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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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485
485 Squadron Spitfire IX EN572 Sq/Ldr. John Milne Checketts DFC

Operation: Intruder

Date: 06th September 1943 (Monday)

Unit: No. 485 Squadron (NZ) (motto: Ka Whawhai Tonu - 'We Will Fight On')

Type: Spitfire IX

Serial: EN572

Code: OU-H

Base: RAF Biggin Hill, Kent

Location: Near Cayeaux, France

Pilot: Sq/Ldr. John Milne Checketts DFC. NZ/403602 RNZAF Age 31. Evaded

REASON FOR LOSS:

Whilst with 485 squadron on Rodeo 18 he was shot down in Spitfire Vb BM259 over the English Channel. He was quickly rescued after vaping out but the other pilot sadly died of exposure. Further details here.

On the 06th September 1943 he was shot down was in a dogfight involving about 20 Focke-Wulf 190s over France in 1943. Flames were soon belching through the cockpit of his Spitfire. Badly burned and with wounds in his arms and legs, he struggled to bale out but eventually did and landed in a field. A French boy hid him deep in a wood as Germans searched the area.

Above L-R: Evaders, F/O. Terence Kearins, Sq/Ldr. John Checketts and Sgt. Søren Liby. also shown below in same sequence

He was taken to a safe house to recover, eventually being moved on by Resistance workers. He reached England with 11 others after being taken off the Brittany shore by a lobster boat to a waiting Royal Navy launch.

In 1990 one of the resistance fighters, Marie Van Belle, came to New Zealand to take part of a 'This Is Your Life' television tribute to Checketts. Well worth watching here.

He managed to evade capture and teamed up with two other pilots, F/O. Terence Stephen Franklin Kearins NZ/404877 RNZAF (shot down on the 15th July 1943), Sgt. Soren Kjell Liby 12024 RNoAF (shot down on the 16th August 1943). With the help of many locals and the French resistance sailed on the 10 metre lobster boat 'Suzette' with 13 others. They arrived on the 25th October and all rejoined their units after after a short recuperation period.

By the end of the war he had completed over 418 operational sorties and became an 'Ace' with 14 1/2 aircraft (one victim shared) along with four 'probable' kills and damage to other German aircraft. He also took out two V1 flying bombs as they droned from France towards London and accounted for two German E boats.

Burial details:

None - survived the war.

John Milne Checketts born on the 20th February 1912 at Invercargill, Southland, New Zealand. Son of Ernest Mathew Checketts (died 02nd April 1949, age 68) and Mary Jane Checketts (died 07th June 1939, age 56). Brother of Margaret Victoria Checketts and Ernest Alan Checketts (died 07th September 1980, aged 64) Husband of Natalie Mary Checketts (née Glover - died 02nd December 2000, age 78) Father of two sons, Chris and Davey and a daughter, Mary-Jane.

Educated at the Invercargill South School. Enlisted in the RNZAF in October 1940 when he was 28 which was relatively old for joining the air force. He received his wings in June 1941, sailed for the UK and was posted at No. 485 Squadron which was equipped with Spitfires.

He died of cancer at his home in Christchurch on the 21st April 2006, aged 94. He was survived by two sons and a daughter, his wife having predeceased him by several years. After a service at St. Matthew's Anglican Church, for which the RNZAF provided a guard of honour, a P-51D Mustang performed a flypast. Buried in St Peter's Anglican Churchyard, Upper Riccarton, Christchurch. His obituary.

He is remembered by at least two street names in New Zealand towns; Checketts Avenue in Christchurch and Checketts Place in his

hometown, Invercargill.

The engine from the Spitfire which he bailed out of over France in 1943 was later recovered and is now displayed at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand at Wigram.

DFC Citation. 17th August 1943:

'This officer has led the squadron and, on occasions the wing, with great skill. He has invariably displayed great keenness to engage the enemy and has destroyed 2 enemy aircraft and damaged several more. In addition he has destroyed 2 E boats and successfully attacked military installations'.

DSO Citation. 03rd December 1943:

'Squadron Leader Checketts has displayed courage, fortitude and skill of a high order. He has taken part in a very large number of sorties and has proved his skill in many combats, having destroyed at least eleven enemy aircraft; he has also caused the destruction of two boats. By his exceptional keenness and fine fighting spirit, Squadron Leader Checketts has proved a source of inspiration to all'.

Promotions: June 1941- Pilot Officer, June 14th, 1942 - Flying Officer, April 1943 - Flight Lieutenant. July 1943 - Squadron Leader, May1944 - Wing Commander.

Awards: Distinguished Service Order. Distinguished Flying Cross. Silver Star Medal (SSM). Krzyz Walecznych. 1939-1945 Star. Air Crew Europe Star. Italy Star. Defence Medal 1939-1945. War Medal 1939-1945.


Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, New Zealand Cenotaph, Weekly News of New Zealand, Air Museum of New Zealand, Museum of Transport and Technology, Auckland, National Archives Kew.

Pages that may also be of interest:

Pages relating to 1943

Pages on New Zealand crews

Other sources as quoted below:

KTY 14-06-2023

Pages of Outstanding Interest
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CWGC: Your Relative's Grave Explained •  USA Flygirls •  Axis Awards Descriptions •  'Lack Of Moral Fibre'
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Acknowledgements
Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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