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TITLE
Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (2 of 10)
EXTERNAL ID
GB232_MFR_JOHN_NIVEN_02
DATE OF RECORDING
1986
PERIOD
1980s
CREATOR
John Niven
SOURCE
Moray Firth Radio
ASSET ID
41165
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: Once you had finished there you went on to Ayr and joined 602 City of Glasgow Squadron?

Yes, yes.

Interviewer: And it was there that you got your first taste of war, so to speak.

Yes.

Interviewer: Although it wasn't in a flying way, was it?

It was rather under the floodlights, one might say, because of the Glasgow blitz, and one particular occasion when I was in charge of the floodlight on the airfield, which had to be switched on any time an aircraft came in, and it was a, I think the only way one could describe the feeling was naked - totally naked.

Interviewer: Because if anybody came past you got shot at?

Yes

Interviewer: And where on after that?

Well, the squadron was really recovering from the Battle of Britain at that time and they were re-equipping and getting new pilots - replacement pilots - and we were ready to go by about July. And we went from Ayr down to Kenley which is about 5 miles away from Biggin Hill, both of which airfields were heavily attacked during the Battle of Britain. Very active airfields.

Interviewer: It wasn't just as easy, again, as you've said because there were some difficulties there, were there not?

Well minor difficulties, in that the Squadron Commander and one of the Flight Commanders got lost on the way down and we finished up landing at Biggin Hill instead of Kenley.

Interviewer: I take that they did eventually turn up?

We did all get together eventually, yes.

Interviewer: One of the, I think you said, the Squadron Commander, was a very famous man indeed. Al Deere, wasn't he?

Well, Al Deere was a, he was a Flight Commander, and the Squadron Commander also was a famous pilot; he was a chap, Johnny Kilmartin, an Irishman who'd been with Al Deere in France before Dunkirk, and had seen a lot of fighting there, although it was fighting that hadn't been reported a great deal. The aircraft were flying well behind the lines and nobody seemed to see them.

Interviewer: What sort of people were they?


Well, I thing the best description perhaps is, 'press on' types. They were really very intelligent, courageous - it sounds an old fashioned term - but they were indeed very courageous in their fighting, and natural leaders, quite natural leaders. It wasn't difficult to follow them. And you simply, they were people that couldn't be let down - you couldn't let them down - and they were both excellent pilots, first class pilots.

Interviewer: This was the time after the Battle of Britain, the time of the offensive sweeps. What was an offensive sweep? What was it for?

Well, this was an attempt to pin down as many German aircraft as possible, in Northern France, and the AOC, the Air Officer Commanding, of Fighter Command, Sholto Douglas, was larger responsible for the initiation of these fighter sweeps, which was really to annoy the Germans, to get them to send up aircraft, to pin the aircraft in France, to pick very selected targets - there wasn't much of a bomber support at the time, probably three or four aircraft were available at any one time - Blenheims, Stirlings in some instances, Hampdens, any sort of bombers at all - but at least by dropping bombs on them they had to do something about it. And they therefore had to commit their fighters to this, a very large area to protect, and as the year went on this was quite early on, this was about February 41, but, of course, in June 1941 Germany invaded Russia, and it then became quite important to pin down as many German aircraft as we could in order to take the pressure off the Eastern Front. And so we stepped up the sweep effort, the circuses, and from sending across maybe three bombers with five or six squadrons, it developed into the recognised circus after that which really meant it could still be three bombers but it could be up to eighteen squadrons of aircraft escorting them.

Interviewer: That sounds overdone, somehow.

Well, it sounds overdone until you assess the reaction of the 'Hun' Air Force because they reacted quite violently and they - It became quite a set pattern. The whole set up was really almost standard after a while. It was well planned really, because the bombers were quite vulnerable by themselves. You couldn't possibly send three Blenheims over France, or six Blemheims over France by themselves, but if you put three squadrons of spitfires right round about them, and call it the 'close support', and then put another three behind them and call that 'escort cover', and then another lot over them and call them 'high cover', and another lot on top of that and call that 'top cover', and then have a target support group who went in, in front of you, and a rear support group who came out behind you, you're talking now in terms of eighteen squadrons of aircraft and, to make any impression on that, of course, the Germans had to put up a similar number almost.

Interviewer: Very clever.

And it's a lot of aircraft to be milling around.'


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 (2 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: Once you had finished there you went on to Ayr and joined 602 City of Glasgow Squadron?<br /> <br /> Yes, yes.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: And it was there that you got your first taste of war, so to speak.<br /> <br /> Yes.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Although it wasn't in a flying way, was it?<br /> <br /> It was rather under the floodlights, one might say, because of the Glasgow blitz, and one particular occasion when I was in charge of the floodlight on the airfield, which had to be switched on any time an aircraft came in, and it was a, I think the only way one could describe the feeling was naked - totally naked.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Because if anybody came past you got shot at?<br /> <br /> Yes<br /> <br /> Interviewer: And where on after that?<br /> <br /> Well, the squadron was really recovering from the Battle of Britain at that time and they were re-equipping and getting new pilots - replacement pilots - and we were ready to go by about July. And we went from Ayr down to Kenley which is about 5 miles away from Biggin Hill, both of which airfields were heavily attacked during the Battle of Britain. Very active airfields.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: It wasn't just as easy, again, as you've said because there were some difficulties there, were there not?<br /> <br /> Well minor difficulties, in that the Squadron Commander and one of the Flight Commanders got lost on the way down and we finished up landing at Biggin Hill instead of Kenley.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: I take that they did eventually turn up?<br /> <br /> We did all get together eventually, yes.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: One of the, I think you said, the Squadron Commander, was a very famous man indeed. Al Deere, wasn't he?<br /> <br /> Well, Al Deere was a, he was a Flight Commander, and the Squadron Commander also was a famous pilot; he was a chap, Johnny Kilmartin, an Irishman who'd been with Al Deere in France before Dunkirk, and had seen a lot of fighting there, although it was fighting that hadn't been reported a great deal. The aircraft were flying well behind the lines and nobody seemed to see them. <br /> <br /> Interviewer: What sort of people were they?<br /> <br /> <br /> Well, I thing the best description perhaps is, 'press on' types. They were really very intelligent, courageous - it sounds an old fashioned term - but they were indeed very courageous in their fighting, and natural leaders, quite natural leaders. It wasn't difficult to follow them. And you simply, they were people that couldn't be let down - you couldn't let them down - and they were both excellent pilots, first class pilots.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: This was the time after the Battle of Britain, the time of the offensive sweeps. What was an offensive sweep? What was it for?<br /> <br /> Well, this was an attempt to pin down as many German aircraft as possible, in Northern France, and the AOC, the Air Officer Commanding, of Fighter Command, Sholto Douglas, was larger responsible for the initiation of these fighter sweeps, which was really to annoy the Germans, to get them to send up aircraft, to pin the aircraft in France, to pick very selected targets - there wasn't much of a bomber support at the time, probably three or four aircraft were available at any one time - Blenheims, Stirlings in some instances, Hampdens, any sort of bombers at all - but at least by dropping bombs on them they had to do something about it. And they therefore had to commit their fighters to this, a very large area to protect, and as the year went on this was quite early on, this was about February 41, but, of course, in June 1941 Germany invaded Russia, and it then became quite important to pin down as many German aircraft as we could in order to take the pressure off the Eastern Front. And so we stepped up the sweep effort, the circuses, and from sending across maybe three bombers with five or six squadrons, it developed into the recognised circus after that which really meant it could still be three bombers but it could be up to eighteen squadrons of aircraft escorting them.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: That sounds overdone, somehow. <br /> <br /> Well, it sounds overdone until you assess the reaction of the 'Hun' Air Force because they reacted quite violently and they - It became quite a set pattern. The whole set up was really almost standard after a while. It was well planned really, because the bombers were quite vulnerable by themselves. You couldn't possibly send three Blenheims over France, or six Blemheims over France by themselves, but if you put three squadrons of spitfires right round about them, and call it the 'close support', and then put another three behind them and call that 'escort cover', and then another lot over them and call them 'high cover', and another lot on top of that and call that 'top cover', and then have a target support group who went in, in front of you, and a rear support group who came out behind you, you're talking now in terms of eighteen squadrons of aircraft and, to make any impression on that, of course, the Germans had to put up a similar number almost.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Very clever.<br /> <br /> And it's a lot of aircraft to be milling around.'<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.