Interview with Dave Knight


Interview with Dave Knight


David Knight was a member of the ATC before volunteering for the Royal New Zealand Air Force and began training as a navigator. He travelled to Canada as part of his training before arriving in the UK and being posted to 75 Squadron at RAF Mepal. When they flew at twenty thousand feet in a Lancaster on one engine the crew gained a great confidence in the aircraft that would take them on operations. Dave was nervous when his first operational flight was with Wing Commander Cyril Baigent, the Commanding Officer of 75 Squadron. He was posted on to 9 Squadron for training in preparation for being engaged as Tiger Force. He returned to New Zealand after the war to continue his engineering training.




Temporal Coverage




00:26:45 audio recording


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GT: It’s Wednesday the 17th of January 2018 and I’m at the home of David Knight born 15 November 1924 in Matamata, New Zealand. RNZAF navigator, NZ 433310, warrant officer, in Nelson, New Zealand. David joined the RNZAF in 1943, trained in Canada and joined 75 New Zealand Squadron in March 1945 at RAF Mepal. Completed two war ops and numerous Exodus trips before moving to 9 Squadron in June for Tiger Force training. David returned to New Zealand in December 1945. David, thanks for welcoming me into your home. Can you give me a little bit of your, where you were born and grew up and why you wanted to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force please?
DK: Yes. Well, I was born in Matamata and raised in my early years in Hamilton. I joined the ATC prior to my joining the Air Force and was there for eighteen months. And I was on an intake into the Air Force and streamed to be aircrew via basic training and selection in Rotorua in the final stages and travelled overseas as a prospective navigator. We — can we just stop it there? Can I just —
[recording paused]
DK: We travelled to San Diego in the US Mooltan which was a second [unclear] American ship. Landed at San Diego. Trained to Vancouver, across to Hamilton Ontario. And it was two weeks before our course was due to start, and we as a group went to New York and explored the place there. Our course was in Winnipeg. It was, we arrived there just on Christmas. We had Christmas in, a Canadian Christmas at the station. And our training took six months, and of course took us into the winter months and we were flying in temperatures of something like forty below which was pretty hazardous in terms of fingers sticking to implements and one had to be pretty careful with, about one’s ears and noses too in that sort of temperature. Can I get —
GT: Yeah.
[recording paused]
DK: The course was somewhat uneventful but we learned a lot of course and we graduated with our wings there. The only piece of excitement you might say was the fact that in the Anson we had to wind up the undercarriage which was a terrible job in the cold and on one particular occasion we lost a propeller. It appears that it had an oil failure. An engine seized and flicked off the propeller. We were not too far from an adjoining airstrip and landed quite safely so that was the only real aspect worth mentioning. After graduation we trained to Montreal, and after that to Halifax and then across the Atlantic in one of the Empress liners. I think then [pause] at the landing we were transferred to West Freugh up near the Scottish border and once more we trained in Ansons. And from there we went to OTU which is Operational Training Unit on, at Oakley on Wellingtons. We did a long time on Wellingtons preparing for our role as aircrew and from time to [pause] stop.
[recording paused]
DK: Yes. While at the OTU flying Wellingtons, and we’d crewed up to some extent at that stage and we settled down as a crew and we did a lot of the training, cross countries and all that that was required as well as trips over the North Sea as diversionary flights to fool the Germans in terms of bomber raids that were happening in the south. From OTU we went to Conversion Unit on to Lancasters, and one of our, something that sticks in my mind is the fact that the first flight in a Lancaster was under an instructor and we flew up to something like twenty thousand feet and the pilot feathered one engine, two engines, three engines and we maintained height at twenty thousand feet on one engine on a Lancaster which gave us a lot of [pause] you know. Stop it again.
[recording paused]
DK: So that was the introduction to the Lancaster which gave us a lot of confidence. We finally crewed up with our number of seven people in the crew and started some training and preparing to go over to be posted to a squadron which happened to be number 75 New Zealand Squadron. In the time that I was there and that was towards the end of the war we were probably the last replacement intake that happened prior to the finish of the war. Which meant that our crew flew actually three operations of which I went on two. The first one was to Kiel when our commanding officer Wing Commander Cyril Baigent skippered the plane. And that was quite shattering to think that a budding navigator was responsible to the [laughs] to the flight commander. Now, then, then there was another one. The next one was to Potsdam which was a long trip and that took something like eight hours and twenty minutes. So it was the first introduction to flak and real, you know flak and the prospect of night fighters. However that was a successful. The crew, I understand, I know did one more trip to bomb a railyard but at that time I was down with mumps and in isolation in Ely Hospital. So that’s why I missed out on that one. And of course the war ended at that time and they rescheduled everyone in terms of volunteers to make up the Tiger Force and we did a lot of training there in preparation to flying apparently to Okinawa to support the American invasion of Japan. But of course they had something up their sleeve and they didn’t.
GT: That part of the war. So, Dave, I’m just looking at your logbook now. So I’ll just briefly give some idea to your, your entries which gives you the history of your training. So when you first arrived in England it was the 6th of July ’44 and you went on to 4 AFU in West Freugh in Scotland and you were there for pretty much for the month of July. You moved to 11 OTU at Westcott on the August ’44 and a mixture between Westcott and Oakley and that was pretty much from October ’44 right through to the, well January ’45. And, and then you moved to number 1651 Conversion Unit at Woolfox Lodge and that was from the beginning of March and completed that pretty much by the 21st of March as your conversion from Wellingtons to Lancasters. And your arrival on 75 New Zealand Squadron was the 30th of March ’45. And your completion of flying on 75 New Zealand Squadron was on the 17th of May. So, from there, after your total flying hours with 75 Squadron was eleven hours. Your total flying hours at the time, day a hundred and sixty eight. Total night one hundred and fifty one. And then you moved to Bardney at Waddington for 9 Squadron. June 18th you spent flying until the 18th of September which was pretty much your last Lancaster flight. So on 9 Squadron then can you remember anything of the things that you did and your skipper particularly?
DK: Yes. Our skipper was a married gentleman called [unclear] A well-seasoned pilot and you know, a great chap. Apart from training for the Far East we went out to Pomigliano on two occasions to pick up POWs and brought them back. I think number twenty four. The number was twenty four that packed into, into the plane. Apart from that we, I was transferred to Brighton awaiting repatriation back home. Arriving right on Christmas of ’46.
GT: So what ship did they take you back from England? Bring you back.
DK: Yeah.
GT: The Andes?
DK: No [pause] [laughs] No.
[recording paused]
DK: Yes. The ship that brought us home was the SS Mooltan. The one that we caught out of New Zealand to go to San Diego was the US —
GT: The Uruguay, was it?
DK: Uruguay.
GT: Yeah.
DK: That’s the one. Yeah.
GT: So when, when you joined the RNZAF was navigator your aim or was that just the one that they slotted you in and you accepted? Did the [unclear] for you.
DK: I didn’t want to be a pilot. That’s number one. And I was an engineering prospective student so I thought navigation was the one to do. Yeah.
GT: And that, that was easy for you? The navigation. You found it good to work for.
DK: Yes. And I had, my life had been study really up to that point in time, so there was no real effort to knuckle down and do the work necessary to qualify as a navigator.
GT: What was your background before the war that made if good for you to do the navigation?
DK: Well, I was only out of school actually.
GT: Ok.
DK: But I was, joined the Post Office as an engineering cadet and I was, worked for just a year before I was in the, when I joined the Air Force.
GT: And that was a total volunteer thing right? You weren’t called up.
DK: No. Not at eighteen. No.
GT: No.
DK: No.
GT: So the navigation role then how did it work for the crew? They, they all relied on you totally to make sure they got there and back. Did they have — [unclear]
DK: Yes. Well, there’s a back-up in terms of the wireless operator. He could get fixes. He could ask for assistance. And I don’t recall having to use that and I think the bomb aimer was somewhat conversant with the art of navigation. So there were back-ups. The only thing I felt was there were no one to back up the skipper.
GT: Flight engineer.
DK: Yeah. No. Well, they came later.
GT: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
GT: True. So, so when you did the, your daylight trips the difference between night and day did you guys notice a succinct difference? Was it, did you have to change your tactics?
DK: You mean operations? I didn’t fly any daylight trips so I can’t answer that one.
GT: Ok. Now, the aircraft you were flying in. Lancaster. A beautiful aircraft, it was. Other crews liked them. What was it?
DK: Well, yeah. People had faith in the aircraft but, well in retrospect when you think about it there was damn all chance of getting out of the thing in trouble because of the big spar across the centre of the fuselage. Gives you the willies to think that perhaps a lot of people, you know met they’re doom by the fact that they were restrained so much by the structure of the aircraft.
GT: High G forces [unclear]
DK: Yeah.
GT: But were there was any aircraft lost when you were on the squadron? It was right at the end of the war.
DK: Yes. Well, there was evidence of something lost by the time that we arrived there and I just don't recall any particular one on the time that I was there.
GT: You weren’t there that long at Mepal. But in this case did you enjoy any of the pubs? Do you remember any of the —
DK: I think we went out as a crew. Yes. There’s one thing you really didn’t, didn’t make a lot of friends as aircrew on the Air Force because you were confined to your crew mainly and you went as a crew and your, you became friendly with them. But different from being in the Army where you were living with people all the time, and you make up, you settled down in hierarchy and you feel comfortable within your group. Whereas this, you just participated as a group of seven and you lived as a group of seven, slept as a group of seven and that was about it.
GT: You mentioned your first operation was with Cyril Baigent.
DK: Yeah.
GT: Who was the wing commander of 75 New Zealand Squadron. A very young wing commander at that time.
DK: Yes.
GT: Very well respected. And you had that feeling when you were flying with him. He was, he was, respected. He was deserving of that respect.
DK: Absolutely. More so by the fact that he’d achieved that at a very young age. So there must have been something that he had going for him.
GT: Of note that Wing Commander Cyril Baigent returned to New Zealand post war. Took a reduction in rank but he became the commanding officer of the new 75 RNZAF Squadron flying Mosquitoes but sadly died of cancer in 1949.
DK: Yes.
GT: And he’s buried in the cemetery not far from where we are now here in Nelson and several years ago I found his collective grave with his brother. And he, I think also was awarded the Military Cross. So a very prestigious military family is the Baigents here in Nelson, New Zealand. Very good. So then when you moved to 9 Squadron did, what was the kind of work you were doing to work up to go to, well in this case Okinawa? This was where you were heading.
DK: Yes.
GT: So what kind of work were you doing for that?
DK: I think we were concentrating on long range navigation over the Pacific which is different from Europe of course. Was it LORAN that they had there? I just don’t recall in detail but we were doing a lot of cross country and we were in a holding situation because we were a trained crew and we could have been uplifted at any time. And we had different aircraft too. I think we were painted white underneath and black on top. I don’t recall. But some quite different.
GT: What was your main navigation tool on these aircraft? Did they change between 75 and the ones you went to 9 Squadron with or the same?
DK: Pretty much the same. We had H2S and Gee. Well, that’s mainly for navigating around where we were training. They’d have to, they had a different system there covering the Pacific. Yeah.
GT: Now, 75 New Zealand Squadron were heading, went to Spilsby for Tiger Force training and eventually you started to crew up with Lincolns and, and by VJ Day they had received three. Had 9 Squadron been moving towards Lincolns as well or were they just going to go out with Lancasters?
DK: I think it was Lancasters. Yeah.
GT: Yeah. I’d also heard from another veteran some years ago that they were doing engine trials for, for flying in the heat which obviously was something that Lancaster hadn’t done much of in Europe.
DK: No. No.
GT: So, was there any thought of the aircraft overheating? And did they do any training towards that?
DK: No. It didn’t filter down through the ranks.
GT: They were just going to get them there.
DK: Yeah.
GT: And hope for the best.
DK: Yeah.
GT: Hopefully, the Merlins coped. Fascinating. So, so alright, you came back to New Zealand after the war and you settled into a new role. What did you, what did you end up doing then?
DK: Well, I went back to the Post Office and with the intention of carrying on my engineering career. I wasn’t accepted back because in [pause]
[recording paused]
DK: Yes. When I got back I applied to continue my engineering study with a bursary from the Post Office, but at the time there was a lot of prospective engineers halfway through their courses when they were either called up or volunteered and the quota was over, over full. So being the youngest virtually and the last one to, the last one to [pause] being the last one to go and join the Air Force I stayed as a technician and I was, included in the work was night shift. And I’d started a family at that stage and I’d built a house and settled down to civilian life and I wasn’t going to do any night shifts at all. So I either was going to quit the job or get my qualification via the Institute of Electrical Engineers extramurally which after four years of study without, without a lot of assistance I achieved that and became a registered engineer. And I graduated through the hierarchy of the Post Office engineering to be an engineer, a senior engineer, a supervising engineer and a district engineer of Nelson. And I retired at age fifty seven after forty years of service.
[recording paused]
DK: Yes. To qualify as an engineer the way I did you had to pass, and be accepted by the Institute of Electrical Engineers based in London. And people who had engineering degrees could not get a practicing certificate or become a chartered engineer unless they passed a section B of the Institute’s recommendation. And then at the time that I graduated the nuclear engineering business was starting to appear and requiring engineers and rather than be under the auspices of the Institute of Electrical Engineers they decided that they would start their own institution and they advertised to recent graduates to be foundation members of the Institute of Atomic Engineering. And so I accepted that because there could be a likelihood that I may end up in the UK and I’d be qualified to accept a responsibility in that particular field. Although New Zealand was nuclear free and all that sort of thing and there’s nothing here of a practical work in that calling I was abreast of the situation through technical papers that I had access to at all times and I became a fellow of the Institute of Nuclear Engineers as time went by.
GT: Ok, Dave. That’s fascinating stuff. Dave, what about family? Yourself and with your lovely wife Margaret, you had how many children and how many great grandchildren?
DK: Well, we had three children. Two boys and a girl. They were all, have been self-employed. Two of them are pensioners now. They’re over sixty five and they’re doing better than I ever did. Each one of them. So there’s no worries there. There’s seven grandchildren and there’s, I think there’s going to be any time, any minute there’s going to be number thirteen of great grandchildren. So, they’re spread all over the world. There’s some in England, some in Sydney, some in, in Brisbane and certainly in Auckland. So, but they seem to like Nelson as a place to come and they certainly come and we enjoy them while they’re here. Unfortunately, I lost my wife eighteen months ago after sixty eight years which was a blow certainly, but I live alone in a four bedroom house. I can manage it. I’m capable of doing that and I intend to stay here until the end rather than go into care if I can possibly arrange it. So, and I’m socially active in terms of belonging to a [unclear] Club which gives any amount of social connection and that’s the saviour of, you know the, of our later retirement years I would say. Certainly after the death of Margaret. Yeah.
GT: Dave, in Nelson here there’s now six, six of you left, and amazingly three of you are ex-75 New Zealand Squadron Lancaster crew. And that, that number has diminished now which means that your local Bomber Command Association of Nelson’s get togethers every so often you’ve now had to kind of curtail that and disband so to speak. So, so it is fabulous to be able to come and enjoy your company. You and I have known each other now for ten years and its fabulous that you’re also very welcoming of my visits to you. So I thank you very much for allowing me to interview you for the IBCC Archives here. And you are accepting of your details being added to a very rich museum and archive status that they’re doing at Lincolnshire. So David lets sign off now. Thank you very much for your story, your life and thank you for your sacrifice and your service, sir.
DK: Well, thank you for the interview.
GT: Thank you.
DK: Yes.
GT: Good night.



Glen Turner, “Interview with Dave Knight,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 17, 2024,

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