Interview with Edward George Key


Interview with Edward George Key


Ted Key was a flight engineer. He was born to a large family in London which he remembers coming down from Norfolk to visit. His father was in the Navy as a chief petty officer and away a lot. Ted was in the air defence cadet corps before he joined the Royal Air Force. He had hoped to become a pilot but settle for flight engineer due to the waiting list being too long. He trained in South Wales during which his previous fascination with motorbikes helped. While training to be flight engineer, he had to know the aircraft inside out, its safety features and capabilities. He was on Stirlings at the heavy conversion unit for six weeks and then went to a Lancaster finishing school.
After training he was posted to RAF Waterbeach. One day prior to an operation Ted was cycling are the perimeter track when a huge explosion threw him from his bike. A Lancaster had exploded while being bombed up. Among those killed was someone from his village who he didn’t know was on the same station. On another occasion the hydraulics and pneumatics failed and they crashed into a potato field scattering potatoes inside the aircraft. On one operation the plane flying next to them exploded turning their own aircraft upside down and into a steep spin. They managed to right the plane and although they were so low there were tree branches stuck on the aerial they did survive. On one operation the navigator accidentally pulled out his oxygen pipe. He packed away his gear and announced he was going home. Ted realised what had happened and managed to reconnect him to the oxygen and he was fine with no memory of the incident.
He recalls that Stirlings were less powerful but more comfortable to work in. He also claims that Lancasters had much better integrity in terms of engineering. He sat alongside the pilot and his role during take off was to make sure the temperatures and compressors were up to standard. He remembers that he got attacked by German fighters three times and only hit once or twice. Ted discusses how frequent collisions with other planes are due to the large amount. The war ended before he finished his full tour, he took part in Operation Manna, immediately going to London to celebrate after. After this, Ted later when to the Middle East where he continued flying.




Temporal Coverage




01:35:14 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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AKeyEG170904, PKeyEG1701


CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is Monday the 3rd of September 2017 and I’m in Ruislip in what used to be called Middlesex with Ted Key, flight engineer. Ted what are your earliest recollections of life?
EK: Well, as I, as I, well I just said that I can remember my very large family in London. It’s like, you know there was so many of them but that was when we used to come down from Norfolk on holiday to see the rest of the family. But I was always pleased to get back and my father of course was not there because he was in the Navy all his life and of course, in those days they went away for two and three years minimal. My mother thought that having a sister in Norfolk would be a better place to go and to grow up and yes, I I loved the countryside. I got well involved in it too and I started at a junior school up there at about three or four years of age. Went through to the Church School which took me up to eleven and I was in the, associated with the church quite a bit. I was in the choir and as I’ve just said I joined the Cadets as ATC which was the Air Defence Cadet Corps in those days and it went on from there really. This went by and I left school with a school certificate and I just wandered in the Air Force more or less. Of course, they took me over at a fairly early age determined to go flying as it always did interest me. Unfortunately, the waiting list to become a pilot or navigator or bomb aimer was far too long so I said, ‘Well, what’s the next best thing?’ And they said, ‘Well, I think you’d make a good flight engineer.’ Which I pursued and passed out at St Athans and subsequent to that I joined the Royal Air Force. This was a most traumatic time in my life you know. Doing operations one after the other. Terrible things happened there on the station and to the people who flew from, out of the stations and I feel very very lucky to have survived all this trauma.
CB: Ok. We’ll come back to that. What were the most terrible things that you are talking about that happened on the station?
EK: On the station? Well, one of the things quite tied up with my village in Norfolk too which is old. We were on ops that night and I was up with my old station bike cycling around the perimeter and there was a fantastic explosion which blew me off my bike and bowled me up the road. I could see that one of the Lancasters was on fire and had been blown to pieces with two others, one each side. Apparently, they had been preparing the aircraft for our night’s operation and apparently a long delay fuse that they were fitting had got stuck and they tried to bring it out and they assume that it blew the bomb up. Eleven people were killed there and it wasn’t a pretty sight when I arrived. But it’s a small world. I, I was on leave about three or four weeks later and I went and saw one of my old ATC instructors who was there. So I said, ‘How is Geoffrey?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘He got killed in a flying accident.’ I said, ‘Oh, where’s that?’ So he said, ‘At Waterbeach.’ And it’s so extraordinary really. His father was, his father was putting it on a bit. It wasn’t a flying accident. It was a bombing up job, you know that they were doing. And he only lived a hundred metres from me in the village and yet, we almost, at Waterbeach we never came across one another. Primarily because I was a sergeant I suppose and he was a young rigger on radar. But what a close thing that was. Yeah. But terrible really. And there were several other accidents you know. People getting killed on operations. Yeah.
CB: What other things happened on the airfield?
EK: What?
CB: What other things happened on the airfield?
EK: Well, there was, we overshot one day. Hydraulics and pneumatics were badly knocked about on one of the, on one of the Lancasters and we overshot, went across the main Ely Road at great knots and into a potato field. It was quite funny really because all the escape hatches I had to discard and it dug it’s nose in and all these potatoes were whizzing around. It’s like [laughs] being picked up like a gigantic soup. Soup, you know [laughs] and in fact more dangerous than most of the flak that we had over there on the other side. But the farmer was very indignant. He was most upset about it all. I think one of our boys was going to put a right hand on him you know and all the rest of it but he calmed down and I think he got his compensation. But that was, that was quite a hairy moment [laughs]
CB: What happened to the crew members? Were they —
EK: Well, I don’t think they stopped running ‘til they got to Cambridge. No. That’s, that’s a joke. No. We just come, we all got out you know.
CB: I was thinking of the bomb aimer sticking in the nose.
EK: No. He was on the rest bay because we took up crash positions you know.
CB: Yeah. Right. So on landing he would be at the back.
EK: I think he was out of there.
CB: Yes.
EK: Oh yeah. It was full, the bomb aimers compartment with King Edwards [laughs] Yeah. And then of course you had collisions in the circuit. I remember those. Two or three of those collided with one another.
CB: What would be the result of that?
EK: Yeah.
CB: What would be the result of a collision in the circuit?
EK: What would be, well —
CB: The result.
EK: Mis-interpretation from flying control on different things where aircraft were.
CB: Yeah.
EK: And you were very tired and exhausted and, you know thought you were back. Back home. Yeah.
CB: But were they always fatal or sometimes were they, did they get the aircraft down?
EK: Most of them were fatal. Yeah. One or two got away with it but yeah. Yes.
CB: What would they be doing? They’d be, would they be in the circuit?
EK: In the circuit ready to land. Yeah.
CB: Or they’d be joining the circuit? Say again.
EK: Yeah. They’d be in the circuit to land.
CB: Yes.
EK: And sometimes you’d have, what? Fourteen, sixteen aeroplanes in the circuit.
CB: Coming back from an op.
EK: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And how was the ground communicating with the aircraft?
EK: Pretty good. It was. The Flying Control were pretty good. Yes. Alright. Yes, they used to have RT, you know.
CB: And they did use RT.
EK: Oh yeah. As well as aldis and that. Yes. Very good.
CB: So before take-off they would only use the aldis light.
EK: The green. Yeah. They’d give you the green.
CB: On landing they would be talking you down would they?
EK: They would. Yeah. Yeah. Not always. I mean I remember our satellite station at Downham Market which had FIDO.
CB: Yes.
EK: And I landed on FIDO once and they talked us down you know. It was very foggy. We got fogged off at Waterbeach but it was alright at Downham and you know he gave us a countdown. He said, ‘You’re lined up all right. Four miles.’ ‘Three miles.’ ‘Two miles.’ And then the next one, ‘Look ahead and land.’ And you still couldn’t see a bloody thing [laughs] But it did break at last when he went and you had to keep going straight because that was paraffin that was burning you know.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Under pressure. But we got down. Yes. Very hairy.
CB: This was the —
EK: Yeah.
CB: Origins of the airfield landing system.
EK: Oh yeah.
CB: Autumn.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Right. Going back to your earlier days what significant point was there with your family?
EK: Significant point?
CB: Your grandfather. What did he do?
EK: Well, my grandfather, well my other [laughs] my other grandfather on my father’s side was a school teacher at one time but instead of teaching he preferred to drink his wages away.
CB: Right.
EK: So he got the sack. And then, I thought it was rather funny he then joined the horse, he was a horse bus driver which I thought was rather funny having got the sack for drunkenness there they put him on the horses. And in the end he finished up as a porter on Waterloo Station. A lovely little man he was but you know the dreaded drink got to him I’m afraid as it did quite a lot of people.
CB: But the other grandfather? He was —
EK: Well, he was in Royal service.
CB: What did he do there?
EK: He was looking after the pictures, upholstery. A general factotum you know. If anything wanted polishing up and that kind of thing. Yeah. He was quite a —
CB: Was he there all his life or was he only there for a short time?
EK: As far as I know he was their apprentice. That’s a good question. I don’t know. He was a Huguenot, you know. We were French extraction that side —
CB: Yeah.
EK: Of the family.
CB: Right.
EK: And a very smart man. He used to go off to work I remember with his spats and pin stripe suit and his bowler hat you know. Yeah.
CB: And did he talk about what he did at the Palace? Or —
EK: No. I was only young really.
CB: He kept schtum. Yes.
EK: I was too young.
CB: Right.
EK: A very generous man. In fact, when we used to return to Norfolk from London he always used to give me two shillings you know which was an awful lot of money in those days and he hadn’t given it to me. And the train was about to go and I couldn’t stop myself. ‘Have you got my two shillings then?’ And I realised afterwards he was probably broke, you know. The poor old devil was probably down to his last couple of bob. Yeah. Yes. But my mother of course you know in retrospect after the war she had two of us. My father was sunk at the [unclear] , injured. There was me on operation. I used to tell her in lurid detail and I think afterwards, God that poor woman. She must have worried herself inside out. But you know she got through it all right. Yeah. Two of us away. Yeah.
CB: Your older brother or older brother?
EK: Pardon?
CB: Your brother?
EK: I had a —
CB: Just father.
EK: My father. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Did you —
EK: Well, when he was sunk and injured he went up to North Wales as an instructor on the new entry HMS Glendower. We got mentions in books. I’ve got pictures of him but that doesn’t interest —
CB: But he joined in 19 —
EK: ‘12.
CB: ‘12. Right.
EK: Yes. Saw both the Battle of Jutland and Heligoland, you know.
CB: So fast forward now into your schooldays. To what extent did you learn about what your father was doing when you were as young as that?
EK: Not very much. Not very much. I knew that he was in the Navy. I knew he was a chief petty officer and that he was away an awful a lot. Quite a hero to me.
CB: Yeah.
EK: I mean I wanted to join the Navy, of course. My father, and of course he wouldn’t have it.
CB: Oh.
EK: No. And he said, ‘No. If you join,’ he said, ‘You can join the Royal Air Force which —’ As a King’s Honorary Cadet by the way. Which sent me up to Cranwell.
CB: Oh.
EK: But I passed to go and then they changed the system, didn’t they? They trained all the pilots overseas so I missed out on that one. Yeah. I would probably have been an air marshal by now [laughs]
CB: So you joined the —
EK: Pardon?
CB: You joined the Air Defence Cadet Corps.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Because of father’s suggestion or did you decide yourself?
EK: No. My own. My friends were joining you know and we all sort of went together. I mean we really got stuck into it you know. We used to travel from Hull to Fakenham where our headquarters was. Twelve miles twice a week.
CB: Did you?
EK: There and back you know. Twice. And then they opened up in Holt so, yeah. But it was a good grounding. It was a very good grounding for the Air Force. Get a bit of discipline and you know, marching up and down etcetera etcetera. In fact, there was one funny episode that we used to do the summer camps and guess where we went to on that summer camp? I went to Waterbeach. Went there because I hadn’t been there. And of course all we, we had a real good time and two years later the young fellow there, Waterbeach. And of course, the Cadets used to come again and they used to come and knock on the flight commander’s door who was my skipper and, ‘Any chance of a flight, sir?’ ‘Of course, there is young man. Come in.’ You know, because I’d been through the, you know we used to take them up on the flight testing and that type of thing. I loved it. Yeah. Yeah. Used to tell us our jobs actually a lot of them.
CB: How many of the colleagues of yours in the Air Defence Cadet Corps joined the RAF?
EK: Yeah.
CB: Did all of them?
EK: No. No. Some actually went in the Navy. Some in the Army. But most of them went in to the Air Force.
CB: And what was the feeling that was motivating them to join the RAF? What did they want to do?
EK: I don’t know. Possibly uniform probably [laughs]
CB: What did you want to do?
EK: Well, I, I liked flying and so I did get motivated towards that. Yeah.
CB: Because you got flying as a Cadet.
EK: Yeah.
CB: As you just said. On air tests.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yes.
CB: So what was the first thing that happened when you joined the RAF? Where did you go?
EK: Well, as, well I went to Bridlington of course from that LCAC at St Johns Wood.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Up to Bridlington. That was where we did our square bashing and —
CB: What else did you do there other than square bashing?
EK: That was about all. That was about all.
CB: Morse Code?
EK: That. That and we were told that what we were going to do and then sent on leave. And then we were posted as I said back to Stradishall and Lakenheath. Yes.
CB: So you went in to [pause] they asked you did they what type of flying you wanted to do and what did you tell them?
EK: Oh yes. Yeah They did ask me. Of course everybody wanted to be a fighter pilot.
CB: Yeah.
EK: [unclear] and there you are.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Well, it was not for me. It was like the heavies as well. I mean I don’t think people wanted that but they grew to enjoy it I think. Well, not enjoy it but [pause] yeah.
CB: But they, what options did they give you? So, you said you wanted to be a pilot. Then what?
EK: Well, you’d have to come down. You’d have to be wireless operator, flight engineer or an air gunner. They were the cream, the pilots, navigators and bomb aimers.
CB: The PNBs.
EK: PNBs, yeah. Yeah. Very good.
CB: So how did you come to be an engineer?
EK: Well, that’s the only option there was open to me.
CB: Right.
EK: Because the waiting list was too long for a pilot. I thought Christ the war will be over and, but so I got in alright. Yeah. Yes.
CB: So —
EK: The skipper was a flight lieuie.
CB: Yeah.
EK: And the navigator was a flight lieutenant as well.
CB: Right.
EK: The bomb aimer was a flight sergeant.
CB: Right. So you’re, just going back to your speciality your decision was made for you because, is that what were you saying that flight engineer was the only one available at that time?
EK: Absolutely. Yes. Yeah.
CB: So, where did you go from there?
EK: What? To school.
CB: Yes. So you went —
EK: 4 SFTT St Athans.
CB: Yes.
EK: South Wales.
CB: And before that you went to Locking.
EK: That’s right. Well, that was part of the same course.
CB: Oh, was it? Right.
EK: Because it was, they couldn’t cope with us all at one place so they had to open up Locking.
CB: Right.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So what engineering experience, knowledge or interest did you have before that?
EK: Well, I used to like motor bikes quite a bit. A bit of speed you know. That seemed to go down quite well with them [laughs] Yeah. There you are. But that was it really.
CB: So you joined. You went to Locking and also St Athan.
EK: Yeah.
CB: What did you actually do in the training process? What did you have to do?
EK: Well, you had to know the aeroplane inside out. All the safety features and the operational standard of the bits and pieces. What you could do and what you couldn’t do, you know. That was about it really.
CB: But —
EK: Yeah.
CB: These were state of the art aircraft.
EK: Pardon?
CB: They were state of the art.
EK: They were.
CB: So hydraulics was a new idea.
EK: That’s right.
CB: The engines were pretty advanced.
EK: Yeah. They were very good. Yeah. The Rolls Royce. The integrity of the Rolls Royce engine even at the latter stage when the SU carbs on the Merlin 20s had the flow chambers and if you did anything untoward the floats would drop and cut the fuel off. But with the SU carbs, not the SU, the fuel injection carbs you didn’t have any problems like that and they kept going and all the years that I flew I had very little problems with engines, you know.
CB: So the training put a lot of emphasis did it on hydraulics and engines? How did they do that?
EK: Well, safety really. Yes. And all, all the systems. I mean the hydraulics. There was a backup system to the hydraulics and the pneumatics and things like that. You had to know where all the fuses were. Quite extensive. Yes.
CB: But all the training was there. You didn’t go out anywhere else. You didn’t go to Rolls Royce for training for instance.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Oh, you did.
EK: Yeah. We went up to AV Roe’s for a fortnight. A maintenance course and that was very good.
CB: The Lancasters in other words.
EK: Yes. Very good.
CB: And the hydraulics. What were they being used for in the aircraft principally?
EK: Flaps. Flaps mainly and undercarriage.
CB: Turrets?
EK: And the undercarriage.
CB: How were the turrets powered?
EK: And yeah, now they weren’t hydraulic. I think they were part electric, I think. Yes. I think so.
CB: Right. So during this time you were an LAC.
EK: Yeah. Halfway through the engineer’s course they made you an LAC.
CB: Yeah. And then what?
EK: Sergeant.
CB: When?
EK: At the end of the course you passed out as a sergeant.
CB: Ok. And how did you get your brevet?
EK: Oh, a big parade. Handed them out. Yeah. Very good.
CB: Marched to the front.
EK: Pardon?
CB: You had to march to the front.
EK: That’s right.
CB: And who would award the brevets?
EK: Well, it was the air commodore who was in charge of the technical chiefy there. He was the one who handed it all out. But they were so cruel the RAF I found. I mean I passed all right but I mean there was, oh say five or six of them in our hut failed the course and they watched us sewing our stripes on and our brevets and the next day they were off the case.
CB: And they didn’t get recoursed.
EK: Well, you could do if you were near the, near the margins but not very often. Failed, you know. Bang.
CB: So what would happen to them after the course? Where would they go?
EK: Join the Army or cooks or what I don’t know.
CB: Wouldn’t they go on to the flight line for the servicing of the aircraft?
EK: No. It was quite a long course you know if you’re a fitter and all the rest of it. Yeah.
CB: So after you finished at St Athan where did you go next?
EK: After St Athan. That was Stradishal.
CB: And what was that?
EK: That was Stirlings.
CB: Right. So that was the, what unit was that?
EK: That was a Heavy Conversion Unit.
CB: Ok.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So this is your first experience of flying is it?
EK: That’s right. The big boys. Yes. Very complicated fuel system too you know which I’d never been taught. But there you are.
CB: But you got instructed, you got taught on the airfield.
EK: Oh yes.
CB: Yeah. What was so complicated about the Stirling fuel system?
EK: The electrics. Anything that’s worked by electricity I try and stay clear off. But you see the undercarriage on a Stirling for instance if it didn’t come down you were in trouble because you had to manipulate it down with a handle. Each motor by hand. Seven hundred and fifty turns on each one. Yes.
CB: Did you practice that?
EK: No. No. We had to do it a couple of times because they weren’t down. We didn’t get the green light on somewhere. Shut them down and once I came in cross landing we nearly tore all the port undercarriage off completely. And we went about three circles.
CB: So was that because of the, why was it a cross wind landing?
EK: [unclear] yeah.
CB: Yeah, but why was that? Was there something wrong with it?
EK: No. There was something wrong with the airfield controller which, which the screened pilot made doubly sure. He said, ‘Unfortunately I’ve damaged the aircraft with regret and it’s your bloody fault,’ he said [laughs] Yeah.
CB: So they couldn’t repair it or that was just an exaggeration?
EK: No. Because the trouble with the Stirling was the wingspan was ninety feet and they cut it down from a hundred and two which the Lancaster was because it wouldn’t, the Stirling wouldn’t fit in a service hangar.
CB: The original size. Yeah.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So how long were you on the Stirlings?
EK: Pardon?
CB: How long were you on the Stirlings at the HCU?
EK: Oh, not [pause] Six weeks. Something like that.
CB: Then you went to —
EK: Oh, then I went on to the squadron.
CB: No. You went —
EK: No. LFS.
CB: Ok. What was that?
EK: Lancasters.
CB: Lancaster Finishing School.
EK: That’s right.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So, you were used to the Stirling. How different was the Lancaster?
EK: Well, it was desperately underpowered the Stirling. Nice aeroplane to fly. A nice aeroplane to work in. You’ve got plenty of room. I mean you’ve been in a Lancaster. You know —
CB: Yeah.
EK: You’re squashed in.
CB: Yeah.
EK: And quite different. But that was, that was the reason. Yeah. A lot of people thought they were very good.
CB: A number of people were very enthusiastic about Stirlings. The, when you got to the Lancaster though how different was it in terms of the engineering work you had to do?
EK: Well, the integrity of the whole thing, the bits and pieces, you know were ten times better than the Stirling. You always had mechanical problems you know. Yeah.
CB: And when you were on the Lancaster did, was it the same as the Stirling that you had to synchronise the engines?
EK: Yeah.
CB: And how did you do that?
EK: You just look along the blades.
CB: Yeah. And how did you —
EK: They come up.
CB: How would you adjust the location?
EK: On the throttle. RPM levers.
CB: Right.
EK: Right. You could look along the [pause] and we used to do that on the Lancasters the same. Yeah.
CB: So were you balancing the two engines on each wing or in the end did you balance all four?
EK: Balanced all four.
CB: Right.
EK: Yeah.
CB: And did you use a pitch change to do that as well?
EK: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: And why was it so important to balance the engines?
EK: Well, I suppose [pause] I don’t know. We just, not, the noise level went down of course as they got out of sync as well. But —
CB: And the vibration was reduced.
EK: Well, vibration. Yeah.
CB: So you got to the squadron. How did you feel about that?
EK: Very good. Yes. I was [pause] I always remember going on the first one or two ops which was Krefeld and they were [pause] the flak, we went into flak and I thought, I couldn’t believe it that they were trying to bloody kill me. I thought my this is a bit much, you know. This was for real and you know pretty hairy at times because we had to throw out the Window, the aluminium coated stuff which diverted the flak and I used to take, take a couple of slices with me and sit on them in case I got hit up the back side [laughs] yeah. Yeah.
CB: Where did you sit in the —
EK: Pardon?
CB: Where did you sit in the aircraft?
EK: Alongside the pilot.
CB: Right.
EK: The pilot.
CB: On a folding seat.
EK: Yeah. A folding seat which was, you could make permanent.
CB: So, thinking of take-off then what was your role during the take off?
EK: Well, my role was to see that all the temperatures and presses were ok. Then we’d do a mag drop. You’d have the right settings for the flaps and away you went. But that was one of the most hairiest things, you know. Sometimes if you were on a short runway at Waterbeach you could see Cambridge coming up to you very rapidly, you know. And you’ve got eight and a half tonnes of bombs underneath you. Quite exciting [laughs]
CB: Yeah. And you were helping with the throttles, were you?
EK: Yeah. What happened was of course as you know there’s a, there’s a [unclear] to the port with the propellers so what you want to do is get the ass end up so you can get rudder control and straighten it out on your rudders you see. And then when you’re halfway up the box he would say to me, ‘Full power.’ And then I’d take the throttles over and I push them right through the gate to go and that was it and then you draw the flaps in slightly. Not too much or you’d drop out the sky. Yes.
CB: Were they progressive adjustment? The flap, the flaps or were they in notches?
EK: They were progressive. There was no notches. No. You could, you could pull them and the rest [unclear]
CB: Just come out gently.
EK: That’s right.
CB: How long could you keep the throttles through the gate?
EK: Well, I don’t know. Some went quite some way because if you started to lose power on one of the engines you would have to keep the power on then. Yes. There was right hairy incidents in that respect. Yeah.
CB: So you’re heavily laden when you take off.
EK: Eight and a half tonnes. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. And we’re in the Lancaster now.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So how did the operations go? What were the difficult ones there?
EK: Well, there was, there was never an easy one. I’m afraid I don’t lose any sleep over Dresden or anything like that which I was on. Chemnitz. But weather was a big bugbear because I remember going to Chemnitz, I think. Something like that. We got the wrong winds and we popped up through cloud and there were mountains there and we’d come out over the middle of Switzerland instead of well to the left of it, you know. Yeah. And the rear gunner said, ‘There’s bloody mountains down there. What’s all the —’ ‘What are you talking about?’ He said. ‘Oh God.’ You know. Fortunately, the Alps were about seventeen thousand so we were alright. You could get well above. Yeah.
CB: So on your, on each op what after you’ve got airborne then you fold the seat and you’ve got other things to do.
EK: Yeah.
CB: What else do you have to do?
EK: Well, every twenty minutes —
CB: As a flight engineer.
EK: Yeah. Every twenty minutes you would monitor the pressures and temperatures of all the engines and various adjustments to different things you know. There was the oxygen system, nitrogen system and then the manipulation of the fuel. You had to take the fuel out in a certain pattern you know. You’d turn four tanks. You would empty the outboard ones in to Number 2 and then you’d go on the big one. Then you’d do an hour each or something like that, you know. It was, it was quite complicated and you’d keep your eye on it.
CB: So you’re draining from the outboard tanks into the tank that’s between the two engines are you?
EK: That’s right.
CB: First.
EK: That’s right.
CB: Yeah. Right.
EK: Yes.
CB: And then the main tank is the one inboard.
EK: That’s right.
CB: Of the inner engine.
EK: Five forty that was. The other was two eight something and the outboard ones were one one four. A hundred and fourteen gallons. Yeah. But we had some exciting times if you see one of those operations there we we had an aircraft blow up just to our starboard side and it tipped us upside down.
CB: Oh, it did.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Right. So —
EK: And we came down in a spin and we pulled out just under three thousand feet from that. We thought that was a good night you know. Fortunately, we managed to regain control and went out of it. One of the engines was packing up but we made it back home.
CB: So when you became inverted what was the state of the crew because you’re just standing at that moment aren’t you?
EK: Oh screaming. Well, some of them were screaming and, because the only thing that saved us in this particular instance was the skipper said to me, ‘Oh, Ted,’ He said, ‘Will you take my chute to be packed?’ So I had to sit on that type chute.
CB: Yeah.
EK: We had the clip-on observer type ‘chute. I said, ‘Yeah.’ And I took it in and of course when we got into this disaster he said, ‘Ted, we’ve got to bale out,’ because we were manipulating this. He said, ‘What can we do?’ He said, ‘We’ve got to bale out,’ he said. He said, ‘Hand me my ‘chute.’ I said, ‘I can’t get mine.’ And I said, ‘You have got the same type of ‘chute as I have at the back here.’ Because when we went upside down, you know everything fell everywhere you see as you could well imagine. And so he had to stick in his seat and fortunately you know opposite rudder stick fully forward it came out. Came out. Which we were very very lucky.
CB: To what extent would you be monitoring speed because you’d be cruising at what when that happened?
EK: About two thirty.
CB: Ok. And then when you were in the dive what speed were you doing then?
EK: Well, we wrote the aircraft off. The main spar was bent nine inches from the tip to the inside. The, the manufacturer’s boys came and saw it and they just winced. They said, ‘I don’t know how it stayed on.’ [laughs] Yeah. We lost one or two bits and pieces. There you are.
CB: But in your case were you standing at that moment? You weren’t strapped in were you?
EK: No.
CB: So —
EK: I fell into the roof.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So the plane’s upside down. What was the first thing he did to get it back because you’re effectively in a vacuum?
EK: Well, I couldn’t see much but we were struggling with our throttles.
CB: Yeah.
EK: All the time.
CB: You then moved forward to the throttles did you.
EK: That’s right. Then we, yeah.
CB: Right.
EK: And between us we sort of went, you know full fire he said, ‘Oh, bring in these,’ and, ‘Look at that.’ You know. Yeah. What happened was that that aircraft, it was one of ours too blew up. We came in and it must have got hit by something or other because when you go onto the target of course you all tend to go in.
CB: Yeah.
EK: And you’d got to watch the guy up top as well who was about.
CB: This chap was just underneath was he? That’s why it tipped you over when it exploded.
EK: Just to the right hand side underneath. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Right. So I’m just trying to get a grip of what actually was happening with the pilot and you because the aircraft is upside.
EK: [unclear]
CB: Yeah. The aircraft is upside down.
EK: Yeah.
CB: How did he, did he right it or did he simply pull back on the stick to go down?
EK: Yeah. It came out. The stick fully forward opposite rudder.
CB: Yeah. But did it —
EK: Yeah.
CB: You were upside down at that moment.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So he wouldn’t pull the stick forward would he?
EK: In a, I think it was a —
CB: Because he’s upside down so he’s got to pull it back.
EK: I can’t remember.
CB: Anyway, you got —
EK: Anyway, they —
CB: You went into a spin.
EK: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And how, how intense is the spin in a thing like that because it’s really big?
EK: Well, G forces. You couldn’t move.
CB: No.
EK: I mean, he says move, you know, ‘Bale out.’ You’re sort of clamped.
CB: You never moved. No.
EK: Around here you know. It’s, well more or less given up. My wireless operator said, I said, ‘What did you think of that, Ken.’[laughs] He said, he said, ‘I thought my poor old mum opening up that telegram in the morning to say that I’d gone.’ You know.’ We got away with it. Yeah.
CB: How many spins do you reckon you did before it came out?
EK: I don’t know. We were down to under three thousand feet.
CB: Yeah.
EK: We had bits of fir tree stuck on to his aerial. The wireless operator, ‘Look at this,’ he said. It was lower than bloody three thousand feet. He said, ‘What’s this?’ Because I remember looking out the window and I could see flames coming out of a high rise building so that must have been, we must have been very low.
CB: Yeah. What was the ground level at that time? Were you in high ground? Or —
EK: We were at pretty high ground.
CB: Yeah.
EK: But you know of course we came out and away we went.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Very very lucky to get back but —
CB: So was this, this was after you’d actually released the bombs was it?
EK: Yeah.
CB: Right.
EK: Thank God.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah. And it was going to be an easy target. Gelsenkirchen. A small oil refinery business, you know.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah. Some of the, some of the ports we did like Hamburg, Kiel, Bremen [Bremerhaven] were very very heavily defended. Yeah.
CB: How often did you collect flak?
EK: Every time. Every time. We always, I mean the most we had, we had thirty six holes in the aircraft. Yeah.
CB: So when you got back to your station at Waterbeach what was the reaction of the ground crew to all this flak?
EK: Oh yeah.
CB: Damage? What did they say about that?
EK: Well, they thought we were all crazy and they thought a lot of us. They thought we were you know good eggs. We used to take them out and buy them a couple of pints. Yeah. And I used to sort one or two of them out too which was good. I used to say, ‘You coming with me today?’ I said, ‘We’ll take you up on a trip.’ I thought well he’s put all the screws back in the right place if he did. Yeah. He was quite pleased.
CB: After a trip whose job was it to brief the ground crew about the state of the aircraft?
EK: Mine and the skipper. The pilot. He had to sign what they called was a form 700B I think it was and that would give clearance before he went and also when he came back he would write a little report and so would I.
CB: Right.
EK: Yeah.
CB: But you would actually be telling the crew on the, on the hard standing would you?
EK: Oh yeah.
CB: The ground crew.
EK: Once my navigator who was, who was six foot eight and a half. Can you imagine someone that big and he was a very tall man as I just said and he was leaning forward to get to some maps and he pulled his oxygen mask out. His clipped on tube. And we were going along there, you know minding our own business and all of a sudden the curtain opened and he was there with everything packed up. He said, ‘I’ve had enough of this,’ he said, ‘I’m packing up and going home.’ I said, ‘I hope we’re all going home.’ And it was a lack of oxygen to come through.
CB: Amazing.
EK: I saw what had happened and we plugged him in and he came around and he didn’t know what the hell he’d been doing. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: When you got back from the experience of the aircraft being inverted and then getting out you were lucky to get away with it.
EK: Absolutely.
CB: What was the reaction of the crew when everybody got to the ground?
EK: Well, you know I can’t remember really. Elation I think to a degree. But yeah, we all thought, I thought it had gone and we’re not going to control it. Yeah.
CB: I was wondering whether you were so exhausted you went straight to bed or you went to celebrate at the local pub.
EK: Well, you had to be debriefed.
CB: Yes.
EK: You had all the people in there asking you this and that. Which you wanted to do. You wanted to go to bed but there you are. Of course, we had a lot of Canadians and New Zealanders with us so some tough lads. Yeah. Good lads.
CB: But in your crew were they all British?
EK: All British. Yeah.
CB: Right.
EK: Yeah.
CB: What other experiences did you have? What about fighter [doorbell ringing] fighter attack? I’ll stop this for a mo.
EK: Yes. Oh yes. We had that.
[recording paused]
CB: So, what about fighter attack?
EK: Oh yes.
CB: What happened with that?
EK: We had one determined guy. A JU88 who gave us a couple of squirts but our boys fought him off. I assume we did the normal, you know.
CB: You did a corkscrew, did you?
EK: What do they call it now?
CB: The corkscrew?
EK: Corkscrew. That’s right. And we lost him but two or three others took an interest in us[laughs] you know. I mean if you’d got a daylight raid some of them would be sitting up there waiting with you. Watching it all, you know.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah. They were pretty good too the Germans let me tell you.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yes. Very clever.
CB: So how many times did you actually get attacked by German fighters?
EK: Oh, only three or four which were sorting us out, you know.
CB: How often did they hit you?
EK: Not very often. Once or twice.
CB: What sort of damage?
EK: They had .5s on them too. If they did hit you it was fairly lethal.
CB: Yeah.
EK: That was a bone of contention with us. That the armament just wasn’t there.
CB: No.
EK: 303s I mean.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Were like peashooters.
CB: Of course.
EK: That were there.
CB: And they’d got twenty millimetre cannon.
EK: That’s right. That’s right. Yes. Very good.
CB: Yes.
EK: Yes. It was quite exciting and they had some very good radar you know that they could do with our H2S system. They could pick that up and come up. Come up the beams underneath and they always attacked underneath, you know. They were coming in and give you, they’d got their own and give you a squirt and they were gone.
CB: So they’d got their upward firing —
EK: That’s right.
CB: Cannon. Their Schrage musik
EK: Music. Yeah.
CB: Yes. You knew about that.
EK: Yeah. Oh yeah.
CB: Yeah. Were you briefed about before you set off on ops?
EK: No. Not very much. I think they didn’t want to tell you too much. Might pack it in [laughs]
CB: Yes.
EK: Yeah.
CB: And the plane next to you that exploded.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Was that caught with that do you think?
EK: That was [pause] we don’t know. We don’t know. We knew the crew of course. I knew the wireless op was a very good singer.
CB: Oh.
EK: Poor little bugger.
CB: So none of them survived that one.
EK: No. No. No. It’s like that one I was telling you earlier about. About the explosion on the airport. I mean they couldn’t find a piece bigger than a postage stamp. I mean you know when a four and a half thousand pounder goes off it spreads over. Dreadful.
CB: On that topic of the bomb load what combination of bombs would you carry?
EK: Well, they were all down there if you want to see. Normally [pause] normally you’d got a cookie.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Which was a four and a half thousand.
CB: And that’s just a barrel.
EK: Yeah. It is yeah.
CB: Yeah. Has no fins anything.
EK: Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes we’d got —
CB: And what about the other bombs? The [iron?] bombs.
EK: Yeah. Depending on what target you were going the incendiaries. A lot of incendiaries.
CB: Yeah. What size were incendiary bombs?
EK: Yeah. Oh —
CB: What size were they?
EK: Bigger than the German ones. I would say they were about, you know.
CB: I’ll get it. I’ll get it.
EK: Yes.
CB: What sort of size?
EK: They were about that high and big. Oh, you know [unclear] basically, yes.
CB: But the bigger ones that were high explosive. What sort of size were they?
EK: Two fifty, five hundred and then there’s the cookie. Four, four and a half. And then the double cookie. The ones that were stacked together.
CB: Right.
EK: So, they were, they were quite big. Yes, and they had, some had some special fuses on. They had biometric fuses that if they contact the earth they go. And pretty lethal. The trouble is they were between my legs all the way out there [laughs]
CB: How did you feel about that?
EK: Yeah. Oh, we had a funny little incident there. Well, one of our jobs with the bomb aimer and myself you had to go down in the compartment, there’s a little one and you shone your torch right down through the bomb bay. [coughs] Tom [unclear] ‘Bombs all gone.’ So and so and put his down. There’s a two hundred and fifty pounder hanging there. I said, ‘Tom.’ Oh dear. He tried to wrestle it free but he couldn’t get it. He went down the back of there. So in the end we decided to land with it. Well, we couldn’t do much so we got, we got undercarriage down. We had a green, not two greens but a bloody red light shone there. It couldn’t be worse could it? Still there. So I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ You know. He said, ‘Well we’ve got to land with it on and hope it’s just a faulty electrical switch and not —’ so. So I said to the skipper [coughs] ‘When you taxi in don’t open the bomb doors bays.’ Because we always used to to take the pressure of the hydraulic system. Anyway, we got there [pause] psst and this bomb fell out. Right. Two hundred and fifty pounder. It wouldn’t detonate because they had to fall quite a few feet before they become fused. There’s a little spinner on the front and that spins and falls off and then it detonated. But they didn’t know that, you know and we didn’t really know. But to see this thing fall on the floor God [laughs] they dived everywhere. I said, ‘What did I bloody say?’ You know, ‘Don’t do it.’ ‘Oh yeah. Sorry.’ Yeah. So we got away with that one all right. Yeah.
CB: But when you load up with the bombs then they are normally secured without priming —
EK: That’s right.
CB: At what point are the fuses effectively primed? Is it when you cross the coast?
EK: By the point that. Eh?
CB: Is it when you cross the coast? Is it on the run in?
EK: No. No. No. No. No. They are primed all the time.
CB: And then. Right.
EK: So when you release them.
CB: Yeah.
EK: They become —
CB: The spinners.
EK: The spinners. Have to drop it.
CB: Right.
EK: The spinners drop off probably a thousand feet. Something like that. Yeah.
CB: This one that’s been found in Frankfurt.
EK: Oh yeah [laughs] Probably one of mine.
CB: Yeah. So what size was that? That was not a cookie ‘cause it’s not that big.
EK: No. No. No.
CB: They’re talking about one and a quarter tonnes. Well —
EK: Yeah.
CB: What size is that as an iron bomb?
EK: Yeah. About two hundred and fifty pounders, five hundred pounders. Yeah.
CB: They probably —
EK: Apparently, there are hundreds of them out there still.
CB: There are. Yes.
EK: Right. How are we doing? Are we nearly there?
CB: Right. So what we’ve done is to just talk about some of the highlights.
EK: Yeah.
CB: But what other highlights were there in the raids?
EK: Yeah.
CB: Did you get any other? What about collisions with other aircraft? Did you see any of those?
EK: No. No. Oh, I’ve seen collisions.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Oh yeah. Because it was a big bone of contention that there is what they called scarecrows.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Have you heard that?
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
EK: Well apparently the Germans were backing up there was no such thing.
CB: No.
EK: It was aircraft coming down.
CB: Yeah. It was Schrage music.
EK: That’s right. Oh and by the way that is the big fighter, Schrage musik or —
CB: The explosion. Yeah.
EK: Yeah. So that used to happen a lot and they used to say it’s only a scarecrow but it wasn’t.
CB: So you’d see big explosions sometimes would you?
EK: Oh yeah. Coming down like. That’s why I never want to see fireworks again. Turns me off. Yeah.
CB: What about actual collisions?
EK: Yeah.
CB: What sort of collisions did you see?
EK: I’ve seen two or three aircraft hit one another.
CB: How would that be? In the bomb run in or what?
EK: Yeah. Well, on the run in as I say you get this thing where you squeeze up you see.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah. Yeah. Yes. If I think of any more I’ll let you know.
CB: And then in the circuit. You talked about collisions there.
EK: Yeah. That was bad.
CB: Simply because of the numbers.
EK: That’s right. And take off as well which not so many but, you know that was always a hairy time. Take off. Yeah. Sometimes you’d do your mag check and you were allowed a four hundred drop on each engine and it would be [unclear] around it and you’d think should I abort? You know. No. We’ll have a go. But sometimes I think I did the wrong thing but —
CB: How often did you have engine failure when you were on ops?
EK: Twice.
CB: And what happened there?
EK: Well, feathered one. Had enough fuel to get back no problem. And the other one I don’t know what the problems were. Yeah. No, they just stopped you know.
CB: Damaged from flak?
EK: They were because the water cooled engine is very vulnerable to flak and yeah I remember one. One. It did get hit by something and the water came out and the vibration in a matter of seconds. It just seized solid at the back you know. That’s why you had to feather quickly. Yeah.
CB: You could always feather could you?
EK: Not always. It depends on where it hit the aircraft. It was, they were pretty good.
CB: So the aircraft is now unbalanced so does it fly slower or do you increase the revs on the other engines to keep going?
EK: You increase the revs but it does. You could trim it out. Yeah. Yeah. The stability, the stability of the Lancaster was very good. If you flew one you know when you operate it was very slow if you wanted to go left. And it would, you’d say, ‘Come on. Where are you going?’ [laughs] Yeah.
CB: Sort of delayed action was it?
EK: Yeah. A little bit.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah.
CB: And in the process of flying the aircraft was the pilot aware that, was the pilot using auto pilot or was that not very effective?
EK: Yeah. He used to use autopilot. He used to use me. I used to sit up there.
CB: You’d sit there occasionally.
EK: Yeah.
CB: While he went back.
EK: Yeah. Yeah. He’d go and have a talk to the navigator or anything like that. Yeah, because it was very much the Air Force in those days and it’s not like that now I’m glad to say. There was them and us you know. The officers and the NCOs they were poles apart. Now Waterbeach for instance the two officers there Bert Alderson and Alan Lacey. I’d never been in the officer’s mess all the time I was with them. Never went in there. Yes.
CB: But did they come in the Sergeant’s Mess?
EK: No.
CB: No.
EK: We invited them in at Christmas I think it was or if we had a game of soccer or something like that.
CB: Right.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So but you would go out as a crew would you?
EK: Oh yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. Very very tight I would say.
CB: You were the family.
EK: Yeah. We were. We were.
CB: And to what extent did you keep in touch after the war?
EK: Quite tight because as I say the reunions came about but the first few years after the war we’d all got marriages and had kids and education to do so I don’t expect we did as much. We were [pause] And I think aircrew were very badly treated you know in lots of other —
CB: Why do you think that was?
EK: I don’t know. Well, a lot of this saturation bombing and bombing got through you know. Through the papers to the public. And murderers and all the rest of it. They forget they started it didn’t they?
CB: Absolutely. But to what extent did that come to the surface after the war or was it only in later years?
EK: Later years it was. Yeah. Yes.
CB: Now you, the war came before you’d finished your full tour, did it? The war end came.
EK: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Before the war, in other words VE Day.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Which was the 8th of May.
EK: Yeah.
CB: How did you all feel about that?
EK: Well, we were quite elated that it was all over but we didn’t know what they were going to do with us you know. But yeah it was good. Funnily on that day, VE day I went on a food dropping exercise to Holland. Operation Manna.
CB: Yeah.
EK: And on VE Day the skipper said to us, ‘We’ve got work to do. Sorry. No day off.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ And we had to go and drop this food in Amsterdam so we all had our best blues on. Everything on. Dropped the food, came back and I was on the first train out of Waterbeach to London and I opened the carriage door and it was full of Americans there [cheer] Good stuff. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So you were on your way home.
EK: Yeah.
CB: For leave.
EK: Yeah.
CB: How soon did they recall you?
EK: I can’t remember now. A couple of weeks I think. Yeah. Not very long. It was never very long.
CB: Going back a bit your experiences were varied but horrendous.
EK: Yes.
CB: Some people took it better than others.
EK: Oh yeah.
CB: To what extent did you, were you aware of or did you know of people cracking up?
EK: Very few. I know one or two that cracked up. Very ill. But not many.
CB: What sort of circumstances would those be?
EK: Well, they would just have a breakdown. They couldn’t do it anymore. One, one chap I knew in particular, you know. In fact, it was so funny. This guy that packed it in, I admire him really. His skipper was Johnnie Parnell, a Flight lieuie. And I was in British Airways in the design office there and I’m sitting there. I see this figure go by and four gold bands on his arms and I rattled on the, ‘Come in here.’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t let you borrow my bloody bike let alone flying an aeroplane.’ ‘I’ve got this,’ he said, you know. He was a captain. Vanguards. Amazing. Yeah. Did very well.
CB: What circumstances caused people to get LMF in this case?
EK: Just scared. Just so. I think I admire a lot of them that did it because it must have taken a hell of a lot to do and in the initial stages it was pretty horrendous. They would take you out on the square and rip your brevets off and stuff. So I’ve heard, you know. I haven’t seen it myself. But yeah.
CB: So what happened to this chap? He was a pilot with Parnell’s?
EK: Pardon?
CB: You said this chap was a pilot with —
EK: Oh, that. That wasn’t the one that went LMF.
CB: Oh.
EK: He was the skipper.
CB: Ah.
EK: The bloke that went LMF was a flight engineer the same as I.
CB: Oh right.
EK: And he used to confide in me a bit you see. ‘I know I’m going to die,’ he’d say. ‘I know I’m going to die,’ and all this, you know. Yeah.
CB: What did they do with him?
EK: I don’t know.
CB: But they took him away did they?
EK: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: What’s the reaction of other crews to that sort of situation?
EK: I don’t know. I can’t say. I can’t say. I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess. I’d only be guessing as I said. Yeah.
CB: But interesting to know the guess because from our point of view we’ve no idea was it like.
EK: Know what?
CB: We’ve no idea what it was like so —
EK: No.
CB: I’d be interested to know what your guess was.
EK: I don’t know. But he was a very very frightened lad and you know he even lost a lot of weight. He was terribly scared. Yeah. Well, he was very scared.
CB: So that was the LMF one. The other one was the —
EK: Lack of moral fibre.
CB: Yeah. The other one you mentioned was, who was later an airline captain.
EK: Oh yes. I —
CB: What happened to him?
EK: Well, he was alright. He was alright.
CB: Later. But what happened to him that made him —
EK: Well, he came out of the Air Force.
CB: Yes.
EK: Joined British Airways.
CB: Yeah. But what happened when he was in the RAF to cause him to —
EK: No, he was alright.
CB: Oh, he was.
EK: He did his tour.
CB: Oh, I see. He wasn’t an LMF type.
EK: No. No.
CB: Ok. Right.
EK: No. No.
CB: No.
EK: No.
CB: Ok. Right.
EK: Well, I mean, losing, I’m losing my voice.
CB: Yeah. I was going to say we’ll pause there for a bit.
EK: Yeah. That’s alright.
[recording paused]
EK: From there.
CB: What, the flash?
EK: It went over anyway.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah. It is a big aeroplane.
CB: Pardon?
EK: It is a big aeroplane.
CB: Yes.
EK: Now my mate, old Brian Hallow of 44 Squadron he was with Nettleton on the Augsburg.
CB: Oh, yes.
EK: Daylight one.
CB: Yes.
EK: He got a DFC. Mad as a hatter. He used to fly Manchesters and he wouldn’t have anything said about them. He said to me, ‘There’s nothing wrong with them,’ he said and he used to do an upward roll in a bloody Manchester. I said, ‘Alan, what was that like? ‘Well,’ he said, ‘It was alright.’ He said, ‘But all this shit on the floor came all around me.’ He said, ‘It was most uncomfortable.’ While he’d done an upward roll in a Manchester all he could talk about was the dirt that had accumulated on the floor all around him [laughs] Yeah. Yes, he was a character he was.
CB: Some people probably had to be mad to be able to do the tasks.
EK: Oh yeah. Yeah. And I saw [pause] I saw a picture of his medals the other day in one of my magazines.
CB: Nettleton.
EK: Not Nettleton. Nettleton was killed.
CB: Oh yeah.
EK: Shortly after the Augsburg one.
CB: Yeah.
EK: But no, Brian Hallow.
CB: Brian Hallows. Yes.
EK: Yeah. He [pause] I’ve forgotten what I’m bloody talking about now. Oh, his medals.
CB: Yes.
EK: They’re up for sale.
CB: Oh.
EK: Now God knows. I wouldn’t have thought he’d have sold them.
CB: No.
EK: But he got DFC, CBE and a whole, of course, he was promoted to wingco and was an air attaché in Washington somewhere.
CB: Oh right.
EK: And a lovely bloke. In fact, we used to meet on leave and I was only a flight sergeant then and he was a flight lieutenant and he’d say, ‘Come on Ted. We’ll go and have a drink. Go to the Feathers.’ I said, ‘I can’t go in the ruddy Feathers.’ He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘That’s officers only.’ ‘What a load of bullshit,’ he said. ‘Come with me.’ So in we went, I got behind him, he strode in and the manager was there. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said, ‘We can’t serve your friend.’ So and so. Oh, a tirade came out you know.’ He said, ‘You ‘f’ing pom. You’ve been sitting on your fat asses there doing bugger all —’ he said, ‘While we’ve been fighting the war,’ he said, ‘Us two.’ He said, ‘Now get the bloody beers in.’ Oh, he had them going around you know. It all went quiet and then it was alright. Cheers. Same again? All the best lad.’ [laughs]
CB: And the whole pub reacted well, did it?
EK: Yeah. It was alright. Well, they were all servicemen.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Mostly. Yeah. Old Brian. Grand fellow he was.
CB: What happened to him in the end?
EK: He just died of old age.
CB: Right.
EK: He got through it all. Had tonnes of money. His father had a stream of steam laundries you know so he wasn’t hard up. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I’ve got to do this.
[recording paused]
EK: You know, to bring them back.
CB: Oh, this was Operation Exodus was it?
EK: I think it might have been called that.
From [unclear]
EK: I know he said, he said to my skipper, he said, well he said to me, ‘Have you got a couple of people who can help me on with my luggage on to the aeroplane?’ My skipper was there. He said, ‘This is a crew member,’ and so and so. And he said he’s eight hours work to do on this aeroplane to take you home.’ He said, ‘I’m sure you can find someone to load your stuff on.’
CB: Who was this chap?
EK: He was, he was a colonel or something you know. Oh yes. He thought he should have pole position. So we stuck him right down at the back on a number painted on the floor and said, ‘Bloody well get on with it.’ There were some nice little jobs.
CB: He’d been holding —
EK: I always remember when we were bringing troops back from Brussels and all the, all these prisoners of war had been going around all over the place and one came up to the aircraft and he had a brand new Mercedes motorbike around there. He said, ‘It’s yours.’ He said, ‘I’ve finished with it now. I’m coming with you.’ I said, ‘You’re joking.’ I couldn’t get the bloody handle bars through the, through the back. It would have been worth a fortune.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Had to leave it there.
CB: Couldn’t stick it in the bomb bay.
EK: No. No. [laughs] No.
CB: There’s no strength in the bomb doors is there?
EK: Oh no. No. They’re purely cover up. Yes.
[recording paused]
EK: Right. But we had a little WAAF behind me.
CB: On the Cook’s Tours.
EK: On the Cook’s Tours and the thing is we used to be in formation and some of the boys [unclear] with some really pertinent remarks they’d make to one another and of course some of these girls could read Morse. I mean we didn’t used to swear in those days and all the rest of it. I thought oh God here we go. But anyway, we went on and this girl was progressively looking very ill. Innocent this and she had and she threw up in this bag as well right behind me. So I said and she tapped me on the shoulder. I said, ‘Oh Christ.’ So I thought I’ll take it and then she went back and I’m standing there. I said, ‘What do I do with this?’ You know the old sliding window on the Lanc? I got that [pause] and it came back like a bloody rocket and my skipper who just had a wonderful moustache and it hit him sideways on and it was all hanging there you know. All those tomato skins and peas and all the rest of it and he went quiet for a little while you know. And I couldn’t stop laughing. I couldn’t stop laughing. ‘You bastard,’ he said. Nothing about this poor little girl on the floor passed out. Yeah. And then, and that was that you know. I said, ‘Unclean.’ I said, ‘You go and get a wash or something.’ Oh dear. It was so funny. Yeah.
CB: Amazing.
EK: It was something I didn’t suffer with but the bomb aimer funnily enough the bomb aimer was put off a pilot’s course, Tom Burns, he was continually air sick. Every time we went up. He’d go to the boundary fence and away. Away he goes. Amazing isn’t it?
CB: How extraordinary.
EK: He persevered. He went on and on you know. Yeah.
CB: It didn’t affect him when he was doing the bomb aiming.
EK: No.
CB: Because he was concentrating.
EK: Oh yeah. Well, I hope to think he was. I said, ‘Tom, why don’t you sort this throwing up?’ ‘It’s a piece of cake.’ He said, ‘You just look up,’ and he said, ‘That’s high level,’ he said, ‘And that’s low level.’ [laughs] I think it’s true you know. [unclear] yeah.
CB: What height would you be flying for on the Cook’s Tours? On Cook’s Tours.
EK: Oh, pretty low. Pretty low. Five or six thousand. That’s right. Something.
CB: Oh, as high as that. I say as high as that.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Because I was thinking of you being —
EK: Yeah. Yeah. They could see all the devastation.
CB: That was the idea.
EK: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah.
CB: So what was the mix of Air Force people and others on the Cook’s Tours?
EK: Oh, all erks, you know.
CB: All erks.
EK: All LACs and, yeah.
CB: So —
EK: All just ordinary people.
CB: Did all your ground crew go on a Cook’s Tour?
EK: Yeah. Oh yeah. We took quite a lot. Yeah. Yes. I always remember that schloss.
CB: Yes.
EK: Yeah. Yes. It’s funny we’ve got this building here. Along my corridor is an ex-RAF guy and his granddaughter believe it or not she comes to see him quite a bit. Air commodore. What about that?
CB: Really?
EK: Yeah. In fact, Ken down on the gate where you came in and he said, ‘You’re not to let anybody in here. It’s for the security.’ This is to an air commodore. And my wife comes around you know and she said, ‘I live here.’ [laughs] And that’s it. Fortunately, Ken came in and she opened the door, you know and she said, ‘My grandfather said I’m not to let anybody in.’ That’s right. ‘Oh, very well.’ And she slipped her jacket on as she went out. The old big ring. She’s in the headquarters here. She’s head of, she’s a barrister.
CB: Oh.
EK: But she’s head of security and a lovely girl.
CB: And what did he do?
EK: Pardon?
CB: What did her grandfather do?
EK: He was, he was some clerical function, I think. He was, yeah.
CB: In the war?
EK: Yeah. Oh yeah. He’s an ex-brat. He was a Halton boy.
CB: Oh right.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So we need to talk to him.
EK: Very good. Very good training that, wasn’t it? Very good training. Yeah. Yeah. So I met her two or three times now and I’ve been doing the mornings up down the British Legion. I said, ‘I bet you never kissed an air commodore.’ [laughs] ‘Or a station warrant officer.’ [laughs]
CB: Not with their uniforms on.
EK: Yeah. That’s a lovely rank isn’t it? Air commodore. Her husband has just retired. He was a captain in the Army and so don’t quite [coughs] In fact, my nephew worked for her.
CB: Oh.
EK: He’s a lawyer and he joined the RAF. Got so fed up with Civvy Street, you know. The mundane —
CB: Yeah.
EK: Life of a lawyer, you know. And he loved it and I met her and I was told, ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I know him well. He’s a very good athlete. I said, ‘He is. Yes.’ And of course, he skis for the RAF and this, that and the other and of course Tracey said, ‘I’ll tell him I met you.’ To me you know. So he went in his office and he said, ‘Who’s that.’ And it says, ‘Air commodore.’ ‘Jeez. What have I done?’ [laughs] He said he nearly dropped the phone. And it was her just saying that she’d met the day previously. He came on the phone, ‘You bastard,’ [laughs] he said. He said, ‘I thought I was in for the bloody high jump,’ he said. You know. A flight lieutenant against an air commodore. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Good laugh.
EK: Yeah. A nice rank. I mean these officers of air rank they tell me that when they retire they retire on full pay.
CB: No. They don’t.
EK: No.
CB: No.
EK: They don’t. Ah well, you’re probably right there.
CB: They get their RAF pension.
EK: What?
CB: Commission pension assuming they’re on a PC. Then they get forty eight points. Forty eight point five percent of the salary they were on when they retire and a lump sum of three times their pension tax free. It’s not bad is it?
EK: How do you know all this? Do you know someone?
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah
CB: My job.
EK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: What celebrations did you have with the end of the war?
EK: Well, as I said I went to, I had a couple of days in London drinking too much. We then came back to Waterbeach. Yeah. Yeah. Long while ago now, isn’t it?
CB: Yeah. Then you, then you got on to the Exodus thing.
EK: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: How many people could you put in the plane at the same time?
EK: About [pause] about fourteen.
CB: You know that —
EK: All they had was a number on the floor and a bit of a rug to sit on or a blanket.
CB: Yeah.
EK: I remember that. That was a nasty one as well. That, that was on Exodus. That was at Brussels. We were just lining up to go forward. The one in front of me went, the next one went, then the next one. He went down the runway as we were and he went up. He went straight in. Bang. And the whole lot they were blown apart.
CB: Right.
EK: I don’t know what it was. I reckon that someone had moved about in the aircraft or got CnG wrong and were fat assing around. I don’t know.
CB: It’s interesting you say that because I had another person tell me —
EK: Pardon?
CB: I had another person tell me about that.
EK: Did you?
CB: And the theory was that the people moved to the back and that leads to the question as you were in there on the task.
EK: Yeah.
CB: What briefing did you give to the people who came into the aircraft? Were they told they must stay where their number was?
EK: Yeah. I think they —
CB: Or were they allowed to move about?
EK: Oh yeah. We were alright once we were airborne. Up and away, you know and everything was there but —
CB: No.
EK: On take-off, you know.
CB: Yeah. That’s what I mean.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So you’re fully laden and somebody moves back. They wouldn’t understand the CnGs. C of G shift.
EK: Yeah. I wonder if they’re going to get this Lanc repaired. This one that’s in dire straits.
CB: I’m sure they will.
EK: Eh?
CB: I’m sure they will.
EK: I hope so.
CB: Yeah. But yeah. To Coningsby. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
EK: That’s right. That’s right.
CB: So after you’ve done those things then the squadron, what happened after that?
EK: Well, they just all went and I then, as I said I then went out to the Middle East to, to Egypt and as a spare bod more or less you know flying there, flying there. And then —
CB: What were you flying in then?
EK: Well, we had —
CB: Still in Lancasters?
EK: Yeah. Lancasters still there, I think.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah. But then you know everything just went down the pan. And as I was very good at cricket they had me playing cricket most of the while.
CB: Brilliant.
EK: Yeah. That was them and us again. There was nine officers, myself as a warrant officer and the opening bat for Cambridgeshire who was an OAC and better than anybody. Amazing it was. And I did, there was a Lanc there because I had the misfortune of flying with the, he was an air commodore. He was the AOC. Grey his name was and he used to come and watch us play occasionally and if I scored a run he wouldn’t come up at all but any officers, ‘Well down old boy.’ You know. I thought. Put me off the RAF. Yeah. I did sign on for three years.
CB: Yeah.
EK: But I got so, waited around for this to go through. I had a row with the wing commander flying and, ‘Don’t be impertinent, Key. Get out of my office.’ I said, ‘Yes. It’s the last time you’ll see me, you know.’ And I just came out then. But I would have stayed on as long as —
CB: What was the bone of contention then?
EK: Pardon?
CB: What was the bone of contention that caused the argument?
EK: I don’t know.
CB: Oh.
EK: They just seemed to put me in a corner and didn’t bring me out and dust me down with a commission you know.
CB: Yeah.
EK: And I ticked all the right boxes I think, you know. But today it’s so funny because you go to Northolt and you get the officers and the men you know sort of like talking to one another. Yeah. That’s the bits I find very good. Yeah.
CB: So you got to the end of your service —
EK: Yeah.
CB: And this is still 1945, is it?
EK: Yeah. I think so.
CB: And you go into ’46. You’re still in the RAF.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Because you then went to Nairobi. Why did you go there?
EK: Well, primarily to play cricket mercifully and a little bit of flying I used to do. I waited around to get this commission.
CB: Which never came.
EK: No.
CB: So —
EK: Were you commissioned, were you?
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So the question really is why you were flying all these other aeroplanes because you were in the Liberator, Dakota.
EK: Oh that. Yeah. That was.
CB: Baltimore.
EK: They were mates of mine they were.
CB: Oh.
EK: Yes. We had a wheel around.
CB: So you weren’t there in your professional capacity.
EK: No. No. But a lovely posting. Yeah.
CB: And then Mogadishu.
EK: Yeah.
CB: So, in theory what were you supposed to be doing?
EK: Well, they put me in to MT at one time. Doing a bit of you know. But there were so many others sort of floating around. Redundant aircrew.
CB: Yeah.
EK: You know. So that was that. So I ended up —
CB: Because if you flew in a Lancaster then you flew as an engineer.
EK: Yeah.
CB: But if you flew in anything else.
EK: Yeah, No. I wasn’t.
CB: No.
EK: So this went right on. Then you went to Upwood to 148 Squadron.
CB: Yeah.
EK: So what was that then?
CB: That was when I was at college.
EK: Right.
CB: That would be —
EK: So you’d come out of the RAF.
CB: Yeah.
EK: In the end of ’46 was it?
CB: Yeah.
EK: Middle of ’46?
CB: Yeah.
EK: And that was it.
CB: What made you decide to go to college?
EK: Well, because I more or less straight from, straight from flying and I didn’t know anything about the nuts and bolts of the aeroplane you see so I thought I had to go and take a course.
CB: And what was the course you did?
EK: Eh?
CB: What was the course that you did?
EK: Aeronautical engineering.
CB: Right.
EK: Per se.
CB: Right. At where?
EK: Yeah.
CB: Where was that?
EK: The College of Aeronautical Engineering at Chelsea.
CB: How did you support yourself financially during that time?
EK: Came with a grant.
CB: Right.
EK: Yeah. Quite generous. Quite good.
CB: Was it?
EK: All ex-RAF people there. Good fun. Yeah.
CB: And they’d all been engineers had they?
EK: No. Pilots and everything.
CB: Oh.
EK: Some of them got some very good jobs [unclear] there were some very bright boys, you know. Yeah.
CB: Meanwhile you joined the Reserve.
EK: Yeah.
CB: And what did that do for you?
EK: Well, as I said it gave me thirty pounds a year plus, plus a fortnight away. Yeah. Flying.
CB: And you, and what, you converted to a different aircraft. What was that?
EK: Yeah. Converted to Lincolns.
CB: Right.
EK: And I went on one or two. I went out to Gib on a Lincoln.
CB: Oh.
EK: Yeah. Flying out there. Yeah.
CB: So how would you describe the Lincoln in relation to the Lancaster?
EK: Well, I mean the Lancaster was the Rolls Royce of the heavy bombers. The Lincoln, now they prostituted the aircraft by doing all kinds of things but, you know, serviceable.
CB: It was bigger wasn’t it?
EK: Oh yeah.
CB: How else was it different?
EK: Yeah. Yes. It was bigger. It had all this armament on of course. 3.5s. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Was the fuselage bigger?
EK: Eh?
CB: Was the fuselage bigger?
EK: Yes. Slightly.
CB: So what did that do to your position as the flight engineer?
EK: No. The same position. Exactly the same. Stirling was totally different.
CB: Yeah.
EK: Yeah. How long were you in the RAF?
CB: Oh, less than two years.
EK: How much?
CB: Less than two years.
EK: Oh, it was. Oh. National Service.
CB: No. No. Volunteer.
EK: Pardon?
CB: Volunteer.
EK: Oh, and what happened?
CB: I’ll tell you later.
EK: Oh, you’ve got a story to tell have you? Yeah.
CB: So was there a second pilot’s seat in the Lincoln or did they still have only one pilot?
EK: Only one pilot. Yeah.
CB: Right.
EK: And in those days it was amazing really that year when they were all non-commissioned. Not many officers. They were all flight sergeants, sergeants you know. And then of course they had this terrible mix up when they regraded all the crew Master Aircrew, Aircrew 1, 2, 3 and 4. Yeah.
CB: The master aircrew being the warrant officers.
EK: Yeah. But you had to have all that goes with it. As a master aircrew you had to do thousands of bloody hours and flown on [unclear] you know. Yeah.
CB: Did they downgrade any of the aircrew then from warrant officer to flight sergeant?
EK: Oh yeah. They, they —
CB: When the war ended.
EK: Oh yeah. Fortunately, I was, I was going to go on commissioned flying so they didn’t touch me. But that was bad you see. You’d got blokes there with DFMs and warrant officers. All of a sudden they were knocked down to bloody sergeants. Dreadful. Why couldn’t they wait just a few months and let them all go home?
CB: Strange. When you, how long did your degree course last?
EK: Three and a half years.
CB: And then what?
EK: I went to British Airways.
CB: Did you know that before you finished the course or did you have to look after you’d finished it?
EK: No. I had an interview there and went straight in. They wanted me to bloody fly again.
CB: Oh, did they?
EK: Yeah. As an EO. But I did quite lot of flying funnily enough here and there giving extensive modifications to different aeroplanes and let us go and so it wasn’t bad.
CB: Then after a bit?
EK: After a bit I took the money and ran and retired.
CB: What age did you retire?
EK: Forty eight. Not bad is it?
CB: Then what did you do?
EK: Nothing [laughs] Oh yes. I did. I went, a friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you come and join us in the Transport for London?’ So I went and I quite enjoyed counting motor cars and cars and all these different things that they used to do in the city. Yeah.
CB: What did that involve?
EK: Eh?
CB: What did that involve?
EK: Well, it involved up getting very early in the morning and then going out and counting cars on different routes and what was using who and what they could do. Yeah. It was alright [pause] Well, how are we doing? Are we nearly there?
CB: No, we’ve done well. Just nearly finished now.
EK: Oh good.
CB: So when did you finish altogether in work?
EK: What? Work?
CB: Yeah.
EK: Oh, about [pause] about forty years ago. Yeah.
CB: Well, Ted Key, thank you for a most interesting conversation.
EK: Well, I hope it has been. It seems a bit disjointed and some of it is a bit faded and I could think of a bit more.
CB: Ok.
EK: Yeah.
CB: You need a rest.
EK: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: The bomb.
EK: Yeah.
CB: They were disgorged as well.
EK: The photo flare?
CB: The photo flare.
EK: Yeah.
CB: And they dropped away and at a certain time they would pull them up and the whole line would light up and they would take pictures.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
EK: So that was on a programmed arrangement before the plane, before the sortie was it?
CB: Yeah. And sometimes they used to stick.
EK: In the ‘chute.
CB: And if you weren’t careful they went off in the aircraft and blow the bloody ass end off.
EK: Right.
CB: Yeah. In the ’chute. Yeah.
EK: They were quite —
CB: Who operated the camera? Was it done automatically on a timer or after the bombs went?
EK: That was done automatically but the wireless operator was in charge of the photo flares.
CB: Oh, was he? Right.
EK: Yeah.
CB: You mentioned earlier about trying to dislodge this large bomb. A two fifty pounder was it? So was there access to the bomb bay from the floor of the aircraft?
EK: That’s right.
CB: Every so often was it? Or —
EK: A little plate. Pick it up like a hook. You pulled it.
CB: Yeah.
EK: And it dropped it out.
CB: Right.
EK: If you were lucky.
CB: Right.
EK: This didn’t drop out.
CB: But there were several bits in the floor.
EK: Yeah.
CB: Hatches were there.
EK: Yeah.
CB: That you could use inter bombing.
EK: Where each bomb was.
CB: Yeah.
EK: I mean.
CB: Right.
EK: Dependant on what configuration you had.
CB: Yeah
EK: Yes.
CB: But having hang ups must have been quite a —
EK: Yeah. Yes.
CB: Worrisome.
EK: That’s it —



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Edward George Key,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 22, 2023,

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