Interview with Jack Marshall


Interview with Jack Marshall


Jack went to New Zealand in 1937 and became a steward in a gentleman’s club in Napier, where he stayed two years until the war broke out. He joined the Royal Air Force and went to England where he did train at RAF Uxbridge to become an air gunner. With 115 Squadron he went to Operational Training Unit at RAF Marham and RAF Bassingbourn, where he spent time as an instructor. The squadron did three operations to Italy and on one occasion the Wellington aircraft iced up so badly that they went through the Alps at low attitude, rather than over. On landing, three engines cut out, with only three- or four-minute fuel left. Jack recalled two other incidents. One when they were attacked by two fighters and the other when their Wellington was shot down on the way back from Berlin. They lost an engine 40 miles off Great Yarmouth and had to escape in the dinghy before being rescued by a fishing trawler. The crew became members of the Goldfish Club. The crew were posted to RAF Oakington in where they joined 7 Squadron, carrying out 46 operations in Stirlings. Jack volunteered for the Pathfinder Force as a rear gunner. After the war Jack returned to New Zealand. Jack was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a long and high standard of reliability and enthusiasm.




Temporal Coverage




00:28:26 audio recording


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GT: This is Tuesday, the 16th of January 2018, and I am at the home of Mr. Jack Marshall, born 1st August 1920 in London, England. RNZAF air gunner, NZ391865, flying officer in Christchurch, New Zealand. Jack joined the RNZAF in 1939, trained as an air gunner in Levin, New Zealand, and he completed a tour of ops on 115 Squadron in Wellingtons, and another tour on 7 Squadron PFF in Stirlings as a tail gunner. Jack was awarded the DFC in 1943, and returned to New Zealand in November 1943. Jack has completed numerous interviews, and they feature on the internet and his story is widely told. Thank you Jack, thank you for allowing me to come and have a chat with you
JM: It’s a pleasure.
GT: And would you, would you please give us some- A little bit of background of you joining in the RNZAF here in New Zealand, of course you being from England?
JM: I came out to New Zealand in 1937, and we, we’d landed up in Napier, and in those- At that age it was very difficult to find a job, but I finished up with the gentleman’s club in Napier as a steward, and I was only there a couple of years when they war broke, that was from ‘37 to ‘39, and when I could see there was definitely going to be a war, I decided to rush up the street and join the local- Join the air force. We went into Levin in [unclear] just before Christmas, about Nov- Sometime in November ‘39, we took off on the ship for England, I think either late January, early February. We arrived in- I don’t know what time we arrived in England, and we went to a place called Uxbridge where we did all our foot slogging and where they got asked colonial interline[?], and then from there we were, we were sent to our OTU’s, operational training units, where we had our basic training, learning how to strip a Browning gun down and put it together again, that sort of thing, and then finally we were, we were set off to our squadrons. I finished up with 115 Squadron in Marham, in Norfolk, and did my first tour there. I’m not quite sure just how many trips I did from Marham but, after completing my tour out from Marham, I then went to OTU at Bassingbourn, did a stretch there as a, as an instructor, and then went on back onto ops with 7 Squadron, just out of Oakington, that’s in Cambridgeshire, and I did the rest of my trips, which finally amounted to forty-six. There you are, why did we survive forty-six? No, I have no idea [chuckles]. Some went down on their first trip, amazing.
GT: And for the Wellingtons, for the tour on the Wellingtons there, you, you- Have you mentioned to me a very famous- The chap Fraser Barron.
JM: Oh, no that was on my second tour, Stirlings. That’s Fraser Barron, yes, he’s a wonderful guy, a wonderful pilot, and we had a wonderful navigator. Possibly one- Two reasons why we survived [chuckles].
GT: And unfortunately, though he was, he was killed in the air, I believe you said?
JM: Fraser unfortunately was on a trip over Le Mans in France after the second front, and he- Very unfortunately he collided with one of our own aircraft, and I believe it was from our squadron, and the two of them blew up, and I would say there was very, very little left of them, and my wife and I were in France in 2002, and we visited the grave and I have a strong feeling that there was very little in the grave, after such an explosion as that. Anyway, we paid our respects to Fraser.
GT: Brilliant. So, the tour for- You did with 115, was there anything special that you- That happened on your trips there?
JM: Yes, we had one or two hairy, hairy days. One of them was a trip to Genoa in Italy, we did three in a row to Genoa, and on one of them, we- Approaching the alps on the way out, we iced up very badly and Fraser the skipper, said- Talking to Bob the navigator and he said, ‘Bob’, he said, ‘We’re not going to get over the alps’, he said, ‘We’re icing up to badly’. So he said, ‘Well, looks as if we’re going to have to turn round and go home’. Bob pipes up and said, ‘No, well if we can’t go over the alps’, he said, ‘We’ll go through them’, and I’m sitting in the tower thinking, go through them, what’s he talking about? Anyway, he knew exactly where we were, he knew exactly where this big pass was, and we motored up alongside the alps for, I don’t know, probably fifteen or twenty minutes, something like that, and finally found this pass, a huge pass, and I always remember it because way up high on the left-hand side of the pass was this floodlit building, which obviously was a monastery, they were just letting us know that it wasn’t a fortification. So anyway, we got to Genoa, we did our bombing in the shipping in the harbour there, and of course without the bomb, bomb load we were able to come back over the alps this time, and we arrived back at our base and we found that we were the only aircraft in the air that- Anywhere near our base, we got immediate permission to land, and as we touched down, the tail went back down, three of the engines cut on us [chuckles] and- Which obviously we would never- We- If we hadn’t made a decent landing, we’d never have made it. Next morning, we were talking to the ground crew and they- We- They said to us that we had- They reckoned we had about three or four minutes fuel left. So, if we hadn’t made a decent landing, we certainly would never have got round for another one [chuckles].
GT: Astonishing, and you had an incident of a night fighter attacking you that-
JM: Ah yes. We were attacked by two air- Two fighters. The first was a Junkers 88, and he came in with a long burst and disappeared completely, we didn’t see him again. Second one came in was a 109, and he also gave us a very long burst as he came in underneath, which was their, their usual method of attack. He disappeared for a few- A minute or two, and then next minute I'm watching out for him and in the meantime, I find that my turret wouldn’t operate and me guns wouldn’t operate, he’d obviously severed out hydraulics and there he was at the dead stern of me, large as life, and I thought Jack, this is it, you’ve had it this time, and all of a sudden he just peeled off and disappeared, and the only thing we can think, or I can think, is that he had given us such a long burst, and been in combat before us and then when he came in dead as stern of us he had nothing left. How lucky can you be? [Chuckles]
GT: Very lucky indeed. You- Did you have a choice to be an air gunner, or was that what you went into to achieve?
JM: The reason I became an air gunner was they, they needed more air gunners than they do pilots for a start, or navigators, and they were short of gunners and they asked for volunteers, they put a notice on the board calling for us to volunteer to be gunners. So, I thought, why not? [Chuckles]
GT: You were awarded your DFC for you work? What were you awarded your DFC particularly for?
JM: That’s a good question. I, I’ve never really fully understood that, except that I was lucky enough to survive forty-six, and also, I volunteered for the last one, I- Actually I had- I really finished with forty-five, but they had an aircraft on the tarmac with a full crew except a gunner, and they asked me if I'd volunteer and I did, I volunteered the forty-sixth trip. So, whether that had anything to do with it, I don’t know. But I had someone approach me, not so long ago at the, at the village here and he said, ‘By the way’, he said, ‘Not many gunners got the DFC, did they?’, and being honest I had never even thought about it.
GT: Well, I have the citation for your DFC, it’s dated 12th April 1943, from 7 PFF Squadron, RAF Stirlings, ‘This officer has at all times displayed a keenness and desire to engage the enemy which is most praiseworthy. His dependability and conscience, completion of his duties render him a valuable member of aircrew. Throughout a long and successful operational career, he has set a high standard of reliability and enthusiasm’. So, you obviously well deserved the award, for sure.
JM: Fair enough [chuckles]. Well, they thought so.
GT: Now you also were shot down and spent some time in the water you tell me?
JM: Oh, that was on the first tour with Wellingtons. We’d been to Berlin, on the way back we were, we were south of- Somewhere south of Hamburg, and we got, we got hit, and we’d lost the port engine I think it was, and- Anyway, we struggled on and we got forty miles off Great Yarmouth and we finally had to ditch. Before that as we got- Reached the Dutch coast, we cruised on down to Dutch coast with the idea of landing on the beach- On the beach there, but we didn’t like the idea of the gunning placements, of the concrete embarkments, or the barbed wire and what have you. So, we decided to try and get home, we knew weren’t going to make it, but we thought we might get near enough to the English shore to be picked up in a hurry. Anyway, we got forty miles off Great Yarmouth, so we finally ditched the aircraft. Fortunately, the skipper made a perfect sea landing, which is not always easy, and it was a heavy swell at the time, so he’d- His timing was perfect. We made a very good landing, the aircraft filled full of water straight away, and I went out through the astrodome, the others went out through the front cockpit, and when I got out, the dinghy was floating away from the, the aircraft and I walked across the wing and I realised that there’s a possibility that the dinghy was going to be washed well away from me, so I thought well here goes, so I, I jumped straight into the water and fortunately the dinghy came back onto me and they- The boys grabbed me by the shoulders and hauled me into the dinghy. So that was the beginning of it. So, during the [unclear] in the dinghy, a Wellington came out, evidently vectored to us from, from the base, came out and had a look at us, we fired a very cart at him just to make sure he, he had seen us. He circled us for- Probably for forty, fifty minutes, or maybe an hour and then he disappeared and another one took his place, and this went on during the day. Were sometimes quite long periods between visits, and then finally at the end of the fifteenth or sixteenth hour, the HMT Pelton. a trawler, a fishing trawler- These fishing trawlers that normally, in peacetime of course, did fishing trips, they weren’t able to do this during the war, so they used them for mine laying, they used to drop these magnetic mines over in the [unclear] area and this one, HMT Pelton, was vectored onto us from the base and they finally drew up alongside of us, much to our relief, and I can remember the- These couple of burly sailors leaning over the side of the ship, grabbing me by the shoulders and hauling me over onto the deck like a wet fish, and we just lay there because we’d completely lost the use of our legs, and they were very, very good to us they- I remember they put a rope round our- Round us, and they lowered us down a very steep companionway into the engine room, and they got us a bucket of water each, which was steam heated and we stripped right off and poured this bucket of water all over us and washed all the salt, urine and what have you off us, and then they brought us pyjamas which must’ve been theirs and they tucked us up in their bunks and next, next thing we’re all fast asleep, I went off like a light. And next thing is, we arrive in Great Yarmouth alongside the wharf there- Oh, during the, during the night, a royal air force rescue launch came tearing out and wanted to take us on board and take us back to base, and the skipper, due to the heavy swell refused to, to do a transfer. So we were left alone until we got into, into Great Yarmouth. From there we were taken into the naval sick quarters and- Where we were given us a meal and another lot of pyjamas and we were tucked up for the night, in the hospital. Next morning, we were given breakfast and the truck arrived for- Pick us up from the base and we all climbed aboard the truck and went back to our base. That was the end of that [chuckles]. Incidentally, the dinghy was lying on the wharf, and I don’t know where I got the knife from, but I got a hold of a knife from somewhere, and I cut myself out a souvenir out of the dinghy, because it actually got punctured while we were trying to get it away from the aircraft it- We, we lost the outer skin, fortunately we did have two skins, an inner and outer, reason for that was because we had an old dinghy and evidently all the new dinghies were single skin, and I have a letter from the Irving[?] people that made the dinghies, I have a letter from them congratulating on our survival and being so lucky to have had an, an old dinghy [chuckles].
GT: So that claims you for a member of the goldfish club?
JM: That’s right, made us a member of the goldfish club.
GT: Fascinating, fascinating for the- Your survival, and did you have a crew of five or six at the time?
JM: Seven, oh sorry, no, no, si- Wellington, we had-
GT: Did you have a second dicky? Or a second pilot?
JM: No, we had five, I think. Used to have six, we used to carry two pilots but they dropped the second pilot. Losing too many.
GT: I only asked that ‘cause there’s a comment there about- That was 15th of November 1940-
JM: That’s right.
GT: - on 115 Squadron, Wellington, and when returning from a raid on Berlin, you and the crew, except the second pilot, were picked up by Her Majesty’s trawler Pelton at about eighteen-hundred hours. During his rest tour, you were an instructor on 11 OTU, which was in Wellingtons and 11 OTU was Westcott?
JM: That’s right, it was, it was while we’re on the OTU that we did those two-thousand bomber raids. I did Cologne and Essen.
GT: So, were they included in your, your log books as operations, official ops?
JM: Yes, yeah, matter of fact I did three, Cologne, Essen, and Bremen.
GT: So effectively you flew in three units?
JM: Yeah, that’s the bomber- Thousand bomber raids. That was an extreme effort on the part of the RAF, they, they were using OTU aircraft as well as normal squadron aircraft
GT: So, were the rest of your crew qualified personnel? Or were they-
JM: No, they were all-
GT: Students?
JM: They were all green horns like me.
GT: Yeah.
JM: [Chuckles] But I wasn’t-
GT: You’d done a tour.
JM: At that time, I was on my- In between my two tours, I was instructor.
GT: Fabulous. So, did- Did you have any reservations, was- The war was in full flight at that time and, did-
JM: About survival you mean?
GT: Yeah, yeah.
JM: No, I, I schooled myself not to even contemplate the idea of it. I just- From that angle I went blank, and I never ever thought that I wouldn’t survive, never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t survive, that was the only way to get though.
GT: Were there any chaps that you recall that didn’t want to fly again?
JM: I don’t doubt there were quite a few that perhaps after their first tour pulled out. I could’ve pulled out, after the ditching I could've pulled out too, I could’ve- What was it? The lack of moral fibre?
JM: I would’ve been accused of that, I would’ve been- I'd have gone as an instructor for the rest of the war. But I didn’t, I, I went back into PFF.
GT: So, you asked for the PFF role?
JM: Yes, I did. Actually, it was quite funny how that happened, they were queuing up- Crewing up for PFF and I approached a Wing Commander Olsen, I rather looked- Liked the look of him, big fella. He became the, he became the com- Chief of air staff in New Zealand for a while. Anyway, he said, ‘Ah, I’m sorry’, he said, ‘I’ve got a full crew’, but he said, ‘I believe that fella over there, Fraser Barron he’s looking for a gunner I believe'. So, I said, ‘Oh thanks’, and I tore across the Fraser and I said, ‘Believe you’re looking for a tail gunner’, he said, ‘Yes’, I said, ‘Well you’ve got one’ [laughs].
GT: He had to accept you then, yeah.
JM: Yeah, we got on very well together anyway, we were the only two Kiwi’s on the aircraft actually. So, we got on very well, used to go into town with and- I always remember when he got his DSO, he- Well he had- Already had his DFM and DFC up, and he was very modest sort of a guy and he got- He wanted me to go into town with him ‘cause he was so embarrassed [laughs].
GT: So did you, did you like the Stirling?
JM: Yes, loved it. It’s a very nice aircraft. It lacked a bit of speed in comparison to the Lancaster, but- And it- I believe the Lanc carried a much- Quite a bit bigger bomb load. Also, it had larger wings, strange to say. But-
GT: Could they have made the Stirling better?
JM: It was better all round, yes.
GT: It was better than the Lancaster?
JM: Oh sorry, no, the Lancaster. The Lancaster was better all round, although I never flew in one, but I’m just going on information.
GT: And you, you left 7 Squadron just as the Lancasters were coming in?
JM: The first two arrived the day I pulled out, and I, I rushed down to have a quick look through one, and I had to be quick ‘cause there was a truck waiting for me to take me to the railway station [chuckles], I was going down to Leigh-on-Sea to join my wife.
GT: So they were pretty keen to, to- Once you’d finished your second tour to send you back to New Zealand, were they? Or did you stay in the UK for a while?
JM: No, we- I'd just done what you might call embarkation leave, and- One of the things I've never understood, why I got married while the war was on, it was a stupid thing to do and I’m surprised her father allowed us to, but he did [laughs]. Anyway, she was a wonderful, wonderful person my wife, we had seventy-three years together.
GT: Wonderful.
JM: Yeah, fantastic, very clever too, very, very talented.
GT: And you, you came back to New Zealand and where did you, you start from there? Nelson, Christchurch? Where did you move?
JM: Nelson.
GT: And you had a family?
JM: Actually my, my brother had a biscuit business in Nelson which unfortunately went, went bung eventually, but I was supposed to join him in the biscuit manufacturing business, but that never happened [chuckles].
GT: And you’ve had, your family obviously now since then, sons, daughters?
JM: Yeah, we’ve got a son and twin daughters, yes. Tony is, I think, seventy-three, seventy-two or seventy-three, and the girls- He's seventy-two I think, the girls are sixty-eight. Twin, twin girls [chuckles] yeah.
GT: Fabulous, so you, you’ve been telling me you’ve been interviewed a lot for your, your wartime exploits.
JM: Yes, I have, yes, I have.
GT: Who has interviewed you then? Newspapers, or television?
JM: Books and magazines mostly, I’ll show them to you.
GT: Yep certainly, and that’s why for the purpose of our interview here, Jake, your story has obviously been well documented, so we’re going to refer the International Bomber Command Centre to your- The interviews and the stories that have been said to you, which will give in a lot more detail your, your time with, particularly the RAF and the RNZAF, so that’s, that’s fascinating for us to know. Now, as far as your time military wise, was, was there anything you thought that they could’ve done better? Or, they were dealing with the best they could, with what they were given?
JM: No not really, we were well- We were reasonably well fed, I mean, not large meals but we had, you know, bacon and eggs, and that sort of thing which the civilians got very little of, if any. We were looked after with cigarettes and chocolates and things like that. They were very good. They gave us Horlicks tablets to suck on trips, and that kind of thing, you know? We were looked after, and I, I’d like to put this in too, that I think the New Zealand government have been wonderful to me since I came out. They’ve been really wonderful.
GT: You emigrated at the age of seventeen, went back to Blighty, fought in the war, come back to New Zealand and have had a wonderful life time here.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Fabulous.
JM: I have had a wonderful life, yeah. The three kids are wonderful, they’ve all done very, very well in life. No, they’re not waiting for my departure that’s for sure [laughs].
GT: And your next birthday, the 1st of August, how old will you be?
JM: Sorry?
GT: And on your next birthday, how old will you be?
JM: Ninety-eight.
GT: And I'm sure your- The folk who know you are very proud and pleased to know you, as a ninety-seven-year-old, you’re still very much able, and a driver [emphasis], you’ve just shown me that you’re an excellent driver by the automobile associations.
JM: [Laughs] I’m happier behind the wheel that I am on my legs actually. My legs are getting a little bit crotchety but no, I’m very happy behind the wheel of a car and-
GT: Fabulous.
JM: I think partly- That partly is due to the fact that I used to have a taxi business, I had a taxi business for about twelve years, so I've done a fair mileage [chuckles].
GT: Yeah, well that’s, that’s very pleasing to know, and so-
JM: Love it, prior to that, I was a company representative, used to cover the whole of the South Island [chuckles].
GT: So, you’ve driven much, much mileage.
JM: So, I've done a lot, a big, big mileage.
GT: The roads here in New Zealand aren’t particularly good for long distance driving at times.
JM: [Laughs] Yeah.
GT: Well, Jack I’m, I’m going to finish our interview here and then, then we’ll look at listing the material and the other interviews that you’ve been able to be a part of and publish, or have published on your behalf. So, I'm very grateful for you to- By appointment to meet me today in your home, your lovely place, and I will package this up for the IBCC and they will be very grateful to have your history, your time and your experiences of two tours ‘cause your sacrifice for your King and your countries [emphasis] pretty much was awesome, and I thank you for your service. Thank you, sir.
JM: You’re welcome.
GT: Ok, great, thank you then, bye-bye.



Glen Turner, “Interview with Jack Marshall,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 25, 2024,

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