IN 1941, at the age of six, David Gunn suffered Adolf Hitler’s Plymouth Blitz. Unlike some 1,200 people killed, he and his mother fled to live on a farm in the peaceful Cotswold hills where he learned to milk cows and ride horses.
These early memories are the starting point for David’s memoir, cheekily titled Mr Hitler Missed Me.
During a visit to his home in Shipston, David spoke with the Herald about his fascinating life, including being the fourth generation of his family to join the Royal Navy – which he did aged 13 – his later career as a newsreader and then entrepreneur. This is actually his third book. One of his previous books is Sailor in the Desert, about his father’s experience in the ill-fated Mesopotamia campaign during World War I. The other book is Alphonse – the story of a maritime skunk and was published in 1961.
Explaining his quirky subject, David said, “I’ve always loved animals. We were going to sea in this destroyer. I asked the first mate if I could keep a skunk and I think he was only half thinking when he said “yes”. Next thing you know he saw pictures of me driving Alphonse along the Mall to Buckingham Palace.
“Alphonse was an American striped skunk – his scent gland had been removed. He had escaped and was Britain’s only wild skunk. He came to live on the HMS Sainte…
“I would advise against keeping a nocturnal animal. He wants to be awake and active when you sleep, and asleep when you are awake. It didn’t matter on HMS Sainte when we were at sea when there were night watches to keep her company.
A short time in David’s company proved he was full of funny and compelling stories – and it was this entertaining style that led him to write Hitler Missed Me.
“I hope readers get a good laugh out of the book. I wrote it for humor rather than a boring autobiography of a stranger. The first sentence is ‘I was born the same year as Donald Duck and Sophia Loren’ .
David met his wife Caroline through mutual friends. Between them, they have five adult children. His daughter Aurora encouraged her father to write this new book and helped him with the title.
“There’s a picture on the front of two little boys in the ruins of Plymouth,” David said. “I was not one of the two boys but I was in a similar situation. I had escaped from the Plymouth blitz and the title Hitler Missed Me had hit me. Then my daughter said why not put a “Mr” in front – because of daddy’s army.
The book is not all for laughs, there are harrowing memories of losing friends in a plane crash while trying to land on an aircraft carrier. And while his account of life at Dartmouth Naval College as a young teenager is cheerfully told, there’s no denying its harshness.
David recalls: “It was difficult. You took a cold bath at 7am every morning. Compulsory boxing in the gymnasium. I was beaten twice, I believe. Once for being two minutes late and once for being two minutes early.
He continued: “After four years there, I got out and went on a training cruiser that went to the Caribbean and then to the Arctic. And then on a ship called the Empire Windrush – well known now, but it was a troop transport then – I went to Sri Lanka as a midshipman [training to be an officer]. Sri Lanka is one of my favorite places in the world.
When he finally took his life on the civilian street, the charmingly speaking David landed a job as a newsreader on Southern. More adventures followed, including chance encounters with Vera Lynn, Clement Freud, Rupert Murdoch and Barbara Cartland.
Copies of Mr Hitler Missed Me can be purchased from www.helion.co.uk.