Interview with Jack Meehan


Interview with Jack Meehan


Jack Meehan grew up in New Zealand and worked on the railway before he volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He flew operations as a wireless operator / air gunner with 75 Squadron at RAF Mepal.







00:45:33 audio recording


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NB: Right. This is an oral history interview for the International Bomber Command Centre. I’m here with Jack Meehan at his home, Tauranga, New Zealand and the time is 14:00. My name is Nicky Barr, I’m IBCC Director. Thank you for agreeing to do this, Jack. It’s really important for us to make sure we record all your histories. Could you start off by telling me a bit about your life before Bomber Command?
JM: Before I went in the air force. Just an ordinary life. When I left college —when I was living in Wellington I went to Wellington Technical College and had three years there and my intention was to take up art. I was in the art classes. And at that time of course the word came out about the war and the beginning of the war and what you could do. Previously to that I was in the Territorial Army. I decided to do it as a hobby sort of thing or a novelty to get away at the weekend at various camps etcetera. And when the war broke out I was working for the Wellington, at the Wellington Railway Station and the government Railway. And in the early part of the war I used to do fire duty on the roof of the Wellington Railway Station. And eventually when they sent away the first lot of troops from Wellington there was five big boats, tourist boats, all arrived in Wellington Harbour and the first lot of troops were going off. Presumably, we thought, to Egypt. And I was on the roof of the Wellington Railway Station watching all these boats going out of the harbour and one of the boats was called the Aquitania. You probably would have heard about it but that was one of the boats and it just sort of stuck in my mind. And eventually, a couple of years later I was leaving Quebec to go from Quebec to England to join up with the Royal New Zealand — Royal Air Force over in England and there was only the one boat in the harbour, and lo and behold it was the Aquitania. And I went so strange. It turned out that, you know seeing it two or three years beforehand and leaving Wellington Harbour and here I was on it going over to Scotland. England and Scotland. So that’s getting back to just side-tracking a wee bit but it was just a coincidence. So with my days of working in the railway I couldn’t get away with the railway contingent going in the army so I eventually joined up in the air force. And I was at the age of twenty one years when I joined, joined the air force. We did the training in New Zealand, training at, first of all at Whenuapai Airport. And then we had six weeks training at Rotorua. We went on final leave from Rotorua and left in January 1942 and left from Waltham. Went from Waltham to San Francisco. That was our, we didn’t know at the time where we were going, we had no idea. We left and then went from [pause] arrived in San Francisco. Had four days holiday sort of thing and there was four, we were just walking around the town and we met up with four American who had been in hospital in [unclear] and were being invalided back from Guadalcanal. And they stopped us and we had a little yarn. And they said, ‘We were treated so well in New Zealand while we were there. Would you like to be our —’ what’s the word?
NB: Guests.
JM: Friends or whatever, ‘We’ll take you around San Francisco.’ And we went around various places. I remember one that always stuck in mind was the hotel. The Mark Hopkins Hotel at San Francisco which is on the top of a hill at San Francisco.
NB: Right.
JM: And that had a, the top of the hotel had a big bar. A big circular bar and in the centre of the bar itself which in turn revolved around while you were sitting there drinking. That was always in my memory. Eventually we had to be down by the railway station at a certain time. We were met there by a wing commander and said farewell to these boys that had taken us round and we never have seen or heard from that day onwards. Unfortunately, we never thought about addresses. And we left then from San Francisco to go to, to Vancouver. Made our way to Vancouver, then we stayed there at Vancouver for a couple of nights and then from Vancouver through the Rockies to Edmonton.
NB: Right.
JM: Had a week in Edmonton being fitted out with all our winter. Winter had arrived. It was January of course and we’d just arrived in a bit of snow etcetera which was the first time I’d ever seen snow because I’d never been in New Zealand, anywhere in New Zealand to see it. However, we had the — from then we finished in Vancouver — to Edmonton, rather. We journeyed then down to Calgary and we were stationed then at Calgary. At Number 2 Wireless School, Calgary. It was a university which had been taken over by the air force. Dormitory sleeping. Dormitories and everything were all in the one building. And we were there for about six months training at Number 2 Wireless School and we were, did all the wireless side of it there at Calgary. And then we went to a place called Dafoe, which was just a small place just out of Calgary where we did our training for shooting.
NB: Right.
JM: And after we finished at the [pause] come back to the Wireless School again and we went on, following on leave from Calgary across to Winnipeg and on down towards making our way to New York. On the way of course we called in at Niagara Falls etcetera. Had a couple of nights there touring around and we just had to be in, at Quebec, by a certain date and which was sort of freelancing. Taking in the country and the scenery etcetera and eventually arrived at Quebec. And we were billeted in a college there at Quebec getting fitted out for certain things that we had to have. And then leaving, as I say, from Quebec to Scotland on the Aquitania. Eventually we arrived in Scotland. Boarded the train in Scotland right down to Brighton. Our headquarters at this stage were going to be Brighton, Brighton. We stayed at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. Brighton. Which I’d — we were there for a few weeks. Then training for doing wireless work etcetera. And then we were, sent me to various air force stations. We went, we went to Air Force Station Westcott where we had an OTU. Westcott. And into the hall and met in the hall with dozens of other crew who were eventually going to be crew members.
NB: What stage did you crew up, Jack?
JM: Well, I was just going to say —
NB: I’m sorry.
JM: From that stage we were just left to wander, talk, meet up with all the different other. We had one or two other nationalities with us as well. There were some English boys. Some were — I remember one from British Honduras. We had Australian ones, Canadians. But we were just left on our own for an hour or so just to wander around and talk to different ones. And we were told that during that time we were to meet up with your crew together. So the pilots of course, they were, they started off by picking who they thought they wanted to have for a, for a navigator, and then a bomb aimer.
NB: Right.
JM: And a wireless operator. They had to, they could pick out who they wanted. It didn’t matter who it was. Whether it was a New Zealander or Australian.
NB: Right.
JM: And once they’d all got had their respective crews up, respective members they all met together. They were all, particulars and everything were all taken and they were given a short talk and you were allocated to a hut and your crew sort, if he wasn’t an officer he would be with us. But if he was already appointed an officer like a pilot officer he would go off to the officer’s headquarters. Eventually when it would come to meeting up together. We’d all get together again. So that’s we went along and after about a few days or a week or so we were then told. We were allocated to station such and such. You were given your tickets and that too for travel and told to report there by a certain date. And that’s how it all started.
NB: Did it take you long to bond as a crew?
JM: To go around?
NB: To get together and —
JM: No. They did it. It was up to them. Some of them took a bit longer than others. But some — it was just the pilot, you know. He was the captain and if he liked the look of you he just picked you out.
NB: I mean, did you feel as a kinship as a solid crew relatively quickly or did that take quite some time?
JM: Oh no. Relatively quickly. I mean once he’d sorted out his navigator he didn’t have to worry about him anymore. I think he had to go on to the engineer. And we finished up with the captain and the navigator, bomb aimer and the wireless operator. We were four New Zealanders and the other three —two gunners and the engineer were three English boys. That’s how he picked it out. He didn’t want all New Zealand.
NB: Right.
JM: He broke it up and we got on marvellously well. No problem at all. Some of them might have [pause] once you got into your own crew you didn’t worry about anybody else, you know. It was a good way of doing it. Leaving it to yourself.
NB: Yeah. Formed some very strong ties didn’t they?
JM: We, as I was saying once we’d done that and you were sent off. Sent off then to a squadron or a training school for a bit of training before you got to the squadron itself and once you’d done a certain number of hours pre-flying. Pre-flying and then getting the feel of an aeroplane and to a certain — started off on the Wellingtons.
NB: Where were you stationed?
JM: We were at Westcott there for a while training. And we eventually went straight to number 75 Squadron which was a New Zealand, nearly a New Zealand squadron. We said that’s where we wanted to go. We had the option to go where we wanted. We said we wanted 75 Squadron seeing as it’s a New Zealand squadron. Even our three English boys. They didn’t mind. So we had four New Zealanders and three English. And it was very good because when we went on leave and that we went to visit their places, and that. And we used to be very popular being New Zealanders. Getting all the food parcels and cigarettes and tobacco and everything, you know. You had no trouble leaving out the [unclear] bills, they’d bring you home for tea and you always took cigarettes or things that they couldn’t get, you know. Or were hard to get. And they didn’t take long. It was amazing to see how, how we sort of just fitted in. of course every time you went on leave you didn’t go back home. Where we were going we used to always make for London. But as I say Brighton was a very popular place. And I went back there a few years later at different times when I went there. And the Grand Hotel had been all redecorated and, years after the war of course. And I went to there and made myself known and asked them, ‘Could I have a look around?’ I told them I used to be in England during the war. They all treated you well every time.
NB: Perfect. So how, how long was it before you left New Zealand and before you ended up with 75 Squadron at Mepal. How, how long a time span was that?
JM: Between?
NB: Between you leaving New Zealand and and getting to your squadron.
JM: Well we left in January. I left off in January. It would be about [pause] if I had my log book here I could tell you but I keep it up at Waltham at my son’s place in case I ever lose it. I’d say [pause] I have to try and think now. [unclear]. We went to a place called [unclear] which was on the outer Scotch coast and we had a Christmas. That would be, that was our first Christmas I think that we had so that’s nearly twelve months.
NB: A long period.
JM: That was, we were only still training there. We weren’t — we were flying Oxfords in those days. They were trainers. We used to train out on the Irish Sea and that sort of thing. But yeah. That would have been the best part of twelve months. As I say when we eventually got to a squadron. 75 Squadron that was in, I think that was July, if I remember rightly. So it was nearly eighteen months from the time we left New Zealand.
NB: Right.
JM: I mean we did a lot of training in New Zealand before we went on in to —
NB: So did you feel confident when you finally went out on ops? Did you —



Nicky Barr, “Interview with Jack Meehan,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 13, 2024,

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