Interview with Bob Kemley


Interview with Bob Kemley


Upon joining the RAF in 1940, Bob Kemley trained as a navigator and completed thirty-four operations on Halifaxes, Wellingtons, and Lancasters. He joined 427 Squadron based at RAF Leeming, before moving to 432 Squadron as a navigation officer. On his final operation, the aircraft was shot down, forcing the crew to bale out, and Kemley managed to make his way to Bayeux to fly home. He was later posted to RAF Nutts Corner followed by RAF Shawbury, before resuming a career with the Ministry of Defence after the war.




Temporal Coverage




00:15:38 audio recording


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RP: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Rob Pickles, the interviewee is Bob Kemley. The interview is taking place at Mr Kemley’s home in Sherborne, Dorset on the 31st October 2017. Also present is Carolyn Millier.
BK: My daughter
RP: The daughter of Bob. Good morning, and welcome Bob, thank you for inviting me to your, your home.
BK: My pleasure.
RP: Um, would like to start really I think, if you could tell us a little bit of, when and where you were born and what led you to joining the RAF, if you’d like to start at that point?
BK: I was born in Lewisham, in London, South East London, where I stayed until I was eighteen or nineteen, then I joined the air force in, when, 19 [pause] 40? Can’t remember now you know.
RP: Can you remember what persuaded you to join the RAF?
BK: No, I was just attracted by it, yes.
RP: What, the, the usual reason, [laughs]?
BK: Yes, yes. Just trying to recall where I started, I know I was at - I had to go to Lords for one thing, for the interview or something, Lords Cricket Ground, um, then I did my ITW at Aberystwyth, on the Welsh coast, um, went to OTU at Gaydon which was a satellite of Wellesbourne Mountford in the Midlands, then I was posted to 427 Squadron at Croft in North Yorkshire.
RP: What year would that be? Can you remember?
BK: Oh lord [pauses] ‘41, ‘40? ‘41 I think.
RP: Ok, and this was, this was a new squadron?
BK: Oh yes, yes, and then it moved down to um, oh, what’s south of Middleton St. George? I’ve forgotten these places, near Thirsk and Northallerton, I’ve forgotten what it was called now, oh Leeming [emphasis].
RP: Oh RAF Leeming, yes, yes, yeah.
BK: Yes, and that’s where I stayed until, I joined the squadron outside York, 42- The 427 was in Leeming, and then I went to 432 Squadron, I was the navigation officer.
RP: You were the navigation officer, can you remember the first raid that the squadron went on?
BK: [Pause] My first what?
RP: Your first raid was to where?
BK: Oh to St Nazaire and then secondly to Lorient, the channel ports at that time, um, where am I, let me just find it [pause] yes, then I started at Germany, Kiel in March “43, then Duisburg, Frankfurt, Duisburg again.
RP: And these were all on bombing operations?
BK: Oh yes.
RP: On bombing operations.
BK: In June ‘43, it’s written down to Le Creusot in the South of France, that was a long trip but a good trip that, er, all - They’re all Germany then Krefeld, Guggenheim [?], Wuppertal, Gelsenkirchen, went to Gelsenkirchen several times.
RP: Did you do a full tour on the squadron then? Did you do the thirty sorties?
BK: I did thirty-four.
RP: Thirty-four, that’s -
BK: Yes, shot down on my last one.
RP: Really? Whereabouts?
BK: Er, south of Chateauroux[?], in France.
RP: So how were you rescued?
BK: I walked to, Bayeux, and met the Americans, I walked to Avranches that’s right at the bottom of the Cherbourg Peninsula, then I met the American army coming down from Saint-Lô.
RP: This was post D-Day then?
BK: Oh yes, yes and er, then they drove me to Bayeux, and the air force then flew me from Bayeux to -
RP: What happened to the rest of the crew?
BK: They all survived but, I never saw any of them again.
RP: Really?
BK: No, no we all went different directions I suppose, where we were posted.
RP: But you didn’t sort of stay as one after the crash?
BK: Didn’t have the chance because -
RP: Because the Germans -
BK: - they posted me to Northern Ireland, dreadful place, took me a long time to get out of there.
RP: But on the crash that you had in France then, once you’d left the aircraft did you all go off in-
BK: Oh yes.
RP: I see, so you didn’t stick together?
BK: It was the middle of the night and dark, and so you had to make you own way.
RP: Oh I see, you make your own - oh right.
BK: Yes, you couldn’t go searching for them.
RP: No, no, ok, well that’s, that’s quite exciting really isn’t it, or were you just- Is it just another- Something else that happened? Did you find it exciting?
BK: [unclear] I always remember the walk in the morning at dawn, lovely morning it was, I enjoyed walking the way I was going, and then, um -
RP: That’s a long way home that isn’t it.
BK: A lad joined me, a Frenchman, and he looked after me for a couple of days.
RP: Oh that was nice. So from- If that was your, your last tour on the Wellington, we’re obviously into June, July “45.
BK: Oh I was onto Halifaxes then
RP: You’re onto Halifaxes then, so what squadron was that with?
BK: 432 Squadron.
RP: And where were you posted then? Was this in Ireland? You said you went, posted -
BK: Over to Nutts-
RP: Knutsford?
BK: Knutsford, is it called? Quackers Bend I used to call it.
RP: In Northern Ireland?
BK: In Northern Ireland
RP: Oh its, no, or is it called, I know the one you mean.
BK: Is it Nutts Corner?
RP: Nutts Corner, that’s it, Knutsford’s in Cheshire isn’t it, yeah, Knutsford yeah, of course it became the airport didn’t it?
BK: That’s right, yes.
RP: It became the airport, yeah.
BK: The main airport there.
RP: But you didn’t like that particular tour then?
BK: No [laughs].
RP: So how did you escape from Ireland then?
BK: Um, I have no idea, how did I- Where did I finish up afterwards? [paper rustles] Have I got it in here? These are all my ops [pauses], oh I was at Shawbury yes, I was on the south at Shawbury, the navigation school as it was at the time.
RP: Oh, so you were, you were a tutor really?
BK: Yes, yes, I was there for quite a time.
RP: And what aircraft was that then, did you? Or a mixture?
BK: Oh I didn’t fly there.
RP: You didn’t fly?
BK: No, not -
RP: It was just a ground school?
BK: Yeah.
RP: So they’re learning principles I guess.
BK: But I was mainly on Wellingtons at that time.
RP: So did you do any sorties on the Halifax?
BK: Any what?
RP: Any sorties on the - You mentioned you flew Halifax, did you do many sorties with them?
BK: Um, oh quite a few, yes, yes, I finished up- I’d done thirty-four and I was shot down, yes.
RP: So what rank were you at that time then?
BK: Flight lieutenant.
RP: You were flight lieutenant, did you finish you career RAF as a flight lieutenant or?
BK: Oh no, no.
RP: Were you a -
BK: I came out in “45.
RP: Yeah, and were you a flight lieutenant when you left?
BK: Yes.
RP: Ah right, ok. So what was your- We’ve looked at your first sortie, so what was your last wartime sortie then, can you remember that one?
BK: Yes, I was shot down on my way to Stuttgart, [unclear] Saint-Paul, Le Mans, oh yes this was the time when we were attacking, the German bases in Northern France, Coutances, [unclear], Le Mans, yes, then back to Germany there.
RP: So if you had to choose between a Halifax and a Wellington, which aircraft did you prefer, or a Lancaster?
BK: I liked them both.
RP: Yeah.
BK: Only did a couple of flights on a Lancaster, didn’t like the Lancasters, not good for a navigator, but, both Wellington and the Halifax were ideally situated for the navigator.
RP: In what way?
BK: Plenty of room.
RP: Ah, room for your maps and?
BK: Oh everything, yes lots of room.
RP: And you had -
BK: Easy access out, I was the first one out when we had to jump, because I opened the escape hatch [laughs].
RP: So, in that crash then, did you actually- Were you- Did you parachute down?
BK: Yes.
RP: You didn’t actually crash with the aircraft?
BK: Oh no, no, no.
RP: No, you jumped out.
BK: Yes, yes.
RP: Ah right, I was going to say, I just wanted to -
BK: We lost our two port engines, they were on fire we had to go, yes.
RP: Right, so was that from ground fire, or had you been attacked?
BK: Fighter
RP: Fighter, yeah.
BK: Yes, I was afraid the fighter might - Of course we were illuminated by the fire of the crash, I could see all the other parachutes, I was the first one up being the navigator over the hatch and um, I could see them all easily, [unclear] in a big circle.
RP: So that was the- This is just to clarify, that the crash that you jumped from was a Halifax?
BK: Yes.
RP: Ah right, ok and that was on 432 Squadron?
BK: Yes, yes.
RP: Ok, so between the Halifax and the Wellington, what was your total number of sorties then?
BK: Thirty-four.
RP: Oh it’s thirty-four combined?
BK: Yes
RP: Oh I see, combined, that’s still quite a lot, because if you did ten you were thought to be lucky weren’t you?
BK: Five.
RP: Five was it? Five, even worse, I thought it was ten, so if you did- Well, in which case obviously everyone wanted to fly with you I would guess?
BK: Yes, er, no, no.
RP: [laughs]
BK: I had a good crew.
RP: Did you keep the same crew, on the Wellington, and then on Lancaster?
BK: Not really, because I became the navigation officer of the squadron, and when I flew then it was with the wing commander, which I- I did a fair number with them but, obviously you couldn’t take all the group leaders, navigator, bomber, and that in one aircraft, yes [pauses], good days.
RP: Yes, would you do it again?
BK: Oh happily, yes.
RP: Yes, everyone I interview says that, they all say they’d do it again. No I mean, obviously in your case it was some interesting times there, but er, what- When you’d finished with the Halifax, why did you move to the Lancaster then? Was that just part of your navigation training or?
BK: No, it was just - No I can’t remember. I only did a couple.
RP: Yeah I just wondered why, if it was a special case, that you were testing something?
BK: Oh I moved to a squadron that had been on naviga - on Lancasters and they then converted back onto Halifaxes.
RP: Oh right.
BK: So I was back on Halifaxes.
RP: So you joined them just as they were changing to Halifax, I see ok, no I just thought it might’ve been special ops or something, that was all. So, you weren’t persuaded to stay in the RAF, when the war ended then?
BK: Oh no.
RP: You didn’t -?
BK: No, I wanted to come back out.
RP: So, what did you come back out to then?
BK: Well, I was in the Ministry of Defence when I joined up.
RP: Oh right.
BK: So, I returned once I’d come, yes.
RP: Ok, so what was your career after that then, what were you?
BK: Er, I stayed with the Ministry of Defence until I retired, yes.
RP: Where was that? Where were you working with them?
BK: Oh, all over the place, I finished up - Do you know I can’t remember these things, where was I?
CM: You finished up at Bicester.
RP: Oh, at Bicester.
BK: Oh yes that’s right.
RP: Yeah, there’s an RAF station there at Bicester, yeah.
BK: Yes, that’s right dear, yes in “45 wasn’t it?
RP: That was a fair old time with MOD then, one way or the other, a life time of ministry of defence [laughs]
BK: Oh well after that too, I was with them before I joined the forces just as a civilian, I went back to where I was, yes.
RP: But obviously, during the work with the MOD you were still involved with the RAF then?
BK: Oh yes, no, no afterwards.
RP: No?
BK: Um, I went to Bath, yes, it was the Admiralty.
RP: Oh yes, yeah the offices.
BK: Or ‘admirality’ as they used to call it in Bath [chuckles].
RP: Ok, well no, I think, yes the log book is something to treasure though, thirty-four sorties is something to, er -
BK: Yes, I’ve got all my logs.
RP: Yes well we’ll have to have a look at that then.
BK: Pardon?
RP: We’ll have to have a look at that, so, er - but obviously from your point of view they were, there were happy memories of good times, of good friends?
BK: Oh lord yes, yes, wouldn’t miss them for worlds.
RP: No.
BK: Yeah, they were good years.
RP: Yeah ok, I mean the -
BK: I’m sure everybody says the same.
RP: Yeah, in the end, despite when you hear all the stories of what’s happened to them, er, I think people still look back on it with, er, you know, happy memories.
BK: Indeed, yes.
RP: Some friends lost I think but obviously friends survive.
BK: That was inevitable but um, [sighs] you got used to that, sometimes you had to expect it yourself.
RP: Yeah, but, the only time you suffered though was when you had to bale out, otherwise you’d gone through all those sorties untouched basically, and even then, I suppose were you injured on the drop?
BK: No.
RP: No, you weren’t.
BK: No, straight-forward jump.
RP: So, you knew what to do, ok.
BK: Yes.
RP: That’s an amazing story, and we’ll have a look at the log book so, for now thank you very much, thank you.



Rod Pickles, “Interview with Bob Kemley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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