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An airman’s unforgettable adventures Written by Kate Graham

The events of World War Two were, ultimately, made up of countless numbers of these individual lives. Ordinary people – students, perhaps, or bakers or teachers – found themselves woven into the complex tapestry of war by extraordinary twists in their own stories. A closer look, delving past the locations and dates that form part of popular memory and into journals, notes and memoirs, reveals these stories. Derek Gates’ memoirs of his time in the military demonstrate this perfectly.

In April 1942 Derek Gates married his partner, Isobel. No leisurely honeymoon period was to follow, though; in a situation familiar to many a military couple, deployment was looming. Just a couple of weeks later Gates made his way to Lyneham to pick up a Beaufort fi tted with a long range tank. The very next day the same plane carried him and his crew to Gibraltar, from where they

Derek Gates:

would shortly progress to Malta – an epicentre of military action during the war. They landed during an air raid, an occurrence that became part of the fabric of everyday life throughout the days and weeks to come.

Early training

This abundance of action was not, however, unfamiliar to Gates; his life had taken a dramatic turn towards one of military adventure when he volunteered for the RAF in1939. After initial training spanning a large portion of 1940 he found himself, in December, embarking on a troopship at Liverpool. After emerging relatively unscathed from a German attack on Christmas Day, his convoy made its way to South Africa.

Here in South Africa Gates continued his training, participating in and passing courses in bombing and gunnery. It was challenging work, but Gates handled it with aplomb and earned the commendations of his mentors – despite, upon one occasion, missing a target but hitting the plane towing it.

14 Summer 2016

By the end of 1941 Gates’s time in South Africa was at an end; his convoy docked at Glasgow and he met his crew – Steve, Jimmy and Johnny – for the fi rst time. They would remain together for much of the war. It was during a trip to an ice rink while in Glasgow, too, that he became acquainted with Isobel, the woman he was to later marry.


In June 1942, then, Gates found himself well prepared for the confl ict and unpredictability that was to follow. Malta had been at the heart of determined military confl ict since 1940 due to its strategically benefi cial position in the Mediterranean; the subsequent months and years would see fi ght after fi ght ensue as the Allied and Axis powers fought for its control. Ultimately, though, Britain and the Allies emerged successful from these confl icts – thanks to dedicated airmen like Gates and his crew.

Flying further afield

Gates’ participation in the war effort was not limited to the battles faced in

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