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TITLE
Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (1 of 10)
EXTERNAL ID
GB232_MFR_JOHN_NIVEN_01
PLACENAME
Edinburgh
DATE OF RECORDING
1986
PERIOD
1980s
CREATOR
John Niven
SOURCE
Moray Firth Radio
ASSET ID
41164
KEYWORDS
pilots
aircraft
fighter pilots
World War 2
World War II
Second World War
WW2

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In this audio extract from the Moray Firth Radio programme 'Marshall Meets', Sam Marshall talks to ex spitfire pilot, John Niven.

'Interviewer: How did you get involved with the Spitfire?

The, I think the usual schoolboy's approach via Biggles, and the 'Adventure', and the 'Rover', and boys' comics, and then seeing the 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron who were stationed at Turnhouse, first of all flying their Hawker Hinds/Hawker Harts sometimes even a Hawker Fury, and then finally being equipped in 1936 with Spitfires - one of the first squadrons to be equipped with Spitfires. And then, of course, the, it became fairly clear that there was going to be a war anyway. By 1938 it was quite patently obvious there was going to be a war and I tried to join the Auxilliary Air Force myself and I was too young though. But I did join the Edinburgh branch of the Volunteer Reserve which was rather similar to the Auxilliaries in that we flew at the weekends from Grangemouth, just outside Edinburgh.

Interviewer: Was it easy to get into those squadrons or units? I mean, you've made it sound very easy - just thought you would like to be a pilot and you joined up, but was it hard?

No, it wasn't really very hard. I think if you showed the right degree of keenness and if you had the necessary schooling background, the necessary Highers, I think it was really quite simple, but you had, really had to show that you really wanted to, wanted to fly.

Interviewer: How did they select you for aircrew material because not everyone would be suitable presumably?

It was just, it was a series of interviews and a fair stiff medical, and that was it. It was just as simple as that.

Interviewer: There was no intelligence or aptitude testing or anything?

Not at that time. No.

Interviewer: So where did you go first when you joined up?

Well, when the war broke out, of course, we were called up immediately into full time service. I was - after spending quite some time in Edinburgh we went down to Hastings on the south coast to an initial training wing, and we spent many months there marching up and down doing drill and cross country runs and route marches and fairly boring business, until I was fortunate enough to be sent across to Rhodesia to the New Empire Flying Training Scheme that had started there.

Interviewer: How did your feel about going abroad to learn to fly?

Well, there was the feeling of perhaps you're going to miss something by going abroad because, quite clearly, by that time things were boiling up - Dunkirk was imminent. And it was, it seemed that we were going to take a bit of a hammering in France, but it was very exciting to be able to go out to a foreign country in those days, and as it turned out it was a most enjoyable experience.

Interviewer: What did you learn to fly in?

We started off in Tiger Moths and then after the initial training we went on to Harvards - Harvard II's - an American plane with a radial engine, and one or two fairly nasty habits, one of which was a tendency to drop a wing when you came in to land, but we managed to get past that alright and I returned to this country in January 1941.

Interviewer: Did you go straight on to flying Spitfires then?

Yes, I went to an operational training unit at Harden [?] near Speke in Liverpool and did the conversion on to spitfires there.

Interviewer: When you first saw the Spitfire, which was the plane you'd almost joined up to fly, how did it feel?

Slightly awestruck, I think, to begin with, but a very nice feeling too; it was a friendly machine, a friendly aeroplane, and such a nice looking aeroplane, and a nice aeroplane to handle too. And it, I think everybody had the same, the same experience. I think they took to it straightaway.'


John Brown Niven was born and brought up in Edinburgh. After an education at George Heriot's school he joined the family roofing business, John Low Slaters. However, his passion, since a schoolboy, had been flying, and he successfully applied to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve in June 1939 at the age of nineteen. He applied to study flying at RAF Cranwell College and was accepted, but before taking up his place, he was called up for war in September.

During the war years he had distinguished service in the RAF, flying spitfires in the UK, Indian and Japan. He was Squadron Leader in the 602 City of Glasgow Squadron and 485 New Zealand Squadron. He also flew with 322 Dutch Squadron. For his courageous efforts he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar. (A bar is added to the DFC ribbon for holders who receive a second award.)

After the war John rejoined the family roofing firm, married Dorothy Hood and had three children. He moved to Thurso to work in personnel for the UKAEA (United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) at Dounreay, before finally settling in Inverness as an employee of HIDB (Highlands & Islands Development Board).

John was a keen golfer (he played off a handicap of 2) and in the 1960s was instrumental in renovating and extending the course at Reay, near Thurso. He retired in 1985 and died in October 1986. His wife, son and two daughters still live in Inverness and Nairn.

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Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (1 of 10)

1980s

pilots; aircraft; fighter pilots; World War 2; World War II; Second World War; WW2;

Moray Firth Radio

MFR: Memories of a Spitfire Pilot

In this audio extract from the Moray Firth Radio programme 'Marshall Meets', Sam Marshall talks to ex spitfire pilot, John Niven.<br /> <br /> 'Interviewer: How did you get involved with the Spitfire?<br /> <br /> The, I think the usual schoolboy's approach via Biggles, and the 'Adventure', and the 'Rover', and boys' comics, and then seeing the 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron who were stationed at Turnhouse, first of all flying their Hawker Hinds/Hawker Harts sometimes even a Hawker Fury, and then finally being equipped in 1936 with Spitfires - one of the first squadrons to be equipped with Spitfires. And then, of course, the, it became fairly clear that there was going to be a war anyway. By 1938 it was quite patently obvious there was going to be a war and I tried to join the Auxilliary Air Force myself and I was too young though. But I did join the Edinburgh branch of the Volunteer Reserve which was rather similar to the Auxilliaries in that we flew at the weekends from Grangemouth, just outside Edinburgh.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Was it easy to get into those squadrons or units? I mean, you've made it sound very easy - just thought you would like to be a pilot and you joined up, but was it hard?<br /> <br /> No, it wasn't really very hard. I think if you showed the right degree of keenness and if you had the necessary schooling background, the necessary Highers, I think it was really quite simple, but you had, really had to show that you really wanted to, wanted to fly.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: How did they select you for aircrew material because not everyone would be suitable presumably?<br /> <br /> It was just, it was a series of interviews and a fair stiff medical, and that was it. It was just as simple as that.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: There was no intelligence or aptitude testing or anything?<br /> <br /> Not at that time. No.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: So where did you go first when you joined up?<br /> <br /> Well, when the war broke out, of course, we were called up immediately into full time service. I was - after spending quite some time in Edinburgh we went down to Hastings on the south coast to an initial training wing, and we spent many months there marching up and down doing drill and cross country runs and route marches and fairly boring business, until I was fortunate enough to be sent across to Rhodesia to the New Empire Flying Training Scheme that had started there.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: How did your feel about going abroad to learn to fly?<br /> <br /> Well, there was the feeling of perhaps you're going to miss something by going abroad because, quite clearly, by that time things were boiling up - Dunkirk was imminent. And it was, it seemed that we were going to take a bit of a hammering in France, but it was very exciting to be able to go out to a foreign country in those days, and as it turned out it was a most enjoyable experience. <br /> <br /> Interviewer: What did you learn to fly in?<br /> <br /> We started off in Tiger Moths and then after the initial training we went on to Harvards - Harvard II's - an American plane with a radial engine, and one or two fairly nasty habits, one of which was a tendency to drop a wing when you came in to land, but we managed to get past that alright and I returned to this country in January 1941. <br /> <br /> Interviewer: Did you go straight on to flying Spitfires then?<br /> <br /> Yes, I went to an operational training unit at Harden [?] near Speke in Liverpool and did the conversion on to spitfires there.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: When you first saw the Spitfire, which was the plane you'd almost joined up to fly, how did it feel?<br /> <br /> Slightly awestruck, I think, to begin with, but a very nice feeling too; it was a friendly machine, a friendly aeroplane, and such a nice looking aeroplane, and a nice aeroplane to handle too. And it, I think everybody had the same, the same experience. I think they took to it straightaway.'<br /> <br /> <br /> John Brown Niven was born and brought up in Edinburgh. After an education at George Heriot's school he joined the family roofing business, John Low Slaters. However, his passion, since a schoolboy, had been flying, and he successfully applied to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve in June 1939 at the age of nineteen. He applied to study flying at RAF Cranwell College and was accepted, but before taking up his place, he was called up for war in September.<br /> <br /> During the war years he had distinguished service in the RAF, flying spitfires in the UK, Indian and Japan. He was Squadron Leader in the 602 City of Glasgow Squadron and 485 New Zealand Squadron. He also flew with 322 Dutch Squadron. For his courageous efforts he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar. (A bar is added to the DFC ribbon for holders who receive a second award.)<br /> <br /> After the war John rejoined the family roofing firm, married Dorothy Hood and had three children. He moved to Thurso to work in personnel for the UKAEA (United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) at Dounreay, before finally settling in Inverness as an employee of HIDB (Highlands & Islands Development Board). <br /> <br /> John was a keen golfer (he played off a handicap of 2) and in the 1960s was instrumental in renovating and extending the course at Reay, near Thurso. He retired in 1985 and died in October 1986. His wife, son and two daughters still live in Inverness and Nairn.