Interview with Kenneth Killeen


Interview with Kenneth Killeen


Ken Kileen was called up and reported to ACRC in London at the beginning of 1942. He commenced flying as a navigator at 12 Air School, Queenstown in South Africa flying in Oxfords and Ansons. On his return to UK in 1943 he joined 83 OTU at Peplow flying in Wellingtons. His first operation was dropping leaflets on a nickel operation over occupied France. Their Wellington was damaged by anti-aircraft fire but the crew returned to base safely. He joined 1651 HCU, and on one occasion attempting to land in a Stirling the aircraft crashed after one of the tyres burst writing the aircraft off. Ken joined 3 LFS at Feltwell and on one of his training flights came into close contact with a Me 410 night fighter. He joined 115 Squadron at Witchford in April 1944 and took part in operations in support of the D Day landings. On one operation they encountered three night fighters. After the war Ken was posted to SHAFE communications squadron at Gatwick flying in Ansons on passenger and freight flghts. His last flight was on 2nd August 1946 and he was demobbed shortly after, returning to his civilian job.







02:09:05 audio recording


This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit and



AKilleenK170703, PKilleenKAL1701


CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 3rd of July 2017 and I’m in Newport, Isle of Wight with Ken Killeen, navigator to talk about his times in the RAF and afterwards. So, what are your earliest recollections of life, Ken?
KK: Well, it’s rather silly really but my earliest recollection is when I was just two years of age and I was given a little wooden horse which I could push along, for Christmas. And being rather enterprising even at that age I found that if I could sit on it, hold on to the head and jerk myself backwards and forwards I could move round the room. But unfortunately, I pushed its head off and that is the sole reason I give for my earliest recollection [laughs] And I can remember quite a number of instances in my early days. I could stand on a stool and I could play shove ha’penny on the bar with some of the guests. I didn’t start school until I was six even though the school was only thirty yards away. Simply because it was full of post-war children and I was a little bit further down the line. And I always remember that my first teacher there was Miss Stevenson. When I was eight my father decided that the Inn, the Castle and Banner was not a good enough trade and he decided that we should move to London. And we settled at South Tottenham in Seven Sisters Road. It was not a particularly salubrious neighbourhood. In those days it was what one might term a Jewish ghetto. There were a tremendous number of Jewish people lived there. We were located quite close to a very well-known spot shall we say in Tottenham called Wards Corner. Never forget it. Trams used to pass up and down Seven Sisters Road. They were subsequently succeeded by trolley buses. I went to the local school there. Seven Sister’s Boys School. And being a, shall we say rural child from the Isle of Wight in to a city was not easy. I still wore boots. I still wore leather gaiters in inclement weather. I don’t know. Other children didn’t wear things. I had a different raincoat whereas all the other children wore gabardine raincoats. I wore a flat cap whereas all the other children wore a school cap. So there were differences which I found a little bit intimidating shall we say. I was a very shy child and I I had a brother who was nearly three years younger than me but I don’t think he found it quite so difficult. I took the eleven plus examination at the due time and I wanted to go to the local Tottenham County School but unfortunately there weren’t sufficient places for me so I was offered a place as an out county student. And I obtained a place at Dame Alice Owens Boy’s School at Islington just a few yards away from the Angel. Just off the Pentonville Road actually [laughs] The headmaster was Doctor Asman. A reverend gentleman who was very very nice indeed. I was there for four years and fortunately was always in the, one of the upper classes for my ag and took the matriculation, school certification matriculation in 1938. Oh, actually, yes I went to the Owens in 1934. That’s it. 1934. September ’34. I quite enjoyed the secondary school and I used to travel seven miles every day to Owens by tram. Later trolley buses. One day a week we always spent the school playing field which was out near Barnet. Again, another journey by tram. I was fortunate enough to gain School Certificate with matriculation but, and I left the school in the July ’38 because my father decided that he didn’t fancy Tottenham anymore and I don’t think, and of course at the time war was certainly looming and my father didn’t want to be in what would have been a very targetable area for the German Air Force. As it was. So we came back to the Isle of Wight and I got a job as a junior clerk with a big firm of timber merchants in Newport and I worked a forty four hour week and my pay was seven shillings a week. Equivalent to thirty five pence in current money. It went up to nine shillings a week after six months. But in the March 1939 I applied for a job as a junior clerk at the, with the local authority, the County Council and was appointed having been interviewed by the whole of the staff committee. Oh yes. And I then doubled my wages. Fifty two pounds per annum with an annual increment of thirteen pounds a year. And I started work on the 1st Monday in April 1939 and on this date, the 3rd of July 2017 the Isle of Wight County Council is still paying me. The war started on the 3rd of September 1939 but so far as the staff at county hall was concerned the war started in the August because a lot of us and particularly the junior staff were recruited into ARP. Air Raid Precautions. Because at County Hall we had the County ARP Centre and the junior boys were the ones who did the night shifts. We went on duty at 10 o’clock at night until eight the next morning. We were given a breakfast and then we went back to our desks at 9 o’clock. The following year, 1940 members of the staff started getting called up so within a year I moved up to the next stage and somebody else came in as a junior clerk. I had to register for war service in 1941 and chose to join the Air Force, and volunteered to fly. Obviously, I wanted to be a pilot but after interview and a medical assessment at Oxford in October ’41 they offered to take me on as a navigator and I was delighted to accept. The reason I wanted to join the Air Force was several of my colleagues at County Hall had in fact joined the Air Force and of course we were very much aware of what the RAF had done. I wanted a change of service because my family was, had a military background dating back to 1804 and I had four generations in the Hampshire Regiment so I thought I would have a change. I was put on to deferred service for ostensibly four months but was called up in 1942 and reported in the beginning of April ‘42 to ACRC Aircrew Receiving Centre at Lords Cricket Ground in London. And within a matter of hours or days of joining we learned the first thing. Never volunteer for anything. And the second thing we learned if it moves salute it, if it doesn’t move paint it white [laughs] Which is what everybody says. Interesting really, at Regent’s Park we were there for about three weeks I believe was the process of being issued with kit and going through all the medical processes having blood taken, having vaccinations, inoculations, you name it. We were housed in Mansions as they called the blocks of flats along Regent’s Park Road. And within a matter of days of being called up we were put on guard duty. So we already assumed responsibilities even in our early days there. And eventually we were allocated to initial Training Wings, ITWs and I was sent to Torquay in Devon. And the ITW I was at was located at the Toorak Hotel. It’s still there. Changed a bit. We had a sergeant physical training officer there who was an extremely interesting man and we all liked him exceedingly because he was a very, very good, the discipline, he was quite disciplined, a bit of a disciplinarian but he had a nice sense of humour and it was Ted Ditchburn the Tottenham and England goal keeper. The corporal PTI we had was another footballer who played for Barnet and I just can’t remember his name now. The officers we had were schoolmasters. The one who was in charge of our group, I cannot remember his name but I remember him very, very well. He was a very, very short man and he wore his forage cap absolutely set square on his head. And that is where we started to learn. Discipline of course. We learned how to march, how to drill, how to use firearms. Went to firing ranges. And we learned navigation. We learned how to take weaponry apart and put it back together. We learned to, the Morse Code. And we learned a lot very very quickly and generally speaking we quite enjoyed it. The only thing perhaps we didn’t enjoy very much was the dinghy drill which we had to undertake on one occasion which took place in Torquay Harbour. Where we had to don a wet uniform which somebody had used and jump off the harbour wall fifteen feet into the water, swim to a dinghy, climb into it, fall out of it, swim to another dinghy, climb into it, fall out of it and swim back to the steps. We didn’t do any parachute jumping [laughs] and we didn’t do any flying. But we were there, I think until the August ’42. Three months when we took our appropriate examinations and those that passed were promoted to LAC. Interestingly enough while we were at Torquay the Duke of Kent, a member of the royal family was killed in an air crash. And a little word got around that as a remark, as a mark of respect we were required to blacken the white flash that we had in our forage caps. The white flash of course denoted that we were trainee air crew. And strange, and believe it or not one or two did fall for it. After Torquay we went up to Blackpool as a holding operation because we had been chosen to go to South Africa for air training. Some crew of course went to Canada and later the United States but we, we were destined for South Africa. And while we were waiting for a boat we were at Blackpool for about four to six weeks. Blackpool in September, in the autumn, September, October can be a little blustery. And it was always frustrating that we polished our buttons every morning religiously and when we by the time we got on parade on the front at Blackpool salt sea air had a devastating effect. We were billeted with landladies.
CB: Land Army.
KK: Landladies who were provided guests, for guests when Blackpool was a holiday resort. The only thing really of any note that I can remember of Blackpool was that we did go and play Blackpool play football and I did have the privilege of seeing Stanley Matthews and Ted Mortenson in action. But other than that not much recollection of Blackpool [laughs] We then entrained for Liverpool and we went onboard a twenty thousand ton boat called the Stirling Castle. One of the Union Lines. Of course, our destination other than being South Africa was not on our route was officially not known but by the time we’d set sail the word had already got around that we were going to call in at Bahia in Brazil. Well, we set sail two hundred at a time in what we called mess decks where they cleared the cabins out and in the large space we were that they had tables and benches and we were provided with hammocks which we slung to the beams two hundred at a time per mess deck. And the first night out of Liverpool we hit a full blooded Atlantic gale. Well, we had altogether over five thousand men on board the Stirling Castle and three thousand five hundred of them were sick. And as you can imagine it was an utter shambles. As fast as they got in the toilets, and they were pretty small ones we had to drag them out again to let somebody else in. On our mess deck there were eight of us who sat down for breakfast that morning and they provided us with stew. I didn’t eat the stew. I stuck to white bread rolls and treacle. I was never seasick. In fact, I’ve never been travel sick at all. I was fortunate. But as one can imagine it was pretty horrendous those first few days. We were enjoined a ten knot convoy of cargo boats with escorting destroyers and we trundled all the way down the middle of the Atlantic to Bahia. We anchored in the river at Bahia while all the vessels pulled up three or four at a time up to the quayside to rewater. When it was, we eventually tied up and rewatered and we were taken ashore for a route march to stretch our legs. And as is inevitable a number decided that they’d like to see a little bit more of Bahia and managed to fall out but they soon got picked up and brought back and put down in to the cells for their trouble. The funniest thing we saw when we were tied up at the quay, there were a group of us sat up on deck watching some of the sailors come back to their ships. They were allowed ashore and we saw three sailors come back very, very much the worse for a little drop of drink. Two of them weren’t too bad and they were carrying, half carrying the third man. Unfortunately, they dropped him and he fell into a puddle of water about three inches deep. And it was an absolute hoot to us to watch that poor sod trying to swim his way out of that puddle [laughs] You don’t forget these things. I’ve, you probably noticed I’ve got a fairly good memory for detail but oh dear. That was a, we continued on our voyage but the only interesting thing we ever saw of course were the flying fish. And eventually we called in at our destination which was Durban. And I don’t know how many people remember her but there was a lady who stood on the end of the mole. The lady in white, with a big megaphone singing patriotic songs to the troops on board the British ships which called in there. And I saw her. And I and heard her —
CB: Stopping in just a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: So, who was this lady at the end of the mole? What was her name?
KK: Perla White.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Perla Gibson. The Lady in White.
CB: Lady in white. Yeah.
KK: Yeah.
CB: At Durban then.
KK: And that was Durban. We didn’t see anything of Durban. We went, we disembarked straight onto a train which we were on for two days. Travelled inland via Ladysmith and down to East London. We were in a camp outside of East London and we marched oh something from like three or four miles to the camp from the railway station at East London carrying all our kit. Kit bags and everything because we’d already been issued with our tropical kit before we left England. At East London we were there three months I suppose, continuing with our theoretical instruction.
CB: As a navigator.
KK: For a navigator. Yeah. And we then moved up to Queenstown which was inland. I suppose a hundred, a hundred and fifty miles west of East London. There we started flying training on Oxfords and Ansons and my first flight was on the 3rd of April 1943 with a Lieutenant Chimes as second navigator for air experience. And that took two hours and twenty five minutes.
CB: So that was your first experience flying as a navigator.
KK: Which was my first experience as flying as a navigator. My second flight was three hours and ten minutes and I was first navigator for an hour and a half of that period. Half of it. And then I did second navigator while the second navigator took over as first. And so it proceeded. It was, oh yes it was 47 Air School at Queenstown. In the June we moved up to a place called Aliwal North where we did night flying before returning in the June. Yes. That’s still. It was only for two weeks. We did the night flying. Flew every night virtually. We were under canvas there. And my last flight in training in South Africa was the 7th of July. Well, 1943. Well, well, well in another couple, three days it will be the anniversary. And I qualified having passed my examinations.
CB: So how much flying would you have done at that stage?
KK: And at that stage my total flying time was sixty three, sixty four hours day flying and eighteen hours, eighteen and a half hours night flying. I was a qualified navigator with less than a hundred hours of flying experience.
CB: So what sort of ceremony was there for receiving the wings? Was there a parade? And then?
KK: I believe there was a parade. Yes. But I’ve no recollection of it. We had a passing out dinner. And very shortly afterwards by the middle of July ’43 we were on our way back home. I think it was about mid-July ’43 that we moved down to Cape Town by train [pause] to await a boat. And I don’t remember very much about Cape Town other than the very strict instruction that we stayed out of District 6. Reverting back to our flying at Queenstown where we were a hundred and fifty miles inland of the coast it was a big flat featureless plain with not a lot of features you could use for navigational purposes. But if we ever had difficulty in finding our way back to base we only needed to look eastward at the mountain range along the coast, east coast of South Africa and look for a very prominent mountain called Hangklip which stood up like a sore thumb. And if we saw Hang, could see Hangklip we turned in that direction. Then we would get back to base quite comfortably. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. These things come back to you. Oh dear. Well, we embarked on the Mauretania, Cunard vessel, the new one, to come back to the UK with, it was already packed with passengers. British troops coming back from the Middle East, British families coming back from the Middle East and a lot of Eastern European troops who were supposedly loyal to the allies and not to the Germans. Well, the families didn’t do any work. The British troops did the cleaning the cooking and everything else. The Eastern Europeans wouldn’t. Didn’t do anything at all. But all the trained aircrew, all with their new insignia of navigators or pilots and all with their brand new three stripes as sergeants were handed rifles and told to do guard duty on the companionways, on the stairwells and so on. Most interesting. The journey back to Liverpool was supposed to be fourteen sailing days with three days at Freetown but it took a day longer as we had to do a diversion because the Mauretania was being tracked by a U-boat. We eventually got back to the UK, Liverpool sometime, I believe in August 1943. And —
CB: Where did you dock?
KK: Went on leave.
CB: Where did you dock coming back?
KK: We docked at Liverpool.
CB: Right.
KK: I think we had three weeks leave. Now, what’s the name of the [pause] when after our leave, oh you had to report to a Holding Centre, I think up in Yorkshire the name of which escapes me at the moment. Begins with H. And I was posted to number 83 OTU. OTU. That’s not Officer Training Unit. It’s —
CB: No. Operational Training Unit.
KK: Operational —
CB: Yeah.
KK: Training Unit.
CB: Which number? 83.
KK: 83.
CB: Yeah.
KK: At Peplow. Childs Ercall in Shropshire.
CB: Yeah.
KK: And that was early September ’43 and I did my first flight in a Wellington on the 17th of September ’43 as a navigator, with the pilot I eventually flew with and with an instructor, Pilot Officer Horan. And we did circuits and bumps for one hour and fifteen minutes. And we did a second flight in the afternoon with a the same pilot but, and another hour and fifteen minutes. And on the 19th we did circuits and landings again. And again twice on the 19th. Three times on the 19th. And on the 21st, circuits and bumps. And we continued doing circuits and bumps for several more days.[laughs] Oh dear.
CB: What did you learn?
KK: It looks as though I’d started off right at the beginning with a Sergeant Thornton because in the early days of arriving at Peplow we had been crewed up. And to my recollection a heap of pilots, a heap of navigators, bomb aimers and wireless ops were all put in to a room and said, ‘Sort yourselves out into crews.’ And I believe that was the normal practice of selecting or crews selecting themselves.
CB: Yeah. What process did you go through? Who took the initiative? Was it the pilot or —
KK: Well, we sort of mingled around until you sort of saw somebody you liked the look of. That’s how it happened.
CB: So you got your —
KK: You know, you just —
CB: You got your crew of six.
KK: We got a crew of [pause] no. We only —
CB: No five.
KK: In the beginning we only got a crew of four.
CB: Oh, did you?
KK: Well, we, we didn’t want, no. No. No. It must have been five because we had a rear gunner. We didn’t have a mid-up gunner.
CB: No.
KK: We didn’t have an engineer. So it would have been five. Yeah. And that’s all we seemed to do for the whole, whole month of September was circuits and landings.
CB: What about cross countries?
KK: We didn’t do them. The first cross country was the 1st of October. So we’d done three weeks of circuits. Nearly three weeks of circuits and bumps.
CB: How strange.
KK: And our first cross country from base Fakenham, Saffron Waldon, Faringdon, Fakenham, back to base. Six hours and thirty minutes with a low level bombing and air sea firing.
CB: And the air sea firing was against towed, motor boat towed targets was it?
KK: No. I think it was just [laughs] I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I was down the back.
CB: Couldn’t see.
KK: One couldn’t see. No. No.
CB: What about air to air firing? Did you have the fighter affiliation?
KK: No.
CB: Right.
KK: Never. Never. Never. And we only did three cross countries before we went and did several low level or high level bombing runs to how far away the target was I don’t know. But they were relatively short trips and it wasn’t until the 21st of October that we did our first night cross country. So we were pitched into heavy aircraft on long circuits, even after dark after relatively little experience.
CB: What do you think the reason for all these circuits and bumps? What was the pilot like?
KK: He was very good. Our pilot was very good. But that was all we did. It was getting the feel of a, of a big heavy aircraft. But yeah, a whole month of circuits and bumps.
CB: Yeah. Extraordinary. Were they at out stations or always your own?
KK: Oh, our own.
CB: Always.
KK: Yeah.
CB: Ok.
KK: So some of them —
CB: At Peplow in other words.
KK: Yeah.
CB: So you didn’t feel as though you were fully engaged then as a navigator.
KK: Well, when you’re only doing circuits and bumps there’s nothing for you to providing you know you keep within more or less visual distance of the, of the airfield. But that was it. All we were doing was banging the damned thing up and down. But only three cross country, day countries before we did a night cross country.
CB: Right. How did you get on with that?
KK: Well, that was six hours from base to Downham Market, Northallerton, Scarborough, Goole, Saffron Waldon.
CB: In your —
KK: Faringdon, Peterborough, back to base.
CB: In your navigation training to what extent did you do night ops? Night training. Because this wasn’t your first experience of —
KK: That was the first night cross country that we’d done in the UK.
CB: Right.
KK: The other night crossing night had been in South Africa where I’d done eighteen, twenty four, twenty five, thirty five, thirty. Only done thirty seven hours night flying prior to that.
CB: Yeah.
KK: But we did several night cross countries in the November.
CB: How did you find that in relation to the visibility and weather in general compared with doing your training in South Africa.
KK: Weather in South Africa was good. Here it was very variable. But the night flying that we did at OTU, well I’ve got night, I’ve got three, two [pause] in the first two months I’d done two cross countries and two sessions of circuits and bumps at night. And then all my flying in the December we did several more, four more night cross countries. And then we did our first op.
CB: In a Wellington.
KK: In a Wellington.
CB: Was that standard practice?
KK: Yeah.
CB: To go on an op. And was that nickelling?
KK: It was a nickel.
CB: Yeah. So dropping leaflets.
KK: And it was a bit of hairy one.
CB: Was it? Where did you go?
KK: Le Touquet. And then our dropping point was an unnamed point in about I think fifty or sixty miles inland from Le Touquet.
CB: What was hairy about that? Was it to do with the enemy action or your aeroplane’s reliability?
KK: No. It was rather unfortunate actually because we were a bit ahead of time. And in order to get back to our correct timing we did a dog leg which in —
[recording paused -telephone ringing]
CB: Sorry. Go on.
KK: Which in, in theory is very good but not necessarily in practice and it put us off course and we crossed the coast a little bit too close to Boulogne. And we got shot at and we collected quite a lot of shrapnel.
CB: How did the plane fly after that?
KK: Perfectly all right.
CB: So when you landed what was the reaction of the ground crew?
KK: Well, when we got hit, well on the way back one engine gave a bit of a hiccup up over the Isle of Wight but continued on alright. We lost our hydraulics. We had to pump the wheels down. We had to pump the flaps down. And we collected quite a lot of shrapnel. And when we landed we found our wireless aerial was wrapped around the tail plane. But none of us were hurt at all.
CB: No. I was wondering what the feedback was you got from the ground crew when you presented them with this —
KK: Well, I think the aircraft, the aircraft went back to Maintenance Unit.
CB: Did it?
KK: For repair.
CB: Right. Yeah.
KK: And that was three days before Christmas.
CB: Right. So what happened next?
KK: Well, we had a few days off and then we did a bit of high level bombing practice at Fenn’s Moss.
CB: Where’s Fenn’s Moss?
KK: Haven’t a clue.
CB: In the, in the Wash, is it?
KK: I should imagine so.
CB: So you’re getting towards the end of your OTU section are you?
KK: Well, I finished up with eighty seven hours on Wellingtons. And then at the beginning —
CB: That was predominantly at night I suppose, was it?
KK: Yeah. Mostly night.
CB: So, after OTU where did you go then?
KK: And then I went to [pause]
CB: It’s Heavy Conversion Unit next, is it?
KK: I went on to 1651 Conversion Unit.
CB: HCU. Where was that?
KK: West Wratting.
CB: Oh yes. So, now we’re on four engines.
KK: And now we’re on four engines. Yeah.
CB: Was this initially on Stirlings or straight on to Lancaster?
KK: Pardon?
CB: Was this initially on Stirlings or straight on to Lancasters at this time.
KK: No. No. This was we were Stirling only [pause] I didn’t do any flying for a month.
CB: Did the Stirling have a lot of ground school?
KK: Yes. I think it was. There was quite a lot of ground school and before we, because we didn’t start flying on the Stirlings until the beginning of March.
CB: Oh right.
KK: So I lost the whole of February but in, but in that, in the February I had to take leave because my father died.
CB: Oh right.
KK: So the crew may have done some flying but I wasn’t there with them. I was away. Never mind.
CB: So even in the HCU they would have spare navigators would they?
KK: I think so. Yeah.
CB: When you got to the HCU you were short of a mid-upper and an engineer. So, how did you get those?
KK: They were allocated to us.
CB: Oh.
KK: They sort of got drafted in.
CB: You didn’t pick them from a gaggle.
KK: No.
CB: In a room.
KK: Not to my recollection. No. May have done. But —
CB: So what’s happening at HCU?
KK: So, but we had a little bit of a mishap.
CB: Did you?
KK: Yeah. 28th of March ’44. We did a cross country and when we landed a tyre burst.
CB: Oh.
KK: Oh yes. For some reason or other we got recalled on the first leg of our cross country. And when we landed the tyre burst and we skidded all over the airfield. We missed the bomb dump by about twenty yards. Went through a dispersal hut, hit an oak tree and fell into a ditch just a few feet short of the twenty foot thick brick wall of the firing range. And unfortunately the aircraft fell apart. The wings fell out. The wings —
CB: The wings dropped did they?
KK: The engine, all four engines fell off and it broke its back.
CB: Oh. What was the cause? Was it a heavy landing that caused the tyre to burst?
KK: We’ve no idea. We didn’t go so far as to investigate why it burst. It wasn’t a heavy landing.
CB: No.
KK: It [pause] but of course the tyres on a Stirling were enormous.
CB: Yeah.
KK: And it just went pop. I was the only one shall we say injured and I had a little scratch on the back of my hand.
CB: Oh right.
KK: We got away with it. And two days later we did another cross country instead.
CB: Now, these —
KK: The aircraft that we crashed was, or had been in service quite a long time and I think it had done, had already done fifty six operations, many of them mine laying ones and had been on the Conversion Unit for quite a long time.
CB: Had it had much previous damage?
KK: I don’t think so.
CB: No.
KK: I don’t think so.
CB: So you didn’t get another new one because they didn’t have new ones, did they? In the HCU.
KK: Didn’t have new ones. No.
CB: What was the next one like?
KK: We did one more cross county after our crash and then we got transferred at the beginning of April ’44 to Number 3 Lancaster Finishing School up at Feltwell which was only, it wasn’t all, well yes it was up near Cambridge.
CB: How did you like the Lancaster in comparison with the Stirling?
KK: Oh, we had no complaint about the Stirling. You know it was very, very airworthy. It was, you know a nice aircraft to fly but it, but it looked so ungainly on the on the ground. I haven’t, it was possible to take a few liberties with, with a Stirling. I believe that somebody even rolled one. Yeah. You don’t do that very often. We didn’t but we didn’t try. But that, but it was a very good aircraft to fly. As indeed the Lancaster was as well. And we did our, of course we get with some of these gaps where we did get a bit of leave from time to time between units. And the first flight we did at the Lancaster Finishing School was the middle of April ’44. Again, circuits and landings.
KK: Oh dear. We, one of the, one of our early, we did two trips of circuits and bumps and then our third trip we had to do evasive action exercises [laughs] In other words [laughs] we had to dodge a bit of flak. And then we did four trips. Cross countries. No. Four night trips of which one was a [pause] yeah.
CB: So the cross countries were all at night were they?
KK: Yeah. Yes. As a matter of fact at Lancaster Finishing School we did a few daylight circuits and bumps and an evasive actions exercise. We did three night circuits and bumps and one cross country. And that’s all we did before we went to squadron and on that Lancaster cross country we, I’ve got down here, “Close shave with an ME410 and British ack ack fire.” So we got tangled up with an air raid somewhere. Don’t know quite where it was.
CB: But the 410 was an interdictor night fighter.
KK: Yeah.
CB: Who saw that?
KK: So, we saw that to be able to identify it.
CB: Yeah.
KK: And then we went on the squadron.
CB: When was that?
KK: And I got on, and the first I got on the squadron in the last few days of April ’44 and that was 115.
CB: So 115 was also in East Anglia.
KK: Yeah.
CB: And that was where?
KK: And that was at Witchford.
CB: Did you share the airfield with another?
KK: No. No.
CB: And how many aircraft would there be in your squadron? Roughly.
KK: I think we must have had about thirty aircraft because I have no recollection of us ever sending up more than eighteen or twenty on an op. On a single op. Because you always have some under maintenance or being repaired. Frequently being repaired of course.
CB: From flak.
KK: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Or night fighter. What was the reliability though of the aircraft otherwise?
KK: Oh good. Yeah. Yeah. And on the squadron we did two night cross countries. A daylight high level bombing which was abandoned and some fighter affiliation.
CB: But the fighter affiliation. How did that work?
KK: Don’t know.
CB: You were just sitting in the, in your cabin.
KK: I didn’t see. I was trying to make sure where we were. But you didn’t participate in that. That was the pilot and the gunners. Yes. There was two, two night cross countries, a day cross country and the fighter affiliation and then we did our first operation on the 10th of May ’44. Night, night trip to Courtrais railway yards.
CB: So were there exciting, were some of the ops quite exciting or did they tend to be somewhat of a bus run?
KK: Well, we still did quite a lot of flying. Non-operational. I’ve got down here air testing. Air test. Cross country. Delivering an aircraft from Waterbeach to Witchford. Beam approach exercises.
CB: The beam approach was to help you get to the airfield in the dark. Was it?
KK: Presumably so. The second op was to Leuven which was aborted. And we dropped the bombs in mid-Channel because, well it was a whole quantity of them because you couldn’t land a fully loaded Lanc.
CB: On that topic —
KK: Oh yes. The reason that we had to abort it and this was only our second operation the front hatch fell out.
CB: Oh.
KK: So the bomb aimer couldn’t —
CB: He couldn’t lie down.
KK: Lie down. But in order to dispose of some of the bombs he nevertheless had to climb down into and straddle the hole. Well, he put his parachute on and clambered down there. And when he came back up our pilot, Jack said to him, ‘Oh, by the way, Jack,’ we had the two, two Jacks, ‘By the way Jack, what about your dinghy?’ He’d climbed down there, straddled the hole, had his parachute on in case he fell out but he didn’t have his dinghy so he’d have got damned wet. He’d forgotten it. Yes. Our front hatch fell out on take off.
CB: Oh right.
KK: Very embarrassing. And that was only our second op.
CB: So you didn’t go far.
KK: No.
CB: You just needed to go over the water to get rid of the bombs.
KK: We just had to get rid of the bombs. Then we went to Le Mans. Again railway yards. Then our first German trip was the 21st of May when we went to Duisburg. And that was not a very happy trip because we had to do three bombing runs. We had two attempts before we made the third one. We had to go around, around and around the bloody target.
CB: What was the —
KK: And when you’re over Happy Valley.
CB: Yeah.
KK: It’s not the best thing in the world to do.
CB: So what caused that? Needing to go around again.
KK: We just couldn’t get a decent run at the target.
CB: What do you mean by that? That the bomb aimer couldn’t see the target.
KK: We —
CB: Or you were off beam —
KK: We, for some reasons we couldn’t get a run at the, direct run at the target. Other aircraft may have been —
CB: In the way.
KK: Flak, searchlights. You can’t always go straight in to the target. Much as you would like to. If you were off and the bomb aimer couldn’t see the target or couldn’t get a decent pot shot at it. Well, some crews I know just jettisoned but we didn’t. We were too, too green. We were only on about our third or fourth op. So we went around again and again.
CB: So when you —
KK: And had three goes at it.
CB: Right. So here you are in a bomber stream where there are large numbers of planes streaming by and you can’t see them.
KK: You can’t see them.
CB: How do you feel about going left and then left again? And then another left.
KK: Yeah. Well, of course you kept left. You always did.
CB: Yes. Yeah.
KK: There was no one coming at you.
CB: No. But you’re rejoining the stream.
KK: But you did a fairly wide run. But we were over the target about a quarter of an hour. Yeah. That was Duisburg. Then May. We did a trip to Boulogne. Then we went to Aachen [pause] And our, and we found that we’d got some punctures in our when we got back actually in our, one of our fuel tanks. We’d got some shrapnel in them. Then we went to Angers. Again railways. You see we did a lot on railways.
CB: Yeah. Because what we’re doing is talking about the run up to D-Day.
KK: This is the run up D-day.
CB: Disrupting the communications.
KK: Yeah. Then we went to Angers. Again on railways. Then Trappes. But that was aborted and we jettisoned some of our bombs in the, in the Wash and my note says, “Weather awful. Cumulonimbus and lightning.” Yes. I seem to remember that one. Have you ever been in a, up in a thunderstorm?
CB: No. I haven’t. No. So what’s it —
KK: Lightning.
CB: What’s it like?
KK: At night, horrifying because you got blue lights up, up and down the wings. Around and around the props. Up and down the —
CB: And you’re inside of this.
KK: And you’re just all lit up
CB: Electrical column. Yeah.
KK: Yeah. That was another abortion.
CB: So what is it then that causes it to be aborted? The fact that there’s, is it dangerous.
KK: Well, in no way could we continue.
CB: To get out of it.
KK: In weather like that. You see this is the trouble with many of these thunder heads go up to thirty thousand feet or more.
CB: Right.
KK: And I always remember when I was on the communication squadron on an Anson and we were flying between Paris and Brussels and we were skirting around a damned great thunder storm and we were only in the sort of little wispy edges of it and we were flying straight and level but we were going up five thousand feet a minute. So the pilot just shoved the nose down and we were going down at about three, four thousand feet a minute but we were still going up. And that was only in the wispy bits.
CB: Right.
KK: You know, so we very carefully high tailed it out. Out of the way.
CB: So, the squadron used to go as a group. Did the other members of the squadron have the same experiences as yourselves?
KK: Oh yes.
CB: Come back.
KK: Oh yeah. Yes. But you didn’t abandon unless things were dodgy.
CB: Yeah.
KK: No way could we have got through to wherever it was we were supposed to be going.
CB: No. Right. Ok. Are you still on, after that on French targets or are you changing now to German again?
KK: No. Oh well, the one where we abandoned. Then of course comes June. The beginning of June we went after the guns at Calais. And then the day before D-Day we did an hour and a half formation flying in preparation for doing daylights.
CB: Right. This was in daylight.
KK: Pardon?
CB: In daylight this was. Yeah.
KK: Yeah. We didn’t like. Well, when we got operational on daylights we didn’t like them because if you’re a night bomber you’ve got you’re flying in your own cocoon of darkness.
CB: Yeah.
KK: You can’t see what is going on. You can’t see the other aircraft. The thing that we hated was being lit up by searchlights. You couldn’t see flak other than little pinpoints of light. But when you’re on a daylight and you’re approaching the target and the sky is completely black with, where shells had gone off, completely black. You know, there’s no use think they’ve already gone bang. It’s what’s going up when you get there that is going to go bang under your tail.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Didn’t like that. There was a lot of comfort in darkness at twenty thousand feet.
CB: On an operation what actually is the most discomforting part of the flight? Describe it.
KK: The rear gunner calling out to the pilot, ‘Rear gunner to pilot. We’ve got a bandit on our tail.’ And we picked up three one night.
CB: On the same night.
KK: The same run.
CB: Did you? Right.
KK: I got a note, note of it somewhere. I forget which op.
CB: So, that’s —
KK: Oh yeah. That was a trip that we did later on to Gelsenkirchen in Happy Valley.
CB: Yeah.
KK: We had three combats and we also got some flak damage.
CB: So, when the night fighters are coming up and you’re they’re being reported by the gunners what’s the skipper’s reaction normally?
KK: Usually, well usually the gunner, the appropriate gunner and in this particular case when we had the three it was our rear gunner picked them up. With one of them we passed, we passed an aircraft and the mid-upper gunner said, ‘We’re just passing, I think it’s another Lanc.’ And when the rear gunner saw it he said, ‘It’s not a bloody Lanc. It’s a JU88.’ Sideways on they looked very similar.
CB: And he hadn’t seen you presumably.
KK: And it wasn’t until we’d gone passed him he saw us and came in on curve of pursuit. And our, on all three attacks our rear gunner spotted them. Spotted that they, you know that they were coming in or in the vicinity and told the pilot, ‘Right. Be prepared to corkscrew,’ port starboard dependant on where the aircraft was.
CB: The German aircraft.
KK: The German aircraft. Whether it was high or low and which, which way it was coming in because an attacking aircraft would always come in on a curve of pursuit. Because at one point in that curve of pursuit was a non-deflection shot. You could fire straight.
CB: Straight on, yeah.
KK: And with a good rear gunner, a good gunner knew where that deflection shot was. He would prepare your pilot to corkscrew appropriately and when the attacking aircraft all but got to the no deflection shot, ‘Go. Go. Go.’ Sorry. And we would go. And the navigator would lose every bloody thing.
CB: Yes.
KK: By the time he’d picked it up off the floor there’d be another one [laughs] Yeah. We picked up three one night.
CB: So did they gunners fire on those planes or —
KK: Oh, well if we —
CB: At that time.
KK: You know, but if if you’re going down in a curve of pursuit. Sorry, in a —
CB: Corkscrew.
KK: Corkscrew.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Then any firing is going to being very haphazard.
CB: Not just that. You don’t want to advertise with the muzzle flashes.
KK: Well, there we are. Exactly. But that was the situation. We, we picked up three on the, the three combats at Gelsenkirchen.
CB: Yes.
KK: And that’s hairy enough to go to anyway. In the middle of Happy Valley you take, I think they reckon there were in the Ruhr Valley they had ten thousand anti-aircraft guns. That’s rather a lot. Of course we were out on D-Day. We were briefed at about 3 o’clock in the morning to do a little trip across the Channel at fifteen thousand feet to the coast of Normandy and drop five ton of bombs on the German guns at the mouth of the River Orne at Ouistreham, and then continue south, turn left, turn left again, a bit of throttle, nose down, belt for home. Straightforward little run on German guns which we’d done previously. And the CO got up and he said, ‘Oh, by the way chaps. You may see a little bit more activity in the Channel this morning,’ because we were due to bomb at 7 o’clock in the morning.
CB: Right.
KK: He couldn’t say of course that, you know the balloon was going up. You know all hell was going to let loose.
CB: That it was D-Day. Yeah.
KK: Because of secrecy. But that was his remark, ‘You may see a little bit more activity in the Channel.’ Well, we didn’t see a damned thing.
CB: Oh.
KK: Because it was ten tenths cloud virtually all the way until we got to Normandy and we went in half an hour before the troops did.
CB: Now, at this time are you getting the benefit of H2S?
KK: It was fitted to some of the aircraft but it wasn’t until I think part the way through our tour that we flew aircraft, some of the aircraft that were fitted with it. Not that it did much good but there you are.
CB: How did you feel about it?
KK: It wasn’t a lot of good. It was alright if you knew where you were [laughs] But it wasn’t until only a few years ago I was talking to one of my members of the Aircrew Association who, and I said to him, this was in June one year I said, ‘What did you do on the 6th of June?’ ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘I was on Lancs.’ he said. ‘I did a trip down to the mouth of the river Orne and dropped bombs on, at Ouistreham.’ 7 o’clock in the morning. I said I was on that River Orne raid as well. But he wasn’t on my squadron, you see.
CB: Right.
KK: I said, and he said, ‘When I got back home,’ he said, ‘I went home on leave.’ That was it. The, everything just proceeded as normal. It was part of the deception because the Germans right up, right up until I think forty eight hours after the invasion did they realise that was it. That we weren’t going in the short route. And of course as you probably twigged from all your researches and talks with people that there weren’t any computers in those days.
CB: No.
KK: That operation had been planned with pencil and paper. And it was a massive operation. Thousand upon thousands of men. Masses and masses of material and the Mulberry Harbour and everything. It was unbelievable. And as I say put together on pencil and paper. Had that operation been dreamed up before the war? You know, before the war we knew there was a war coming. It was inevitable but these defence johnnies are way ahead of the time and had got plans in hand for eventualities.
CB: Yeah.
KK: And they must have had thoughts in their minds, if not on paper as to if a war happens and we have to do an invasion how do we do it?
CB: Yeah.
KK: Worth thinking about.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Did, did I presume Mary told you that she was stationed at Hamble.
CB: Yes. Absolutely.
KK: And you could walk from Southampton to Cowes without getting your feet wet.
CB: Yes. [laughs] Yes. If you had a strong faith [laughs] So, what happened then? After D-Day.
KK: Well, we went out a second time on D-Day.
CB: Oh, did you?
KK: We did another trip.
CB: Right.
KK: Down to Leuseur which was just off the beachhead which was a road and rail centre. Obviously with the intention of trying to stop reinforcements coming up. And we crossed the Channel at two thousand feet.
CB: Oh, did you?
KK: And then climbed up to ten thousand feet for the bombing run. But it, we didn’t care for it at all because by that time the cloud has cleared. And unfortunately the British Navy did not like aircraft.
CB: No.
KK: And they took pot shots at everything. And we earned, not one of our aircraft but we did see one of the bombers engaged that night shot down in the middle of the Channel by our own people.
CB: Oh really. Right.
KK: And we passed over from one end to the other of a big navy boat. We could have planted a thousand pounder straight down his chimney pot just like that. At two thousand feet we wouldn’t have missed. But that was the, and the Royal Navy was a bigger hazard actually then a lot of the Germans.
CB: Yeah. In the good light.
KK: Day or night. They, they took pot shots at everything. Everything. And as I said on D-Day I think there were probably more than one aircraft of our own got shot down. Yes. We, we still did our air tests. Dear, oh dear, oh dear. Test flights. Always doing test flights because aircraft had to be repaired or, and maintained.
CB: Yeah. Serviced. Yeah.
KK: And taken up. Sometimes we’d only do a half hour air test. Other times we’d do a two hour one when we’d have to chuck the aircraft around a little bit. Always a two hour air test culminated in a nose dive.
CB: Oh, did it?
KK: Yeah. From thirteen thousand feet. I mean we’d be doing three hundred and fifty, three hundred and sixty mile an hour when we’d pull out and I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen a Lancasters wings flap but they do at six feet.
CB: Yeah. I saw it. Flying in it.
KK: And you always knew that if they wings fell off the aircraft failed the test.
CB: Particularly if you didn’t have your parachutes ready.
KK: Yeah.
CB: What was the VNE? What was the maximum speed you were supposed to be able to take a Lancaster too?
KK: Well, in a nose dive certainly you’d never get up to four hundred. But the fastest I think I’ve ever flown in a Lancaster would have been about three sixty.
CB: Yes.
KK: And that was in a nose dive. Straight and level we used to, we would cruise at what? One seventy, one eighty.
CB: Knots we’re talking about.
KK: Knots. Yeah. So, and sometimes on a return journey yes we would push it up to two hundred and fifty. On one occasion I know our instructions on a German target was that on the approach put your nose down a bit and increase speed so that we went through at the target at two hundred and forty indicated.
CB: Oh.
KK: Which was getting pretty, no. Sorry. Two hundred indicated.
CB: Yeah.
KK: That was, would have been about two forty actual and we’d had a sixty mile an hour tail wind.
CB: Right.
KK: Went through the target at three hundred.
CB: But when you set off.
KK: Ground speed.
CB: When you set off on an op then everybody would be told the speeds they’d got to go would they, over the target?
KK: Oh yes. We were given speeds. Routes, speeds and so on. Speeds and route for returning. The only time that we weren’t given speeds and route for returning was when we did, I did that run on Kiel. We did, we were part of the Kiel raid when they sent six hundred and forty aircraft out which was the biggest trip, raid I ever did. But of course, you know, once you, once you left the target right you just stuck the nose down and belted. It was, being straight across the North Sea there was no, no problem. You didn’t have to worry too much.
CB: No. So, after your two day, two ops in one day on D-Day.
KK: Yeah.
CB: What happened after that?
KK: Oh, we were, yeah, we did some test flights and then on the 14th [pause ] Oh yeah, we did and after D-Day we did a trip to Dreux railway yards. Then we went to Gelsenkirchen when we had the combats. And then we did some more test flights. Then we went to Le Havre. Dumped some bombs on the shipping in the harbour there. Then we did some did one to Valenciennes. Railway yards again. That’s when we, we lost six aircraft that night.
CB: This is to flak or to fighters?
KK: I don’t know. No. We saw six go.
CB: Oh, you saw them.
KK: We saw them. Yeah. Who they were we don’t know. There were a lot of enemy aircraft around that night. Then we did a bit of fighter affiliation. An air test. An air test. An air test. Another air test. And then we did a daylight. On to Normandy. 30th of June. Villers-Bocage. Yes. I remember the Villers-Bocage one. We were after a German Panzer division.
CB: This was at the time of the Falaise Gap was it?
KK: Probably. Yes. This was three weeks after the invasion.
CB: Oh right.
KK: They were still very much bogged down.
CB: Bogged down. That wasn’t the Falaise Gap.
KK: Yeah. Then we did, then we did another one too, another daylight to Beauvais. Oh yeah. Beauvais. I remember that was a, that was a Doodlebug launching pad. And we came back on three engines. We, our port, starboard outer caught fire over the target.
CB: Just caught fire or was hit?
KK: Caught fire. I don’t think there was much flak. Well, at any rate caught fire. The reasons I don’t know but we put the, we soon put it out and sort of reduced our speed a little bit and of course everybody came, came up and waved to us and went on their way and got a rollicking from the flight commander when they got back, ‘Somebody ought to have stayed behind with Thornton and his crew. Seen them back across the Channel.’ It was a daylight. We had, we were supposed to have fighter cover at twenty thousand feet but we never saw them. We never saw any fighter cover on daylights.
CB: What, what height did you bomb the V-1 site?
KK: Probably no more than fifteen thousand.
CB: Right.
KK: Really. It was only night time that we went to twenty, twenty two thousand.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Most of the, most of the other ones were fifteen thousand. Nucourt, we went to. God knows what Nucourt was. I’ve not a —
CB: So then we how many more of them in the tour?
KK: Oh, then we went to Emeville. I remember Emeville very well because that was troop concentrations we were after.
CB: Right.
KK: And I think it was one of the few occasions I ever went up the front on a bomber run. I know I did it when the engine caught fire but when we went to Emeville on the run up it was a daylight and I looked out the front there where the pilot was. I stood behind the pilot. The sky was completely black with flak and I thought, bloody hell. Oh well, it’s already gone bang. There’s a lot more going to come up and go bang. But we didn’t —
CB: You didn’t get hit. No.
KK: And I think it was on that operation. It might have been the Villers-Bocage one I saw a Lancaster go down. It just went spiralling down and down and down. Boom. It wasn’t on fire or anything like that. It just went down. I see it from time to time. Still nobody gets out.
CB: Oh. They didn’t get out of that.
KK: Nobody got out.
CB: How strange.
KK: And even when I see it, recollect it, nobody gets out. Seven men. Yeah. More railway yards. Homberg in the Ruhr.
CB: Just going back on that when it goes down in a corkscrew what sort of reasons for nobody getting out? Would you and your colleagues think was the reason.
KK: Have you ever tried? Well —
CB: It’s difficult. The centrifugal force.
KK: Well, anybody up the front other than the probably the bomb aimer might have been able to get out through his —
CB: Hatch. Yeah.
KK: The rear gunner I guess could get out. Nobody else could. Nobody else could. Homberg was a nasty one on the oil refinery there. Lost a hundred and twenty aircraft. A hundred and thirty aircraft took part in the operation and twenty were lost. We lost six out of eighteen from our squadron on an innocuous French operation on one occasion. They sent nineteen aircraft out on the dam raid and only lost eight. They ought to have lost the lot.
CB: Amazing.
KK: To be quite honest.
CB: Yeah.
KK: And when we sent out eighteen aircraft and lose six of them. On just as I said an innocuous French trip.
CB: Extraordinary.
KK: Absolutely. You know —
CB: In the daylight was there much fighter activity against you?
KK: Quite honestly we never saw any fighters in daylight.
CB: Daylight. Right. So it’s all flak.
KK: Any, any fighters we’ve seen —
CB: Yeah.
KK: Seemed to have always been at night.
CB: Right.
KK: Then, oh yes I mentioned the Kiel raid. Yes. It was the first three thousand ton raid. Dumped it in twenty minutes. Three thousand.
CB: Three thousand tons of bombs.
KK: Six hundred and forty aircraft.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Oh, then we did to Amaye Sur, I think that was down on the, in Normandy. We bombed at two thousand feet. That’s low level [laughs] for heavies. And on, and when we came back we had to, we got diverted to Woodbridge. I think Witchford was fogged in so we got diverted to Woodbridge which was just a single runway. Emergency runway.
CB: That was very wide and very long.
KK: It was. Yeah.
CB: And there was nothing wrong with your aircraft.
KK: No.
CB: No.
KK: It was just a diversion.
CB: Just a diversion. Right.
KK: Yes. Umpteen French targets we were after. All in support of the invasion.
CB: Yes.
KK: And Brunswick we went to. That was a longish trip too. I did a little, oh yes we did one of the Stuttgart runs on the 25th of July. We, the, they did three major raids on Stuttgart on three successive nights.
CB: Oh.
KK: And I think that was the longest flight. The longest bombing trip —
CB: That you did.
KK: That we did. Took seven and a half hours.
CB: Was that a single one you did or did you go back?
KK: That. We did one of the three.
CB: Right. Ok.
KK: We didn’t do all three. No. Yeah. Did, we did we went to Brunswick and then we did, we did a daylight on the 14th of August. On the, on troop concentrations. And that was it.
CB: That was your last. Yes.
KK: So, from the 1st operation that we’d done at Witchford we’d done the lot between the 10th of May.
CB: Yeah.
KK: And the 14th of August.
CB: Yeah. You did thirty ops.
KK: Twenty nine with the one on the Wellingtons which made up the thirty.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Yeah.
CB: So, then what? Did you get some leave? Or what happened next?
KK: Got sent up to Nairn.
CB: Oh.
KK: Which was an Aircrew Dispersal Centre.
CB: Yeah.
KK: For reallocation. And having been up there for three weeks sent us home on leave.
CB: Then what?
KK: And then I got posted to the SHAFE Communications Squadron at Gatwick.
CB: Right.
KK: And that was in the, I got there in the October. I must have had a fairly extended, well, I’d been I did my last op as I said on the 14th of August. I think it was the beginning of September we got sent up to Nairn.
CB: Right.
KK: Up there for three weeks. Then sent home on leave. So, you know the time went.
CB: Yeah. What planes were you flying then?
KK: What?
CB: The SHAFE. What were you flying?
KK: Basically Ansons. And some of them were some pretty clapped out aircraft. They’d been around a bit. I think some of them were Mark 1s.
CB: So, that was dangerous.
KK: It was some time before we got a later, later models and which didn’t require the navigator to wind the wheels up. Thank you. And I did my first with the Communications Squadron with Flight Lieutenant Fisher. Gerry Fisher. He was the nephew of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
CB: Oh, was he?
KK: And he’d been a Battle of Britain pilot.
CB: Oh.
KK: And twitched.
CB: Oh really.
KK: As a matter of fact most of our pilots, well all of our pilots on the Comm Squadron were very experienced. Got a lot of service. Done a lot of ops. Several, umpteen of them were Battle of Britain pilots and they were damned good pilots but they were no longer fit for operational duties. So we flew passengers instead [laughs] Passengers and freight.
CB: What was the freight? Documents?
KK: Much of the freight was food stuffs for Supreme Headquarters.
CB: Oh.
KK: Principally eggs by the crate and crates of fish from Grimsby. And passengers. We used to shunt personnel backwards and forwards. And my first flight with lieutenant, Flight Lieutenant Fisher we had to go to Northholt to pick up some passengers and we had to take them to Bruges over in Belgium. And while I was at Northolt I said, ‘Right. Where is the airfield at Bruges?’ So they fished out the appropriate map and said, ‘Right. There’s the [pause] there’s the airfield just north of the town between the river and the canal.’ And when we got to Bruges well, well, well it was under water. Well, there must be a blooming airfield somewhere. There must be a temporary one. So, so we flew around and around in circles until we found this temporary airfield in a field and we called them up and all they had was a little caravan there and we landed and I went up to the control caravan and I said, ‘We had a hell of a job trying to find you. We’d been told the airfield was just north of the town.’ Oh yes. And the controller said, he says, ‘Do you realise,’ he says, ‘Just the other side of that hedge over there we’ve got the Germans’. We’d been cruising around. Flying around and around over the front line and they were virtually on the front line with this blooming airfield. And that was our, my first trip with, oh dear. We had some —
CB: Were important people with you?
KK: A couple of erks.
CB: Oh [laughs]
KK: They were I think a couple of chaps to go, to take —
CB: A jolly.
KK: For the control caravan.
CB: Oh right.
KK: Yeah. Then we went on to Brussels with the other passengers. And then we flew on down to Versailles. And that’s all we did. Backwards and forwards to the [unclear] to Northolt, Gatwick, Brussels with various pilots. I flew several, quite a number of trips with Fisher. A nice chap. Kitcher. Woods. Oh yeah. I remember Woods. He was nice. He was a very nice fella. Lucas. Daniels. I remember Daniels. He all but caught himself alight when we moved up to Reims. And when we were at Reims we were based on the air field in tents. And we had floorboards in our tent. We nicked the timber off the Yanks. We had electric light. We nicked the generator off the Yanks. And that was the last time that I ever had too much to drink. It was in, around about April at Reims when we broke out, several of us gathered in the tent and I drank two pints of champagne and half a pint of brandy. Cognac. I wasn’t drunk but it gave me a bit of a headache and a bit of a hangover for three days. And trying to fly with a massive hangover for three days is not to be recommended.
CB: But you got there.
KK: And back.
CB: Yes. So we’re in April time. So the war’s just coming to an end.
KK: Oh, well the, yes.
CB: In Europe.
KK: When, the war actually finished while I was at Reims. Because I always remember seeing Field Marshall Jodl come in.
CB: Oh yeah.
KK: In his Junkers, to sign the surrender.
CB: In his JU, JU52.
KK: And that was in the April ’45. And we then, we moved on when the Supreme Headquarters moved up to Frankfurt. We moved up with them at the same time, or just after. A few days afterwards. And we were billeted in flats which we’d thrown the Germans out of. The, I think IG Farben Industries flats. Frankfurt smelled rather strongly because it had been very heavily bombed.
CB: Yeah. Of course.
KK: And there were a lot of people still dead underneath all the rubble.
CB: Not recovered. Yeah.
KK: And the Germans used to burrow in to the rubble, you know to find accommodation for themselves. When they came across bodies they chucked them in the river.
CB: Oh.
KK: Oh, yes. They were always fishing them out. Yeah. Frankfurt. Yeah. We moved up to Frankfurt in the May. And that’s all we did was flogged backwards and forward between various places in Germany to the UK. Sometimes, I did several trips down to Salzburg. I did one to Pilsen in Czechoslovakia. Vienna. Berlin. Of course, it was always a bit dodgy going through, through the Russian zone.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Because you had corridors.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Through the Russian zone. And if you strayed out of the Russian zone, out of the main you could get shot down. If we ever went down to Salzburg which was an American field we always had to take our own petrol down inside the aircraft in Jerry cans because we couldn’t get refuelling facilities there. So, you know, we’d fill up our tanks before we went and carry our own replacement. But of course all the petrol had arrived via the pipeline.
CB: Yeah.
KK: Pluto.
CB: Yes.
KK: And of course you can bet your bottom dollar it was at least twenty five percent of it was water. So it, so you couldn’t fill your aircraft up just like that. You had to filter it through chamois. Chamois leather.
CB: It worked well did it? Yeah.
KK: Oh yeah. It was that bad. Oh yes. It was quite interesting on the Comm Squadron. As I say we got all over the place. We had several other aircraft other than the Ansons. I think we had a Messenger, we had a Proctor, we had a couple of Austers. And we used to take them up occasionally.
CB: When did you finish there with the Comm Squadron?
KK: My last flight was from Buchenberg to Detmold, back to Buchenberg. Thirty five minutes on the 2nd of August 1946. And then a few days later I caught the train up to Cuxhaven and came back by boat for demob.
CB: When were you demobbed?
KK: Hmmn?
CB: When were you demobbed?
KK: Well, immediately I I got back to the UK which was around about the end of August. I went straight over to Hednesford I think it was and was demobbed, and went home on demob leave which was oh about sixty days. So you know where I’d been overseas so long.
CB: What did you do after that?
KK: Went back to work. I had only been working at County Hall for three years and although obviously I had moved up and was doing far more responsible work I’d been away for over, for four, over four and a half years. And I’d done nothing but fly.
CB: Yeah.
KK: And I went back to work and there was my desk and my typewriter there ready and waiting for me.
CB: Was it really?
KK: And of course the whole concept of education had changed. We had the 1944 Act.
CB: Yeah.
KK: The 1946 Act.
CB: Yes.
KK: The authority was heavily engaged in preparing a development plan which was almost complete before I came back so they gave it to me to finish off. I got put in charge of the school meals transport and the administration of the County Library. And do you know how much retraining and briefing I got? None. You just, in those days you just went back and you got on with the job.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
KK: These days when you’re sick for a fortnight you are retrained. You need to.
CB: Yeah.
KK: You’re so bloody thick you’ve forgotten it all. But we did have, there were these light aircraft over in France we would occasionally take them for a little jaunt. And I always remember I went off one day with Flight lieutenant [Standen] and he said one day, ‘Come on. Let’s go and have a look at Paris.’ So, we went to have a look at Paris in low level. We were in this Auster.
CB: Oh right.
KK: And we found the Eifel Tower and we flew around the top of the Eifel Tower and you virtually put your hand out and touched it. And it was fifty years later before I went to Paris and climbed up the Eifel Tower on the inside.
CB: You were able to wave to where you would have been. Yes.
KK: Where I would have been. Yes. This was a non-flying one. A couple of us went in to Paris on the day that Franklin Roosevelt died. And the Americans whether they were a GI or whether they were an officer were terribly, terribly upset. I mean even some of the GIs were in tears. But my lad said, ‘Right. Ok. We’ll go to The Bal Tabarin,’ which was a quite a classy nightclub. And there was heaps and heaps of Yanks in there of all ranks. And as I said they were very, very upset. But when the floor show came on they were, their tears dried up a little bit because we had a chorus line of twelve very, very nice young ladies with beautiful feathered headdresses and skirts and fishnet stockings and so on but they were topless. If you’ve ever seen a chorus line of twelve topless high kicking your, you tears would have dried too. If it’s all on tape good [laughs]
CB: Well, Ken Killeen, thank you for a most interesting conversation.
[recording paused]
KK: But there we are. And we didn’t start the Aircrew Association on the island until 1987.
CB: Oh really.
KK: Strangely enough the, when I, when the first chap at County Hall in our department who got called up and I moved up to take his place a new boy came in straight from school. Eric Woodhouse. And he followed me in to the Air Force but he didn’t go to Bomber Command and when he came out he joined the ATC and he was ATC commander. And he was a member of the Aircrew Association and through the auspices of the Portsmouth Branch he called and got in touch with old aircrew on the Isle of Wight and said, ‘Right. Come to a meeting to meet the Portsmouth branch with a view to forming an Isle of Wight branch.’
CB: Right.
KK: And that’s what happened.
CB: Right.
KK: And of course as Eric and I were office colleagues what happened? He got proposed as chairman and then he turned around a proposed me as secretary, so I was the first secretary.
CB: Right.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Kenneth Killeen,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 25, 2024,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.