Hello and thanks for visiting this “Pre-War” page, this is the first of three pages that cover my Grandfathers “full story”.
Pre-War covers my Grandfathers life in New Zealand before the War and also his Airforce training in N.Z and England before he joined an Operational Squadron.
Please see the “About Us” page or the “Short Story” page for more info.
Also please email me if you have any further info on people in the story or photo’s using the “Contact” page.
A VERY BAD IDEA
The extraordinary life of an everyday Spitfire pilot.
This site is dedicated to my Grandfather John J. Caulton.
May his memories not be forgotten in history and
his grandchildren remember him as fondly as I do.
Lest we forget.
The following story has been dictated from audio interviews I recorded of my Grandfather. While not in an actual story format, it’s really just a record of happenings and my grandfather’s opinions which I thought were too valuable to be forgotten or left unheard.
Holland 29th April 1944.
Flying just above roof top level, I was the first to notice an aircraft appear from the smog. I identified it as a Dornier 17 by its twin tails. I radioed its presence. He was going across our front, less than a quarter of a mile away. I unclipped my gun button, “broke off” and turned towards the enemy aircraft. At the same time I turned, he turned to meet me head on.
In a split second I would realise that I had mistaken a heavily armed Messerschmitt Bf110 night fighter for a lightly armed Dornier 17 bomber, a very bad idea to attack such an aircraft “head on”.
Above: Example of a Lightly armed Dornier 17 (Top), which with its twin tail, at a glance looked similar to a Messerschmitt Bf110 (below). Photo credit Wikipedia
The 37mm cannons of the Bf110 rained on my Spitfire long before my machine guns and 20mm cannons had any effect. The leading edge of my right wing tore open, catching the airflow and ripping my aircraft to the right, out of the way of cannon fire as he passed close to me. It all was over in a second. I tried to turn around to line up on him again but that’s when I noticed a plume of fuel vapor from my auxiliary fuel tank, which amongst a barrage of rude words, I hurried to drop. I turned north to go to the sea but my gauges were showing that the oil was in trouble… I was in trouble…
Chapter 1 – Family Life
My father Ernest Walter Oakley Caulton was a Hotelier like his father had been and worked at the “Carlton Club” in Hastings, New Zealand.
He went to the South African war in 1902, when he was 16 ½. You weren’t supposed to go that young but he had gone to Wellington to spend up and find his fortune, I suppose, well and to see the big smoke and city. He and a mate ran out of money and the land lady there took possession of their luggage and they had no job. So they went round to try and enlist for the Boer War and got chased out because of their age, and someone said if you go and see King Dick Seddon he’ll give you a warrant to get up to Trentham, which they did – about twenty of them – and next minute they’re in camp and they’re on horses and they’re off to the South African war. They went up to Transvaal in South Africa and then the thing fizzled out.
Later in 1918 he went to the First World War. He was an old man by then at 32, in war terms. He went to England but never got to France, it was all over by the time he got there.
Above: John’s Father Ernest Caulton in WW1 uniform with his wife Sarah and older brother Henry shown also.
He married my mother Sarah Conway in between those two wars and had my older brother Henry. Henry was 3 years and 3 months older than me.
I was born in Nelson St Hastings, (New Zealand) in 1920. At 4 years old my Father, Mother and older brother Henry moved to Wanstead, out in the country, where my father ran the Wanstead Pub.
Above: Wanstead Pub – (Hawkes Bay) originally built in 1871
My father wanted to move to the country as my mother had taken ill and he thought the country air would do her good. She had Tuberculosis which was called Consumption in those days. She was very afraid she might hand it on to the family, so my father bought an old railway carriage and placed it behind the pub for her to stay in. I went to primary school at the local country school.
The time at Wanstead was during the slump, we were lucky as children as we got fed, hard to explain but for young families that were not in business or with parents working on the roads didn’t have much, no money, no food. I only know that because we were getting well fed and they weren’t.
Above: Outside Wanstead Pub 1931. Older brother Henry, Father Ernest and myself. My first day of school on the way to SilverStream.
I was very keen on flying even before the War, and I used to come down to my Grandmothers for holidays and I remember going in January 1931 – the last time I was in Hastings before the big earthquake. This fellow (Guy Menzies) had just flown across the Tasman on his own in nothing much bigger than a Tiger Moth – Avro Avian aircraft – he toured the country and landed at Hastings aerodrome. He was brought into Hastings. I biked all the way back and sat on my bike opposite the Grand Hotel when it was a great big five-storey brick edifice, and he gave a speech from there.
Above: Photograph of Guy Menzies and two other men standing beside his Avro Avian biplane “Southern Cross Junior” at an unidentified aerodrome (probably Wellington), taken in 1931. National Library of New Zealand, Reference Number: PAColl-0224-23. Menzies far left, later was killed in action as a RAF pilot.
I was sent to St Patrick’s College, Silverstream boarding school (near Wellington) in 1931 to 1935 and only used to come back for the holidays.
Above: St Patrick’s boys waiting for the train. John or his older brother Henry somewhere amongst them.
Above and Below: Military Training at St Patrick’s College, Silverstream. John’s older brother Henry Caulton on horseback above and below.
My mother died from Tuberculosis while I was away at school in 1934 at 43 years old. Because my Mum had died my father could no longer run the pub. The rules of a Pub were you had to have a woman in charge, as they were less likely to get drunk.
We had mainly moved to Wanstead for my Mother’s health, now she was gone there was no need to stay there. Dad had sold the pub shortly after that and I came back to live in Hastings, I was about 16. We lived with my Mother’s sister there for a while.
Above: My mother Sarah as a young woman (maiden name Conway) middle with her sisters Bridget and Margaret.
I can remember way back in 1937, I was walking with a friend going down to skating one day and the first Spitfire, called a Spitfire Speed, had just flown at a record speed in England. I said it’s my ambition to fly one of those one day. I couldn’t afford any fees down at the aero club, I only had a push bike those days, I was going to join what they call the “Short Service Commission” when I was 18, I applied for the papers, and the application to join up.
My brother worked on a farm up behind Waipukurau as a stockman.
Well, it was very hard to get a position at that time – it was the end of the slump period of course and jobs weren’t very easy to find. I hunted for a number of places, even at the Meat Works but that was a closed shop for mates only. And I got a job with Stewart Greer’s. And I was just the local boy that kept the new cars clean and the windows for old Bill Greer. I won’t say what sort of person old Bill was but he wasn’t easy to get on with. The windows and the pumps – and it was all hand pumps those days – Plume and Big Tree brand gasoline, and I enjoyed the fact of being amongst cars there but I found old Bill just a bit difficult to work for.
So then I left there and went to JR McKenzie’s, a big department store. I got a job as Storeman for a couple of years. I started playing football and we had a lot of local chaps who I’d gone to school with. I was inducted to the Club, to Celtic.
Above: Me fourth from the front, playing for Hastings 24th Aug 1939.
Jack Blake a Car Dealer who played in the team said “have you thought of coming to work with me?” (At “Tourist Motors”, Hastings) And I thought that wasn’t a bad idea either. And it was back to motor cars again which you know, in my boyhood job was quite glamorous. You drove some lovely motor cars and the idea was to try and sell some of them. I wasn’t terribly successful at selling – I did sell a few, but then the war came and that was the end of new cars.
Above: Tourist Motor Co Ltd, Hastings, NZ. 22nd Sep 1939.
John Caulton (Also nicknamed “Jack”) working as a car dealer 5th from the left (Under the “U”) and Jack Blake who got John the job there directly under the “X”.
With no wife my father had to work as a Barman. He got a job at the Taradale pub. A chap Ray Coe looked after the Taradale Pub but whenever he was left in charge he was bloody well drunk. My Brother died in ’38 from Pneumonia at 21 years of age. I rushed out on the Saturday because I used to work the weekends out there to help them out, well I got to the bar door and this Ray Coe came to the door and I said, where’s Dad, what’s happening, how’s my Brother. He said, “awe he’s died”, just like that. He hadn’t actually died at that stage, I rocked back on my heels and said “what do you mean?” Then he realised what he had said, he was full of booze. How much he pinched I wouldn’t know, it was hard to get people, responsible and all the rest of it which goes with that. Now and again it was a bit rocky, I stayed the weekend and the next weekend after my brother had gone. I never forgave Ray Coe for that, it wasn’t necessary. It was a shocker as he got pneumonia and that was it. There was no cure.
Above: My older brother Henry Caulton in his St Patrick’s, Silverstream First XV jersey. He was a keen sportsman who won awards for Rugby, Boxing and Athletics.
Above: John’s brother Henry in his good gear, main street of Hastings 1937, around a year before he died.
Above: John with his bike in almost the same spot as his brother in the photo above. Hastings main street, Westermans department store in the background.
Above: Henry’s Newspaper death notice
I would have gone into the Airforce in 1938, you went straight to England and you got 4 years in the air force and 6 years in reserve, but as Dad had lost my Mother and my Brother, I was the only one left so I decided not to go, and then of course the war came along the next year anyway.
My Father remarried and in 1939 at the start of the war we moved to the White Hart Pub in Marton. As he now had a wife, he could go back to running the Hotel.
In 1940 of course, “the balloon had gone up” in England and the Battle of Britain was on and you used to hear that at midday on the radio – a description of who was dying and who was about to live. And I thought that sounded pretty interesting so I joined up in 1940 as a volunteer.
I worked in the pub while I was waiting to go into the Airforce. I had to do a lot of homework for the Air Force in the way of about four subjects, maths mainly, mechanics and physics.
Above: White Hart Hotel, Marton 1939
The next thing was, being in Marton, the Chief ground instructor from Ohakea air base had a car firm in Palmerston and he used to come up to visit his girlfriend and stay at the pub. I’d asked him something about the air force, I was still a civilian working in the pub, he said are you going into the Airforce, and I said I had volunteered and I was in but I have to wait. He said, you come to Ohakea, I’ll see you come to Ohakea. I said thank you…but I knew at Ohakea they had Hawker Hinds, like a big Tiger Moth with a Rolls motor, antiquated things with fixed undercarriage. There were just wrecks of aircraft in NZ at that stage.
All Aircrew were volunteers. You couldn’t just get into the Airforce there were no planes to fly, but they took you in and gave you vaccinations. First of all I went to Wanganui and you went before a selection board.
Above: Air Force selection board in Wanganui. Powell, Ken Jurkins, J.J Caulton (myself), C (Ray). Brandt, Len Dornbusch, Ken Jurkins was later killed in training at Woodbourne when he bailed from a Harvard and his chute was caught up on the tail.
They said, “You, volunteer, so what do you want to be? A gunner or a pilot”. I’d always stuck out to be a Pilot, of a Spitfire as well. Then you had your medical and inoculations for TB, and vaccinations for cow-pox before you even got into the Airforce. On Wednesday nights we used to go up to the Post-Office to learn Morse Code. So they kept you occupied, plus the fact that you had to go back to school, you had 21 assignments to complete in 4 subjects, all my hated subjects like maths and algebra, going back to school again was hard work, they brought you up to a standard. There were a lot of school teachers in the Hotel which was helpful, but you still had to do it. Because I’d been waiting for a year, I came up on the Army draft list, I had to give them my Volunteer number and that fixed that. I’d have never gone in the bloody Army anyway, I hated all the marching and walking everywhere.
Above: My Volunteers badge serial number 2984 (on reverse), worn on your collar to identify you had “signed up”.
Volunteer’s badge, when you first joined up, you got that to wear, because there were a hell of a lot of “white feathers” – any young fellows that didn’t join up, they took the “mickey” out of those people. It was quite a while from when we joined up until we went on Basic Training. Of course I used to get a bit of stick in the bar I worked in. People across the bar used to go, “why aren’t you in the bloody army”, but the barman used to be on my side, he’d say “he’s going into the Airforce, get off his back”.
Chapter 2 – Training in New Zealand
Then in 1941 I was called up for Basic Ground Training in Levin.
Above: My Notification papers to report for Basic Ground Training
On the train down to Levin I had my Kodak 8mm movie camera, that my father had brought me from America. The train went past the Naval docks and there were all these ships lined up, so I took some footage. We got to the station and the old boy said, oh you can’t do that, he was going to have to take my camera. Someone on the train must have potted me. I said you can’t do that I’ve just had it given to me, my Dad’s just brought it back from the States. He went on about breaking the law, after a bit of discussion I said if I give you the piece of film, cut it off, will that be alright. So he let me go at that. The other interesting thing was, the fellow that was taking my details down, bloody big full-scale page he was writing, name, age, where you were born, where did you go to school all of that, I said St Patrick’s Silverstream, he looked up and down at the paper again and I said are you an old boy? He said not there, but the old school in Wellington. I said some names of old boys I knew that had gone there and he knew a few so that eased the plot. I was still upset to give up my film but he said to me you can go up Queen St and buy postcards of all the Naval docks, you don’t need to record it.
Above: Me with the 8mm Kodak Movie camera my Father brought me back from the USA. I filmed this shot in a mirror on a holiday at the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in Wellington, N.Z 1940
Basic Training, RNZAF Station, Levin (Weraroa)
We arrived down at Levin at four in the morning on the train called ‘Limited”. We were met by some …..I wont say, but an unnamed person with two stripes on his arm who was difficult from the word go – lined us up on the station and told us we were in the service and all the rest of it in no uncertain manner. And then we had to march all the way down to Weraroa, just out of Levin a ways. And that’s where we did our ground training and we got inducted.
There were no aeroplanes or machine-guns and that sort of thing. Half the stuff we saw there we never saw again.
Everyone got a service number, I was given a number and I never thought anything about it until I went to get a uniform and they said “what’s your number?” I said, what number, where from? The Sergeant said, “where have you been fella”, but eventually found it and it turned out my number was one of the most concurrent numbers issued being 41 42 43. The first number 41, is the year you go in, after that it’s whatever numbers come up.
Basic Training, RNZAF Station, Levin (Weraroa). Caulton top row, sixth from left.
Basic Training lasted around 6 or 8 weeks, which was all school work and marching, and one or two difficult NCO’s that used to lash out verbally at you which made it unpleasant. I think I had to resit some exams down there because we played up a bit, into town as you do, I was 21. One fellow I was tenting with said, if you don’t stay in and swat you won’t get into the air force. We had a fellow that was the Camp Commandant there, an older man, he was in the first World War as a pilot, Heartgill by name, we broke camp one weekend and we got caught out and had to go before him, we hadn’t done well in the previous tests, so next minute we were in front of him, a little short fat man like Churchill, he asked all the questions, I told him I had gone to school at St Pats, well he banged the table with his fist, all the stuff on it jumped up a foot and he told me I shouldn’t be letting the school down by failing, otherwise he said ‘you’ll be in the bloody Army”. That was enough to frighten the daylights out of us anyway. That was always a threat.
Above: M.J. Kelt, J.S. Lockyer , J.J. Caulton (All from Hastings) – RNZAF Station, Levin. With the threat of all three being kicked out and put in Khaki by Squadron Leader “Heartgill”, it was decided to get a photo in uniform while we could.
It’s funny, when we got down to Levin (Basic Training) we were told to hand that “V” badge in when we got down to there, the first night in camp, “put them in this box here.” A lot of fellows peeled them off and put them in, I “smelt a rat” straight away, those characters, those Erks (Ground staff), did that, they would sell them off to civilians (who would be avoiding being hassled if they had not joined up yet).
Above: Another group photo taken at Levin. Date shows 4th September 1941. Caulton marked with a circle. In the below link, Home footage taken by John Caulton can be seen of this day.
RNZAF Station “Bell Block” New Plymouth – No 2 Elementary Flying Training School
Course students – Bell Block, New Plymouth. Caulton top row, fifth from right. Photo taken in the doorway of the hangar in photo further on.
Here we trained on Tiger Moths and you were either in or out there. If you didn’t go solo there you reverted back to other flying duties like gunner or navigator or whatever.
Above: John in Tiger Moth flying suit – 1941 (Caulton collection)
Above: Kelt, Holdaway, Caulton. Outside Bell Block Hangar- 1941
When I finished my elementary training in Tiger Moths I said to my instructor what are you recommending me for, he said he was recommending me for either Bombers or Fighters, I said to him, did it matter to him if he could just recommend one, Fighters, he said he didn’t mind changing it to just Fighters, so he did. If you don’t ask, you are in the “swim” with the rest of them. There were a lot of fast twins coming on stream such as Mitchel’s so everyone wasn’t just choosing Fighters.
Photo of RNZAF Station “Bell Block” New Plymouth from an Aviation magazine of the time.
Sure enough, at the end of our course in New Plymouth, we were about to go down to RNZAF Base Woodbourne in the South Island, I got called up to Squadron Leader “Hill” and he said, I’ve been asked by the Commanding Officer of Ohakea that you go there (this came from previous talks with the ground instructor at the Pub), I said to him, “do I have a choice?” he said “oh yes you do” I said that I’d like to go down with the rest of the course to Woodbourne where they have Harvard’s. He agreed and that was that. It doesn’t always work but if you don’t ask you don’t get! Harvard’s had flaps and retractable undercarriage, they were a modern aeroplane.
RNZAF Station Woodbourne, Blenheim, NZ – No 2 Service Flying Training School
Above: John Caulton, front row centre as the “Course Commander”.
I flew a few cross country’s Woodbourne to New Plymouth. One of which I refuelled at Ohakea, Rung my father and said I’ll be passing over Marton (where his Pub was) in the next half an hour. You know the noise the Harvard makes, you put them into fine pitch, where it really spins and it goes past the speed of sound… screams. Marton was a little bit to the side of the course, so I had to doctor my navigation notes a little. So I went along the Main Street and put it into fine, and dropped down a bit, for my Dad’s benefit I suppose, and they were all out on the veranda. And I looked back and there was a street full of people, it was screaming and I was quite low about 500 ft. Then I buggered off quick before someone took my number down, because it’s a big number on the side.
Above: 1941, stop over on a cross country to New Plymouth. My fathers car in the background.
Another time I did a height climb at midday I flew over my old school, Silversteam near Trentham, I knew it was lunch time and all the present pupils of the day were going into lunch, so I did the same thing there and got out quick. A lot of people did this and dived on things, then splattered themselves around the countryside, a lot of people got killed, but if you flew low and got away quick you could get away with it. If you gave someone a thrill and put an imprint on the school, that’s my only claim to fame at Silversteam I think.
Above: Flying cross country to New Plymouth in a Harvard. Hugh Tucker in front, photo by me from second seat. 1941.
I was a bit annoyed about this, I did not get a Commission, I was still a Sergeant at the end of training. I have a thing, I might be wrong but in New Zealand the Public Service used to be, everyone got buried from the Anglican Church, they belonged there. If you were a Catholic as I was supposed to be those days, that was a bit different and it was always regarded as a bit foreign, if you like. So when you went for your Commission you had an interview towards the end and your religion came up, if you weren’t the national, it sounds a bit strange but it was a fact in my opinion that if you were a Catholic you didn’t get the same advantage that anyone that belonged to the established Church, which is the Church of England, it’s as simple as that really. Now I was the Course Commander on this course, all the way from Levin, didn’t get any extra pay, none at all, so when I got here, and the final deal was when we finished our course and then you went before the C/O of the time and got asked a few questions, whether you did everything right, whether you sat down when you were told to, and if you took your hat off, if you knew the right drill, which I knew but it didn’t make any difference. I was the first Course Commander that didn’t get a Commission, so it peed me off because it was money and it was uniform, a decent cloth uniform instead of a rough thing. But I was recommended for one, and it did peeve me off…I could have put Church of England down because my Dad was, I’m sure I would have got one. That’s my theory.
You used to always have trouble with food in the forces, “she’s near enough” sort of attitude. An orderly officer used to come around, he usually had a Sergeant with him, when you were having your meal they would come around and you would stop your meal and come to attention and they would ask, “any complaints?” Well it never happened at Woodbourne as the C/O Caldwell would come in, he would go to the head person being fed in line up at the counter so he got exactly what everyone else was getting, took it away and sat down and ate it. It’s the only time I saw in my service career a CO doing that. Everything was top line as the cooks knew that he could appear at any time. Caldwell was very well thought of even in those days. He had been a famous WW1 pilot.
Whereas at Levin (previous base) we had all sorts of things, burnt porridge, he was a bloody awful cook, nothing seemed right in Levin. The orderly came in and barked out the order, any complaints and everyone stood up, the whole bloody room and that caused a bit of a commotion.
That’s another thing my wings, we were looking forward to the wings exam and passing and also the flying of course. You didn’t get your wings unless you passed in the ground subjects as well as all the flying ones. So it was a big moment and one night we suddenly had to go and kit up, we had just about finished our course and were about to go on leave. So we had to go down to the stores and get all of our kit, flying boots, and gloves. All the extra gear, not a hell of a lot, that we took with us, mainly sheep skin lined boots and gauntlets, of course we were waiting for this wings exam parade, which was always a big parade at the end of the course. They all lined up and the C/O came along and pinned the wings on your jacket which you had worked for all this time. Well we did not get to that as we were called up a day or two earlier and given about 6 or 7 days final leave because the boat was in at Lyttleton. Some of the “ground” people envied us because they had not qualified, and the females wanted the pilots instead of ground crew. This bloody stores fellow spun this couple of wings down the counter to us and said “there’s your Friday nights”, as sour as you could be. I can’t remember his name, wouldn’t care but I can remember his face, he never made it as an airman, probably would have lived longer than some of us anyway.
Above: My Father Ernest and myself on leave before I left for England – 1942
Chapter 3 – To England by Sea
Then we went off on the ship ‘Warwick Castle’ all the way to England with two stops on our own. It was a passenger liner, and there were only 33 of us on the whole ship. Food was aplenty and so was booze so it wasn’t bad at all.
Above: The Passenger Liner “Warwick Castle” we sailed to England on. Only 33 of us on the entire ship!
From New Zealand we sailed nearly down to the ice and then up to South America. You could tell by the gulls and the cold. The first stop was Panama, we got off and a mate Dick Mc Donald and I made some enquiries about an airforce base, because it was an American zone and it was very heavily fortified even at that time. We got out to “France Field”, and met these American airforce fellows and they showed us a P-40, a Kittyhawk. It was all “gloss” and pictures and your imagination ran away with you on what you would do with it.
We had had a few drinks and went into the Panamanian zone. Because the canal zone was American but outside that was the republic of Panama, and it was only across the street! These yanks said “stick with us” they were going into town, it was a bit of a wild west outside the American zone. We were having some drinks and sitting around this table and this fellow who came from Texas, a big American marine, I’ve forgotten who the other fellows were but they were very good to us and told us where we were at and how to behave to keep from being knocked over or stolen from and all the rest of it. Of course we were sitting down and it became 10 o’clock, then “zero” hour came for them to get back into the zone. The Naval Police came around, they just armed these fellows with a batten and an armband and they were quite rude, they said “get out of town.” Dick McDonald was full of booze and said well you know where you bastards can go and how to get there and all the rest of it and this fellow was going to hit him, this Texan fellow who was about 6 foot 4 and was built the same size. He stood up and the table went for a 6 (flew over), all the glasses went off the table and his words were, “don’t you hit Mac” and this fellows arm dropped beside him. Old Dick asked for it, he really did ask for it.
And then the next night we went out and through the Canal and out the other side, that took the best part of a day.
Then up North, never saw any land except when we got opposite Miami, the eastern sea board of the States, I suppose we were a mile off the beach, we could see people, cars and houses, I thought if we were going to get torpedoed, now was the time. The only thing that happened there was I was leaning over the side and I lost a fountain pen.
The US had entered the War and what we didn’t know was that the Eastern Coast of the America’s wasn’t really being defended, and Britain couldn’t get across that far. The German subs were having a royal time down there, about 110 ships were sunk in one month along there, but we didn’t know that at the time. The only thing we knew is that you weren’t allowed to lock the doors at night, that was in case we got hit and you couldn’t get out.
Above: Actual Ships Menu, April 18th 1942, reverse side has been signed by some of the other airmen on board.
Then we arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the North Eastern side of Canada. Big port there, big holding place.
We enjoyed the Canadians – their hospitality was overwhelming. Our stay in Nova Scotia was like we were part of the family, some were Scottish. We were off to go to War and I guess that many have lost family in the first World War. The welcoming…people would stop you in the streets, we were offered parties to go to, all those things. It was very cold, I remember going to buy things to send back home, bits and pieces, silk stockings was the main thing those days that people could not get. I went into this store and the old boy came along and said “leave it with us, put your name on it, we’ll post it”. They couldn’t do enough for you. And food wise, oh we paid in the restaurants, and there was an ANZAC club in Halifax as well as an Airforce club, because so many went through there on the training scheme and on the way to England. Basic and Elementary Training was done in Australia and Rhodesia like ours in New Zealand, then next was Operational Training which a lot of Bomber crew did their Operational Training in Canada, but Fighter Training was mainly in England like mine was.
Above: ANZAC Club, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. John Caulton circled left and J.G Neilson circled right among others enjoying Canadian hospitality. April 1942.
Then we formed up there with a convoy of five troop ships including our own, full of Canadian troops. Four ships beside us were loaded. Absolutely chocka, they were down in the hold of the ship, we had a cabin, a twin cabin we were living in luxury. They didn’t crowd anyone else in our cabins. We formed up, 14 warships around us, it was quite a sight, it really was. There was a big cruiser next to us with an aeroplane on it. They were all American ships but they didn’t fly flags, we thought they were British until we got just near England and they put up American flags. The ships zigged and zagged the whole time. How they kept station and didn’t run into one another I don’t know, that was their job. They put out this float plane, a single sea plane, off the catapult. I thought oh shit what is he going to do to come back? That was an interesting operation, there was a big raft, I don’t know what it was made of that they towed behind the ship, it took the chop out of the water I guess, for the first part of this landing then they hauled him back on board. He was scouting for submarines.
Above: Warwick Castle with troops going to sea and Philadelphia and two other liners ready to go Date: 10 April 1942 (Photo credit https://novascotia.ca/archives) The date of this matches J.J Caulton’s dates so he should be on this ship in this actual photo.
It was about a 5 day trip, the last day out of England and they all left us except two destroyers. We were in the Irish Sea somewhere just approaching Scotland and they went on to Iceland, I wouldn’t want to go there for a holiday in winter time!
Then we arrived in Scotland. That was a wake up call, right on the Scottish border. The place was run down, it was dark and next minute we were on a train for about 24 hours and we went all the way down to the South of England to Bournemouth.
Chapter 4 – Training in England
No 3 PCA Bournemouth (1 March 1942 – 2 May 1942)
The trip down to Bournemouth, that was a shock to the system. There was a rolling fog all the way down through the Midlands in the train, and I thought my God, this is hell in real life, you know. It was, well, industrial smog it was called those days – it was fog and smoke together – it was pretty lethal when flying.
They had old hotels emptied out with just the basic furniture in them, we were lodged in those. There were quite a few of us there, the preceding group was still there and every now and again a group would leave to go on training. Half our group hadn’t arrived, they were on another ship.
Above: First lodgings in Bournemouth. Looked all right from the outside, but you should have seen the inside! Pretty basic.
Above: Relaxing outside of our new lodgings. Caulton centre front, Kelt right side.
We were in the service now so we went where they told us. You went off to talks and classes.
There was a lot of free time. The officer in charge had a count in the morning and then you went off down the road. You could see some fellows go this way and others go that way. We got away and wandered around Bournemouth. In fact I got into a bit of trouble there, it was the only time I got put on a charge. I took someone up to London, a friend, when I came back I’d been posted, but I hadn’t been on the parade ground in the morning so was presumed deserted. I was late back on the train, so the old boy “had me on the mat”, nice old man, he must have been 65 odd, he had been out east in one of the earlier wars. I walked into the room and as I did the Corporal whipped my hat off my head, as you were not supposed to have it on. He threw it on the ground. I said, excuse bloody me. I was a Sergeant, one rank above. The old boy gave me a bloody good talking to. I said I’d gone up to London, and I shouldn’t have gone up, so I apologised. I think I got two days docked pay in the end. It’s the only “Black” I got, or got caught on. You got used to a bit of discipline, you just conformed, some of them fought against it, didn’t want to do this and that, one fellow wouldn’t fly, he wanted to go back to New Zealand where the Japs might attack, a chap I’d gone to school with, I don’t know what happened to him, he lived, he wasn’t shot or anything like that.
We waited there for quite a while, we went sightseeing round England, up to London of course to see the big smoke.
Above: Sightseeing. Bombed out buildings in Portsmouth, I’m far left.
Above: Feeding the pigeons, sightseeing Trafalgar Square, London.
There was a wonderful organisation over there to look after so-called empire people, which we were… in those days Australia, New Zealand, Canada and all those places were still very much connected to England.
Lady Godiva and Miss McDonald of the Isles. They had an organisation where you could go into their office if you like, which was an enormous building, and you could nominate anywhere in England you would like to go to, and they would have names and addresses handed into them who they would then sort out and pair you off to, and away you went.
It was a great introduction – kept you out of trouble and showed you the countryside a bit because it was expensive. You got a rail warrant, all you had to hand in was your food rationing card.
This fellow and I, we didn’t know where to go to, and I said “well, how about we go to the pottery districts?” And we went up to Stoke on Trent is the name, and then we went to this new place, it was Wedgwood. So it was a new factory, it was a factory in a garden, as it was called. It was out in the countryside and this elderly man came and met us at the train and took us back home first, and then the next day took us around. So we were there for about a fortnight staying with him, and we trooped around the countryside on a couple of bikes and went to different places of interest that he told us about. There were no cars available because petrol was off the list. So Wedgewood was one place we went to, through the factory, and that was interesting. It was brand new and you couldn’t buy anything there, everything was going for export to pay for the war of course.
Above: Train station, waiting to head off on another trip around the countryside sightseeing. I’m far right, next to me is Ian Kelt also from Hawkes Bay, NZ.
There was a pub in the village which they didn’t deny us going to, but they sort of looked sideways a little bit at us going down to the pub at night, but it was a very pleasant little place.
Above: The local Pub, “Jolly Tar”
Above: Local Pub again, settling in by the looks.
No 5 AFU (Advanced Flying Unit) Ternhill, Calverly (5 June 1942 – 20 June 1942)
The first place I got posted was “Ternhill”, lots of old aeroplanes there. We started flying and also back to the classroom. Again a lot of stuff we never used again. A lot of compass work, percentages of turn and maths which didn’t do me any good. I was lucky that when it came to practical using a compass was no problem at all. And if you got lost you rang up (on your RT) and said, I’m lost! As long as your radio was alright you were safe. There was foggy weather, none I really got seriously worried about as you could always fly low and follow railway lines. If you did get lost you “called up” and gave your call sign which you always had, it did change, that identified you, they also had another identification thing on the aircraft called “friend or foe”, you needed this in case a German aircraft sneaked in. The radio operator gave you a course, and you set it and followed it back.
At Ternhill we flew an aircraft called a Miles Master, which was a similar sized aircraft to the Harvard, an interesting aircraft in a way, fabric, heavier than a tiger moth, most were a radial engine but there was one model with a small Roll’s V12 motor. It was a very nice aircraft to fly, we had dual instructions with that. I also had my first fly of a Hurricane I, solo, all 45 minutes of it.
Above: Example of a Miles Master III with the Pratt and Whitney W Wasp radial engine.
Above: Example of a Miles Master I with the Kestral V12 engine.
Above: Me back center, Ian Kelt and Robbie McCarthy to my left. Robbie came from Te Awanga, his family had the store down there. He was killed shortly after he got there, lost an engine on a Wellington Bomber, he tried to make it back instead of baling out. Robbie was a determined sort of fellow, he didn’t make it, just the rear gunner made it, if I remember rightly.
No 61 OTU (Operational Training Unit)
Rednal (26 June 1942 – 26 Aug 1942)
Montford Bridge (26 Aug 1942 – 10 Sep 1942)
Rednal “STAFF PILOT” (24 Sep 1942 – 14 Nov 1942)
Above: First Course photo, Rednal. Caulton marked with a circle to his right.
Many on this course were USA airmen in the RAF. Some of the names on the reverse are: Hannah (New Brunswick, USA), Harvey Johnston (New Jersey, USA), McKay (New York, USA), Netcham (Connecticut, USA), Bogue (California, USA), among other Canadians and English.
Next we went over to Spit OTU (Operational Training Unit), then we got to our first Spitfire solo, that was always interesting. I was quite happy, you learned all your emergency procedures for putting your wheels down, by this time you were supposed to know how to land if you had an engine failure and that. Along with crossing to Wales and where that was at. A lot of big mountains nearby, the numbers of people that run into those in training, in fog and low cloud. That’s the nearest thing I ever came to hitting a hill because I think I’d met a girl the night before, had a dance in Shrewsbury. She said she was working as a “land girl” (farm hand), I think I found the place, I circled around and threw a message out as you did in those days, on a silk handkerchief. Suddenly I found myself in cloud, on quite an angle and I’d daren’t go down. I got it out flying straight and level, but it was a close call.
That’s a Spit one, (Mark 1) that was a bit different inside, to get the undercart down, you had to make a selection and then you had a big long pump handle, had a big curve in it and you had to pump it down. They had had a bit of a hard life.
After two and a half months and a total of 60 hours on the Spitfire I passed my course flying Mark 1 and 2 Spitfires, then was retained on the second course as an Instructor. A lot of the second course intake were Norwegians. It wasn’t really instructing because you couldn’t instruct in a Spitfire because there was only room for one. So you took people up for formation flying, you told them to come a bit closer or get the bloody hell out of it, some of them would dip a wing and didn’t know where to stop. There was a bit of that sort of thing. Oh, in some cases you took them up in a Miles Master, a two place trainer. You took people up and they were under a hood to do cross country training – or supposedly.
And then of course you had link trainers which was a ground thing that taught you blind flying, and that was ongoing from New Plymouth even.
Above: Second course, Rednal. I was retained as a “Staff Pilot” or Instructor. A large number of the course were Norwegians.
Above: Me standing up, F/O Appleton on the right with a few of the others on my course, Rednal, England.
Above: Another group photo with me sitting on the wing (Marked with a dot). In front with his hands on his hips is Squadron Leader Thermie (DFC, DFM & Bar)
There were a lot of fellows at O.T.U, that … I was bad enough, you know, and everyone was a new boy on the block, and you’d never flown a Spit before, and off you went. And it was like a bird… a fledgling… somewhere off a high cliff, you know. You either made it or you didn’t – and some didn’t make it, you know – there was a few that didn’t. A number of crashes we had there. Not a lot of deaths. Oh yeah, there were a few deaths. Chaps did silly things. I had a New Zealand fellow when I was doing the instructing there – or they didn’t call it instructing, they called it “staff piloting” which was like an instructor. Take them up for formation flying, and you went up – four of you, then two … and did some formation flying, then two of you paired off in each way, and flew anywhere and you sort of did dog fighting as it were. And this little Chinese boy, Lee, from New Zealand. He peeled off and he got himself into a position upside down, and instead of rolling out – you know, it was all inexperience – he tried to pull through the loop – he was on his back, and he tried to pull through that way and he ran out of air. And he hit the ground and that was it. And all he needed to do was roll out of it. It was as simple as that. We had to go back and do all the necessary, finding where it was, I’d marked the spot as near as I could, of course the recovery teams went out and collected the bits and pieces. There was a lot of operational incidents really. (Caulton’s Log book states “Pilot Officer Lee” was killed the 14th November 1942).
Above: Willie Chan Lee in pilot gear during training possibly in China. Photo Credit: Dan Chan Lee
(Pilot Officer WILLIE LEE #416123, Royal New Zealand Air Force. Born 12 January 1914, Dannevirke, New Zealand. Returned to China to be educated at Pui Ching Middle School, Canton. He attended night school and studied mathematics for two years and then attended the Central Military Airforce School at Hangchow where he completed 100 hours flying. In 1938 he returned to New Zealand and enlisted in 1940. His first base was at the Initial Training Wing at Levin, N.Z where he went on 9 November 1941 and trained on Harvard aircraft. Died in a training accident 14th Nov 1942 at the age of 28)
Above: A Czech friend, W/O Jindřich ZÁKRAVSKÝ. Was killed later in the war “low flying”
( Zakravsky’s real name was Jaroměř Náchod. Many Czech’s changed their names to avoid German reprisal attacks on their families back home. Zakravsky was killed 26/09/1944 when he hit the sea during practice attack on ship, 1 mile east of Nab Tower, Spithead.
Flying a Hawker Hurricane with 667 Squadron.
A lot of people came down – forgot to put their wheels down, and it didn’t make much difference if they did, you know – they bounced up in the air, and… it was quite, a bit horrifying, some of the sights, some of the prangs on the aerodrome. It was a big triangular aerodrome and fairly new, and once you ran off the hard standings you were into ploughed ground – well that was pretty fatal – everything went sideways, you know.
You saw some things – one crashed Spit we ran over to – it was in about three pieces, and someone said “oh, he’s had it” with a few adjectives on it, and a little voice came out and said “no I bloody haven’t – get me out of here”.
He was still in there! Well, it had rolled into soft ground and just fell apart, because they’re pretty flimsy really.
FOR MORE OF THE STORY PLEASE SEE THE “WAR YEARS” PAGE COVERING MY GRANDFATHERS TIME IN OPERATIONAL RAF SQUADRONS.