Interview with Anthony William Kent


Interview with Anthony William Kent


Anthony Kent was born in Wood Green, London, and his family settled in Eltham. Tony started an apprenticeship with Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, at the start of the war and worked as an apprentice draughtsman for eighteen months before volunteering for the RAF. After initial training, he sailed to South Africa to train as a navigator. He completed his training at RAF Stradishall, initially flying Wellingtons, then Stirlings, before joining 149 Squadron at RAF Feltwell where his first operation was mine laying at the Bay of Biscay. After his third mine laying operation, they converted to Lancasters at RAF Methwold. Tony recalls returning to the station after an operation and a bomb dropping to the ground when the doors opened, as it had frozen in place, causing the ground crew to dive to the floor. He describes the nearest they came to ‘not making it’ when a Polish aircraft collided with the tailplane during a training exercise. They landed safely but the Polish aircraft crashed. He describes the use of Gee and Gee-H, and the perils of bombing while aircraft above dropped bombs at the same time. On his last operation, the aircraft was late leaving due to a fault, so Tony requested permission to fly across London and catch up with the bomber stream. This was granted and he believes it was the only Lancaster permitted to do so. As they returned, they were diverted to RAF St Mawgan and as the aircraft reached the end of the runway, all four engines stopped because they had run out of fuel. After completing thirty operations (mostly during daylight) he was transferred to Transport Command, and after the war worked for British European Airways.







01:18:10 audio recording


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AKentAW170202, PKentAW1701


NM: Good morning. My name is Nigel Moore. It’s Thursday the 2nd of February 2017. I’m with Tony Kent in his house XXXXX Ruislip, Middlesex. So Tony, tell me a little bit about your childhood, growing up and where you went to school.
AK: It goes back really. I was born over in Wood Green and a lot of my education was split up between Wood Green and Leicester because my father had a summer job there and then we came back to Wood Green or later Eltham. A similar sort of thing until finally we settled in Eltham and my education was, I finished up in a central, central school at Ruislip er at Eltham but I sat for competitive student apprentice situation and took that up on the Monday after war was declared on the Sunday. Now, as the student, the apprenticeship was based at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich it soon became clear that I was not going to get a good machine education operating in the Arsenal and then going to the Woolwich Polytechnic for further studies. It was soon clear that I was sent out to a drawing office in the country and I was out there for some time and decided, after about eighteen months that that was not for me. I did not want to spend my life as a design draughtsman because that’s where I was heading. Design draughtsmanship. And I, it was a protected industry but I managed to be one of the last people of that ilk who managed to get out and I volunteered for the RAF. My RAF training, in the main, we were sent, initial training was in Scarborough and then eventually I was taken out on [pause] on the sea, troop transport carrier, to South Africa where I trained as a navigator at East London. And I was there for about a year and then was brought, brought back to England and started. And we crewed up at Stradishall where, as I expect you probably know, they put a whole heap of crew members in there. Pilots, air gunners etcetera etcetera. And a pilot went around asking people would they like, would we like, to join his crew. And Alan, my pilot, was from Adelaide. Australian. And we had two Scottish gunners and a Geordie engineer and one other. So from then on we went on to, Alan went on to training on the twin engine Wellington at Stradishall. Switched to Stirlings. And joined, well and then joined the 149 Squadron who we’d volunteered for, or at least asked for because they were known as a special squadron and their work was dropping supplies and agents into Europe. Well we were with those Stirling, a Stirling squadron and we did three operations from there. Bomb laying, mine laying, sorry. Mine laying. Then we were given the Lancs and we were operating from Methwold. Previously we’d been operating from, I call it Feltwell but there was 146 something Grove I’ve got the name but thirty of my operations were with Lancs at Methwold. Mainly daylight. We were then after a while, I could give you dates, we were equipped with GH and I think we were probably the first squadron to get it. Have you heard of GH?
NM: No. Tell me about it.
AK: Well GH was, was like a satnav of the sky. Germany, or Europe was covered in a sort of range of criss-crossing lines. Whether you’d call them radio waves or not and with using that equipment I could navigate with it obviously but when we first had it we had mainly daylights and in the daylight operations we would have two other Lancs formate with us and we would lead them in. I would navigate when we got near the run-in to the target. I would then take over the run-in and instructing Alan and I had previously set up the setting of the point at which the bombs would be released. Pre-calculated at the briefing and we would run down one of these lines, there’s a better word, run down one of these lines and my aircraft would be seen as a blob running down. As we got near the target a blob would appear on one of the crossing points and as we got near that I would order the bomb doors open. Two other aircraft would then do the same thing. As we got to this particular point of bomb release I’d press the bomb tit. First bombs went. The other two aircraft released their bombs so we were going as triple, triple bombing range. The beauty of it from our point of view was that we could bomb through ten tenths cloud. We didn’t need to see the target with this thing at all which was quite a benefit because it was very difficult for the German fighter pilots to get up through ten tenths cloud and find their way back home. So we, that was our, that was most of the work we did once we had the GH was daylight and leading in to other aircraft. We did that until we finished our operations virtually. We didn’t always do this. Sometimes we did night operations in a gaggle. Not leading anybody in but that, that we, as I say we did thirty operations in the Lanc and three in the Stirlings. Then after that we weren’t wanted bomber crew and I switched to Transport Command. From Transport Command and the experience I got there I came and joined British European Airways and spent the rest of my life with the airline. British Airways. Finished up as a senior man. Senior planning manager at Heathrow.
NM: Ok. Ok. Fascinating. Fascinating.
AK: Now, there were one or two, shall we say, interesting points during all these operations. One of them — we had to move to Woodbridge. It was a very very fierce winter and we were, we positioned to Woodbridge which was a massive great airfield right on the coast. On one of these daylight operations from there we we turned and taxied. Oh. As, as the bombs were released it was the bomb aimer or engineer’s job to go down the fuselage to check at each button that the bombs had gone and we taxied in to our station, bomb doors open. Ground crew flat on their faces because a bomb had dropped out flat, fortunately. What had happened was it looked as if it had released but it was so frozen up that it stayed there but it looked as if it had gone and of course eventually it did drop down into, in to the bomb bay. That was one interesting thing. Our very last trip we, it was quite a long one but, when we, we’d been briefed and we were in the aircraft and I was testing the GH screen it was snow-flaking. I was getting a lot of interference. Snow-flaking. So I called the ground staff and they switched one. I still was getting snow-flaking on it. And this took up so much time that I realised that even if we took off with this and saw how it was in the air, which was a suggestion from the squadron, I couldn’t make the rendezvous point to turn on to the route and across Europe. So I asked could I be allowed to navigate over, across London and I was given permission to navigate across London and make the turning point and join up with the rest of the gaggle at night. That trip was, was quite exciting in a way because when we came back the — we couldn’t land. We were diverted to St Mawgan’s because of weather. Right across down to Newquay and Alan, we landed safely and got to the end of the runway and the engines cut. We’d run out of fuel. It was as close as that. Alan never, didn’t say a word at the time but he must have been having his fingers crossed. But that, that was quite a trip. We did have other, one other but it wasn’t on an operation. We were doing bomb training using Ely Cathedral as a, as a bombing target. And that was, you know, the bomb aimer was in control of that and when he thought he’d got it right he pressed, pressed the button for a photograph and that was checked to see how accurate he was. Now we were supposed to be at eight thousand feet for this and there was a Polish crew who were supposed to be at twelve thousand but they weren’t. And Alan, in the split second, saw them coming straight at us. They went, he put the nose down, they went over the top of us and their propeller screwed through our port tail. Hell of a bang. I didn’t. There was a hell of a bang and then there was a silence in the aircraft until I said, ‘What the hell was that?’ And then Alan called down to the rear gunner and said to Jock, ‘How are you? Are you alright?’ And he, ‘Yes Skip. ’ God knows what, how he’d, what he was feeling. But because of the damage to the tail plane Alan, I had to give Alan a course for home obviously and he had to steer home using the ailerons on the, on the wings. We landed safely but the Polish crew crash landed and there was very careful checking of the logs as to what height were we at, what height were they at. Well fortunately my log was written out. Eight thousand feet. So that was the nearest we got, ever got, to not making it.
NM: And that was, they were over, over England. Let me take you back. When you decided to leave your apprenticeship.
AK: Yes.
NM: Why did you choose the RAF as opposed to the army or the navy?
AK: I wanted to be a pilot.
NM: You wanted to be a pilot. Ok.
AK: Yes. As it happened I went, I did go on the testing and did some training on the Tiger Moths and quite a lot of others as well. And then they called out all the names they wanted for pilots and Tony Kent’s name was the first one as a navigator. I missed being a pilot by one. Probably saved my life. [laughs]
NM: So, but did they choose navigator for you or did you, did you volunteer to become a navigator after your —?
AK: I volunteered for the air force.
NM: Yeah.
AK: Hoping to be a pilot.
NM: Right. But how did you, when you, when you weren’t selected as a pilot did they then say you are going to be a navigator?
AK: I was already in the air force then.
NM: Yeah but —
AK: Sworn in.
NM: But as a navigator or a flight engineer? How did you become a navigator as opposed to any other crew member?
AK: Because that was the next one on the list. They then did all the pilots. Then they called out how many navigators they wanted.
NM: Right.
AK: The rest were air gunners and that sort of thing.
NM: So they selected you —
AK: There wasn’t any choice.
NM: Right.
AK: Yeah.
NM: And how did you feel about that at the time?
AK: Not, not too bad actually. Not too bad. I was a little disappointed obviously ‘cause you know the pilot was the thing if you wanted to be in the air force but as it turned out it was, it was a very interesting job. In fact you were, as a navigator you worked damned hard and I think it seemed to suit me. I’m not so sure whether I would have been a good pilot or not. I had, hadn’t really got the feel for it. When I was training I never really felt that I’d got good control of the aircraft. I mean, yes I put it in to spins and stalled and that kind of thing. I could do all that. It was the actual landing and assessment of the height of the aircraft over the runway as I was going in. I did, I did that two or three times reasonably well but obviously not well enough to make the top. Top list. And I was, I just took it. I just took it and that was it. I was going to be a navigator.
NM: Did you actually get to fly solo as a pilot?
AK: No.
NM: During your training?
AK: No. No. I asked to but they said no. [laughs] I asked if I, I asked if I could go. I would have been prepared to go solo but they weren’t prepared to let me [laughs]. When I first met Alan he he said — he showed me a picture of a great heap in the middle of a field. He said, ‘I did that.’ He’d crash landed his Tiger Moth. I thought that was a pretty good [invitation] to a bloke who was going to be your pilot. Yeah. But in fact he was a very very good pilot and when he went back to Adelaide he became part of a display team. Aerobatics etcetera. Yeah. We stayed, we were very great friends, we stayed. We went out. Being in British Airways I could get out to Australia and my brother emigrated to Australia and so, and Alan was in Adelaide. We visited two or three times but he, unfortunately he and Sammy the wireless operator have both died of cancer through being heavy smokers. Some years ago now.
AK: I don’t know whether I skipped too briefly over the —
NM: We can go back. That’s fine.
MS: Tony told me that he had to record in the flight which might be like up to six hours or something. Every six minutes he had to re-plot the course so he had to be not —
AK: The longest flight we did was just over seven hours to a place near Leipzig and every six minutes was hard work for seven hours believe me.
NM: Yes. It must be.
NM: Your training. Navigation training in South Africa. You say you were there for about a year.
AK: Yes.
NM: What was?
AK: We were flying Ansons piloted by the South African pilots who weren’t that very enthusiastic about us. I think they were the Dutch South Africans.
NM: Right.
AK: Because they weren’t particularly friendly but you just got on and did your navigating really. That was, of course the Anson was a very slow plundering aircraft and I mean, if you couldn’t navigate that you, you were hard up. My log shows me as an average navigator but my instructor told me that I came third out of about two hundred. Average. You had to be average. You could hardly be anything else because you had no, you hadn’t really been tested in a proper service in wartime.
AK: I’m trying to think how much I can tell you. I had two pals joined up with me. One of them, it was very tragic, one got blown out of the sky with flak hitting the bomb bay and the other one it was almost the end of the war and you know the Netherlands had the sea wall blasted and they were going in dropping at low level. Dropping supplies, and the engines cut and went in. I don’t. I never found out the facts because his father didn’t want to talk to me about it. He was so upset. He was the only son. And when I went to see him he said, ‘Tony, I can’t talk to you. ’ He was that upset. To go that way of all ways, you know when you’re doing something like that.
NM: Yeah. Humanitarian effort at the end. So you came back from South Africa and you went to Stradishall where you flew.
AK: Yeah we crewed up.
NM: You crewed up.
AK: And then went to Stradishall.
NM: So when you crewed up, you described it already but who chose who? Did you?
AK: The pilot chose his crew.
NM: Ok.
AK: He just went around. He just came up to me and said, ‘Would you like to be, would you like to join me as my navigator?’ And I just said, ‘Yes. Sure.’ Anyway, he seemed perfectly alright and how do you say no? [laughs]
NM: That’s right.
AK: But, yes. It turned out to be a nice combination. We were good friends.
NM: From a navigator’s perspective how do you compare the Wellington and the Stirling and the Lancaster?
AK: Wellington was a good aircraft and we didn’t have that much, we didn’t have many hours flying hours with it before we were converted. The Stirling was a menace. Fine for the navigator. Lovely big office. But I expect you’ve probably heard the Stirling had a very high undercarriage and on take-off there was tremendous torque and it wasn’t unusual for the aircraft to take off at forty five degrees to the runway with the torque. And our first operation, with mines on board went, was over the top of a hangar. It was really that bad. When all my, when the tour was over and I was going out to what is now Karachi. What did we go out on? A Stirling. And one or two of us looked at each other and sure enough we went out at about forty five degrees off the runway. It was a menace from that point of view and you were forbidden to be, the front gunner was forbidden to be in that aircraft as it was landing and taking off but particularly landing. Yeah. I did it. It was quite an experience. [laughs]
NM: And how about the Lancaster?
AK: But the Lanc — I mean, you know, you can’t say enough about the Lanc. It was great from my point of view. It as a navigator it was everything, you know, it had everything I needed and as it said it really was the, turned the war in our favour undoubtedly. That aircraft. Massive rate of loss initially on the air raids. I was a little bit later. Missed the worst of it but still lost two pals at the same time and one or two on the squadron but the fact that we could operate over cloud in daylight was quite something. Strangely enough my senior, one of my senior manager in British Airways was a squadron leader. Spitfire pilot. And we became good friends and decided one day we’d have a look at our logbooks and it turned out his squadron escorted us on daylights three times. Yeah. It’s a small world.
NM: Small world. So how would you compare navigating daylight raids versus night raids?
AK: It didn’t make much difference to me. Daylights of course at least I could see, put my head out and see things around us but that wasn’t always clever because it wasn’t funny to see you running into the target with a lot of grey puffs of smoke right over the target we were running into. But no. Mainly you just had to keep your head down and work all the time until, you know. I signed my log off and waited for Alan to touch down. You really had no, no break from it at all. Day or, day or night.
NM: So as a crew who decided to join 149 squadron? Was it, was it Alan the Skipper or was it all of you together?
AK: Well Alan had heard that this was a special squadron and volunteered for it. Yeah. As I say our understanding was it was for dropping people and supplies into Europe. Well we didn’t do that at all. We, of the three operations we did with the Stirling they were all mine laying. The most exciting ones. We did one laying, a timed, we did a timed one from the coast and laid mines in front of the maintenance, submarine maintenance base in the Bay of Biscay. Another one was a low level run in to Brest. Again, dropping, dropping mines. I think, I think that was a night operation. In fact I’m almost sure it was because I seem to remember the flak.
[Pause. Pages turning]
AK: That’s right.
[Pause. Pages turning]
AK: [Can’t find it?] [pause] Yeah. It was night. Four hour thirty job. Four mines we dropped in. Yeah.
NM: So you were initially flying from Feltwell were you before you moved to Methwold?
AK: Methwold. Yes. Initially we, and then, and then we switched to Methwold with the Lancs. Yeah.
NM: So what was the feeling on the squadron when you converted to Lancasters from Stirlings?
AK: Hurray [laughs]. As far as I was concerned — hurray. Yes it was and as I say the Stirling was a lumbering great thing and it was just once we got used to the Lanc we just realised just what a, what a super aircraft they were.
NM: So what was station life like at Methwold? Can you —?
AK: Very good. Very nice atmosphere. We always got our eggs and chips after, after a trip [laughs] and I think it was a dash of rum in our tea as we were being debriefed. There was one, this is a side story altogether. Our squadron. I know we weren’t on it, were targeted. Were sent out to hit a rocket launching site on the French coast. Near Calais I think it was. That proved unsuccessful because that was covered in ten tenths. They couldn’t do it. They were told to return home but jettison the bombs in to The Channel and on the debriefing a rear gunner said that he had seen a light aircraft going into the sea. That was the day that Glen Miller went missing and that was, I would say that’s, that was more or less certainly his aircraft that went in and the pilot should not have been there. He’d been given a different route and he was not, not on that route.
NM: So do you think he was brought down by a jettisoned bomb? Do you think he was hit by a bomb that had been jettisoned? Or —
AK: Must have been. Must have been.
NM: Ok. Interesting.
AK: But an awful lot of bombs were going down at that time in a smallish area. But as I say we were not on that operation. No. When, when we had this mid-air collision of course Alan did a mayday —mayday and this was at night obviously and when he, you know, he landed, they had everything, everything ready for us running alongside us as we landed but we were ok and you know that that was great. They looked after us and debriefed us very carefully on that one.
NM: So what about when you were off duty as a crew? Did you socialise together or where did you go from the station off duty?
AK: Yes. Not a lot but [pause] but Alan, Alan came home with me on leave and we went, we were invited to go to [pause], oh dear. The Wall’s Ice Cream people. Office in Acton where they make ice cream. Pork pies and things like that. Oh dear. My father was aid to the chief executive and we had been invited for a tour to see all the pigs coming in one end and the pies coming out the other sort of thing which is quite an experience to see a big pig being tossed around up in a [pause], and having all the hair come off and cleaned up and you know. I remember I’ve got a vision of that thing happening. Oh dear. At this, at my age this happens to me sometimes. A name won’t come up. It will later on when I’m not thinking about it. So that was, you know, that was one way we socialised and Alan and I were so good friends he actually named his son Tony. Anthony. Yeah. Sammy. Yeah we used to go out. Both of us liked going to ballrooms. Wherever we went we went to the local ballrooms of course. That’s where you met the girls in those days and Sammy and I would go to ballrooms wherever we were. Very much so. Yeah. We were mid-way between Kings Lynn and Cambridge and most of the time if I was on my own I went up to Kings Lynn. Met some, met somebody very nice there who used to be a chauffeur to a bigwig and she turned up at the squadron in this car which was quite sensational [laughs] for us to go off to a dance or something like that. She was very nice. And very strange coincidence when I was at Maripur Airport at Karachi I learned to drive at night on a lorry and the fellow who taught me we started talking and I’m talking about Kings Lynn and I said I said had a very nice partner there. Dot. He said, ‘I know Dot. I know Dot. I know who you’re talking about. ’ Yeah. Amazing.
NM: Great. So were you, were you all commissioned as air crew?
AK: Yes. I was commissioned. Yes.
NM: But the rest of the —
AK: Early on in the squadron. Yeah.
NM: Right. And what about the rest of the crew? Were they all commissioned?
AK: Alan of course was. No. The others. Oh yes — Sammy. Sammy. He also was, the wireless operator, he was commissioned too. The gunners were not.
NM: Right. So on the squadron.
AK: And the engineer.
NM: You had, you were in separate messes and accommodation.
AK: Yes.
NM: Yeah.
AK: Yeah.
NM: So of the thirty operations, thirty three operations that you flew, which were the most memorable?
AK: The last one. The one where I had to ask permission to fly across London where we had to divert right across country to St Mawgan’s and ran out of petrol. That was, that’s fairly memorable that one. There was one where we were under the guidance of the master pilot up top and then the bomb aimer was running this one and flares had been dropped by the bloke upstairs and he was saying, ‘I want, right, down the side of the yellow flares. Down the side of the red flares,’ and we were working on the [assumption?] they were dropping and flattening this particular town, or small town which was being used as a maintenance base by the Germans and looking back at that was just a massive circle of flame when we left it. I can still see that one. Yeah. There were pictures of the damage. Mainly, we were mainly, most of them were in the bomb, in the Ruhr area. And you know picture the Ruhr at that time. There wasn’t a roof on anything with the photographs we saw of our targets. Absolutely frightening for them. You knew you were killing civilians but you were also trying to block railroad junctions and ball bearing factories and things like that. We always had a particular target. We were told it was this, that or the other but the last one was as I say very memorable. Most of them as far as I was concerned were sort of routine. We, we got pierced with flak now and again but remember I had my head down working like mad. Only, I could only look out in the daylight at any one point in time to see what was going and as I say it was quite disturbing when you was doing a run up, run up on the target to see the air full of, full of smoke puffs where the exploding anti-aircraft but even that towards the end became less and less. They just hadn’t got the equipment any more. Yeah. But mostly it was, as far as I was concerned just routine, head down and get on with it.
NM: So what happened to the crew at the end of your tour?
AK: Well, Alan of course went back to Adelaide. He was an architect. He built his own home, beautiful home at the back of Adelaide so when you sat in his dining room at night you looked down right across Adelaide and out to the sea. It was lovely. Sammy. His bank manager told him, ‘Sammy. Buy leather’ And of course he came from the Leicester area so Sammy did and he started off with two small operatives making uppers with the leather that he acquired and then went on. He finished up with a factory and making an awful lot of money. Lovely home. Had his own — he had two cars. The very flash one which he didn’t use to go in to work. He had an old, oldish car to go in to work so he didn’t upset his workers. And as I say he had his own horse. But again he died. He died of cancer and we went up for his funeral and his wife had had an oil painting done of Sammy and he was sitting in an arm chair, hand over one side. What was in it? A cigarette. Alan went the same way but I didn’t see him in his last year or two. I hadn’t gone out to. He said, ‘Tony, I’m going to beat this.’ I said, ‘I’m sure you are Alan. ’ But he didn’t. He didn’t beat it and that was ten, fifteen years ago. Both of them. I count myself lucky. I really do. I count myself lucky in every way.
NM: So you went into Transport Command at the end of your —
AK: Yeah.
NM: End of your tour. As a navigator?
AK: No. I was offered it. I applied to BOAC and BEA. BOAC offered me a position as a navigator but I decided there wasn’t a great future. I was offered a five year extension of commission in the RAF but I turned that down. I thought what am I going to do at the end of five years? Everybody else would have got established. So I turned that down. I turned down the BOAC offer because I was pretty sure that with modern developments navigators weren’t going to be required for very long. I think that was, that’s how it turned out. So I went into BEA line and I started work in [pause] at Northolt Airport in the [load?] control office. I answered a vacancy and went up to BEA Line House. Their head office. And into their planning department there. And then of course when we merged and went to Heathrow at a big office there again I applied. I applied for the Manage, Manager Australia became available. Advertised. My brother was in Australia. Alan was in Australia. My father was in New Zealand having remarried a New Zealand lady. I thought I wouldn’t mind that job but I was warned that it was already fixed and so it proved but I gave and I know, although I say it, I did give a very good interview. So much so that they offered me a senior manager’s position as a result of my having applied for Manager Australia. I was given a senior planning. I was called Planning Product Manager for South and East Europe. And that was quite a nice job because that meant I was liaising and negotiating with all the, let’s say, starting from the Netherlands. The Dutch, the Belgian, the French, the Portuguese, Gibraltar Airways. Italian, Greek, Turkish, Maltese, Cyprus and Israel. They were my, if you like, that was my group and I had a team of blokes working with me. Obviously I didn’t, but I did a lot of travelling meeting these airlines. We used to meet once before each season. Just sit down and decide what we thought the traffic was going to be. How much it would grow. And then we would share the capacity between us. We would have a partnership. What they called a pool partnership. So that meant I had a lot of contacts in airlines and if I wanted flight tickets for so and so no problem at all. Just rang up. Equally they wanted it back again but that was a nice liaison and we got on well and it was a very interesting job as you can imagine. Sort of having all, having all those contacts and travelling in some very nice countries. I left. I actually took an early retirement because my wife Jean had contracted MS and at the time they were downsizing and Roy Watts, who was Chief Executive, I had worked directly for Roy Watts at one time and I sent a message out to him saying, ‘If you could give me as good a deal for the people you don’t want I’d like to go,’ and I got away. I came out with a handshake, a good pension and for two years I applied for, I signed on and got the dole for two years. Everybody did. Pilots used to turn up in their blooming great cars to collect their dole money. [laughs] They dropped that but so that I never looked back. I think that was the best thing I ever did was take early retirement. I was fifty seven when I retired. I’d been with them thirty three years and I’ve been retired thirty four.
NM: Yeah.
AK: Thirty four coming up thirty five. Yeah. As I say I count myself very very lucky. The twists and turns of my life. Getting out from my student apprenticeship to go in to the air force. Surviving the air force and getting into Transport Command. All the twists and turns of my life which proved to be very lucky for me. And I mean the worse things that’s happened to me is I had to have a pacemaker because I blacked out a couple of times. I think if I’d blacked out a third time I wouldn’t be here talking to you now.
NM: Ok.
AK: But a section of my heart wasn’t working properly so and that’s been fine. Margaret has proved a very good friend and companion. Yeah. We’re partners at Bridge and long walks and visits aren’t we Margaret? We do things together a lot.
MS: He’s amazing. He goes to the gym. His neighbour says he’s mental. He goes over to the gym, Ruislip gym, two or three times a week. On all the machines. I tell you. He’s amazing. He goes walking across the fields to the coffee place in Ruislip, and stuff.
AK: Well it is the safest way to exercise.
MS: Just amazing.
NM: Keeping active. Good. Good.
AK: I still say I’m lucky.
NM: Yeah.
AK: But er I’ve got two very nice daughters who take, ring up and keep contact. Nice contact. They’re happily married and I’m very happy about that. First marriage for one of them wasn’t so good but from that two nice grandsons but she’s remarried now and very happy too. So that’s nice. To know that they’re ok and doing well. And I want to stay here as long as I can because I can cope on my own. It’s very, it’s not the way I would have liked it but Jean because she had MS lost control of things and I’ve had a lift. This house had to be absolutely suitable for having a lift installed and if you went in to this house you wouldn’t know there was a lift. It’s in the corner. An L shaped kitchen and it’s in the far corner and the carers could wheel Jean in and take her up. Bring her down again. Now that occasionally has proved very useful to me. A — I never carry heavy things up and down stairs. The lift does that for me and I had a knee operation a year or two ago. Again the lift got me up and down. So I’m not moving. This has got, this has got the right sort of facilities for me. No.
NM: Do you keep in touch with the RAF at all through Associations or reunions?
AK: No. No. I’m not a bloke for doing that sort of thing. I didn’t apply for my medals at all until my daughters said, ‘Dad we’d like them.’ And the reason I hadn’t is I was so cheesed off with the attitude towards the air force. There was no Air Force Bomber Command medal. And also they seemed ashamed of the air force. They shouldn’t have been ashamed of the people who had carried out their orders. If you had to be ashamed of anybody it was the people who picked the targets that caused the feeling. I think the politicians were ashamed and they didn’t want to make a fuss of the air force. Anyway, in the end I did send for my medals. They’re in boxes upstairs. And then I applied again when they finally did something for Bomber Command and now I’ve got a metal strip across my medals saying Bomber Command but as I say they’re all in boxes upstairs. I’m not a bloke for walking around with medals and going on marches and that kind of thing. Celebration. So I’ve not kept in touch at all.
NM: So when, when you look back in your time in Bomber Command what are your, what are your main reflections as you look back on your time in Bomber Command?
AK: Well [pause] it is as I said just now it is each twist and turn unplanned. I hadn’t a — when I left initially when I was sixteen I hadn’t have the faintest idea what I wanted to do until this chance came up. I saw this, you know application for student entry apprentice and I sat for it and passed. And I say from that it so happened I started on the day after war started and the apprenticeship tuition was not developing the way I wanted, that suited me at all. So I got out. One twist of my life. Well second twist because I went for this. I hadn’t the faintest idea of what I wanted to do. I thought well I might as well go on and see how I do. Then there’s the twist of having had enough of that. Not wanting to be behind a draughting board, drawing board the rest of my life. Getting out of the air force. Possibly not being a pilot but a navigator might well have saved my life. I spent a year out in South Africa. Very pleasant. Came back and crewed up and got away with what I’d been telling you, telling you about. The life there. And then the twist at the end of it of deciding that there’s got to be a future in civil aviation so applying for Transport Command. From there I was in to British European Airways before my demob leave had finished ‘cause they were recruiting heavily at the time and because of my experience of running a unit out in Maripur that got me straight in. And that was my career for the rest of my life. So, you know, twists and turns. I keep saying to myself and anybody who asks I have been very lucky.
MS: One thing you haven’t yet confessed is what you didn’t confess when you first applied to the RAF which you told me about which was that as a child you suffered very badly from any sort of travel sickness to the extent that you were sick if you went on a bus and, and really really suffered and that when you applied to the RAF you did not mention, you weren’t asked about it and so you didn’t mention it and as you’ve told me you were always sick on every flight. It became routine.
AK: Nearly every flight. Nearly every flight I was airsick. Sometimes during the flight but more often than not when we were coming in to land. The aircraft was getting warmer. It was under manual control now instead of George. And very often I would be airsick before we touched down and the ground crew made comments about this when we took them all out to dinner at the end of our tour. We took them all out for a meal and a thank you and they passed remark about somebody always leaving, leaving a bag for them to clear out of the aircraft. But fortunately I was young and fit enough that I could be sick and get back and carry on working but had the aircraft er had the air force known I suffered from air sickness I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t have made it. Yeah.
NM: So what did the rest of the crew —?
AK: I’m still suffering from travel sickness even now. It wasn’t long. I can’t stand coaches and I have been, I have been sick quite recently on a coach. It still, still bothers me a little. I mean, I can drive all over the place and not be ill and if I’m in the front seat of a car no problem as a passenger but coaches, buses, and the Tube sometimes. The stop start of the Tube it it’s a bit jerky during the journey and a long journey. We went up to town recently on the Piccadilly Line. When I came home, when I came back I was headachy and really feeling a bit sick but I wasn’t but I get very hot, starting to sweat and I know that’s a sure sign that if I don’t get off the bus or whatever I’m going to be ill. Yeah. But it didn’t affect my ability as a navigator. Fortunately, as I say, I could be ill and just get straight back and carry on working.
NM: And the rest of the crew were fine when they realised they had an air sick navigator were they?
AK: Pardon?
NM: The rest of your crew were fine with you when they realised they’ got an air sick navigator. Were they?
AK: It was too late then. We were all crewed up. But it didn’t bother them at all. No. They weren’t bothered. It was the ground crew that were bothered. They had to. It was always in a bag.
NM: Yeah.
AK: I mean they never had to clean the aircraft from that point of view so it was alright. I always made sure I always had a bag with me so I could be ok from that point of view. Yeah. But as a child I couldn’t go two stations on the tube. Dreadful. My father told me it was all in the mind but it actually it wasn’t all in the mind [laughs]. Far from it. I don’t know what. I can’t think of anything in particular. Margaret. I talked a lot to Margaret about it and she made a lot of notes. I don’t think there’s really anything that I haven’t mentioned.
MS: I just find it really interesting reading the logbook. Every detail. Exactly how many bombs. What weight on ever mission. Very detailed.
AK: Yes I’ve always recorded the bomb load. Yeah. Have you seen one of these?
NM: Yeah. I’ve seen one. But I’d love to look at yours at some point.
AK: Yeah. I did that for my own interest. I think the biggest bomb we carried was a four hundred towards the end. Oh yeah here’s one. When we went to Homberg. One four thousand and fourteen five hundreds. So that was a fair load. That, the, I think yeah we carried a four thousand. Both times to Homberg. We bombed that two days running. I don’t know what we were after on that one. Can’t remember.
MS: I found it interesting when Tony was explaining what “gardening” meant and “vegetables” and things like that but there’s one reference. A few references to something. What was it ASR.
AK: Oh yes.
MS: And you couldn’t remember what it was and we looked it up online and it was Air Supply Research and that was in the Stirlings over the North Sea.
AK: But that would be one of the drops.
MS: Right. But I think at that time they were looking to find ways of dropping equipment and possibly agents and so on and it was, there was a lot of practices over the North Sea.
NM: Ok.
AK: Funnily enough the last three trips we did were all with one four thousand and fourteen five hundreds. They were — the last one was Osterfeld on that section there. Oh no. No. We did a lot more. A lot more using four thousand. I hadn’t realised how many times. [pause] Yeah. Six one thousands, six five hundreds, four two fifties. Where was that too? [Warwinkle?] wherever that is. Same load to Cologne. One four thousand, six one thousands Bonn. Yeah. It was all, most, the majority was around the Ruhr by daylight.
NM: By daylight. That’s where your Gee could work best isn’t it?
AK: GH. Yeah.
NM: Yeah.
AK: Yeah.
NM: What was the first? What was the longest raid? The furthest east you got. Did you get beyond Gee range?
AK: That long one. I can’t remember.
MS: Was it Leipzig?
AK: I think I would most certainly would have had it. Just let’s have a look at that. Merzenberg which is brackets Leipzig.
NM: That’s a long way east isn’t it?
AK: I’m trying to see when I had GH come in? I think I had GH by then? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah I had GH then. I’m sure that would be ok.
NM: Yeah. Ok. Thank you very much.
AK: Ok. Well I hope it’s of interest.
NM: Absolutely.
AK: Nothing in particular, you know. Not like the bombing — bombing dams and things like that but it was still dodgy at times.
NM: Absolutely.
AK: You just got on with it though. We were all daft and stupid [laughs] It was never going to happen to us sort of thing and you just got on with it. It was sickening in the way as I say I lost, lost two pals. Yeah. But that was life.
NM: Well I appreciate you talking to us this way. It’s been very helpful.
AK: Yeah.
NM: So the interview will get transcribed.
AK: Yeah. I’m sure.
NM: And it will —
AK: Edit that down.
NM: And it will, it will go in to the digital archives of the —
AK: Go to?
NM: The digital archives of the Centre that’s being built now in Lincoln now. It’s being opened later this year in fact.
AK: Oh yeah.
NM: In fact there was an opening of the, there’s a Spire which is the same height as the length of the Lancaster wing.
AK: Where’s this?
NM: This is up near Lincoln.
AK: Oh yes.
NM: And there is going to be a Commemoration Centre, a museum and an Education Centre.
AK: Yeah. Yeah, I’m a bit chuffed about that. I mean to commemorate the Lincoln squadrons. What about the others?
NM: But this is for the whole of Bomber Command.
AK: Norfolk and area.
NM: This is going to be for the whole of Bomber Command. So it happens to be in Lincoln because Lincolnshire obviously —
AK: I thought it was just a Lincoln memorial.
NM: It started off I think as a Lincoln memorial but it’s now, it’s now called the International Bomber Command Centre.
AK: Oh. Hooray for that.
NM: And the Memorial Walls have got the names of all fifty five thousand five hundred and seventy three names of those that were killed in Bomber Command.
AK: Oh so I shall see my friend’s name up there.
NM: Your friend will be there. That’s right. And the Spire was opened.
AK: Oh I didn’t know that. That’s news. I was really cheesed off when they talked about a memorial for Lincoln. What about us?
NM: Yeah. That was a hundred and twenty five thousand in total wasn’t there all the way from Yorkshire through to where you are? I’ve got a leaflet which I can give you about the Centre.
AK: Sorry?
NM: I’ve got a leaflet I can give you about the Centre.
AK: Oh can you. Oh great.
NM: Ok.
AK: Of course it wasn’t long ago that we had that memorial up in Regent’s Park.
NM: Green.
MS: Green Park.
NM: Green Park.
AK: Yeah. I have seen it and I think it’s good. Great. But it took a long time to come didn’t it?
NM: It did. That’s right. I have seen it too. It’s —
AK: I’m still not, I’m still not wearing my medals.
NM: Fair enough. Absolutely.
AK: The girls can have those.
NM: But when the Centre’s opened later this year you might be able to find the opportunity to go and have a look.
AK: Yes. Well we’re going up that way, or planning to aren’t we? Possibly when your brother comes over.
MS: Yeah.
AK: That way. Going north.
MS: Yeah but I don’t think that will be via this.
NM: Yeah.
MS: And it’s later in the year. You reckon maybe the autumn or —
NM: Something like that I think. I’m not quite sure of the date myself but yeah. It’s being built as we speak.
MS: Really.
NM: Yeah. Yeah. The Spire was opened last October and there was a big event and veterans were invited back and this tall Spire was opened.
MS: Oh really.
NM: Yeah. Oh yeah.
MS: Wow.
NM: So now you’re on their database. They know about you now and they will get this.
AK: Oh God.
NM: They will get this recording.
AK: Will I see any of this? Will I have a copy of anything?
NM: If you want a copy of the interview then absolutely they will make one available to you.
AK: Ok.
NM: Would you like that?
AK: Yeah. But the whole thing will come out what? As a book?
NM: The. Well no this is going in to the digital archives of the museum.
AK: Oh I see.
NM: So people when they go to this museum.
AK: Yeah.
NM: And the Education Centre and for research as well if they come across the story of 149 squadron - Tony Kent. They may be able to then listen through headphones.
AK: Oh. I see.
NM: To some of the interview we have just conducted.
AK: Right.
NM: Hear your story directly. And you’re entitled to a copy of this on a disc so if you or Margaret.
MS: I think Tony’s daughter’s would be really —
NM: Daughters.
MS: Really thrilled to have a, they’ve been on at him for quite a while to sort of try and extract information from him [laughs]
NM: So this is, this is ideal.
MS: I think they will be really really happy with that.
NM: Ideal. Yeah. Ok. So once again thank you very much. Much appreciated.
AK: Pleasure. Well I hope it was good enough for you.
NM: It, well I can tell you it absolutely was. Fascinating to listen to. Thank you very much.
[Recording paused]
AK: Hanging down out of the aircraft and Alan coming home he would get right down very low until Sammy couldn’t carry on with his wireless. All of a sudden it went blank and what he’d done he’d flown down so close to the sea that the aerial had gone in to the sea. That was one trick he had. But another one was very naughty actually. He was flying low and he went over the hedges just, and over the top of a Flying Fortress as the crew were getting on it and they were, two or three of them threw themselves off the wing as he came over the edge of the airfield and there was this. How he didn’t get done for that I really don’t know because actually they could have broken their legs, back or anything, jumping off the wing but they did. They just jumped as this Lanc came over the hedges of their property. Don’t know if it was Lakenheath but it was coming in from the coast at low level. Yeah. When we finished our tour and came back from St Mawgan again Alan did his low level run across the airfield with Sammy the wireless operator firing off verey cartridges on the way and, ‘A trifle over the top old man,’ [laughs] came from the control. But when I told you that I had that snowing effect on GH screen. When we landed the senior bloke in the maintenance bay he said, ‘That was pretty good,’ he said, ‘But did you realise that your starboard inner was not firing properly?’ And I think that was causing trouble.
NM: Oh.
AK: That it wasn’t firing cleanly and that’s why I was getting snow effect.
NM: Interference.
AK: But when we got up in the air it settled down. But he could tell that one engine wasn’t, wasn’t running quite true. Yeah. But that was what caused me to think there was a fault in the GH set but it wasn’t. Fortunately as I say when we got into the air it cleared but we got permission to fly across London. Probably the only Lanc that’s ever flown across the middle of London. But it was ok. We joined up with the gaggle. Night time gaggle was murder really. In a way. I’m quite sure that we lost a few aircraft because you’re not flying in formation. You’re flying along a track. You and a, you and a few dozen other aircraft. And our wing commander came back with a five hundred pound through his tail. And I’m quite sure that one or two aircraft must have been hit and blown out doing that ‘cause you just did not know. The only way you knew you were anywhere near aircraft was when you got a bump from the slipstream of the aircraft ahead of you.
NM: Yeah.
AK: Because there were no lights on at all. It wasn’t, it wasn’t the cleverest way to go but it was probably the safest to go but no lights on but you just didn’t know who was around you. Where they were. When you were running over the target dropping your bombs and there might have been somebody just about a hundred feet above you also doing the same thing. And I’m quite sure it happened. I’m sure it happened. Well as I say if the wing commander can come back. You see if I can come back with a five hundred pounder what else is happening? You know. That was a bit dodgy.
NM: So did Alan always come back low level?
AK: As often as he — yeah. Very often. Not always but he did like his low level flying. Yeah. And he loved to upset Sammy with getting the aerial going into the sea. Yeah. He liked his low level. But that was very naughty going across an airfield. I don’t think Alan realised he was going across an airfield until he went over the hedge kind of thing and there they were all gearing up to go on a, on a raid. He was very very lucky I think. He could, he could have been in serious trouble.
NM: Can I just take a look at the logbook please? Can I look at the logbook?
AK: Yeah. Sure.
NM: Lovely. Thank you. Because another thing the Centre would like to do if you’re willing is if I can put down on the list that you have this, you have this logbook.
AK: Yes.
NM: And they will arrange for it to be scanned and digitised to go part, as part of the content of the centre. If you’re agreeable to that.
AK: You want to take it away.
NM: No. No. No. No.
AK: Oh.
NM: I won’t take it away. What I’ll do is I’ll let them know that you’ve got the logbook and then if you’re happy they will contact you.
AK: No reason why not.
NM: Someone will come and scan it. They have scanning to quite a high standard.
MS: Do they?
NM: They have people to do this and they trained people to do this.
MS: Oh really. It’s so different now isn’t it with the museums. Everything being digitised. I mean you know like fifty years ago that particular log book would have probably been on display.
NM: Yes. Behind a glass case.
MS: And now you’re saying, so what they’re saying Tony they scan it. Like photograph the whole thing and you will retain the logbook but they will have this, this record which is sort of in digital form.
NM: Correct.
MS: Presumably on screen in the museum. Would it be, Nigel? So you can look at the logbook on screen.
NM: I assume. Absolutely.
MS: Yeah.
NM: Yeah. It will be online.
MS: It will be on screen. Like on a computer thing.
AK: Well they won’t screen everything because training’s not very interesting. Only the ops.
NM: No. No. They will scan.
AK: Scan the whole thing.
NM: The whole thing because they’re looking at the total story around Bomber Command. The people, the training, the aircraft, the operations, people’s story, people who are affected by the bombing as well as those who took part in it. Ground crew. All the, all the, so it’s, and I’ve got the leaflet here. I can —
AK: When we were going out to South Africa we went out from Greenock in convoys but the sea was so rough and we had to go so slow because we had to. The convoy went as fast as the slowest ship. Propellers were coming out of the water.
NM: It was that rough.
AK: It was. I didn’t get off my back. As a travel, somebody who couldn’t travel well.
NM: Oh dear.
AK: I did not get off my back. We were down on hammocks. You know, deep in the blasted ship and I just didn’t eat or move for about three days. I was very ill.
MS: Bay of Biscay is notorious anyway.
AK: I got my sea legs eventually and enjoyed the sunshine on the way down. Down to, well we went to Cape Town. Well we went to Freetown first. Gibraltar, Freetown, Cape Town. That was the run.
MS: Freetown. My dad was based in Freetown. He was in West Africa quite a lot I remember and Freetown was one of the places and then there was Liberia.
AK: For all I was seasick.
MS: And a lot of that stuff.
AK: And you can be so sick that in the end it hurts and it hurts like hell if you have to go on too long. When we, when we went into Gibraltar they came out and turned into the Mediterranean at night. Waited till night, turned and then came out and down the Atlantic to Cape Town.
MS: To look as if it was crossing into the Mediterranean and then came out.
AK: Yeah. So people watching from the shore would think that we’d gone into the Mediterranean and then with everything, all the lights turned off etcetera they turned around and went out and down to Freetown. All trying to deceive.
NM: Yeah.
AK: There was a time when the destroyers who were escorting us they were letting off depth charges way out on our starboard side at one time but we didn’t have any, didn’t strike any trouble. But as I say I got my sea legs. That’s where I started playing Bridge. They let us sit up on deck stripped to the waist in the tropical sunshine. No wonder my skin suffered a bit. Definitely overcooked.
MS: ‘Cause there were so many American bases weren’t there in was it Norfolk, Suffolk or East Anglia?
AK: Well Lakenheath was the big one. Lakenheath was the big one.
MS: Was it? Right.
AK: That wasn’t very far from us.
MS: Because Nigel you were Bushey. Lincoln’s Field in Bushey, that was, wasn’t that where they organised the Berlin Airlift from?


Nigel Moore, “Interview with Anthony William Kent,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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