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The Airmen's Stories - F/O J Fleming


John Fleming was born in Scotland on 29th July 1915 and taken to New Zealand as a child. He graduated as a Bachelor of Commerce in 1935 from Victoria College, Wellington and got his Masters degree there two years later.

In 1938 Fleming was nominated for one of the few direct-entry permanent commissions in the RAF, offered each year to graduates of British and Commonwealth universities. He was accepted and sailed for the UK on 6th May 1939.



Fleming began his flying training at 5 E&RFTS Hanworth on 12th June, moving on 19th August to 2 FTS Brize Norton for No. 40 Course, which ran from 21st August 1939 to 17th February 1940.

With the course completed, Fleming was posted to No. 1 Air Armament School Manby for a Specialist Armament Course, this ended on 6th July.

Fleming then went to 6 OTU Sutton Bridge, for conversion to Hurricanes, after which he joined 605 Squadron at Drem on 5th August. The squadron moved south to Croydon on 7th September.

The following morning they were ordered off and met a force of enemy bombers, escorted by Me109s, over Tunbridge Wells. In the ensuing combat Fleming was shot down in flames. He baled out, made a delayed drop of 20,000 feet and landed, badly burned and shocked.

Fleming was taken to Wrotham Cottage Hospital, at that time housing twelve expectant mothers. He was transferred to the RAF Hospital Halton, where he was put aside as a hopeless case after refusing to have both his legs amputated at the hip. With burned eyeballs, lying blindfolded in a small room, having injections of morphine every four hours, he was, in his own words, 'left to rot'.

He was found by Archibald Mclndoe. The surgeon suggested that as he was far too badly burned for plastic surgery, he might like to go to Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead to try the saline bath treatment. Mclndoe pointed out that the treatment was still largely experimental but by then Fleming had nothing to lose.


Above image copyright Queen Victoria Hospital/East Grinstead Museum.


He transferred from Halton in October and within ten days of starting the bath treatment microscopic dots of skin began to grow, although initially they could only be seen with a magnifying glass.

Fleming was at East Grinstead until August 1941, when he was discharged to RAF Kenley. In September he was posted to 23 OTU Pershore as Chief Armament Instructor and Station Armament Officer.

Two years later Fleming was seconded to 12 Group RCAF, to take up the post of Inspector of Bombing and Gunnery at OTUs in Canada.

He was awarded the MBE in 1944. In March 1945 he was recalled to the UK to join one of the specialist teams tracking down V1 and V2 sites in France and Belgium in the wake of the advancing Allied armies.

He went to Manby in September for the first Advanced Empire Air Armament Course, after which he was sent to the RAF Staff College Bracknell for a course.

In June 1946 Fleming returned to New Zealand on leave, his first visit in over seven years.

He held a series of appointments in Britain and overseas prior to retiring at his own request on 5th February 1959.

Fleming settled in England and became a trust administrator.

He died in 1995.

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