An account of John Joyner's time in the RAF



An account of John Joyner's time in the RAF


Records his time in the Air Training Corps before joining the RAF, his training as an air gunner and his first operation.
Post war his squadron took part in the repatriation of Army personnel from Italy and his unit was in India at around the time it became independent.


Temporal Coverage



Fourteen handwritten pages


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It was 1940. It was a significant year for Britain, and young men and women, clerks and shop assistants, were stirred by the promise of another life and another world full of yet unknown opportunities.

I was 16 and I joined the Air Training Corps. We paraded and drilled under the stern eye of Warrant Officer Ash one evening in the week and on another learnt the Morse Code. This, together with algebra & [indecipherable word] which I had never encountered before broadened my horizons and prepared me for my application to join the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve at 17¼ years. In the interview we learnt the rudiments of navigation and I studied “Teach yourself to Fly” one of an optimistically titled series. One could use an imaginative joystick and rudder bar on the front seat of the bus[?]. My year or so included an opportunity to fly which I did in a Miles Magister, which prompted me to write “My first flight” now lost to posterity. Waiting for my call up I sported an RAFVR badge

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while marking off the days on the locker room door of the warehouse where I worked.

My parents saw me off on the train to London and I recall my father kissed me, possibly believing he might not see me again. His loving gesture was fortunately misplaced, however, for I was home on leave in a week, as I had merely been summoned to St Johns Wood in London where those of us who had not been inoculated and vaccinated received this painful procedure and we were kitted out. We were told that a 6d tip to the barber would ensure a tasteful haircut but this proved to be a fallacy, as was a collection for our discip.[?] corporal’s marriage.

We were taken to Seymour Hall Baths were[sic] the prospect of young men swimming in what were euphemistically called “slips” up and down decided [two indecipherable words] for Initial Training Wing (ITW) Those who demonstrated their ability to swim a length were sent to St Andrews in Scotland and those who could not to Scarborough, [deleted] where there were [/deleted] [inserted] which unlike Scotland provided [/inserted] swimming facilities.

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Foolishly the swimmers could not get leave home from Scotland as easily as the non swimmers at Scarborough. It was one lesson among many which one learns in life.

At I.T.W. we came to grips with Navigation, astronomy, signals, and the inevitable drill. Our drill instructors managed to demonstrate movements from one of the concrete blocks defending the sea shore without disappointingly falling in, and for our part we leapt from one block to another miserably clad in singlets and shorts.

Eventually we were posted to what promised to be, and was, actual flying. Perhaps some were deemed more suitable for training as Navigators or Bombaimers[sic] but for my part, I went to Elementary Flying Training school (EFTS) at Theale in Reading.

There we actually flew in Tiger Moths from a grass field. The latter figured in our training because we were told that when one could distinguish blades of grass

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from the green grass alone, one could pull back the stick prior to an optimistic three point landing rarely accomplished in practice, for the instructor had to bear much leaping from terra firma into the air before the blessed moment[?] when the plane came to a halt.

I do recall the “spin” however, showed you need this manoeuvre to lose height. Pull back the stick as far as it will go while closing the throttle. The plane will go into a stall, that is, the nose will come up before it goes into a dive. At the moment[?] apply full rudder to either [deleted or [/deleted] port or starboard and the plane [inserted] will [/inserted] commence a dive, turning the while – the spin. This is not recommended after a greasy breakfast.

I never did solo but in any case before we had finished our training we were all summoned to

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Heaton Park in Manchester for a series of psychological and aptitude tests. At the end of the week we were all considered suitable for training as Air Gunners, including one of our number named memorably Snooks, who had soloed. I think it was because the P.N.B. (Pilot Navigator Bomber Aimer category) had choked[?] up the training programmes in Rhodesia, Canada, and even America as I recall, or equally Bomber Command needed more Air Gunners.

Oh I forgot – to get out of the spin you put the stick forward – full throttle and opposite rudder – and do none of it unless you have reasonable height.

We were posted to [inserted] Gunnery School [/inserted] in a place called Stormy Down in South Wales, where I met a fellow trainee named Bill Jones, with whom I am still friends [deleted] after [/deleted] with surviving crew members after 67 years. Bill came from a village named Garnant, and we hitchhiked there

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Whenever we could get a weekend pass.

We learned how to take a Browning .303 to pieces and put it together and hydraulics, which was to understand the working of a gun turret, [inserted] some practice with shotguns too. [/inserted]

We went to St Athans, where [deleted] we [/deleted] three of us went up in an Avro Anson with a pilot and rendezvous with a Harvard towing a [deleted indecipherable word] drogue. Each of us took our turn in the gun turret from which we fired at the drogue, using belts of ammunition covered with wet paint in distinctive colours. The idea was that when (and if) ones bullets hit the drogue then as the bullet entered it there remained a hole ringed with the colour of the gunner’s bullet. The drogue was then dropped over the airfield and waffs had the unenviable task of counting the hits of each gunner, he [inserted] also [/inserted] sat in a darkened room identifying flashed on silhouettes of aircraft.

The time came for our final exams and oral tests. Much of what I’d learned about hydraulics eluded me but the examiners said “Do you want to be an Air Gunner?” and when

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I said “yes please” (I was brought up to be polite) they said “Right – you’ve passed!” I think this had to be because Stormy Down was being turned into a POW camp for German officers.

So (you will be glad to lean) we were given our sergeant stripes and air gunner’s half wing, and all us Gunners met up in London and went to see Phyllis Dixey in “Peekaboo”.

We went to O.T.U. [inserted] Operational Training Unit [/inserted] at which crew members of all trades were assembled in a hall and told to sort ourselves out into crews. Bill Jones and I stayed together, and as he is a bit shorter than me he became Rear Gunner and I Mid-upper.

I cannot explain the chemistry which formed crews, but ours became six (because we didn’t have a Flight Engineer until later) [deleted] consisted [/deleted] consisting of a pilot from Tasmania, David MacQuitty[?] (Mac) Stan Annetts,[?] Navigator, of whom more about later, John Orr[?], Bomb Aimer

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(Jock, a suitable title for a Scot as we would have had three Johns), John Cameron (Cam). Later on [deleted indecipherable word] in Lancasters, Peter Gillespie [inserted] (Pete) [/inserted] joined us as Flight Engineer.

[deleted] We did the usual [/deleted]
We flew first in Wellingtons which because it doesn’t have a Mid-upper Turret meant I had to stand with my head in the Astrodome. I didn’t have guns until we flew in Lancasters.

Stan Annetts our Navigator was a policeman in Civvie Street, and as such was only able to join the forces for aircrew, for which he volunteered.

We did circuits & bumps by day and night and bombing exercises. I was useful in my astrodome keeping an eye out for other aircraft on the circuit. It is a sobering thought that over 8000 aircrew were killed in training exercises.

Later it was Bill and my opportunity to demonstrate our skills against an “attacking” Harvard.

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[deleted] opportunity to demonstrate our skills. [/deleted] We took turns in the rear turret with a gunsight linked to a camera. The film was later developed and shown to the crew.

During this gunnery exercise the pilot responded to directions from the gunner to “dive starboard” or “climb port”, a manouvre[sic] called the “corkscrew” the principle of which is to climb away at right [inserted] near [/inserted] angles from a diving fighter or dive at the same angle from a fighter climbing in pursuit with its fixed cannon or guns bearing on a key area of the Bomber, often the Rear Gunner with his four Brownings, or engines and fuel tanks. [inserted] The RAF [indecipherable word] on the side of the fuselage was regarded to be a near target for the mid-upper gunner in the sights of an attacking fighter. [/inserted]

Searching was a key exercise to avoid a surprise attack, turrets turning through 180°, Bomb aimer vigilant for head on attacks [deleted] within his [/deleted] with no guns, [deleted] nose[?] turret [/deleted], prone in his Bomb aimers position, and pilot contributing to a general awareness

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of threats from attacking fighters. Once the fighter had committed to its attack the bomber would perform the corkscrew, presenting a difficult target.

Chat over the intercom was kept to a minimum and to the [deleted] essentials necessary for [/deleted] necessary essentials.

Our first operation together was [deleted] first [/deleted] to France and then into Germany. The operation was called “Sweepstake” and involved entering the area partially occupied by the Allies, in particular to divert fighter aircraft away from the main force which was bombing WESEL, just beyond the Rhine in preparation for Montgomery’s crossing. “Sweepstake” employed “window” – strips of paper with a metallic side. This was dropped by the Bomb-aimer in handfuls according to a prearranged plan. I reported a single engined fighter on our port quarter which I took to be a

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Focke wolfe 190, but I could have been wrong. I reported it but almost immediately it [deleted one word] fell back and disappeared. It was said that fighter aircraft were less likely to attack if their quarry appeared vigilant. Nothing else happened to us before we returned to base.

What happened next proved tragic and kept us on the ground until we were transferred to a holding unit. Mac, our skipper was one of three brothers in Bomber Command flying in Lancs. One had been killed on ops. and we learned [deleted] that the [/deleted] that the second brother had been killed, resulting in Mac being taken off ops. just as we were [deleted] just [/deleted] about to begin our tour of ops. and posted to Transport Command in which he served until the end of the war.

For our part we were what [deleted] what [/deleted] was described as a headless crew. Due to be posted to a holding unit the following day I was having

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my hair cut in the mess [deleted word] when Bill Jones came in to tell me I was on the battle order that night. The crew’s upper gunner was either sick or dead – I never enquired. I attended the briefing, which was, as I recall to an oil refinery, and as the hour grew near kitted up and given [inserted] a [/inserted] “wakey wakey” pill.

Out on dispersal we [inserted] were bombed up [/inserted] ran up the engines, and ready for take off, when one or more very lights[?] went up from the control tower and the op was scrubbed.

With a new skipper he ended the war without incident, so this lengthy account [inserted] is [/inserted] as I have told the producers, [inserted] This account has never been published or broadcast. [/inserted] not one of “derring do” we were never the less ready to take part, [deleted] perhaps with [/deleted] hopefully with our survival, which enabled us to arrange a reunion of the remaining five of us in 1999 meeting for the first time for 54 years

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After the war had come to an end we flew to Pomigliano, near Naples to bring back soldiers for demob or going on leave.

Then with [inserted] the [/inserted] Independence of India looming we flew to Salbani in Bengal, from where we later bombed up with 500lb bombs at Nagpur enroute to Karachi. I have no idea why were[sic] armed thus, each of us being provided with 38 calibre revolvers.

Home in Britain I was finally made redundant. [deleted] stationed on [/deleted] Billeted in a café in Belfast[?] I was designated “Embarkation Assistant” collecting boarding cards from Waafs and sick airmen sailing on the “Ulster Monarch” or the “Ulster Prince” to Heysham in Lancashire. Fit airmen were obliged to go north to Larne for the crossing to Stranraer.

Finally (and I know you will be glad to learn this) I was transferred to a maintenance unit

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at Attlebridge, Norfolk, where I came face to face with the enemy. German POWs were employed to pick up freight from the railway stations and I sat beside the German driver with others behind.

Surely this is the end I hear you say, and indeed it was. Kitted out in suit, raincoat, and trilby, I returned home for three weeks leave before coming to grips with commerce.

As the old lady said as she breathed her last “It’s all been most interesting”.

John H Joyner (Flight Sergeant 1812689)

Total reading time 12 minutes



John Joyner, “An account of John Joyner's time in the RAF,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 29, 2023,

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