. So, I thought no, rats to this and right across the alleyway there was the, you okay there? So I walked across this alleyway where the Air Force recruiting place was, and I said I’d like to join the RAF, and they said oh yes, what do you do son? I said well at the moment I’m an engineer, he said ah, that’s very good, we need engineers in the Air Force. He says don’t want to fly do you, with a very crafty look on his face. Now don’t forget this was 1941 when aircrew at a premium and we were losing lots, so I said yes I can, I’d love to do that, so he gave us another quick medical, he didn’t look at my feet in this particular case and he said we’ll let you know when we need you. So I think it was about a month later and I was sent to Weston Super Mare where we had a two day medical, a very, very strict medical and I was given my number, 1339821, and they said you are now in the Volunteer Reserve and will be called up in due course, which we were in actual fact, on April the 20th April 1942, which by a great coincidence, happened to be Hitler’s birthday. I was recruited at St Johns Wood where all aircrew were, Aircrew Receiving Centre, otherwise known as ACRC, and billeted in a very palatial hotel which was no longer palatial after we’d been in touch with it and we were there oh, a couple of weeks I suppose, and then sent off to a holding unit at Ludlow in Shropshire under canvas, which was a holiday, because they didn’t know what to do with us so we were building roads which went nowhere and all sorts of stuff. Anyway I think it was, must have been the spring of 1942, late spring, maybe June, I went to my Initial Training Wing at Stratford upon Avon, lovely place, where we did our square bashing at the front of the new Shakespeare Theatre there, which is a lovely place. We used to go punting on the Avon in the evening, it was really nice. And at the end of our ITW we did a ten hour grading course on Tiger Moths and I didn’t know how I’d come out of that one because I didn’t think I’d do too well, but apparently they must have thought it was sufficient to carry me on to, carry on training as a pilot. And from there we were given a couple of weeks’ leave and then from our leave we went to the massive [emphasis] holding camp at Heaton Park in Manchester, where all crew went, I think there were about thirty odd thousand went there, and some went to Southern Rhodesia to train as pilots and navigators and the rest of us went to Canada. And we went to Canada in December 1942, which was a bad year for u-boats, we were in a large liner called the Andes, which has been here to New Zealand a couple of times during the war, and we were way up among the icebergs we went, [swishing sound effect] due north for a couple of days I think, away from submarines or whatever, [cough] and we landed at Halifax, Nova Scotia on Christmas Day 1942. On the way to Monckton in this massive train, in the snow, we hit a car on the level crossing with seven Mounties in it and killed the lot. They was splattered all over, the blood, it was blood and guts all over the place: it was a lovely introduction to Canada. Anyway we went to Monckton, we weren’t there very long and then we were sent to the Prairies. I went to a place called Borden, Manitoba, Number 19 EFTS, and where we did our training on winter-clad Tiger Moths. In other words they were fitted with skis and a canopy and a very rudimentary heater which didn’t work very well, and did sixty hours on those although that was interrupted in my case because I had a punctured ear drum flying with a cold, and spent the whole month in hospital. [Cough] And at the end of that, that would be the spring of 1943 I suppose, I went to my Service Flying Training School at Brandon, Manitoba, which was east of Borden, about eighty miles down the road I suppose, and continued my training on Cessna Bobcats, which the Canadians called Cranes, well they were otherwise AT12a’s and finally wound up getting my wings in August 1943, it must have been. And [telephone] then from Brandon, sporting our pilot’s wings, which made us all as happy as Larry and very proud of course, and promoted to sergeant in my case, some were commissioned but they obviously divined that I wasn’t going to make very good officer material, which was probably quite the case, but I never was anyway, and went back to Monckton. We were there very briefly, and then back across the Atlantic, this time on the Queen Elizabeth! Which wasn’t exactly a luxury cruise because there was twenty one thousand others on board on the same sailing! Which is a lot of people, in fact it was half the population of Nelson, in numbers. And it only took us what, bit under five days to cross the Atlantic. Wound back up at Gourock and then back and then all the aircrew that went back from Canada, they went to Harrogate in Yorkshire, where we went for a selection board and they said John Beeching you are, been selected to be an elementary flying instructor. I thought oh my god, that’s the last thing on this earth I wanted to be, you know! So I had nothing to argue with of course, so we were pushed to Marshalls Flying Field in Cambridge, I forget the number of the Flying School it was, but I think it was number four I think. I hated it, absolutely, I’ve got to tell you, hate Tiger Moths, I still hate the rotten things. They were cold and draughty, I didn’t like aerobatics very much anyway, so. Anyway, short of becoming a real dyed in the wool malingerer, [laugh] I managed to get myself thrown off and they said don’t you tell anybody, you know, that you’ve been scrubbed off of an instructor’s course! Blah, blah, blah. And I got a below average rating for and so this is very close to Christmas 1943 and I got successfully scrubbed off this awful, awful instructor’s course. Back to Harrogate [cough] spent a few weeks there, had nothing to do with us for a while, so they sent us on these strange assault courses and so forth, and they made a mistake of issuing us with thunderflashes, which we all secreted and used to put under people’s beds and things, which was all good fun. Don’t forget we were only what, nineteen, twenty years old, so we were only kids anyway, so it was a small part of it. And another selection board and they said well, we’ve noticed that your night vision is acceptable so you’ll be selected for night fighter pilot training so thought that’s more my thing, [cough] so from there I spent about, oh, a month I think, at the, at Cranwell which in peacetime is an Officers’ Training College, but in the wartime it was just another flying field. And now I was introduced to the Blenheim I, which was a lovely old aeroplane to fly, very safe, very easy, and after an introduction on those I went to Spittalgate at Grantham, which was an advanced flying unit where we flew Blenheim Is and Ansons and Oxfords. Flew Ansons and Oxfords on beam approach training, things like that, so we did quite a few hours there. Following which, we went to Cranfield and did a conversion course from Blenheims via the Bristol Beaufort which is a terrible, terrible aeroplane cause the ones we had were the early ones with Bristol Pegasus engines. Don’t know if they were, but mostly underpowered, terrible aeroplanes, but we only had to do ten hours on those and then they graduated us on to Beaufighters which were lovely aeroplanes, I loved the Beaufighters, you know. They’ve got me sitting in the front with these two enormous great Hercules engines, one on either side with about sixteen hundred horsepower each side, and they were lovely and there I crewed up with my navigator, Fred Herbert, who flew with me for the next few years. He was the only navigator I had [cough] and it got so he refused to fly with anybody else. Whether that’s a recommendation or not, I don’t know, but that’s the way it was. If I went sick he went sick [laugh] and we flew together right through there and then at Cranfield we spent a fair bit of time at the satellite field which was a place called Twinwoods Farm, which received notoriety because it was where Glen Miller took off from and Fred and I were the last people to ever see Glen Miller alive. We saw him climb into that Nordsman, in December 1943 and, no ’44, yeah, ’44, yeah, December 1944 and he vanished and was never seen again. He had a civilian pilot and there’s been all kinds of speculation and stories of what might have happened to Glen Miller, but nobody ever really knows about that. So he joins just another one of the thousands that we lost in the North Sea. So from there we went back to Cranfield and then we were given leave and I was going to enjoy leave over Christmas, but we got called to join 169 Squadron at Great Massingham in December and that’s where I started my operational flying, from there, on Bomber Support with 100 Group, which is 100 Group Bomber Command.
GT: And your aircraft type for there was?
JB: Hey?
GT: And your aircraft type, that you moved to, from the Beaufighter to?
JB: Oh to the Mossie, yes. Yes well my transit to the Mosquito was pretty quick, I had thirty five minutes dual on the Mosquito. That was all. I kid you, didn’t even solo the same day because the weather closed in and it was another day and a half before I got my hands on a Mosquito to fly, so, and we, they only had two Mark III dual Mosquitos there at Cranfield, so nobody got much dual anyway. But anyway, they were, after a Beaufighter I found an easier plane to fly and had to watch some of the swinging on take off and landing that’s all, like all tailwheel aircraft are, but okay, and so I flew, like I say, in my log book I’ve got the serial numbers of fifty seven different Mosquitos and I never scrapped one, so that’s something of a record. [Cough]
GT: It is. You brought them all home, that was the main.
JB: Yes, and anyway, at the end of the war ended up with sixteen operations over Germany and at the end of the war we thought oh well, we’ll have a nice rest now and they said no you’re not, you’re going to Okinawa. And so they transferred us from there to, being Mosquito people, to Woodhall Spa, 627 Squadron, where 617 [emphasis] Squadron was stationed at that time because the old Dambuster Lancaster was still parked there, at Woodhall Spa. Did you ever Woodhall Spa? And the Bell pub, you know and er, you know the old Bell there, lovely place.
GT: So, can we just, go back John, for you, much better about your sorties and your operations you did. What’s the targets, what did they give you as a role to do?
JB: We were very individual. We didn’t take off, all our, we were classified as bomber support, and it was bomber support, we’d normally take off after [emphasis] the bomber stream left, cause we were much, we were a hundred mile an hour faster than Lancasters, and our intention and purpose was to get to the target before them and keep and sweep the sky clear of German nightfighters really, which was very successful. The Germans were absolutely terrified of us because we had the legs on them and we had the radar on them so, and you know, we were really good. But 100 Group, they were loaded up with electronic gear, mainly to jam German transmissions, that’s, you know, German transmissions, which they did and if you read that book, ‘100 Group - the Birth of Electronic Warfare’, you’ll read, it’s really worthwhile, and it takes you through that much more precisely than I could ever do anyway, but the, they had the main, apart from the Mosquitos that were in about five different stations they had Halifaxes, and 100 Group, and B17s. Two of the B17 crew people they lived right here in Nelson, both dead now, bless ‘em, just died of old age. Though Doug was a prisoner of war, he did a whole tour then was shot down on his second tour. He was a gunner, tail gunner and he um, survived the war and lived here until about three years ago, when he died.
GT: So the Mosquitos you were flying and your operational sorties, what armament did you have?
JB: All right, the Mosquitos we had, initially they were converted Mark Vis with Mark IV radar in the nose, like a sort of spearhead, you might have seen pictures of them, and then we graduated to Mark 10s, was British designed, American built and we had a big bulbous nose on the Mosquitos - remember those - with the scanner, about the size of that fan over there I suppose, and they was really good because pick up aircraft twenty miles away, it was really superb radar probably as good as they’ve got today almost, I would say.
GT: So what guns did you have?
JB: We had, well we didn’t have the machine guns because we had the radar in the nose, but we had four 20 millimetre cannon, they could do an awful lot of damage, they would demolish a house you know, [laugh] they were big guns, twenty millimetre.
GT: In the nose or [indecipherable]
JB: Underneath. If you look at a picture of a Mosquito, you’ll see that, you know, they were clear of the propellors so they didn’t have to re-synchronise so when you fired them they all started together, then they’d all sort of break up the noise and swing the nosewheel and plane about, it was quite a thing: but they’re good things.
GT: How many rounds a gun did you have?
JB: I think we carried about, I think we carried about four hundred rounds altogether, about a hundred rounds a gun, I think.
GT: And you knew how long you had, I suppose.
JB: I think the rate of fire was about nine hundred and something rounds a minute, so it wasn’t a very long burst. We never fired on Dutch people, we never had the chance to be quite honest with you, we used to strafe people on bicycles.
GT: So your sorties, you were strafing more than you were trying to shoot down aircraft?
JB: Oh no, we did low levels as well as the high stuff, we’d fly anywhere from thirty thousand feet right down to ground level almost, you know. And of course we also did a lot of spoof raiding which carried target indicators, and we’d drop those at a place where the raid wasn’t going to be, but it was, the idea was to get the Germans to think that’s where the main raid was going to be, so we dropped couple of tons of fifty pound target indicators to get the Germans going and of course the main stream would turn off and go somewhere else, which was all part and parcel of the deceit, you know.
GT: Did you use Window at all?
JB: We didn’t. 100 Group, thousands of tons, the Liberator would carry about seven ton of the stuff., you know, they’d chuck it out in great bundles which was good , it certainly dumbfounded the Germans much of the time, although towards the end of the war they did sort of overcome it to some extent, [lighter noise] they did overcome it to a great extent, but it worked good and then we had, then they used, ringer operators, you know, to come up cause we were using operators who could speak German giving phoney instructions to German nightfighters. Course but they, the German nightfighters were active right till the end of the war. In March I think it was, ‘45, the Germans did a big night raid on England, in East Anglia, and it was called Operation Gisela and they clobbered quite a few of our blokes, some of our blokes were killed, right on the circuit, you know, so it was quite, so they didn’t give up. As you know, the Germans fought almost to the last day.
GT: So their fighters were a mixture of what, Messerschmitt 210s, 410s, Junkers.
JB: Operation Gisela they had were Me109s and Fw190s, which apparently were a difficult aeroplane to fly, and even harder to fly at night and their accident rate was much, was, better than ours, they killed themselves better than we could, and they had, of course, towards, right near the end they had these wonderful Henschel night fighters and stuff which was really, really good and also Messerschmitt 262s, which they used as night fighters and in fact the Me262s squadrons were shooting down Mosquitos, they shot down about thirty all together, so they were quite active right up to the few last days of the war.
GT: So did you know that when you were flying?
JB: No. Didn’t even know of the existence of an Me262 until after the war.
GT: You never saw one flash by and whatnot?
JB: Oh no, never saw. No, no.
GT: So they never gave you that kind of intel?
JB: Whatever intelligence I’ve been, by and large, we were kept right up with stuff like Me163s and that sort of thing that shot straight up in the air. But no, they never mentioned Me262s, whether they were keeping it from us on purpose, I’ve got no idea, but I don’t recall ever being told about the Me262, or it would certainly have stuck in my memory. I would think, anyway.
GT: So did you have the chance of using your guns in an aerial battle at all?
JB: No, only on ground stuff, factories and so forth on bright moonlight nights.
GT: I’m interested that Mosquito-wise, okay, you had the weaponry, did you actually do any training to do aerial combat as opposed to strafing?
JB: Oh yes. Yes, we did air to air gunnery. We had a range over the Wash, and they had these yellow painted Martinets on the squadron. I remember that because landed one on a foggy morning, he landed and went floating over the side of the hangar. He wasn’t killed but the man in the hangar was. So that’s how I remember how we were, how the target was, load carrying [indecipherable]. We didn’t have enough, we didn’t have enough practice on air to air shooting, or the ground shooting really for that matter.
GT: Did you shoot the banner at all? Did you get shots on?
JB: Oh yes, I good quite good at it, but it was, my percentage was very good.
GT: And you had a high percentage, sorry, did you say?
JB: Yeah, I was good at it, quite good. It was good fun. Course you had to turn, you know, deflection was the thing of course, that was the thing with, most of the time everybody wanted to get right behind somebody, up the bum didn’t they, and shoot them, which is what happened at night, because we could get right in, close, with our radar and we could see our prey, quarry, invariably a Lancaster or something, and they could never see us, but they were looking down against the dark ground, we were looking up, we could see the stars and we could see their blur exhaust stumps all glowing in the dark and you think if we’d been Germans. Of course the Germans had the Shräge musik, you know, the upfiring cannons, which we never knew about, and that was very, very bad news, because we lost a lot of Lancasters solely because of Shräge musik. And they, as I say, that, we often, we get so, we used to do what was, I used to like it actually, it was called night fighter affiliation and they’d take a Halifax off from Swanton Morley or somewhere and we’d meet them over Norfolk somewhere and go do runs on them to let the gunners see and often we’d get from here to that cross just about and they still hadn’t seen us. Cause I remember one night we got up close behind this Halifax and he was sitting there waiting, waiting for it to go into a corkscrew and he called up, he says hello Cowling 26, he said, I think we’ve lost you so I turned on the landing lights from about fifty yards behind him! I bet that gunner still wakes up at night, two million candle power! [Laughter] So that was things we used to do, but it just meant how vulnerable our blokes were, cause we really were close and he knew that we were coming, and he still didn’t see us at all. So there we are.
GT: That’s something. Were your Mosquitos also able to carry bombs at all, and rockets?
JB: Yes.
GT: So you always took off with bombs and rockets?
JB: Not always, but sometimes. Some duty, if we wanted to do a spoof with bombs, we carried two five hundred pound bombs, or target indicators, one or the other. We didn’t carry anything big till we got to Woodhall Spa when we carried, when we had the Mosquito, the Mark VIs and VIs, [indecipherable] the pregnant tadpole, you know, d’you see pictures of those? They would carry the four thousand pound bombs, but we weren’t allowed to, apparently the Mossies we [emphasis] had weren’t made to carry, although we had the bulging bomb bays, they couldn’t carry the four thousand pound bomb. To me, I don’t know why, we had a notice up in the cockpit: ‘Even PO Prune would not carry a four thousand bomb in this aircraft’. So whatever the reason was I never found out.
GT: I don’t expect the airframe could hold it. So something that’s always been touted was that the use of the Mosquito to bomb Berlin. Now if, for instance, the RAF managed to only produce Mosquitos instead of their four engined bombers, would they have done the business? What’s your position on that?
JB: Oh yes, absolutely. I mean don’t forget the Americans, those piddling little bombs they carried, they were only five hundred pound bombs: they were next to useless. I mean until they carried big bombs, those five hundred pound bombs, they just dug little holes in the ground. Incendiaries were the thing of course. What we carried was a great big blast bomb, blow a lot of buildings down then set fire to ‘em, and that was the point, after all, what we were trying to do was finish the war, you know, and Mosquito carrying two ton bomb, they would make two trips in a night. It was only what, about two hours to Berlin, two hours back, four hours, refuel, another bomb and go away again, you know, another crew and so that was good. There was only two men in a Mosquito, there was ten men in a B17, and they both carried the same bomb load.
GT: So, do you think perhaps that Bomber Command could have changed their philosophy to go to?
JB: I do now [emphasis]. Of course you didn’t know at the time.
GT: May have been better to switch strategies.
JB: We argued about what Bomber Command did and how valuable it was, it’s never going to be resolved. Harris said you could finish the war with bombers, but you couldn’t, without men on the ground, I think that was proved in the war anyway.
GT: Set fire.
JB: We certainly aided towards the quickness of it, with all of the stuff we did to railways and transport and goodness knows what we done. We were allowed, after the war, to fly over Germany and have a look and see what was done; it was awful, it really was, war. I don’t know, the whole thing was pretty bad I suppose, when you think about it. But it was, to me it was pretty distressing to see that, acres, square miles all these houses just the walls standing, you know, all scurrying about like ants, clearing up the mess, you know. Terrible, absolutely terrible. Your whole thinking was in those days, like I say, obviously in London during the Blitz I saw houses demolished then, so getting a bit of own back didn’t seem to be helping a lot. Which it wasn’t.
GT: It was the means of surviving and shortening the thing.
JB: Yes. Anyway come what may, the war’s end, they said you’re going, when we went there, we were going to go to Okinawa, on the Tiger Force. What I didn’t realise that the Americans didn’t really want us there because they had enormous [emphasis] Air Force on Okinawa. It was really [emphasis] enormous. They had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of B29s and Mustangs by the hundreds and they didn’t want the RAF there at all. It was their war and they wanted to keep it. Anyway, they dropped the atomic bomb so we didn’t go. So we thought ah! Finished! We’ve finished our flying! They said no you’re not, you’re going instructing, you’re going now and I was instructing on blind landing approach for the next twelve months almost. On Oxfords, on a mobile flight, 1552 BABS Flight: Beam BABS Beam Approach Beacon System. They evolved a very efficient and cheap beam landing system called BABS which used Eureka Rebecca system, beacon and homing and beacons and they just, yes, instead of killing everybody. Yes. [interference] Well BABS, it was, we had this mobile flight, of four Oxfords, which was very handy, cause they were all over England and we went to, we were teaching Transport Command pilots on how bad land, on bad weather landings and as I say, it was a very efficient system, it just involved a little pickup Austin with a kind of shed on the back, and they ran it two little metal grooves at the end of the runway and shot it up and we could pick up the signal. Because, why we were chosen that job, it was the ideal job suited for night fighter crews because the navigator was at the back twiddling his knobs and he could tell you left, left, right, right, whatever, and that worked fine and so we were sort of involved with that for nearly twelve months, and we flew every day apart from bad wind. That’s how good it was. So fog didn’t stop us at all, in fact it took us longer to taxi out to find the runway than it did to fly and it was really that good. It was excellent, I thought, we had no shaky dos there. Like I say I flew nearly a thousand hours and never had [indecipherable]when we had. The only thing ever went wrong was on an old Blenheim I, when one wheel wouldn’t come down, had to land on one wheel, but that wasn’t too bad, pretty harmless.
GT: And then you didn’t catch the [indecipherable].
JB: No, no. They said land on the grass, don’t land on the runway, you’ll score it up something, it was some field track, anyway, and landed on one wheel on two points, so one wheel and the wings slowly dropped down and then I was looking at the propellor with the ends all curled up, the wing had a [indecipherable] great big slow ground loop and just stopped and that was it. Plane was flying two days later, on the flat. That was about the only bad thing ever happened.
GT: So what aircraft were you doing all of this BABS training in?
JB: Oxfords. Which they, they were a good aeroplane for a trainer I think, ideal anyway. But Ansons were probably easier to fly, was Ansons. The queen of the sky as far as I was concerned. You could do no wrong in an Anson. They were just delightful.
GT: You and Fred [indecipherable] were friends with the gentleman who’s created the only Anson I still flying in the world.
JB: Oh, I don’t say I’m a friend, but I’ve spoken to him, in fact I loaned him my Anson pilots’ notes, I’ve still got them at home by the way, my pilots notes for the Anson. But I’ve got pilots notes on most of the aeroplanes I flew, Beaufighters, Mosquitos, even got one for Lancaster. You know, you collect these things and keep them. Seventy years later.
GT: Fair. So once you’d done your instructing piece there for these transport pilots, what happened to you then?
JB: Oh that was, I got out in about August 1946 I think.
GT: Did you want to go? Did you need to go?
JB: Yes, I’d had enough. Yeah, I thought, well, I was a mug in a way, I should have stayed I suppose, you know, the Air Force was no longer like it was during the war, you know. During the week you do what you like [cough], dress how you like, don’t care [indecipherable] the week, but they don’t like that in peacetime and so I wasn’t sorry to get out.
GT: Did you commission?
JB: No.
GT: So what did you retire as, rank-wise?
JB: Warrant Officer. Which was a good rank. Pay was the same as a Flight Lieutenant, without the mess fees, you know. You only paid six shillings a month, they were paying about six pounds a month, so that was good.
GT: So what was the last station you served at? Can you?
JB: Um, Fort Sutton. No, Melbourne, East Yorkshire. Either Melbourne or Fort Sutton – they’re both in East Yorkshire, I’m not sure which one, but I think it must have been Melbourne we went from there to discharge Wembley. They gave us a suit and money.
GT: What was your last Mosquito trips then? When was that?
JB: Well that was, actually the last one the squadron flew on I was on leave, so I didn’t go and that was the last raid of the war full stop. It was on May the 7th it was, and that was on Kiel and two of our blokes were shot down on that one. My mate Doug Waverly and his navigator, Doug’s still alive. He lives in Somerset. There’s only him and another chap in Cromer, they were the last two surviving pilots for that squadron, who I know, are still alive, I don’t think there’s any others. And that was my last trip must been, what, March, April, be April 1945 I suppose. Can’t even remember where it was. The longest trip we made was on [indecipherable] which was six hours and ten minutes which is a long time. We carried a lot of fuel. We carried seven hundred and sixteen gallons, which is what, about three thousand litres.
GT: So what’s the total flying time in a Mosquito?
JB: Well, we carried seven hundred and sixteen gallons, and each Merlin burns a gallon a minute, so that goes seven hours and I say, we had six hours and ten minutes and we still didn’t run short of fuel. They were good on fuel, you had to be stupid run out of gas. We carried one hundred gallon drop tanks.
GT: Your concentration for that long in a very cold aircraft?
JB: Oh no! They weren’t, they were never cold. The Mosquito was made of wood and were well insulated cause they were made of wood, and had a nice heater and was quite comfortable. I flew in a battledress, I never flew in a flying suit, nor did Fred, it was really good. No, no there was no problem there, but it was, often you were flying in cloud for four or five hours and that was very taxing because you got this awful effect where you thought you were flying straight and level but in fact you were turning.
GT: So your navigator, where did he sit? Next to you or down below?
JB: Sat in the Beaufighter behind, in the Mosquito, to the side.
GT: And he was doing all of your navigating through the scopes?
JB: No, no, did that on his knee on the back of an envelope [laughter], well he had all this radar gear in front of him which sort of eased out, he had no room, had this great big visor like this, and used to go to sleep in there and stuff, I knew when he was going to sleep, I could hear his breathing getting slower. But I didn’t mind, I could find my way home all right, you know. We had very good navigational aid - Gee, which was excellent, Gee was really good and we had a very good VHS system and they would home you from England, if you were high enough, they would give you a course for home right from the UK, it was a piece of cake. Navigation was never a problem for us. Never.
GT: Thousands of aircraft in the air at once, that’s phenomenal to keep you all on track!
JB: Yes, it was good. You know, when you think the sheer logistics of that was absolutely mind-boggling, you know.
GT: And Fred was saying to you left, right, left, right, or was he giving a heading?
JB: No, no, he was just saying alter course to oh nine two, make three hundred on the way home, you know, and there was no problem, because had a nice big sort of compass thing, you know, electric gyro. No we never had any, the only time we did have a couple of, I remember we, coming back from Germany and we come over this, we come across the land and I said to Fred where’s that, and he said oh, that’ll be the East Anglian coast and all of a sudden we were over the sea again, I said that must be the fastest crossing of England you’ve ever seen. In in actual fact, it was the strong wind, it was the Friesian Islands, in Holland, so it took us another half an hour to get across there, you know. I said we’re lost! He said we’re not lost, he says, I’m just a little uncertain of our whereabouts. [Chuckle] So I said in that case, I said how high is Ben Nevis. He says four thousand four hundred feet, I said then we’ll fly at five thousand four hundred feet. Which I did. Flying into the high ground was not difficult being in the UK. The Mossie was pretty fast, and it would get lost pretty fast too [indecipherable].
GT: That was an achievement getting every one of your Mosquito aircraft back without scratching one. Pretty awesome achievement. So when did you last see Fred, when you?
JB: Ah well Fred, when, after the war, I went back to Canada. I lived there seven years actually. Fred followed me, but he joined the RCMP, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and rose to the rank of sergeant, and actually was Pierre Trudeau’s chauffeur for about three years, and we lost track of each other then and in actual fact we, Wendy and I, my wife, we have visited Fred a couple of times, in Canada, but he died about four years ago now. That was the last I saw of dear old Fred. He was from South Shields, he was, up in Newcastle, you know. He was two weeks older than me. His birthday was on October 5th.
GT: It was pretty awesome for you to team up with somebody that you trusted and trusted his life with you too. So once you’d done some work in Canada, how come you’ve ended up in New Zealand after all this time?
JB: Well, I was a keen motorcycle man, I was, incidentally that’s my dad there in that picture, believe it or not, and yeah, I went back to Canada, and there for seven years and I was a very keen motorcyclist and I was the national organiser for the Vincent Owners Club. You’ve heard of the Vincent, motor bike, I was the national organiser for the Vincent Owners Club for the whole of the United States and Canada. Towards the end of that time this chap Oscar van Domen wrote to me from New Zealand, he said he wanted make a, do a working holiday in Canada, could I give him somebody to write to? I said yeah, write to me, and we corresponded with each other for the next sixty years! And he died about two years ago. [Laugh] So if you want the stories, I’ve got them, man!
GT: And that’s what you did when you come to New Zealand?
JB: Ah, when I came to New Zealand, this was in 19, I landed the same day as the Queen did, on Christmas 1953. She was on the Gothic, I was on the Wanganella from Australia, and then, there was a dearth of people, of tradesmen particularly in New Zealand, you could do anything you liked and work where you liked, so I got this job in engineering place in Christchurch, A. R. Harris and they made washing machines, the Simplicity washing machines, and I worked there for a couple of years and then I got sick of that and went and got a job with the government. I was a weights and measures inspector, which was another little escapade you see.
GT: Whereabouts was that? In Wellington?
JB: No. In Christchurch. I was transferred to Wellington and then from Wellington I was transferred to Nelson, and from Nelson they was going to transfer me to Auckland and I said I don’t want to go to Auckland and they said you’ve got to go to Auckland and I said no I don’t – I resign! So I did and that was in, what, 1960 something, so I went to an engineering place in, down at Fort Nelson, and I was there for sixteen years. So, one thing and another.
GT: Now you’re, there’s been in Nelson, New Zealand there, a very strong on Bomber Command group of people that used to get together.
JB: We had about twenty here when I first started with the local branch of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association, and we’ve got what three or four or something: natural attrition shall we call it.
GT: And only a matter of months ago, your group, you’ve decided just to have your last lunch together, and there’s been a bit of publicity about that.
JB: Yes. [indecipherable]
GT: Which is, I think really across the country, many Brevet Clubs are down to several chaps only.
JB: Yeah, well I fell out, we have no Brevet Club. We did have one and it closed and people joined the Christchurch one, but I fell out with the Brevet Club in Christchurch. Well we, I’m the patron of the local [indecipherable] and we, also we have a Trust Fund and we also give the cadets a thousand bucks or two thousand dollars a year each, all the cadet units, and Christchurch are sitting on nearly a million dollars and they didn’t dispense any money to the cadet units at all, so I wrote and said you know, get off your backsides and give them some money and they came back all guns loaded - don’t you tell us how to spend our money blah, blah, blah! So I said stuff that and gave it away.
GT: Yeah, so.
JB: I don’t know, are they active? Did they have a Bomber Command Association in Christchurch? I don’t recall any of them going to the unveiling at Green Park.
GT: It’s the National Bomber Command Centre that’s based, sorry Association based out of Auckland and there is barely five Brevet Bomber Command chaps in Christchurch left, so.
JB: No Association as such.
GT: No, they’re part of the national, New Zealand one. They do have a Brevet Club however, that’s out at Wigram air base.
JB: I know they do. But I don’t belong to it. I resigned.
GT: No. It’s very small now.
JB: Well I hope they doing something useful with their money cause that really got up my snorter that did. Really did. I thought well what they going to do with all that money? Cause they wound up with about half a million and they had about a hundred and seventy members I think, and I thought well, for goodness’ sake, you know, put it to some use, where it’s going to do some good, what better use than the cadet units, you know, I thought. That was my thinking. [indecipherable]
GT: Now, before, recently, well 2012 I guess, where the Bomber Command Memorial in London there was something that for us, the New Zealand Bomber Command Association, were planning on moving everybody over there that could go, but the New Zealand took it away from us and planned their own trip and took their own thirty odd gentlemen that they deemed could go and they looked after them very well and their decision was only New Zealanders could go.
JB: We stayed in the same hotel.
GT: And then I understand that there were several of you RAF chaps that emigrated here that were.
JB: I was the only RAF chap on that particular trip.
GT: So you managed to get over there though.
JB: Oh well, the lovely people of Nelson, they raised twenty two thousand dollars. Tuesday Gala gave us ten grand, towards it. There were people all over the world sent money, so we said my wife Wendy could go too So Wendy and I went, with Air New Zealand stayed at the Acorn Hotel, at the, in London, in the same hotel as the people there, having said that.
GT: I helped a little bit with the organisation for 75 Squadron sort of thing, the chaps, and I was in the Green Park at the back. So I understand you managed to get a seat at the front!
JB: Wasn’t quite at the front, well was about two rows back. I didn’t quite shake hands with Queenie, but gave her the nod, you know.
GT: Definitely.
JB: Got quite, took a lot of pictures, wonderful pictures of the occasion.
GT: Fascinating day. My RAF colleague and I were at the pub and waited till about seven pm, then we went down to the Memorial after they’d had opening and we had throngs of people, cause we were in uniform, asking.
JB: We went to that pub called The Three Tuns, was just down the road, a really nice pub, people there. Lovely hotel, the breakfasts were marvellous!
GT: I’m pleased you got to go over there to see that because many had not that opportunity from New Zealand.
JB: Definity a must to see, gorgeous place for sure.
GT: For sure, and all credit to those folk who organised and got that there and to look up at the statues of the chaps.
JB: That, well to me it’s a shame that the people who actually cast those never got any credit at all. It should have said where that was, where the foundry was or something, because it’s some of the finest casting I’ve ever seen in my life: everything was perfect. It was really, really good. I thought well, what a shame, they’ve given the name of the bloke who designed it but they didn’t give any credit to the people who actually made it, you know. Anyway.
GT: You, on this recording have now just given them the kudos.
JB: Well I reckon, well they needed, they should get some kudos, because it’s so, there was things on that which people would never pick up. For example, I noticed in the, down the flying boot of one of the gunners was the toggle from the corks for cocking a Browning and I bet very few people would see that, you know, the wooden handle with the loop on the end for pulling back the breech, you know. I thought I wonder how many people will spot that? So whoever did it was very, very good on the design.
GT: I understand that they, each individual airman of that trade, or job, they had veterans model. Marvellous. That’s great to hear. Thank you very much for that.
JB: No, I was absolutely chuffed with that.
GT: Now I also note that you have been in some way been involved, or been able to see at least, the Mosquitos that have been created in here New Zealand for flying.
JB: Yes, I have. I’ve been close to them but unfortunately I thought they might have given me a trip round the circuit or something, but no luck, maybe the next one anyway. I think I’ve earned it, but they didn’t, wouldn’t ended up, wouldn’t say John you can sit in the right hand seat and we’ll give you a turn, no. Least they’d have done, but it wasn’t, they, oh we’ve got insurance problems, we can’t do this and can’t, but I notice that people like um, what’s his name, the 617 bloke who was here, his granddaughter worked the airport before, they gave him a ride in one of those.
GT: Les Munro. That is special.
JB: Yes, Les Munro. He got a ride in one, I didn’t. Anyway. A lot of the blokes, we, there’s a picture over there in my little corner there, all the blokes who’d flown the Mossie and supposedly people who’d flew Mosquitos and a lot of them never did fly Mosquitos: they were Lancaster people. Which a lot of them were 75 Squadron people and 75 Squadron didn’t have any Lancs, have any Mosquitos, so I know that they were sort of just getting in on the action.
GT: However, 75 Squadron RNZAF [emphasis] did fly Mosquitos from 1947 to 53 at Ohakea. That might have come from, I think -
JB: Oh yeah, they were talking about Second World War veterans here, so they couldn’t have done. Anyway.
GT: Well I think they, a lot of them did fly Lancasters World War Two and post war, when New Zealand then was given 75 number plate and then we, they flew seventy five Mosquitos from England to New Zealand, and I think those guys went on to carry on flying those then. So that’s might have been where it was.
JB: Anyway, doesn’t matter now.
GT: It’s a huge thing, only a couple left out of those whole seventy, they cut them up. But look John. Just one last little thing then. Where are we now? You’ve obviously got a morning job, and it’s now roughly approaching 1pm in the afternoon so I’ve intruded on your day, but it’s been fascinating talking to you, but please tell a little about where we are and what this Institute does, because it’s a very important job that New Zealand does.
JB: Well, the reason we’re here is many years ago, when they shipped wood to export to Japan, there was a team of all oldies that we used to do these eight hour shifts because we did a quality test every fifteen minutes when they were loading the ship, and they had to have people who didn’t rely on a full time job, we were called when we were needed, which was very good and when we had a midnight till eight, the morning, or no, I think it was eleven till seven and seven till three I think, and this carried on until the port got smaller cause the ships got bigger and they couldn’t load ships and also the MDF plants opened up in Richmond, so they didn’t need to send it away from Nelson any more, it could all be done from other places and they found out that old JB was still handy with his fingers, so can you fix this John, yes I can and so thirty years ago and I’ve been here ever since, [indecipherable] fixing things and I like them and they like me, you know, and it’s good, it's been lovely and that’s how I came to be with Cawthron Institute. Not because of my scientific knowledge I might tell you!
GT: So what do they specifically look after and look out for here? What is their main role?
JB: Well, they do scientific research of any kind. They test food, they do a lot of marine work here, there’s, you know, if you look at the history of the Cawthron in recent years you’ll see a lot of it’s tied up in marine work: fresh water, salt water, mussels, we do all the salmon testing, king salmon, you know, make sure there’s not too much mercury in the fish and goodness knows what, and all this sort of stuff. They do a lot of pure research as well, as I told [indecipherable] they inspect all the spats for mussels, so by and large I think it’s a good place. They’ve got the most, we’ve got the most diverse number of people you’ve ever seen. We’ve got Germans, we’ve got French, we’ve got Russians, we’ve got Chinese, we’ve got Japanese, we’ve got Lithuanians, we’ve got French, we’ve got Dutchmen, we’ve got Englishmen, everybody [emphasis] here and everybody gets on. It’s a wonderful place, the Cawthron, it really is.
GT: And you’re the go-to fix-it man of the building.
JB: Yes. Mr Fix-it, that’s me!
GT: Mr Fixit. And you are how old now?
JB: Be ninety five in October.
GT: There you go! There’s hope for all of us to know that we can get a great old age and still be working.
JB: I don’t know! I hope you sided going in the lift!
GT: Well John, it’s been such a pleasure to first meet you, but second to talk to you today because the International Bomber Command Centre, I know, is looking for the beautiful stories of you men that made some huge sacrifices for us, some the ultimate, and yourself, obviously, you fought for our freedom and I thank you very much for that and I think that we’ve kind of come to it.
JB: I suppose it’ll be okay. I didn’t tell you too much about my flying career when I think about it, you know.
GT: I hope you’ve written a book. [Laugh]
JB: It’s okay, whatever keeps them happy.
GT: I’ve been in worse. Thank you sir, and I certainly appreciate your time with me today and is there one last word you’d like to give? One last word on the recording you’d like to give me?
JB One last word. Well what do I say? It’s been nice meeting you, and certainly a surprise. I had a similar interview as this about three weeks ago from a man who is doing exactly what you’re doing for 100 Group because they have a reunion every year in England, in Norfolk, and he did exactly what you’re doing now, almost word for word what we’ve just said. If you can’t get that then, and also, I’ve also made a DVD of this same thing, just like you’re doing, about five years ago, which is on a DVD somewhere. if I can find it you can have that too if you want.
GT: See [indecipherable].
JB: Better leave me a card so I can get in touch with you.
GT: Okay John, well, thank you. We’ll end our interview there. That’s fifty three minutes that we’ve had a chat here, so. It’s been a pleasure.
JB: Chop it about, cut bits out you don’t like, or whatever.
GT: I’m sure they’ll like all of it, okay. So, thank you John, I appreciate your time. Thank you. Bye bye.

Citation

Glen Turner, “Interview with John Benjamin Beeching,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 25, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10103.

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