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TITLE
Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (8 of 10)
EXTERNAL ID
GB232_MFR_JOHN_NIVEN_08
DATE OF RECORDING
1986
PERIOD
1980s
CREATOR
John Niven
SOURCE
Moray Firth Radio
ASSET ID
81
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: What about fear? I mean, apprehension before take off, I mean, it must have been terrible sitting around a dispersal hut waiting for, to go.

Yes, I think apprehension is the right word. It's, the fear generally came a bit later than that, but the, having been briefed, and we were very fortunate in fighters that this timescale was so compressed. If you take the bomber crews being briefed and then having to sit around all night, and then this huge long journey over enemy territory and a great long haul back out again, it was something that needed a special type of courage. Whereas, we had a fairly swift briefing, and a fairly short wait, and a fairly short trip for that matter, but once in the air, I wouldn't say that the apprehension ceased. But as one approached the target area, the minute anything happened then there was no question of fear, or apprehension, or anything, it just was a tremendous exhilaration and 'deil take the hindmost' really. And it was over, sometimes all too quickly, but sometimes not.

Interviewer: How did you feel about shooting down an opponent?

It's an awful thing to say but it was quite an impersonal business, really. It was a question of destroying a machine, and not killing a man, and if, as on occasion if the other pilot managed to bail out then it was a bonus really. But if, by any chance, it was a complete destruction - a flamer or something like that - no it was a machine that had been destroyed.

Interviewer: It never worried you?

It didn't, no, no.

Interviewer: What about getting shot down yourself? That did happen.

Yes, yes. Once again it only proved an old adage in the Air Force that you never saw the one that got you. And that is it precisely what happened. It happened during the commando raid on Dieppe. And on the last sortie of the day, just about lunch time, we were engaging a number of Focke Wulf 190s, and I was so enthralled with what was going on in front that I didn't see what was coming up behind, and I got popped there, and really had to bail out just about a couple of miles off the French coast.

Interviewer: They say you never hear the one that got you, but you lost a finger. I mean, the first thing you know was bullets coming through the cockpit?

...was coming smashing through the cockpit, yes. But, and then, of course, it came, it was pretty violent because there wasn't much time to try and evade anything. It came through and stopped, so one assumed that the guy had a quick squirt and away. But the damage was done and I had no option but to bail out before the plane actually burst into flames.

Interviewer: How did you do that?

I took the. I took the third option out of three, which was the wrong one, and - One was to turn the machine upside down and drop out, and the second one was to take off, release the cockpit cover and then trim the plane back, so that it was very, very nose heavy, and then let go the control column and the plane just threw you straight out - it wouldn't really have mattered if the cockpit cover was on or not, you'd still go out, but - and the other way was to go over the side, open the door and go out over the side, which I did, but not first shot unfortunately, because I had forgot to undo my radio lead.

Interviewer: And you climbed back in?

I had to climb back in again and undo it.

Interviewer: That's hair raising! Did you not feel a little apprehensive at that?

Eh, not really. Not at the time, no. It's amazing how single tracked you can become and managed the second time but struck the tail of the aeroplane which was pretty unpleasant. And then I was picked up by a launch, a small launch with a wee Glasgow chap who handed me a great mug of tea with rum in it and the war took on a rosy glow.


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 (8 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: What about fear? I mean, apprehension before take off, I mean, it must have been terrible sitting around a dispersal hut waiting for, to go.<br /> <br /> Yes, I think apprehension is the right word. It's, the fear generally came a bit later than that, but the, having been briefed, and we were very fortunate in fighters that this timescale was so compressed. If you take the bomber crews being briefed and then having to sit around all night, and then this huge long journey over enemy territory and a great long haul back out again, it was something that needed a special type of courage. Whereas, we had a fairly swift briefing, and a fairly short wait, and a fairly short trip for that matter, but once in the air, I wouldn't say that the apprehension ceased. But as one approached the target area, the minute anything happened then there was no question of fear, or apprehension, or anything, it just was a tremendous exhilaration and 'deil take the hindmost' really. And it was over, sometimes all too quickly, but sometimes not.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: How did you feel about shooting down an opponent?<br /> <br /> It's an awful thing to say but it was quite an impersonal business, really. It was a question of destroying a machine, and not killing a man, and if, as on occasion if the other pilot managed to bail out then it was a bonus really. But if, by any chance, it was a complete destruction - a flamer or something like that - no it was a machine that had been destroyed.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: It never worried you?<br /> <br /> It didn't, no, no.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: What about getting shot down yourself? That did happen.<br /> <br /> Yes, yes. Once again it only proved an old adage in the Air Force that you never saw the one that got you. And that is it precisely what happened. It happened during the commando raid on Dieppe. And on the last sortie of the day, just about lunch time, we were engaging a number of Focke Wulf 190s, and I was so enthralled with what was going on in front that I didn't see what was coming up behind, and I got popped there, and really had to bail out just about a couple of miles off the French coast.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: They say you never hear the one that got you, but you lost a finger. I mean, the first thing you know was bullets coming through the cockpit?<br /> <br /> ...was coming smashing through the cockpit, yes. But, and then, of course, it came, it was pretty violent because there wasn't much time to try and evade anything. It came through and stopped, so one assumed that the guy had a quick squirt and away. But the damage was done and I had no option but to bail out before the plane actually burst into flames.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: How did you do that?<br /> <br /> I took the. I took the third option out of three, which was the wrong one, and - One was to turn the machine upside down and drop out, and the second one was to take off, release the cockpit cover and then trim the plane back, so that it was very, very nose heavy, and then let go the control column and the plane just threw you straight out - it wouldn't really have mattered if the cockpit cover was on or not, you'd still go out, but - and the other way was to go over the side, open the door and go out over the side, which I did, but not first shot unfortunately, because I had forgot to undo my radio lead.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: And you climbed back in?<br /> <br /> I had to climb back in again and undo it.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: That's hair raising! Did you not feel a little apprehensive at that?<br /> <br /> Eh, not really. Not at the time, no. It's amazing how single tracked you can become and managed the second time but struck the tail of the aeroplane which was pretty unpleasant. And then I was picked up by a launch, a small launch with a wee Glasgow chap who handed me a great mug of tea with rum in it and the war took on a rosy glow.<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.'