John Gard'ner was born in Dunedin on June 14th, 1918. He started out as an apprentice draughtsman in the Lands and Survey Department but applied for a short service commission in 1938 and started flying at Nelson Aero Club. He also sailed for the UK in December the same year in the RMS Rangitata.
Gard'ner began training at No 1 E&RFTS, Hatfield in January 1939 and moved to 11 FTS, Shawbury in April. He joined 141 Squadron at Grangemouth in October. The squadron had no aircraft of its own at the time but gradually formed two flights: one of Gladiators, the other of Blenheims. In March 1940, 141 began to receive Defiants, becoming operational on June 3 and moving south to West Malling on July 12.
On the morning of July 19, Gard'ner was flying one of the nine Defiants attacked by Bf 109s of III/JG 51 off Dover. He was in one of the four rear aircraft and was shot down immediately but was lucky. Unlike the other three rear aircraft, he did not catch fire and managed to land on the sea just off Dover. His aircraft sank but Gard'ner managed to escape and after fifteen minutes, he was picked up with bad wounds to the head. His gunner, Pilot Officer D M Slatter, was not seen again. Gard'ner was admitted to Union Road Hospital, Dover but rejoined the squadron in late October, after three months sick leave.
On November 1, 1941 Gard'ner joined 409 (RCAF) Squadron at Coleby Grange. He was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader the next year and joined 488 Squadron at Ayr as a Flight Commander. Once his second tour was completed in November, Gard'ner was posted to HQ 13 Group, Newcastle as Ops Night and did a course at RAF Staff College while there.
Gard'ner transferred to RNZAF on January 1, 1944, went to 51 OTU, Bedford on April 25 for a refresher course on Beaufighters and then joined 219 Squadron at Bradwell Bay as a supernumerary. He returned to 488 in late October as Flight Commander. The squadron moved across to the Continent on November 15. Operating from Amiens-Glisy, Gard'ner destroyed a FW 190 in December. Within days, he was forced to make a one-engine landing at Brussels-Melsbroek, after being damaged by anti-aircraft fire. A day later, his aircraft was destroyed on the ground there by a German strafing attack.
Gard'ner was with 488 until it was disbanded in April 1945. He returned to England and was posted to Air Ministry, Directorate of Organisational Establishments. He received a Mention in Despatches (1.1.46), returned to New Zealand in March 1947 and went on the Reserve on June 12. Offered a Permanent Commission in September, Gard'ner returned to the UK in February 1948. He held a series of appointments and commands prior to his retirement on June 14 1965 as a Wing Commander, retaining the rank of Group Captain.