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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J A McDermott


John Alexander McDermott was born in Gourock, Scotland on 11th April 1915 and taken to New Zealand in 1923. He was educated in Wellington and worked in the Public Service there.

In January 1940 McDermott volunteered for aircrew duties and joined up as a trainee air gunner. He reported to the Ground Training School at Weraroa in mid-February and moved to the Air Observers School at Ohakea on 10th March for a Lewis gunnery course and air experience.



McDermott sailed for the UK on 26th April 1940 in the RMS Rangitiki. He was posted from No. 1 RAF Depot Uxbridge to 5 OTU Aston Down on 17th July where he converted to Blenheims, was awarded his air gunners badge and promoted to Sergeant. He joined 23 Squadron at Ford on 24th September 1940.

In late February 1941 McDermott damaged two German bombers during a night intruder operation over Lille aerodrome. In early March, landing after a patrol, a hung-up bomb exploded, setting the aircraft on fire. The navigator was killed but McDermott and the pilot were unhurt.

On 5th May 1941 he shared in destroying a He111.

McDermott was posted to 116 Squadron at Hendon on 11th March 1942 on radar calibration duties in Lysanders. In May he went to 1653 Conversion Unit at Polebrook for conversion to Liberators.

On 1st July McDermott’s crew took off in a Liberator of 159 Squadron for India. After arrival at Fayid, Egypt, his was one of the five Liberators kept there for operations in the Middle East. The squadron operated initially from St. Jean in Palestine and later Aqir.

It merged with 160 Squadron in September 1942 and the combined unit moved to Shandur in Egypt. Commissioned in November 1942, McDermott returned to the UK and was posted to 21 OTU on 8th January 1942 as an instructor.

In mid-April he flew out to India, via Gibraltar, and rejoined 159 Squadron, then based at Digri. McDermott left the squadron on 2nd February 1944, returned to the UK and was later repatriated to New Zealand, arriving there on 28th July.

He went on the Reserve on 22nd November 1944. McDermott rejoined the Public Service.

He died on 2nd January 1970.


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