NZ generosity overwhelms veteran

AIRBORNE WARRIOR: John Beeching of Nelson, a former  Royal Air Force  pilot  in World War II.
AIRBORNE WARRIOR: John Beeching of Nelson, a former Royal Air Force pilot in World War II.

Nelson World War II veteran John Beeching is looking forward to his widely publicised trip to London.

A member of the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command, John is one of three remaining men from his squadron and with the help of New Zealand's generosity will be attending the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in London in June.

John originally wanted to join the New Zealand veteran delegation at the memorial but was not considered because he did not belong to the Royal New Zealand Air Force. But after stories in the Nelson Mail John has received generous donations from the community and will now be able to make the trip to London.

What would you like to say to the people of New Zealand?
I just can't believe the generosity of people from everywhere. I had no idea this was going to happen.
It's all happened in a small space of time and we're still on cloud nine. At the moment we are just completely dumbfounded. And all those lovely letters in the paper. Going to London to me is a really big deal, it really is.

Apart from the commemoration ceremony, what else would you like to do over there?
We hope to travel a wee bit after the ceremony. There's a couple of chaps I'd like to visit, one chap lives in Norfolk and the other lives down in Somerset, so we hope to see them. I also have a niece who lives in Liverpool and they are coming to the ceremony and hopefully we can go back with them to Liverpool for a day or two.

You grew up in a world much different from today, how do you think you would go growing up in today's society?
I don't think I would cope, to be perfectly honest. It is a very, very, different world and in my opinion I grew up in a better world. I'm sure I would not convince young people these days with an answer like that but that's what I believe anyway. Goodness knows what's going to happen in the next 20 years. I can't even think about it.

What made you want to enlist in the Royal Air Force?
A friend of mine and myself went to join the army and they took him but they told me I had flat feet so I wouldn't be any good in the army. So I went across the hall to the air force recruiting centre and I joined. I had never even been near a plane before. I was 17, first flew when I was 18 and got my wings just before I turned 19.

As part of the Bomber Command, what was your role?
I didn't drop big bombs. We actually escorted the bombers to the target. Our main function was to keep the German night fighters away from our bombers. We also did diversion raids, which meant we dropped target markers on other places so the Germans would think that was where the raid was going to be. The idea was to dumbfound them and catch them on the hop.

How were you feeling the first night you flew into enemy territory?
It was a bright, moonlit night and it was in northern Germany. They just started to launch V2 rockets and we didn't know this. We were about 30,000 feet and we saw this enormous bright light coming towards us and we thought it was aimed at us but it wasn't. It went right past us at enormous speed and presumably went to England. I suppose I was anxious; think about it, wouldn't you be? But I must have been too thick because I didn't really have any fear.

After the war you moved to Canada but found it too cold. How did you come to the decision to move to New Zealand?
I was corresponding with a gentleman in Christchurch who was a member of a motorcycle club that I belonged to and he wanted to go on a working holiday in Canada and asked me to put him in contact with someone, so I said write to me. We wrote to each other for about a year and eventually I came here to live because he convinced me it was a better place to live than Canada.

And how has New Zealand treated you?
Marvellous. I've lived in Nelson for 52 years now and to me it's the greatest place on earth and I wouldn't live anywhere else.

You and Wendy have been married a long time now, what are some the secrets to a long and happy marriage?
I don't think there are any secrets. We just potter along and forgive each other for our shortcomings.