Interview with Jean Kilbey


Interview with Jean Kilbey


Interview with Jean Kilby about Trevor Stephens DFM. He wasn’t interested in school until he discovered a love of flying. In order to fulfil his dream to fly he worked hard on his education and volunteered for aircrew. He trained as a pilot and was posted to 156 Squadron. On the 22nd of November 1943 he and his crew left RAF Warboys for their final operation. They were shot down by a night fighter and are buried in Germany. He was twenty years old.




Temporal Coverage





00:32:58 audio recording


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SJ: Have a chat.
JK: Sorry. And I don’t hold it.
SJ: No.
JK: You do the holding.
SJ: So if you just want to have a chat.
JK: Right.
SJ: Then I can see if it needs to go any nearer.
JK: Well, it’s very very nice to meet you, Sandra and Peter. And for you to meet my two very good friends who have come to be with us because my friend Francis Trevor Stephens was her uncle.
SJ: Ok. Thank you.
JK: Anything else? No.
[recording paused]
JK: And my being able to tell them how Trevor Stephens, DFM was a childhood friend of mine from the age of two. I knew him and he once said, we used to fight though when we were children and he once said he didn’t know why God made me [laughs] But we were such good friends. And I can’t really go in to how we met. His grandparents were [pause] what were Nellie and Charlie? His grandparents or parents? His parents.
JM: They were his parents.
FM: His parents.
JK: Well, they had a building company, a big one and they got a contract to build the school that I went to. But before they built it his father built the caretaker’s house. In those days they did that sort of thing. And he brought the family from Sutton Coldfield to Rugby to live in that house which was virtually at the bottom of my parent’s garden. And that was how we met when we were two or three, or three and four. And my friend Francis who is here with me, her father was about six. So, that’s how long the friendship [pause] how long ago it started and it’s been there ever since. Always they’ve been there. And Fran’s granny, her nanna was my Auntie Nell, the mother of Trevor. Always included in everything for our family and Trevor was. And when Dennis, Francis’s father was twenty one, just before the war they, was it just — I think it was well anyhow his parents bought him a little MG car. And then Trevor took it over when Den went in the army. I think my friend might be able to say yes or no but Dennis got a medal. Didn’t he get a medal in Italy?
FM: Yes. He did. Yes.
JK: He did didn’t he?
FM: They both —
JM: Yes.
FM: Got medals. Yes.
JK: He did.
FM: Yes. Yeah.
JK: Yes. I don’t know how Auntie Nellie coped with two sons who were away fighting.
FM: No.
JK: No. And dad did. Yes. So that’s how long our friendship goes back and we had wonderful times together. Where had we used to — oh, do you remember Francis when it was the Scout or the Guide Jamboree?
FM: Oh, yes.
JK: In Sutton Park?
FM: Yes. I remember that. Yes. Yes.
JK: And it rained and rained and rained. How long ago was that?
FM: Gosh.
JM: ’53.
JK: Was it John?
FM: The Coronation year was it?
JM: Was it?
JK: Yes. I think it was.
JM: Yeah.
JK: Yeah. I think it was. Yes. And we, because we lived in Solihull for quite a long time which is about what fifteen miles from Sutton Coldfield so we were often over there. Oh, I don’t know. I’ve got so many memories of the Stephens and the Stewarts it would be in those days. My maiden name. My married name is Kilbey. But, oh no. So many memories. Lovely things. I just loved my Auntie Nell. And Fran’s grandfather, my uncle Charlie he was gassed in the First World War and he never really recovered from it, did he? All through his life.
FM: He died early. Quite early didn’t he? He was just sixty two wasn’t he?
JK: Yes. Yes. But dad was in the Royal Engineers I think.
SJ: Yes. He was. Yeah.
JK: Yeah. My father went to Russia at the end of the war for a year with the Royal Warwicks and I bet they weren’t clothed then like they would be now. I used to love him telling me stories of Russia. What they did. And he was only a little man. They’re my parents in that photograph there. That was when it was, I think that was taken for their golden wedding but I’m not a hundred percent certain. They might have been. They didn’t live to see their sixtieth both of them. No. So, is there anything more you feel I might be able to, that I haven’t dwelt on?
JM: Do you remember the actual time when Trevor never came back from the last mission?
JK: Oh yes.
FM: Yes. She does remember.
JK: Oh, I do remember it well because I don’t know who phoned mum. Phoned through to Rugby. And mum phoned for a taxi, went down to Rugby station, got the train to Birmingham and then I take it, probably a bus out to Sutton to be with Auntie Nell. Oh yes. Mum went to her that day. Yeah. And of course he was missing at first. And while he was missing his commission came through and they’d made him pilot officer. And then they did go to Buckingham Palace, didn’t they? To get their medal.
JM: Did they? I don’t know.
JK: I think they did because there was a film made with Dirk Bogarde in, called, “Appointment in London,” and that was the story of an airman going to Buckingham Palace for his investiture. Some years ago but I always said that was Trevor’s film. Always did.
FM: Yeah.
JK: But he, it says in Trevor Smith’s he was mad about flying always. And my husband’s father got his wings in the First World War. And Graham, he was, you probably don’t know but I think Fran and John might know the BTH company in Rugby which was the British Thomson Houston they, you could have an apprenticeship there for five years combined with a university course at the local, what was it called? The Rugby College of Technology. And dad was, he was [pause] what do you call it when you didn’t have to join up but you could volunteer for submarines or air? To be a pilot. So, Grah went. We weren’t even engaged then and Grah went to Coventry, to the headquarters for that. To volunteer for aircrew. And they found he was colour blind. They didn’t want to know him. Thank God for that. But he joined the Home Guard and what those boys did. They’re college work, working from 7.30 in the morning ‘til 7.30at night and then they used to be in the evening and Sunday training with the Home Guard because they were called a mobile unit and if we’d been invaded anywhere in England they were all young men. They would have gone. And they used to go on exercises with live ammunition. But we used to take it in our stride, you know. Is that tea all right, John because if it’s old?
JM: It’s alright. It’s fine. Thank you.
JK: And [pause] oh yes. They really had to train hard. I, I before I had to have this room all disorganised I’d got all the information of Graham when he was in the Home Guard. And it was very interesting but I think I’ve lost it. Unless. I don’t think it’s in here. No. That’s the Memorial Flight. I’ve got the —
SJ: Going back to —
JK: Trevor.
SJ: Trevor Stephens.
JK: Yes.
SJ: Did he volunteer or —
JK: Yes. He volun —
SJ: Was he conscripted?
JK: No. He volunteered. He joined the, what did they used to call them? The? Well, it tells you in that. Who’s got the [pause] it tells you there dear. Yes. It tells you here that he [pause] well it is in this. I know because I’ve been reading it today before you came.
JM: Well. I seem to remember that Dennis, Francis’ dad —
JK: Yes.
JM: And Trevor’s brother.
JK: Yeah.
JM: He told me that Trevor was never interested at school.
JK: No.
JM: In anything.
JK: No. No. Flying.
JM: He just didn’t want to know.
JK: No.
JM: But all of a sudden, he was absolutely mad keen on flying.
JK: Absolutely.
JM: And because he wanted to fly he then had to get his head down and start studying.
JK: Yes.
JM: And within no time at all he’d qualified.
JK: Well, the —
JM: Passed all the exams.
JK: Yes.
JM: And was able to then go into flying school or whatever they did.
JK: Well, somewhere, and I don’t know where they are now I’ve got all the letters he used to write to me from Canada when he went. You know, when they were training there.
FM: Yeah.
JK: No, he —
FM: Because he sent mum and dad a wedding present from Canada.
JK: Did he? Yeah.
FM: A silver tray. I was going to bring it to show you.
JK: Oh. I’d have loved to have seen it.
FM: A silver jug and a sugar bowl and it was engraved on the occasion of their wedding. I think August ’42.
JK: No. Wait a minute. Oh yes. Wait a minute. He joined the Sutton Coldfield squadron of the Air Training Corps at the age of seventeen and a volunteer at the age of seventeen and a half before enlisting in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He was, he was commissioned as a pilot officer during the month in which he died. While he was still missing his commission came through. I knew I had seen it on this but you’ve got the photographs I took of him from your dad’s car when they came over to Rugby.
FM: Yes.
JK: Oh yes.
JM: We do. Yeah.
JK: He’s, oh yes. But that was your father’s but old Trevor took it over.
SJ: Do you know anything about Trevor’s training?
JK: Oh, well it was in Canada. Oh God. Yeah. I wish. I don’t know where those letters are, dear. Oh yes. He used to write to me regularly. You know, as a brother to a sister. I think this is lovely that this Trevor Smith says, “I remember well my late father telling me in my early teens in the 50s that I had been named in the memory of a decorated wartime RAF bomber pilot — Trevor Stephens DFM.” I’m going to cry now. “The son of the owners of Stephens Builders who ran their business in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield. I did nothing with the information at the time even though it fitted well with my popular reading of the day, “The Cruel Sea.” “The Colditz Story.” “Reach for the Sky.” That was a wonderful film and a friend of mine didn’t want to go and see it because she thought it was all going to be about film stars. I said, ‘You fool. It was — ’ [laughs] “There it remained in the mental filing cabinet until last year on retirement when I joined — ” do you know anything about U3A?
SJ: Yes.
JK: Right. I used to me. I’m not in it anymore. I can’t go. I was in it for what? Thirty years I suppose. On the committee and everything. There it remained until I joined the creative writing group of the U3A and the chap with Margaret Emery nee Stephens of the writing group established that we had both lived in Boldmere.” And that was it was his cousin.
JM: It’s Margaret who you’re in touch with at the moment.
JK: Yeah.
FM: Yes. Yeah.
JK: Yes. And that was not, what was his name? Noel.
FM: Yes.
JK: The father.
FM: Yes. Noel.
JK: Yes.
FM: Who was my dad’s uncle.
JK: Yes. Yes. Charlie’s brother.
FM: Yes, that’s right.
JK: Yes. “The story of the link with Steven’s Builders and their son revealed that Trevor Stephens was Margaret’s cousin and that the family held not only newspaper cutting but,” I think I did have a newspaper cutting of him but I don’t know where it is. Because I know in one thing they wrote about him when he landed the plane and got the DFM it said, “But Flight Sergeant Stephens held his nerve and brought the plane down.”
FM: Yes. That’s so interesting. Have you read this article because —
JK: Haven’t you read that? I thought you did dear. I’m so sorry.
FM: Last, last but one flight.
JK: Yes.
FM: Where his rear gunner was injured.
JK: Yes.
FM: And half, some of the plane was missing and he managed to, he was losing height and managed. He thought he was going to land in France.
JK: Yes.
FM: But he struggled on with I think one engine working.
JK: Yes. Yeah.
FM: Losing height all the time and then he managed to land in, back in England.
JK: And then Fran’s brother who lives in Kenya doesn’t he, now? Paul.
FM: Yeah.
JK: He said to his father, how many years ago would it be? Fifteen? Twelve? He said, ‘You know, dad we really ought to go Berlin to the graves and see Uncle Trevor’s grave.’ So, Dennis got, they got in touch with the War Graves Commission only to be told that there was no cemetery there. It had all been bombed by our own bombers later on in the war. But he’s on Runnymede Memorial and I suppose on the one in London. Yes.
FM: Yes.
JK: Poor dear. I’m not crying. I won’t. No. I won’t.
FM: No.
JM: No.
JK: Because we’ll both start if I do.
FM: Yes.
JK: Oh dear.
SJ: What else can you tell us about Trevor’s life?
JK: Oh dear. What else can I tell her? Oh, well he used to write to me if ever he met a girl. What was, when he was I don’t know where he could have been but once or twice he wrote to me asking if I could find out anything more about certain girls. He’d met one who lived in Rugby and did I know her? Could I tell him anything? I can remember that letter very clearly. Well, this little tray Judy’s brought me for this, am I still recording? Oh my God.
JM: It’s alright. It’s just natural. Just carry on.
FM: [laughs] Oh dear.
JK: Well, you know on a Thursday Nigel drives for ITA. You know what that is? Independent Transport. And they request lifts to take them to hospitals, these people, you see. And he meets some very interesting people and they say, and they say to Nigel, ‘Is your mother Jean Kilbey?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Oh, well I know her through the Conservatives,’ or this that and the other. It’s ever so funny and so they do a scheme at this Citizen’s Advice Centre if anybody’s lonely, oh have your coffee dear. Or tea. Would you like it warmed up because Francis will make you another one.
JM: It’s alright.
JK: Go make him another one, Francis. If you’re lonely they can arrange for people to come to see you. Well, the two people who organise it, ‘Oh, go and see mum. She’ll talk you to death but go and see her.’ So, two people came to see me. Two very nice people. I said, ‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ve always got somebody to talk to on the phone. I’ve got so many friends. So many family,’ I said, ‘I’m never alone like that,’ you know. So they rang me up the other day. About two days ago and said, ‘This is Pam from Citizen’s Advice.’
[phone ringing]
JK: Excuse me. It might be for you. You never know.
[recording paused]
JK: Peter. Well, then you know we were always very sad that we never heard again from who did he [pause] who used to come with him? He flew Lancs and he went right out of our lives as soon as war was over. He got through the war. Then of course there was Dick.
FM: I was going to say —
JK: Not Dick.
FM: Not Dick in Canada.
JK: Not Wilshire. No.
FM: No.
JK: What was his name? Frank somebody.
FM: No. I don’t remember that.
JK: But he just, well he got through the war.
FM: Yes.
JK: But he just went out of our [unclear] but the other friend that we’ve just mentioned they, they emigrated Canada, then to America and he, well I stayed with them in America for a couple of days and he had a heart transplant. While I was staying with them, what would it be fifteen, I don’t know. Years ago. He said, ‘Have you got your passport with you, Jean?’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘It never leaves me.’ He said, ‘Right. We’re going to Mexico tomorrow.’
FM: Fantastic.
JK: And what it was he used to go into Mexico. You left your car in a car park and you walked in to Mexico. And there he could buy much cheaper the tablets for his heart condition. I’ve done some very interesting things through Trevor in a way.
FM: Yes. Yeah.
JK: That is another story about Trevor. Did you know that John?
JM: No.
JK: You’ve learned something. Do you know so many friends have said you ought to have written a book.
FM: Yes. Yeah.
JK: I can’t now. I’m too old. And you see that picture up there? Well you were there when — do you know what it is?
FM: This here.
JK: This one.
FM: No.
JK: Have a guess what that is.
FM: Is it the Sahara?
JK: No. It’s a picture taken on Mars by the American cameras.
FM: Good heavens.
JK: When our camera, it didn’t do it and there my American friends whom I’ve had so many wonderful holidays with they brought it over for me when I was eighty. And I met Gale. He used to come to, do you know the Rutherford Laboratories here? Well, he used to come. He was the American team for the infra red. What’s the astronomy, satellite or something. I used to know it all dear. You think I’ve got a good memory. I have but some things get a bit misty. And he used to come to our restaurant. You know, for meals. And then he brought his first wife over. Well, then they divorced and then he married Lee. Oh, they’ve given me wonderful holidays in California and New England. Absolutely wonderful. They really have. And now I just sit here and think.
SJ: Yes. Lots of memories.
JK: Memories.
SJ: Going back to Trevor. What else can you think of?
JK: Of Trevor. Well, I know we used to go down if we came over we would only come over for the day. When we had lunch at Nan’s big oval table.
FM: Yeah.
JK: And Trevor, I don’t think Dennis came we walked to the park. To Sutton Park.
FM: Oh lovely.
JK: They got it out the way. I’ll tell you a funny story about Trevor. It’s a bit rude but it’s very Trevor. Uncle Charlie was absolutely super man. He was a devil but he was a lovely and when to begin with when they finally left building my school which became my school in Rugby, it’s all been knocked down, every bit of it now. But of course I’ve still got the [pause] I gave you one, didn’t I?
FM: Oh. The, yes. The —
JK: The Minerva. Yes. Where is she? She’s there somewhere. Uncle Charlie lived with us for about three weeks I think when the family had gone home to tidy everything up. And he used to say to people years later if I was at their house, ‘Well, I used to change her nappies. I knew her very well.’ But the occasion about Trevor was he hadn’t been very well and it was the days when the doctor came to see you and he did his own medicines. So, oh he said, ‘Send Trevor down in about two hours.’ It was all in Sutton Coldfield, in Boldmere I suppose to get it. So Trevor goes down, gets his bottle, brings it back, gives it to his dad. You know this, don’t you?
JM: Yes.
FM: You told me the other day.
JK: Well, it’s absolutely true and so Charlie said, ‘God,’ he said, ‘That’s like, like gnat’s water.’ And at that moment the phone rang and I don’t know who answered it. It would have been in the hall. It wouldn’t have been in the room. And the doctor, and there had had been a Mrs Stephens had taken in a sample in to be tested and Trevor had taken it because he had seen Stephens on it. I mean, I think that is absolutely lovely. I said to somebody [laughs] Oh dear. He was always prone to little things like that.
FM: Yes.
JK: But, oh dear. When he went missing. Mummy went straight over to be with her friend, Nellie. My dad adored Nellie and Uncle Charlie adored my mum. Both of them, didn’t they?
SJ: How old was Trevor when he was shot down?
JK: Twenty. Well, it says twenty one but I don’t think he would have been twenty one ‘til the following June.
FM: No.
JK: He was no more than twenty one.
FM: No. No.
JK: Was he shot, was he shot down with a fighter or was it [pause] do you know Peter?
PJ: According to this. Yeah.
JK: A fighter got them.
PJ: Yeah.
FM: Over Berlin wasn’t it?
JK: Yes. But I think that was dreadful when Paul said to his dad, ‘I think we ought to go and see Trevor’s grave,’ and there wasn’t one because we’d bombed it all. And you see that grandson there? You see that picture of him? Not a big one. The little one. That’s when he was fighting in Afghanistan. He’s a major in Number 42 Commando. Oh, it was dreadful while he was there. His mother, his wife and I then they married. They came home and married and then they had the twins who were born so premature. And when little, and she lived to be five months old. The little girl. And all at once Judy rang me, ‘Mum, we’ve just had terrible news. Celia isn’t expected to live tonight.’ Something had happened to her heart because she was so premature but she’d been gaining weight. And now look at him. Isn’t he gorgeous?
FM: Yes. He is, isn’t he?
JK: He really is. Absolutely gorgeous. And as I say that’s his father beside him. Who is, that was his wedding photograph. When he passed out of Sandhurst, not Sand, yes Sandhurst I suppose it was. He gave us all a photograph of him in that frame. But it wasn’t a smiling photograph. It wasn’t Sandhurst. Lympstone, the Marines. Sandhurst is the Army. Lympstone is Marines. But I’ve taken that wedding photograph and put in there. I love it.
FM: Yeah.
JK: And there’s a little, his name is Harrison but I call him Prince Harry. I wonder what, now you, what’s June’s daughter name?
FM: Megan.
JK: Yes. Megan Merk.
FM: Yes.
JK: I know.
FM: Yes.
JK: Yeah. Well, that Meghan Merkhal.
FM: Yeah.
JK: And she’s been divorced.
FM: Yes. Yeah.
JK: But I love the Cambridges. Oh, I think their lovely. I really do.
FM: Yeah. So, no more news of Trevor then? You can’t think of anything else?
JK: No. Not really. Well, I suppose —
FM: Do you remember him having any girlfriends?
JK: No, he didn’t.
FM: No.
JK: No. His life was flying.
FM: Yes.
JK: But when he was, when joined up and that was where he met Dick. They went to Paignton. To the Hotel de Paris.
FM: In Devon.
JK: When they joined. When he joined up that’s where he went. That’s where he met Dick Wilsher. Yeah. It’s coming back a bit.
JM: Yeah.
JK: Yes. That’s where he met Dick. Spelled W I L S H E R, isn’t it? Wilsher. Stayed with them in America when I was there with those other friends. It was wonderful. I was, they were staying, oh God where was it? I had to go on the train and have my lunch on the train. It was a long journey. I was staying in [pause] God where was I? I’ve done so much travelling, dear. Australia, New Zealand, America, South Africa. Anyhow, I went. What was the name of the place they were? Oh. Anyhow, I went down and Dick met me at the station and oh I had a lovely, oh we went on a ride. We went on, I want to say Golden Gate but I don’t think it was. We had a lovely ride out on a big boat. While I was with them we did all sort of things.
FM: Lovely.
JK: You see I can’t easily get upstairs now to get all my albums out.
FM: No.
JK: They’re all in there. I’ve got a stairlift but and I’ve got another zimmer upstairs but it would be a bit tricky. So, no. Dick. It was the Cafe de Paris in Paignton where they went when they joined up and you see Dick although he’s dead now because he had this new heart he was on, Trevor went on Pathfinders. Dick went on general duties. But what he did, which I’m sure you’ll find interesting he was the back-up planes after the Dambusters. He was in 617 Squadron. Yeah. He was. And I had, I well, you see unfortunately I had everything I could have just put my finger on. My albums were all together. I don’t know where it is now. God, I think it’s out in the garage and I could have said, ‘Well, here’s a photograph of them.’ And the neighbour has given me that big set for the end of my bedroom. The end of my room. The big one there and the big one there. I watch it at night you see. And so I said, he said I think it was a wedding anniversary, not sixtieth, might have been the golden wedding he said, ‘We’ve got everything so we bought a much bigger telly. He said, ‘And we’d like to give, if you’ll have it we’d like to give you one that’s the same as I’ve got.’ So I didn’t say, ‘No, thank you.’ I bought him a bottle of whisky for it. Then I had my Macmillan Coffee Morning at the Cornerstone and made eighty, nearly eighty pounds for them.
JM: Good.
JK: Seventy five.
FM: Lovely. Wonderful.
JK: Yeah. You see you’re supposed to have it in your house. That’s the idea.
FM: Yes. Yes.
JK: But I can’t.
FM: No.
JK: So, I go to my Cornerstone. They were so lovely. I can’t go very often now because I can’t drive and friends came there and they send you a special [pause] you open it up to put the money in. You don’t see what they’re putting in. And they send, and they send you balloons if you’re in your own house. They send you all sorts of things. And flags.
FM: It’s a fundraising pack isn’t it?
JK: Oh yes. Have you seen it? Yes. Oh yes. It’s lovely. All for free. And I’ve already said if I’m alive I’ll do it next year [laughs] Oh I love doing things like that.
FM: Yeah.
JK: Well, I used to. So much. And don’t forget for twelve years, six of those were without Graham we had the restaurant in [unclear] and I was used to doing so much there. Do you remember coming there? Did you?
FM: Yes.
JK: No. Where were you living when you came with your eldest daughter and —
FM: I don’t remember.
JK: And Auntie Nell. You brought them to see us.
FM: Yes.
JK: It must have been in the Vintage.
FM: You were living above the Vintage. Yes.
JK: Yes. Well, it was the Vintage then.
FM: Yes.
JK: We had the lovely flat upstairs. Yeah.
FM: Yes. Yes.
JK: Yeah. Oh dear. I’ve been around. Done some things.
FM: Yes.
JK: And now I’ve met you two nice people. So —
PJ: Finished?
SJ: Sorry?
PJ: I’ll just finish then.
JK: Yeah. Alright. Are you coming to speak in to this?
PJ: Yeah. It is Saturday the 11th of November 2017. Interviewer Pete Jones. We were here today at Mrs Kilbey’s home in Wantage, Oxfordshire. On behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre to interview Mrs Jean Kilbey who was telling us about her very good friend Pilot Officer Trevor Stephens DFM. Also present are Sandra Jones representing the IBCC and Pilot Officer Steven’s niece and her husband Fran and John Mole. Mrs Kilbey, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for the IBCC. Please tell us about oh, I messed that bit out. On behalf of the IBCC we would like to thank you all for taking part in this interview. That can be edited.
JK: Anything I could do for them I would do, dear



Sandra Jones, “Interview with Jean Kilbey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 17, 2024,

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