Interview with Ken Marshall


Interview with Ken Marshall


Ken Marshall, grew up in Barton on Humber and enrolled with the ATC before joining the University Air Squadron at Durham University. On one occasion he saw an aircraft on fire at RAF Elsham Wolds and although the crew was rescued it was a reminder of the risks involved in operational flying. He completed his flying training at 5 BFTS in Florida.




Temporal Coverage




00:57:42 audio recording


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IL: It’s the 8th of, 8th of February 2016. Ian Locker. And I’m interviewing Ken Marshall in his home in Hornsea. So, Ken tell us about your early life and how you developed a love of flying.
KM: In 1937 I was already at the grammar school and I went with one of the thousand —
IL: So whereabouts were you born Ken?
KM: Barton on Humber.
IL: You were born in Barton.
KM: My grandfather was the vicar of Barton on Humber.
IL: Right.
KM: Reverend HGC North-Cox. And I also knew the man that started the Samaritans. Chad Varah. Reverend. I knew him as a boy. And I kept in touch with him all my life because I was connected with aspects of family law and about suicides etcetera. In 1937 I went to what they called the Empire Air Display at Hemswell. And it’s very important in my thinking because the planes there were called Hampdens and Heyfords and Blenheims. The interesting thing about the Heyfords and the Hampdens they had an under gun turret. They could look downwards. And the Lancaster never, afterwards never had one. But pre-war they designed the planes to have a gunner looking downwards. Which could have saved a great lots of lives if they’d had one connected to the Lancaster. So that was the Empire Air Display and of course by 1938 across the river at Hull, at Brough they were making aeroplanes and fantastic numbers of trainer planes, were being trained as pilots there. So I saw a lot of aircraft. Then there was a special plane or two came to Barton with a man called Sir Alan Cobham. He was a famous flyer pre-war and when they would hire a field bring their planes and people could, could fly to — have flips for the first time. And I didn’t go. I asked my father but never mind. But that was that.
IL: It’s recording. It’s recording, Ken. Don’t worry.
KM: I went to grammar school and the grammar school headmaster was an ex-wartime stretcher bearer. Great. Great man was this headmaster. We loved him. Oh by the way in 1938 at the grammar school we all turned out because the Germans, the Nazis got permission to fly the Hindenburg up the River Humber. And we all turned out to watch this huge cigar thing fly across the river. Come across England. Of course it was the Hindenburg and of course it was a disastrous end for it because it caught fire when it was there in America. But we all saw that. That was 1938.
IL: Gosh.
KM: A year before the job started in that sense. But then September the 3rd was, was in 1939 the war started and, and we were all amongst filling sandbags and digging trenches and hearing air raid sirens.
IL: So how old were you when the war started?
KM: Pardon?
IL: How old were you when the war started?
KM: Well. I was born 1926.
IL: Right.
KM: So, that gives you some indication. And my brother was a naval officer and he went right through the war. He was torpedoed mid-Atlantic and saved by a Canadian Corvette. He was a Marconi man. Chief radio officer. Always going from ship to ship. Interesting that my brother was away. I always wanted to fly Catalinas if I got trained on those because my brother would be below on the sea and I could look after him from up in the air. That was the feeling. That was the feeling. But anyway the headmaster one morning he said that there was a concern called the Air Training Corps started. And I would be fourteen or fifteen at the time. And dad and I went down to Cobb Hall and there was a man there with his wings. Looked about three feet across them. He was the manager, RAF VR, of Eastwood Cement Works in South Ferriby. But he was the CO and it was there that I got my first introduction to any flying at all. In the Air Training Corps apart from doing all these studies to get to university and the war time, all that sort of thing nevertheless we had trips to, to camps. Air Training Corps camps. There was, Digby was one in Lincolnshire. Kirton Lindsey was another one. And an organised one that took us up to Elsham. I flew in a Wellington bomber there. And I’ve never forgotten the pilot. He was called Sergeant Spooner. He was an Australian. He did twelve trips. A marvellous chap. He really was. That was the first time I’d ever left the ground in anything at all. And his name, he was lost and his name is recorded in the Memorial Book in the RAF 103 Squadron, Elsham. Whatever. In that sense. So the grammar school was another thing that introduced me. A great day when I — I never got a scholarship. I was paid for. Four guineas a term to go and followed my brother. And anyway I joined the Air Training Corps and I passed all the, very quickly passed all the proficiency badges and was chosen to go down to Lincoln to stay with a family on a Friday night and a Saturday night and where we assembled gliders on, on Lincoln Common. And I was being taught to fly gliders at the age of sixteen, seventeen. Interesting isn’t it? How exciting it was.
IL: So how did they get the —
KM: I went down by bus.
IL: Were they, were they towed gliders then?
KM: No. No.
IL: They weren’t winched.
KM: They had a balloon winch.
IL: Right.
KM: They had been altered so they could do ground slides and then six feet up and so forth.
IL: Ok.
KM: Until finally if you were, they cast off. But it was only a short, short flight. That was all. But to be doing that. It was exciting as a boy wasn’t it?
IL: Absolutely.
KM: It wasn’t the, and for — so there we are. So that was my introduction to flying in one way or another. Going to ATC and I would frequently go on my bicycle up to Elsham. I’d pass the guardroom. They waved me in. I’d go to the crew room and say, ‘Sir, are you flying today? Is there anybody?’ And I frequently flew in Lancasters thereafter. And I must tell you about one of the trips. We were out on the North Sea at about ten thousand feet coming in. It wasn’t operational. Air test. And I said to the gunner, the rear gunner, ‘May I sit in the rear?’ And he said yes. Which I did. And then suddenly somebody said, ‘Ah there’s Treetops Bathing Pool down there. That’s where we do our dinghy drill,’ If they got ditched in the sea. And the skipper put it into a nose dive and that, that Lancaster shook from side to side as we went down. I was going down backwards of course. And I never forgot that. But two weeks later I was at a local dance, this is before I went away. I saw this rear gunner and he recognised me. I was in Air Training Corps uniform still. Not having yet gone to the University Air Squadron. And he was, he was a sergeant once but he didn’t have any sergeant’s stripes but he had his air brevet and he used to tell me he was stood down with flu and he didn’t fly because they didn’t and he lost his crew that night. And he refused to fly with anybody else. So he was on the ground and he was kept where he was. And I don’t want to talk any more about that. He was kept there. They took his sergeant’s stripes but they couldn’t take his air brevet from him but he didn’t I think he said he’d done ten or twelve trips. Whatever. And as I say it’s not easy. You see, I can’t [pause] First flight in a Wellington bomber, yes. What’s the next one? The Air Training Corps. What? What? Can you switch it on and off?
IL: Oh yes.
KM: [unclear]
[recording paused]
KM: In a similar way I went to Kirmington and rode in there. And I managed to get a flight in an Airspeed Oxford which I was later to learn to fly on. Stop.
[recording paused]
KM: Start it again.
IL: Ok.
KM: At Elsham there was, there was originally a Halifax flight there. And I once saw a Halifax coming in on fire on one of my trips. Wheels up. And the fire tender was alongside it by the time it skidded to a stop. Covered it with foam and they all got out. But it’s a dodgy job even to see that.
IL: Oh absolutely.
[recording paused]
KM: I was junior champ.
IL: Two seconds. Go on. Sorry Ken.
KM: I was junior champ and then later I was [victor] of Durham twice as senior in the sports. I was always in to everything active like that. But at the grammar school a group captain came down from Elsham called Constantine. And I received books because I’d matriculated to go to Cambridge University at the age of sixteen and eight months. And I’m very proud of that because of what kids don’t do today. But, but it was that qualification that I chose to use to go to Durham because I already had two friends. One older than I in my own class who eventually became a wing commander. Wing commander John Cannon flying jets and things later on in life. But, but and later in life Constantine became an air vice marshal and I have pictures of him with what was to be another university man later in my life of course from Manchester University. So, so at seventeen and a quarter I volunteered to be RAF VR. Three days at Doncaster doing all the exams and etcetera. And so that was the idea. And then eventually came a letter telling me, as I say I was still doing these gliders at weekends but eventually I got the call to arms. I called it that because that was, ‘”Dear sir,” from the Air Ministry. “Report to Durham University Air Squadron. Your obedient servant, sir.” Its rather a laugh really when you —
IL: So —
KM: That was 1943.
IL: Did they — were you, was — did you actually get paid at university then?
KM: No.
IL: Or was it —
KM: No.
IL: It was just —
KM: Pocket money came from my parents.
IL: Right. It wasn’t, it wasn’t like the sort of scholarships that you get now at university.
KM: Are you still —? Oh. Yeah. No. And I’ll talk about that. Whilst I was at, on a half term out of the university I was invited to go to Goxhill which was the United States Air Force to fly in a Lightning but, a two seater but it was unserviceable. So they said, ‘There’s a new pilot here. Could you, could you navigate him. Map read him to Burtonwood in Lancashire.’ Or Cheshire. I said, ‘Certainly.’ So I did the trip in the front of a Boston bomber with a pilot and the crew chief. Just the three of us. And I was eighteen and a half then. When I look at boys today of eighteen and a half and what we were doing or could do or willing to do in those days. So, so University Air Squadron was marvellous. Marvellous. I lived in the castle. I was at University College. My two friends who were lifelong friends. One was from Spain. He’d come from Spain. His mother was Spanish and he went to Barnard Castle Public School, public school and then came and Durham, and then came on to the university. That’s where I met him. And his roommate was George Malcolm Brown who eventually was classified to be a navigator and trained as a navigator in Canada and who later in life became the vice chancellor back at Durham. In the time I recall I lost them both. But marvellous to think of those friends. I kept them all my life. And when I got my, a degree and would go back to university in ’75 to ’78 and got my law degree Johnnie came all the way from Scotland. I’ve got photographs of us all together, staying at Durham with the vice chancellor. Fantastic story isn’t it? The things that have gone on. But it was a wonderful time. There was sixty of us from all, all backgrounds and throughout the country and half were arts and half were science. I did science, physics and maths and got in to BSc. I got my first recommendation for a commission at the end of the course and which would have then taken me I don’t doubt into Cranwell because I was offered it. But the first, the next move was into the Royal Air Force proper. And that was down at, down at Torquay.
IL: So in the, in the University Air Squadron did you actually fly? Or was — were you still doing navigating?
KM: No. No. No. We took, the whole ITW they called it when it wasn’t at the university. It was all the same subject. The armaments, the signals, some flying we did we did because we had, we wore battle dress and we were being taught to fly Airspeed Oxfords.
IL: Right.
KM: Those twin engine jobs. So we did some flying as well. And my pilot was a Sikh. A flight lieutenant. Very unusual. I’ve got photographs of him with his Sikh whatever on. He used to get in the plane first because you never saw him without his [ pause ] and the reverse thing when he landed. I would have to get out first and by the time he reappeared then he would have his whatever. But there were people from all over. And we used to go down to the swimming baths at 7 o’clock in the morning for an hour. Everybody had to learn to swim and there were only two out the sixty that couldn’t which gave an indication of the sort of young fellows we were that we all made big efforts in all because the numbers of swimming pools there were in the country were very — but we were all very active in that sense.
[recording paused]
IL: Go on again.
KM: We left Durham and we all had to report down at Torquay. The Germans got to know we were there because the Torquay people had never had a bomb. Americans had been there in the hotels before. And destroyed the hotel next to where we were. Fortunately there was nobody in it. But the Germans certainly knew. They were trying to kill aircrew. There’s no question about it because that’s where everybody went at that particular time. Of our ilk anyway.
[recording paused]
KM: Torquay was an ACRC. Air Crew Reception Centre. We did three months there. Discipline. Marching backwards and forwards. Learning other subjects. Getting medical tests as well to see we hadn’t been naughty with girls and things like that which [laughs] we never knew anything about them anyway. And we were, so three months there discip and learning air ministry, learning the air force law. Air force law. What’s it called? Anyway there were two books that we had to get to know about air force law. So, well if you’re going to be an officer and you had to hand out law and a time for misdemeanours whatever they might be they were still all part of it. From there I went to Bridgnorth and that was just another holding place. And from Bridgnorth we went to, some of us were distributed to RAF stations to pass the time. I went up to Full Sutton. I was there in that bad winter at the beginning of ’45 and it was a Halifax station. And I do recall loading. I worked in the bomb dump preparing five hundred pound bombs and putting them on trolleys. And the armourers, they, they armed them. But I do recall that one, one particular day it was nothing but incendiaries and the incendiaries went, went to Dresden. And I don’t give a damn about that because they weren’t making cuckoo clocks. They were making bits for Heinkels and Messerschmitts. So no matter what the historians try and say, oh we should never have done this but against the background of what the Nazis were doing that we learned later they got their whatever we called it. But I remember because one of the containers broke open and Peter Greenwood who I remained with, he was at Oxford and I was with him then. He remembered an armourer knocking one a brick. They were only about eighteen inches long. We just stood in the snow. Eighteen inches of snow on that particular time. But that was RAF Full Sutton. Interestingly, my doctor friend had a plane in Full Sutton in September of 2015. I went flying with him there at Full Sutton. After all those years. At Full Sutton. There’s a, there’s a prison there now with the most heinous criminals left in there. But to go back after all those years and start flying again. But I’d flown at other places in between. But anyway, on return away from Full Sutton went to flying school which was up at Carlisle. On Tiger Moths. And I, and I went solo at eight and a half hours in Tiger Moths. The instructor said I’d done two perfect circuits and he said, ‘Righto. She’s yours. Just go.’ And you had, you had to do well. I wanted to do. But there was a very good initiation thing going on there. When we arrived in our billets that first night there were some guys being tossed in blankets. And that was an initiation. Get on the blanket and three times because they’d soloed that day. But what I didn’t know at the time there was one of, one of our chaps. He went at six hours. I was to find out that the instructors there both commissioned and non-commissioned they were like bookies. They were acting like bookies with horses. The odds on horses. And they were having bets on us as to who could go first. They were risking our necks to make money out of us. We didn’t know that actually happened. We did learn that. It was fourteen hours whether you went solo or not. It didn’t make any difference if you, if you graduated out of there to be further trained that was where it happened. And that was at Carlisle. Kingstown Carlisle. But then where I actually did my flying was from a place in Scotland called Patrick, Kirkpatrick Fleming. It’s just over the border from Gretna Green. I always remember this place. And when I landed the first thing I did, I didn’t kiss the instructor I kissed the ground of Scotland naturally.
[recording paused]
KM: We were in and out of this place called Heaton Park at Manchester and I loved being at Manchester because it was always between being sent somewhere or other. You were always on your way. And it was at Heaton Park that I and Johnnie and several of us were offered a place at Cranwell. But we decided no we’ll hang on and go abroad. We didn’t. I don’t, we weren’t thinking about getting the chop but we thought if we can fit it in and go travelling so we will. That was the thoughts of boys of, us at nineteen.
IL: It doesn’t seem unreasonable.
KM: But the next posting was to RAF Driffield. We were there for a month. We’d do any job at all. And then one morning called up on seven of us and they called upon several of us and we found ourselves carrying seven coffins. Canadians. All under twenty two. Little brass plates. They’d returned with a bomb on board and they’d been told to fly the plane out to the North Sea and let it go and bale out. But they decided as a little family because that’s how they chose themselves when they assembled a crew in hangars, they decided to land. And as soon as they touched down at Driffield that was it. It’s a terrible thought. And we took them down and put them in railway trucks and I don’t know where they went then. But it was, it was a thought at the time. We didn’t really express it but we did later. Were we reinforcements or were we replacements? But they were a long way from home those lads. But that was the point. The thing about Driffield. And another thing about this we went down into Driffield one night and the only whatever they called the pub but nearby was the town hall. There was a dance going on there. And it was announced during this dance, night time of course that there was going to be some ballroom exhibition dancing. And everybody kept to the walls and this couple came on. Him in coat tails and the girl, woman in a dancing dress and the music struck up and immediately ha’pennies and pennies started flying through the air to shove them off. Life was too short. We didn’t want to know about ballroom dancing. And so that was an illustration of how the minds — the mindset of people. Let’s see where I’ve got to. Solo at eight and a half hours. I’ve done that. Because that was — so what’s happening next? One month at Driffield look. I’ve got them in chronological order. But anyway, we [pause] we can talk about this now. Ok?
IL: Ok.
KM: Switched on?
IL: It is.
KM: The next thing was back to Heaton Park. And we were getting kitted out by — for all our own flying clothing. We were given a whistle to put on by the neck. That was in case you were shot down. You could communicate with one another. And I remember we were on a, on a draft in that sense and somebody blew a whistle and the sergeant discip and he said, ‘I’ll take, I’ll take a number of you off draft.’ And we, and four hundred, four hundred whistles blew back at him. That was the sort of spirit there was. But this was following the fact that, that VE day had come up. And we didn’t know what was going to happen but we were, we were tipped, we never knew where we were going to go. So we were put on a train, found ourselves up on the Clyde to board a ship called the Aquitania which was a sister ship of the Titanic. I never want to see that Titanic film ever because we went across dodging U-boats even then then. Even though it was war — [pause] But I was home during this period. Just before that my eldest brother was back on the convoys and I celebrated VE day with my brother, with Bert Cowton who’d been at Durham with me and he’d come back with his wings from Canada err from America and his brother who was a flight lieutenant bomb aimer who had been on the Peenemunde raid. The Peenemunde raid was where they went after the rockets and these flying bombs and that sort of — but there were two brothers with two brothers celebrating and I never knew much about that night. I do remember that we were going to the local dance after I’d climbed out through a window in the pub and going to this place and they wouldn’t let us in because it was a floor upstairs and they shouted through the door, ‘There’s too many people in here.’ And I remember the two elder brothers saying, ‘We won the bloody war for you lot. Let us in.’ And I don’t remember anything after that except waking up on the carpet just down the street at my parent’s home with a bucket beside me and a woman who I didn’t know holding a cup of coffee handy for me. Yeah.
IL: Great.
KM: Yeah.
[recording paused]
IL: Back on again.
KM: So I went across dodging. The ship was changing course every twenty minutes. We slept on the outer deck and I was going down the main staircase and I saw three ladies in uniform. And I didn’t know the uniform so I said, ‘Are you, are you ladies British?’ One said, ‘Yes, we are. And you’re from Barton on Humber.’ I couldn’t believe it. Somebody from Barton on Humber in the middle of the Atlantic. She said, ‘I’m a stewardess.’ She said, ‘I’m a career girl with Cunard.’ She said, ‘I want you to come to my cabin now every afternoon at 4 o’clock.’ So, I told the lads, the other lads she was a Miss. And I said, ‘Look, gee, I’ve got a woman on board.’ So I used to go along there for cakes and tea etcetera and she was forty two. I didn’t tell these lads, my own colleagues that she was forty two. But there was nothing like that. But it was just a joke. Yeah, ‘I’ve got a woman on board.’ But and I remember on board was the royal family, the Dutch royal family. Princess Julianna and all their children. What was happening they were going to America because she used to take me walking. Not the princess. Up on the decks and introduce me to certain people. You know. Everybody was always pleased to shake hands. Whatever.
[recording paused]
IL: Ok.
KM: So we arrived in New York in a fog. We ran aground on Staten Island. Or Coney Island rather. I was later to visit that with my brother and did a parachute jump in a restrained parachute. But eventually the fog cleared. We went up river and alongside of us came all these, these boats. The fire, the fire boats with all their hoses going. And boats with bands on playing the American music. And American girls because there were a lot of wounded coming. Coming back on the Aquitania. And we were met there by a lot of volunteers on the dock side. We were given chocolates and goodness knows what else. And, and then went to a camp called Camp Kilmer. Camp Kilmer held thirty, it could accommodate thirty thousand. It was the main exit point for the, for the army people coming over into Europe. And we were given a weeks’, weeks’ leave. Go and please yourselves in New York. And that was when I went to meet my brother’s wife. She was American. And, and because it was very exciting to be in New York and we were invited to all sort of places on Park Avenue and Park Lane. Millionaire’s places. All these invitations and free tickets to go in to theatres and cinemas. And I remember going to one place called the Diamond Club. We were told not to take our hats off if we wanted anything. And this is where some, two American officers came in and recognised us as British and said, ‘You guys don’t have to pay for anything. We’ve got loads of dough. We’re going to treat you.’ So I never forgot that in the sense of the generosity of all the Americans. It was there all the time. The way they looked after the service people and whatever. And there’s a bit of a story to come about that later. But eventually now we were put on a train. On a steam train. An enormous locomotive. We were put in Pullman coaches that turned into beds at night. With little electric fans on them. And we were three days going down to, we didn’t know where we were going but we were told it was Florida and we were turned out at a place called Clewiston. Well, as we arrived there the guys that were already down there they came low flying over the aircraft err over the train to let us know. Zoom, zoom, zoom. You know, it excited us. So then we started training there and in the huts there with a swimming pool. There were invitations to go down in to Miami and stay with whatever. They organised that. But the planes in there were Boeings PT-17 days trainers. Radial engine job. Much more advanced then the Tiger Moth. And the other plane was the AT6. Well, of course the planes were flying day and night. It was happening all the time. There was a dread. We used to practice on a Saturday morning. There was no flying Saturday morning. It was practice Wings Parade. It was the practice Wings Parade presentation. But that was putting up the RAF flag on the yardarm of the station and then everybody paraded and we were wet through. Absolutely wet through. The heat and the moisture there. Brand new uniform always for that. And then, then the weekend was ours free. And I used to go, take a boat onto Lake Okeechobee. The place was full of crocodiles and snakes and of course we saw the Seminole Indians there. These are the indigenous people who lived in the Florida swamps and things. They hunted. They hunted with bows and arrows. And if you were caught low flying over there and came back with an arrow in your aeroplane you were dismissed. That’s well understood isn’t it? So, and so the days went by but eventually of course the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima. We always said that saved our lives and we know it saved a lot of other lives as well. And, and the next thing within a week we were on the, we were on the train back up to New York and then sent across back to, to England.
IL: So, in America were your, were your instructors RAF instructors or were they American instructors?
KM: No. There was a minimum staff of, who lived the life of Riley we believe. Mainly off camp. Well, it’s an obvious thing for them but the instructors were civilians. They were all civilians.
IL: Oh right. So they were American civilians.
KM: They were American civilians.
IL: Ok.
KM: And mine was number 5 British Flying Training School. So BFTS. There were six altogether. The original scheme was called the Arnold Scheme but then it was really when, when that was before the Americans came into the war because the guys went over to America as civilians with America being neutral.
IL: Yeah. Yeah.
KM: But when, when the Americans came in after Pearl Harbour they formed this and they had, they had six places. Six places. They were always separating us. Whenever there was a move in the training we were split up because they didn’t want us to form any emotional contact between us. And Johnnie, who was from the, who was Spanish, I met him at Durham he went to Miami in Oklahoma state. You know.
IL: Right.
KM: He did his training there. But there were six of them. Arizona was another one. But there were six. So that explains that about the instructors.
IL: Right. So there were just, so but, and was it just RAF people who were being trained there?
KM: Yeah. Yeah. Just RAF. They weren’t training American ones. No. There were thousands of guys that were trained. When we were in Florida nobody knew the war was going to finish like it was and there was rumours that we would go on to other types of American aircraft out there and then finally go out to the Pacific. But I’m glad it never happened. It’s an obvious one, isn’t it? But on returning to England there was loads of operational people. They didn’t want people. But some of, some of our guys they were connected with military families and wanted to make a career. And I remember one of them was called Neame. He was at Durham. I knew him at Durham. And his father was a general. His father was the only general ever to be captured by the Germans in North Africa. So he went on. He would go to Cranwell then because of being a military aspect. I remember Neame in particular. And later in life, many years afterwards, twenty or thirty years afterwards there was some pictures of Mount Everest in the Daily Express. And he’d been out in India with his Spitfire and he’d flown over Mount Everest and just to prove it because you weren’t supposed to do it. Just a story. And it was a question of waiting to be demobbed and I I decided that when I went that I would make a life in Civilian Street which I did of course. But in between times I got shunted from one station to another and the last one which I was at and I worked in headquarters at RAF Binbrook. They had 9. Four squadrons there 9, 12, 101 and that very famous 617 Squadron. But I didn’t do any flying there. They had Lincoln bombers and it was from there I was demobbed.
[recording paused]
KM: Ok. One, one of the things that I was in charge of I had two German prisoners of war. One was, one was fifty two. All he could think of was getting back to Germany and being a farm labourer. The other one was sixteen and every morning when he reported to me at 9 o’clock in the morning he saluted me in the proper sense of de da de da but he spoke American. He’d been captured when he was fifteen, taken to America and picked up the Americanisms. But every morning he shook his fist at them, ‘We’ll be back. We’re going to be back.’ There was a hundred army guys on RAF Binbrook in that sense. But working in the headquarters I would eventually be in charge of air publications and diagrams and all the stationery and all the forms. A lot of forms. And it was all to do with the squadrons and that. The engines. All aspects. But of course there was a lot of information that would come through which was connected with intelligence. Material that was being distributed into the squadrons to let them know this and that. And eventually I I was to read quite a lot of stuff that I never, never repeated. Of course, you never did. But from an intelligence point of view you just saw stuff but it didn’t mean anything. It was all gone. You weren’t going to keep it or photograph it. We weren’t, we were never allowed to have cameras in any case. So that’s that.
[recording paused]
IL: We’re back on.
KM: In post war then 5 BFTS used to have reunions and I would go away to those. And it was always to take over a hotel so that, at a weekend a Friday, Saturday and Sunday so that all the men that were there were nothing but RAF pilots of once upon a time. There was no people that hadn’t gone there. They were excited to go and there was a book where all the courses were numbered. We were on the very last course out of, the very last course to take was because, as I say the war had finished in Europe but nevertheless we were sent. They always said they’d spent a lot of money on us. And that was because we were University Air Squadron people. Actually I think they got us cheap. But in that sense. And there was a directory with the names of people in that were known of. And the last one that was printed was in 2005. It’s been disbanded since along the way. But then, but my name and there’s only nine of us on that one that were still around and known about. That doesn’t mean to say everybody did get killed. Whatever happened. And Peter Greenwood is one of those who was at Oxford where he used to know this Welsh chap who eventually became Richard Burton. And he said, ‘Richard Burton,’ he said, ‘He only did three things.’ He said, ‘He drank, read poetry,’ because he was doing arts, ‘And he chased skirts.’ Girls. And eventually of course he went to Canada to train as a navigator did this Welsh chap. But later in life he changed his name to Richard Burton and he married Elizabeth Taylor and became very famous. And if ever I got the opportunity to see him in uniform in a film he’d always taken the part of an officer because he was always dressed an officer and he’d been trained as an officer and it was just natural to see him as Richard Burton. But, and I met him once or twice at Heaton Park because he was always retained there to play, play rugby. But that’s Richard Burton. Whatever. But Peter Greenwood, we’ve kept in touch all these years. And we talk to, normally every week, every week we talk for half an hour or an hour. We’re always reminiscing. We’ve always got things to talk about. He lives in Halifax. And of course we have met occasionally as well. So, it’s marvellous in fact to have such a friend. And his birthday is on the 2nd of February. Mine is on the 1st which is very recent. According to this it’s now the 8th of February. And I always pull his leg and say we’re the senior man.
[recording paused]
KM: We were really, it was snowed in. It was a terrible wet winter.
IL: Was this at Full Sutton?
KM: Full Sutton. Up there near York. East of York. And we were told the whole place was frozen up. There was no running water except at the camp cookhouse. And we enjoyed going in there to keep warm occasionally. But the WAAFs, they were putting on more cream and powder because they weren’t allowed to wash either. We were told not to, not to melt ice or snow because they said you could get possibly meningitis through this. So I remember going into York and going to the public baths there. I’d never heard of public baths at that point in time. But, but the Nissen huts were very cold. They were cold. Nobody complained but one has to imagine twenty beds in there. And one night one of the chaps started coughing and sneezing and nineteen other voices said, ‘Die, you bugger’ [laughs]
[recording paused]
KM: And then at lunchtime we were only too pleased to have food, I remember we could buy newspapers. Well, some of us would buy The Express. The Express Record and The Express crossword but some of the guys they used to buy The Times. And they could do them in half an hour. That was the sort of standard. That was the standard of education and culturalisation that we’d all been through. At that time they were chosen to do this particular job and be selected to go into University Air Squadrons. Yeah.
[recording paused]
IL: So after the war.
KM: Well, father was in horticulture and agriculture and for a short time I helped him but eventually I decided that I didn’t want to be connected with the land in that sense at all. I always felt academic. And so I applied to go back to university and I was accepted. And what’s interesting about this as I say I got in to BSc when I was there and, but I’d actually left. Left and I’d achieved all I wanted and went to help my father in his business in whatever before going on to the, to the university. I was still not quite at the age of, to go in. I’d been accepted of course and got, seventeen I’ve mentioned that. And then when I, when I applied I was accepted straight away I’ve still got the letters. Professor Wager and the master. Lieutenant Colonel MacFarland Greave was the master of University College at the time. And they said, ‘Yeah, start in October.’ Now this is addressed to me in the air force by which time I was a corporal. And isn’t it bloody marvellous? To be, to take the rank of corporal. Anyway, and when I applied for the grant because people got grants. My other two pals had. Johnnie who became a doctor later and Malcolm who became vice chancellor they’d stayed on. They’d stayed on at school and left, left grammar school to go straight to Durham. I hadn’t done. And I still have the letter. I still have the letter to say I didn’t qualify because it said my education had not been interrupted by the war. Well, that, that just about killed me. To say I couldn’t get a grant. And I asked my father. I said they want me and when I think about them I would be there with Malcolm doing exactly what I wanted because I wanted to do geology. And I said, to think I had done all of that. I qualified to go to Cambridge. They said my education hadn’t been interrupted by the war and I couldn’t have a grant. And I tried through my MP to try to get this alteration changed and I still retain that letter to me and I’ll show the interviewer that to show the, to prove that point. So I didn’t go back there. So what I decided to do was to join the [pause] I saw the most successful local man I knew. He was in all sorts of businesses. And he said other than three daughters if he’d had a son he would have put him in the petroleum world. The oil world. We’re going back quite a long time now. So he said, ‘I suggest that.’ He said, ‘There’s a company starting up called Petrofina. They’re a Belgian company because,’ he said, ‘I’m taking all my money out of coal and other things and,’ he said, ‘I’m putting it into oil.’ He said, he left it up to me to get in touch with Petrofina. I rang Petrofina in London. I said, ‘I’d like to come and work for you. Join you. You’re starting up,’ because at that time there were no brands. There was no brands of Shell, Esso, Mobil gas — any of them. It was still all pooled petrol. The government was still running the job etcetera. So I, and they said, ‘When can you come to see us?’ I said, ‘Well. Tomorrow.’ So the next day I was down in London and within an hour they said, ‘Right. You can be with us. Six months’ probation. You’ll be up north. And your place will be at a place called Gunness. That’s the regional office that’s been chosen. And you join them up there.’ Which I did. Bought a brand new car to travel from Barton on Humber to travel the twenty miles to work every day. And within, I did my six month probation and I was to be in marketing etcetera and learning all about transport. All aspects of at that level. And by the time I was thirty four I was a senior staff manager in the company and even today, even today — I left them. I stayed with them until my daughter was going of age to go to university. She went to a place in Leeds for a start. She was doing a pre, a pre-university thing and then she went and did three years down at Cheltenham. And she got a degree in fashion design and art. And that’s what my Sue did. I used to go and see her programmes of the materials that she made on the catwalks in London. Doing all of this. Susan was eventually to marry. Her father in law was a wing commander and a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain. A sergeant. But any way that’s by the way and then went to live in a Cayman Islands. But when my Sue decided to go I thought I’ll go back to university. So I asked the company could I take a three year sabbatical? They agreed. They said, ‘Good idea. Do a law degree and it’ll help us as well.’ But when I’d done the law degree and it was the easiest thing I ever did, at Hull and in fact I did two degrees at once. I did, I did anthropology and law. I did two and I got a 2:2 in both. And, and that’s what, and my daughter and I passed out at the same time. Her elsewhere of course and whatever. So I didn’t go back there. I got in touch with the Law Society and what with my experience of life I said could I, could I practice as a consultant in family law because that’s what I wanted to particularly major in. And they said yes, carry on which is what I’ve always done ever since. And today they’re even they’re still paying me at Petrofina because I was a superannuated person. I made them a great deal of money. I made them millions. I built up a chain of service stations. Buying land and choosing managers and tenants for them. Oh yes I was right there. I was right there with them and so they’re still paying me.
[recording paused]
IL: I can turn it back on.
KM: It was whilst I must pay tribute to all the men that I ever met in the Royal Air Force. Whether they were ground staff or aircrew. And all, all the guys my colleague with which I flew and I was so proud to be with them. So I I I can pay great tribute to them. But I do wish to mention about my two friends. Johnnie Boyd who came from Spain and Barnard Castle and then came on and eventually became a doctor in psychology. A marvellous man out there. Starting something out there for them. And in particular Malcolm Brown who came from Redcar Grammar. I met him at Durham and eventually he became the number one geologist really of this country. And he was knighted so that his full title was Professor Sir George Malcolm Brown. Right from being, knowing him at eighteen and he was employed well not employed but when, when Buzz Aldrin and Armstrong were going to go to the moon NASA was [pause] had Malcolm to lecture them on what they were to look for in moon rocks. And he was the only one, considering that Malcolm went from being eighteen and knowing him he was the one, the only scientist, British scientist given moondust or moon rocks. And of course he distributed them amongst other places to examine. But he found amongst his own materials a mineral that was not known on earth. And it could have been called Brownite because that was after his name but he didn’t. He called it Tranquilite because that was where these guys landed. And they called it Tranquilite. That’s how modest he was. But, but to look him up on the computers and look him up to see all about him there’s pages and pages and pages. He’s a fellow of everything throughout the world. Marvellous to have known him. And he was such a modest man. Always was. They said he was a bit diffident but I understand that because I knew him. We used to go drinking in The Three Tuns at Durham. My goodness on a Saturday night it was the only time after dinner at night that we ever got out really. Well, we used, and it had seven bars down there in The Three Tuns and we went through all seven having a half or whatever it was. And the dance hall at the end of it by which time I was useless for anything. But that was Malcolm who became Professor Sir George Malcolm Brown.
IL: And he became Chancellor of Durham University.
KM: Chancellor of Durham University.
IL: Vice Chancellor sorry.
KM: Yeah. Vice Chancellor.
IL: Vice Chancellor of Durham. That’s fantastic.
KM: And another thing, may I have this?
IL: It’s still going.
KM: One of the things that we did at Durham. They were full days. Completely full days. We thoroughly enjoyed it. The guy that used to take us for parades and was a DLI man. Durham Light Infantry. A warrant officer. We never forgot Gray. And he prepared us for these rough guys that we, the [unclear] guys eventually down at Torquay. But one of the things that would happen we were allocated that when the air raid sirens went I was one of those that went to do fire watching on the cathedral in the dark. I mean the buzzers gone and no matter what time of day it was up there in the north transept amongst the pigeons trying to save my country’s cathedrals. So we did all sorts of things apart from that. The day, and the night before we left Durham, this is very interesting, Durham, Durham Council invited us to the little town hall in the centre of Durham which is like a museum in itself because the Durham Light Infantry in its army days went back years and years. With all sorts of uniforms. And they gave us a party. They invited all the local belles, all the belles, all the belles of Durham to be there. It was, it was like, it was like a party. A going away party for us to join the air force. You know. Seeing us off to war literally. We felt like it. But never mind. I could talk. I love Durham and I’ve often been back there. And more recently I went with my, a girl friend and we stayed in the castle. It was all arranged and I slept in the Bishop’s Suite which, which in fact was an old fashioned, fashioned four poster and it was that four poster where, it was an original one where all the judges of England used to sleep in that one because they went there for safety when they were visiting the assizes. But then later after I was at top table at Durham with all the other students and whatever. I went top table with all the profs and that and then later I went into the senior common room where after in the ordinary way when we were there I used to dash in there to play classical records for half an hour. If you could get there first you could have their own choice.
[recording paused]
KM: When I, when I was married and went to Scarborough on holiday being married it was then that I discovered that north of Bridlington there was a plane there flying people for passenger. Little trips around the lighthouse at Flamborough. So I went and I took my wife Phyllis and we went flying. And I remember I took over as well. I remember the pilot. He’d escaped from the Nazis. He was a Norwegian and he’d trained as a navy pilot but here he was staying in England. I never forgot him. When my Sue fourteen years later, fourteen years later I decided that my Susan should fly for the very first time. I drove down to Skegness and, and the office said, it was opposite Butlins and they said, ‘There are three Auster planes out there. Just pick the one you want and one of the pilots will come out to you.’ And when he came it was the same man from fourteen years previous. What a fantastic coincidence because, I said, ‘I know you.’ He said, ‘Where do you know me from?’ I said, ‘I flew with you at Speeton, north of Bridlington.’ He said, ‘I was only there a week.’ It’s absolutely fantastic. Fourteen years between the two. And once again we flew and I was up front and I flew that Auster as well. But from a flying point of view when I went to the university they had in that first week a new intake. People joining all sorts of societies. Whatever they called it. And I found there was a stall there that they were connected with a gliding club at Pocklington on the way to York. So I joined that immediately and eventually was taken because that enabled me to fly again and I’ve been, and I’ve been a member of that gliding club and I still am. From 1975 to now. But whilst I was there at weekends I would take six in the car. With no safety belts I could cram two in the front and two in the back. So I did help out with these kids. I was like a dad to some of them. But along the way we had a flying club at, on, on Humberside and, but they had to close it down because Bristows, the helicopter people they wanted the property. But that was a very interesting time flying Cessnas and goodness knows what there as a member of a private flying club there. I also used to fly with a man called Croskill and pre-war he’d trained as a pilot. Got his wings in 1935. His father was a wing commander. When the war started he was made a captain in the army. An army captain. And he, and he joined the secret service. And what he did was fly Lysanders into France during the, to take people to the Resistance backwards and forwards. But afterwards Roy and I became, that’s how I came to know him. I often used to fly with him because he was a chief flying instructor at Paull which gave me an opportunity once again when I was at the university. This is how I met him. And again at Humberside. So I’ve always had a big connection with, with Humberside. There was also at Humberside an ex-Wellington bomber pilot who I came to know and he passed on but I’d done, over the years I just paid to take a plane up. Always with one of their people because I’d not passed out on some of those planes. But that, but what that has led to is that I was invited on to be, I was collected by taxi from Hornsea to to spend the day when the Canadian Lancaster came. It had flown into Coningsby from Canada. That’s an RAF station. But on this day it was coming into Kirmington. Or Humberside Airport. And I met the crew. I didn’t fly in it but I had lunch with the crew and it was just marvellous to climb back inside that Lancaster. And of recent times I’ve had sent to me a CVD, it’s a record.
IL: Yeah.
KM: That can be put on a piece of equipment and I only received it and I’m on it. It’s showing various things from the start in Canada and then back in Humberside and elsewhere. And Coningsby. And it’s just marvellous. And it lasts eighty minutes and I’ve only seen it this last fortnight. It was sent to me. And very kind of them. I think it was sent because of my birthday. Whatever. By the way on the 18th at Humberside there was a girl, a lady from the Royal Mint and she was interviewing other veterans down there to what they would like to see on the back of a new 50p coin. And eventually I was sent one from the Mint. That came from wherever it came. Wales I think. And it shows on the reverse side what looked like what represents German aeroplanes coming. Spitfires on the ground waiting and the backs of three fighter pilots dashing off. And that’s a, that’s a memorial of the seventy fifth, seventy fifth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. When I was invited once again to go to Humberside on the 13th of August in 2015. The year following the Canadian one to meet up with the pilots and sit in on the briefing. I just felt like nineteen and twenty and twenty one again. It was so wonderful and marvellous. And I’ve got quite a number of momentoes from that. So and that, then on my birthday recently I had two cards from there. One from the lady, the personal assistant who I only saw twice. On the first occasion, second occasion when she sent me a card with love and kisses on the bottom. But the other one, was another card was “From all your friends at Humberside International Airport.” And I met, and I met on both occasions they called him Richard. Richard Lake. He’s the boss down there of Eastern Airways and he saw me on every occasion etcetera and he owns two Spitfires and they’re worth a couple of million quid. Very interesting. I do know a few people in the flying world. As far as flying’s concerned and before the terrorist position came in whenever I flew abroad I’d always hand the letter in which would have to be handed to the captain. And they would always send for me to sit up at the front with them because of them being, they could be RAF themselves as well.
IL: Yeah.
KM: And on one occasion, here’s an interesting thing I went to Rome and on a, on a flip flight just to transfer an aircraft I can make another trip to Sardinia, which was my destination. I was going there on business and I sat up there with the Italian pilots. What’s interesting about that I speak Italian so I was able to talk. It was marvellous really. To be able to get up to the front of aircraft. That was out of, out of Heathrow. A letter went in there and I sat at the rear. An American sat next to me. Got flying. And at the appointed time on the threshold the chief steward came and said, ‘You’re wanted on the flight deck, sir’ and so I went up the front, and the American and I was up there for four hours. At that time there were two pilots, a flight engineer and I sat behind and did all the take off with them and they said they would send for me when they were going to do, land in Seattle. But before that I got back this American had been drinking. He said, ‘That was a rotten take off.’ I said, ‘I’ve got news for you. I’m going to do the landing.’ Because I knew I was going to be, I was going to be up the front. And it came to that point in time we’d flown over Greenland and Northern Canada and the captain came on, ‘Everybody fasten their safety belts,’ and at the same moment in time as I say I was at the rear the chief steward, the man came and said, ‘There’s an emergency, sir. You’re wanted on the flight deck.’ I couldn’t believe this. So I went up the front, ‘Where the hell’s he going?’ Everybody fastened all their seatbelts. To find out they were running short of fuel. At that time they were only buying enough fuel with a margin but they’d met a, met this S shaped sign shaped current of air and what — it has a name. At such a speed that it reduced the speed over the ground so they were using more fuel than necessary. So they decided to land in Calgary. And so that’s what happened. And I went through all the methods of what they were doing up the front and finally landed. And I remember this big circle and as we came in on the threshold the second said to the captain who was an ex-squadron leader, originally from the air force, he said, ‘I bet there’s a change of wind direction on the threshold.’ He said, ‘I’m ready for it.’ And at two hundred feet the plane crabbed because the change in wind direction. And he just, he just moved it over to the port side and we were down. And that was after what? Five or six hours flying. They’re right on the ball these guys. But when I wanted to continue to Seattle they had a new crew in but, because the hours had been taken up. So, but the new crew they were youngish. They didn’t want to know me. So I went back to this American and he still believes I did the bloody landing.
[recording paused]
IL: Interview with Ken Marshall. Just a little bit of extra.
KM: Talk now?
IL: Yeah.
KM: Yeah. Before I went away from home there was a Canadian pilot called Screwball Beurling who learned to fly in Canada when he was very young and the Canadian Air Force wouldn’t have him. So he came to England on a convoy. Got trained. Sent back to Canada to train as a pilot. Returned to England and became a Spitfire pilot. And he was my hero. I have a photograph of him. But later in life I was flying Alitalia to Rome and there was a woman next to me. She was a lady jeweless and when we were circling over Rome she said did I know Screwball Beurling? I said, ‘Screwball Beurling,’ I said, ‘He was my hero.’ ‘Not bloody likely with me,’ she said, ‘He killed my husband.’ I said, ‘How do you mean?’ Well, she said, ‘Well down there at Rome,’ she said, ‘He was, he was flying planes to Israel and he crashed on the take off.’ And I couldn’t believe it. That up there at fifteen thousand feet she should bring up this name of a person that I’d known about. But in actual fact it was always said that his plane was sabotaged. This was after the war of course. But quite an interesting little story.
IL: Absolutely.
KM: But he was the highest scoring. He wouldn’t obey orders back in England so they sent him to Malta to fly and he was in the fiercest battles in Malta and he shot down almost more planes than anybody else. But that was Screwball Beurling and he was my hero.
IL: Absolutely.
KM: Flying over and she said did I know and I said, ‘Yes, he’s my —'



Ian Locker, “Interview with Ken Marshall,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 21, 2024,

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