|John Milne Checketts|
|20 February 1912– 23 April 2006 (aged 94)|
|Place of birth||Invercargill, New Zealand|
|Service/branch||Royal New Zealand Air Force|
|Years of service||1940-1955|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
Silver Star (US)
Polish Cross of Valour
Johnny Checketts.Checketts was born in Invercargill on 20 February 1912 and was educated at the Invercargill South School and Southland Technical College. A motor mechanic by trade, he was twenty-eight - an advanced age for a trainee fighter pilot - when he joined the RNZAF in October 1940. He graduated from his Wings course in June 1941 as a Pilot Officer and was posted to the United Kingdom. After converting to Spitfires Checketts joined 485(NZ) Squadron in November 1941.
On 12 February 1942 the unit took part in operations over the Channel when the German battleships ’Scharnhorst’ and ’Gneisenau’ made their dash from Brest to reach safety in German ports. On 4 May 1942 Checketts was shot down, bailing out over the English Channel and eventually being rescued from his dinghy by the Royal Navy. In June 1942 he was posted to Sailor Malans’ Gunnery School before continuing to No 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron based at Biggin Hill in January 1943. Checketts was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and given command of A Flight in April. On 30 May 1943 he shot down an FW 190 5–8 miles south east of Trouville.
In July Johnny was promoted to Squadron Leader to command 485 (NZ) Squadron at Biggin Hill. On the 15th July he shot down an FW 190, on the 27th he destroyed two more, and on the 31st a Bf 109G. Leading the unit over St Pol on 9 August 1943, Checketts led a section against eight Bf 109’s and destroyed three of them. The other three New Zealand pilots in the section each destroyed one and Checketts damaged one of the two remaining 109’s as it escaped. For this action he was awarded the DFC.
While acting as high cover for bombers attacking an airfield near Amiens on 19 August the Squadron was jumped by a force of FW 190’s and Bf 109’s. In a running battle Checketts probably destroyed an FW 190 and damaged another.
On 6 September 1943 485 Squadron flew high cover for Marauders bombing the marshalling yards at Serquex. The Spitfires were attacked by twenty FW 190’s from above. Checketts shot one down but was then attacked by several others and his aircraft set on fire.
Burned and wounded, he struggled to bale out. On landing he was approached by a French boy, who helped Checketts on to his bicycle and then wheeled him to a spinney.
The next day he was taken by a Frenchman to his own home, where his injuries were tended by the frenchman's wife.
Having been passed from one house to the next by the French Resistance, Checketts eventually met another 485 pilot, Sergeant Kearins, who had been shot down on 15 July. These two were joined by a group of 11other escapees and taken across the English Channel in a fishing boat on 21 October 1943.
Johnny was posted to the Fighter Wing of the Central Gunnery School as an instructor.
In April 1944 he was given command of No. 1 Squadron equipped with the Hawker Typhoon but after six weeks was promoted to Wing Commander to lead 142 Spitfire Wing at RAF Horne. He later led this Wing from Westhampnett, Merston and Manston until 26 September 1944. His last operation was a high escort cover over Arnhem on that date when he shared in the destruction of a Bf 109 with one of his flight commanders.
In 1945 Johnny Checketts was appointed Wing Commander Tactics at the Central Fighter Establishment. He had been awarded the DFC on 13 August 1943, the DSO in December 1943, US Silver Star in August 1944 and the Polish Cross of Valour in April 1945.
Johnny destroyed 14½ enemy aircraft, probably destroyed 3 and damaged 11.
After the war he returned to the RNZAF, and became Station Commander of RNZAF Stations Wigram, Fiji and Taieri before leaving to take up aerial topdressing.
Johnny Checketts died at Christchurch on 21 April 2006 aged 94.
On war - "It is destructive. Everything about it is to destroy and I don't think human beings are brought into this world to destroy things. They are brought into the world to preserve." —