Interview with David Rayner Fox


Interview with David Rayner Fox


David Rayner Fox grew up in New Zealand and joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1942. After training, he flew operations as an air gunner with 75 Squadron from RAF Mepal. During one operation his pilot, Dave Moriarty was terribly injured when a piece of anti-aircraft fire entered his eye. Despite this injury he piloted the aircraft back to base saving his crew for which he was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. David also describes the attack on Walcheren Island.




Temporal Coverage




00:32:34 audio recording

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MS: This is Miriam Sharland and I’m interviewing David Fox today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at David’s home in Hastings, New Zealand and it is the 16th of February 2017. Thank you very much David for talking to me today. Also present at the interview is Glen Turner from the 75 Squadron Association. David, can you tell me a little bit about your early life before the war?
DF: I was born at Oamaru, North Otago and into a farming family. I went to a small, very small school. Single teacher. When I first went there, there was probably fifteen to twenty pupils. When I finished there, there was, I think, ten. And six of us were in, six of the pupils were in the one class. A year or two later that school closed. Then I worked on the family farm until I joined the air force in 1941/42 at Ohakea. From there I went to Rotorua. And after final leave we were shipped off to Canada. We were at Edmonton in Alberta, at a holding station until courses became available and I went to Winnipeg on a wireless operator/gunner course. From Winnipeg we went to Quebec and did our actual flying at Mont-Joli which was up the St Lawrence River from Quebec. Then over to England. And New Zealanders went to, New Zealanders and Australians went to Brighton. We were in the Grand Hotel and the Australians were in the Metropole. Canadians went to Bournemouth. And when a course became available I went to Westcott. And there we, of course, Oakley was a satellite station to Westcott so we did time at both stations and we were in Wellingtons there. And after there, that, we went to Chedborough. That was a Heavy Conversion Unit and we went on to Stirlings. And from there we went to [pause] Mepal, for a while where we went on to Lancasters. And from there to the squadron. We got to the, got onto the squadron about, probably the 10th or 11th of June. It was just shortly after D-day. And our first trip was to Le Havre. One night the Germans apparently still had control of Le Havre and the e-boats were coming out at night time and causing a bit of bother with the invasion fleets. And [pause] oh it’s a bit difficult when the mind goes blank isn’t it?
MS: What made you decide to join the air force David?
DF: I got turned down for the army. [laughs] So I joined the air force [laughs] which seems a silly thing but apparently the air force didn’t want you to do as much walking as the army did. So the army actually was my first choice.
MS: And how did you end up becoming a gunner?
DF: I failed the wireless test so the gunner was the next thing.
MS: Did you want to become a pilot?
DF: No, I didn’t, strangely enough. I was given the opportunity at Ohakea to transfer to a pilot’s course but I didn’t want to do it. Possibly I thought it was going to be a longer course and somehow the war might finish before I got there.
MS: So you were quite keen to get to the war.
DF: I think a lot of us were at that stage. We were young and silly and really didn’t know what we were going to.
MS: So how did it feel when you arrived? How did it differ from your expectations of what it was going to be like?
DF: Actually getting into action? It [pause] it wasn’t as frightening as I thought it might have been. Again, being in the air we were a bit more remote to the actual fighting than perhaps the army guys were.
MS: As a rear gunner you probably had quite a low life expectancy and were in – sorry were you a rear gunner or an upper gunner?
DF: Pardon?
MS: What — were you an upper gunner or a rear gunner?
DF: A rear.
MS: A rear gunner. So you would have been in the thick of it. It’s quite a vulnerable position on the plane.
DF: Oh yes. Probably not much more vulnerable than the rest of the positions.
MS: So what was it like going from New Zealand to England? What kind of differences did you find?
DF: The weather mainly. We went to Canada. We stopped at Pearl Harbour on the way over and docked at San Francisco. Then by train up to Vancouver and then over the Rockies to Alberta. Edmonton in Alberta. Until I went to Winnipeg.
MS: So what sort of things did you cover in training? And how did you find the training courses that you went on?
DF: We did Morse. Map reading. Maths. Didn’t do very much flying. It wasn’t until we got to England that we did much flying at all.
MS: How did you feel when you did your gunner training? What was it like being in that turret?
DF: I quite liked being in the rear turret. I didn’t think it might have been a bit claustrophobic because I was very, never very keen in getting in confined spaces but I think with having so much Perspex and vision around it made it quite a bit different.
MS: So what did you do on your days off when you had some leave? Did you go into, in to explore the local area and meet any local people?
DF: We used to ride around to the different villages close by and check out the pubs that seemed to be a very important thing to do.
MS: Can you remember any of those pubs David? The names of them.
DF: No. I can’t.
MS: Did you get to meet many local people?
DF: Oh yes. Yes. The local people were very approachable. In the pubs and even on the streets.
MS: Do you remember a place called Chequers in Ely?
DF: Chequers. Yes.
MS: Can you tell me about that? Do you have any memories of that?
DF: No. No. It’s just the name at the moment.
MS: Can you tell me how you crewed up?
DF: Yes. We were assembled in a hangar that was, I don’t know, probably fifty or sixty humans. And the CO of the station addressed us and then he said, ‘Right you form yourselves into crews.’ So that’s what we did. I had seen Dave Moriarty when we were at Ohakea. He was – at that time he was in the pay accounts and I’d landed in the hospital for a few days and he brought my pay to me. So, you know, we didn’t really know one another but when we were told to crew up I recognised him as from Ohakea. So I approached him. And that’s how it all started.
MS: Can you tell me about the other crew members?
DF: Our navigator was Harry Willis from Napier. Our bomb aimer was Ian Ward from Hastings. He eventually became my brother in law. We had Alan Teverson. He was an English bloke. He was our wireless operator. Alf Williams was our gunner. He was our mid-upper gunner.
MS: So you had a mixed nationality crew.
DF: Yes. UK and New Zealand.
MS: So can you tell me what squadron you were in and what, what rank you held?
DF: On the, on operations. 75 Squadron and I was a flight sergeant.
MS: And did you stick with the same crew pretty much through your whole time? Operational time.
DF: Yes. The only thing was that we we had several different pilots after we lost Dave. We did two trips with a flight commander and he finished his tour with those two trips. And then we had an Australian. We inherited him because he had been court martialled [laughs] and his crew had gone on and done, finished their tour. And he had a certain number of trips to do to make up his tour so we — we had him after we lost our permanent pilot.
MS: Can you tell me how you lost your pilot?
DF: He [pause] there was a burst of flak in the forward of the aircraft and a piece of shrapnel came through the windscreen and it went in his left eye and out behind his ear. Behind his left ear. And even though he’d had that piece of shrapnel through his head, he piloted the plane back to base and landed. And that was why he was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.
MS: Can you tell me a little about the pilot that replaced Dave Moriarty?
DF: Well, as I said, we had a flight commander for a couple of trips and then we had the Australian bloke.
MS: Was that John Aitkin?
DF: Hmmn?
MS: Was that John Aitkin?
DF: No.
MS: No.
DF: No. John had his own crew. There was Neil Davidson, John Aitkin and David Moriarty’s crew were all, came on the squadron at the same time and we were, used to hang out together quite a bit.
MS: How many operations did you do David?
DF: Thirty.
MS: So can you describe to me some of the raids? Some of the ops that you went on — do any of them stay in your mind particularly?
DF: Probably two of the longest would be once we went to Stuttgart and another time we went up to Kiel. And there was nothing really much unusual about them.
MS: Where else did you fly to?
DF: Not having my logbook here I can’t recall. But we did go to Walcheren Island off the entrance to Antwerp. The Germans had heavy guns set up on the, on the banks of the dykes. And we were sent there to breach the dyke’s wall so that they didn’t have the, they only had the top of the dykes to live on. Rather than being able to get down into the where the main population normally was.
MS: How did it feel before you went on a raid? Can you remember when you went for the pre-operation briefing? Can you tell me a little about what happened at those and what the mood was like in the room?
DF: Well, first of all we each went and checked our own department of the aircraft. And then there was usually a pre-flight meal and then we went to the main briefing. And we were a bit nervous going to the briefing until we found out where we were going and then it just seemed to become normal.
MS: Did you have any particular rituals or mascots or anything like that on your crew?
DF: No. No. We didn’t have any. There was one, one crew. One of their their ground crew members was bald and they always, as they climbed in to their aircraft they would put their hand on his bald head. [laughs]
MS: Did your plane have any nose art on it?
DF: Yes. I forget what it was. It had for every trip there was a bomb painted on the side. White for daylight and a red for night trips.
MS: What planes did you fly on?
DF: Lancasters.
MS: Just Lancasters the whole way through.
DF: Hmmn?
MS: You just flew Lancasters for the whole time you were there.
DF: On the squadron yes, but we as I said before we started on Wellingtons and moved on to Stirlings before we finally got the Lancasters.
MS: How did those planes compare to each other?
DF: A bit hard to compare them because the Wellington, the Wellingtons and the Stirlings. They were designed in the early 30s whereas the Lancaster was quite a bit later. A more modern plane. But the Lancaster of course was the best of the lot in our opinion.
MS: Were you involved in any particularly bad crashes?
DF: No crashes.
MS: Can you tell me a bit about your ground crew? Do you remember them particularly?
DF: No. I can’t. I don’t remember much about them apart from the fact they were a very good ground crew. Anything we wanted checked over they would do it no trouble at all. And double check.
MS: What was life like on the base? What kind of things did you do when you weren’t flying?
DF: It was. It was like most of the, even on the training squadrons it was — the life on the base was much the same.
MS: What kind of food did you have?
DF: It was plain. Quite nourishing of course. We did get extras when we were flying. Quite often got a fresh egg. Something like that that wasn’t commonly served up.
MS: And did you manage to have much communication with your folks back in New Zealand while you were overseas?
DF: Yes. By letter.
MS: How did your family feel about the kind of work you were involved in? Did you talk to them about it very much?
DF: No. We didn’t discuss it with them. I suppose they were what I call families that had people overseas. They were anxious.
MS: Did you have other family members that were serving during the war as well?
DF: Pardon?
MS: Did you have other family members that were serving during the war.
DF: Not over there. Most of my friends in New Zealand were fighting in the Pacific.
MS: What about the previous generation of your family? Were any of them involved in the First World War?
DF: No. Oh my uncles. Some of my mother’s brothers were.
MS: What did it feel like when you eventually came back to New Zealand? How did you find it? Adjusting?
DF: It was a bit difficult because after almost four years the air force had become my family.
MS: What kind of challenges did you face coming back?
DF: No particular challenge I don’t think.
MS: What did you do after the war?
DF: I went back and helped on the farm.
MS: Did you keep in touch with any of your crew?
DF: Yes. Yes. We had, there was Dave Moriarty in Wanganui and Tom Monaghan. He was in Hastings for a while but eventually he went and settled in Christchurch. Of course Ian Ward. He was, used to see him regularly. The wireless operator and the other gunner who were in England. We used to be in touch at Christmas time and exchange Christmas greetings.
MS: So you said that Ian Ward became your brother in law. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
DF: I married his sister. I met her when I came, came up to visit Ian on. [pause] When we got home we were given free rail passes for a fortnight or so and me and my parents came up and visited the Wards and I met Iris then.
MS: How old were you when you came back to New Zealand
DF: I’d just. Just turned twenty three. I had a birthday on the way back.
MS: How do you feel about the way Bomber Command was treated after the war?
DF: I think they were treated a bit roughly. Particularly Air Marshall Harris.
MS: So now there’s a Memorial in London to Bomber Command. Were you aware of that? What do you think about that?
DF: Oh I think it’s a good thing.
MS: Can you tell me a bit more about what it felt like when you were on an operation as a rear gunner? What kind of things did you see out of the back of the plane?
DF: Very little because they were mostly night trips. And if I saw a form, I couldn’t identify what it was, behind. I would get the, I’d get the pilot to alter course a few degrees and if it didn’t follow it would have probably have been another aircraft in the stream. That is why I was reluctant to fire at anything because it could possibly be one of our own planes.
MS: Did you ever shoot at any planes and take any down?
DF: No. Never fired my guns in anger.
MS: Was there anything else you can remember about your time in Bomber Command that you want to tell us about.
DF: No. I don’t think so.
MS: Ok. Well I’ve covered off all my questions so thank you very much indeed David for talking to me today.
DF: You’re welcome.



Miriam Sharland, “Interview with David Rayner Fox,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 7, 2023,

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