Interview with Kenneth George McVicar


Interview with Kenneth George McVicar


Kenneth George McVicar was born in Llanelli, South Wales and joined the Royal Air Force at the age of 18, where he qualified as a Gunner. He Flew in Ansons as mid upper gunner turret, but also on Stirlings and Lancasters. He tells of how he went to serve in 617 Squadron but since they had a surplus of gunners, he was moved to 619 Squadron. He recollects the arrival of the Tallboy bomb and how the adaptation caused a gun turret to be removed. With the war coming to an end, Ken became a clerk in the Royal Air Force before being posted to India. On his return home to Wales, he joined the Metropolitan Police, rising to the rank of sergeant and he retired after about 28 years of service.




Spatial Coverage




00:31:03 audio recording


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PL: Ok. So my name’s Pam Locker and I’m in the home of Mr Kenneth George McVicar and the date is the 22nd of December 2015.
KM: Yes.
PL: And I’d just like to start, Ken, by saying an enormous thank you on behalf of the International Bomber Command Trust for talking to us.
KM: Right.
PL: So we’ll start our interview. So I guess the first question would be to just ask you how you became involved in the first place.
KM: Right. Well, up to — I was a young man at, living in my home in Llanelli, South Wales and I decided I’d join the RAF. And unfortunately for me, for things that went afterwards they took a long time to contact me and I joined the RAF in, I forget now when it was. Anyway, I joined up and was sent to ACRC, which is the Bomber Command course at St John’s Wood, London and I stayed there for about a month and eventually I was posted down to Neath in Wales, which was only twenty miles away from my home. Anyway, I stayed at that, I did the ACRC course of six months and then I got posted again. And I was posted to RAF Sealand where I did some flying on a Tiger Moth for a fortnight but the weather was not good and I didn’t solo or anything like that. I went on to Heaton Park, Manchester where I was supposed to be going abroad with the, to continue the flying experience you see. But they had too many gunners and too many pilots and not enough gunners. So I decided I’d be a gunner even though it wasn’t my intention to be a gunner, I was. And I left that school and went up to Dalcross near, well what is, the airport for up that way, you know, in Scotland. And six weeks later I was a fully qualified gunner. So then I —
PL: So what was your training like?
KM: The training. Well shooting from the back of an Anson, sat in the mid-upper turret and two guns. Firing at a drogue which was drawn by another plane, well. I shot away and eventually I shot the wire which connected the drogue.
PL: So there was another plane.
KM: Yeah.
PL: Flying with wires coming down.
KM: Yeah.
PL: Holding on to a door.
KM: A drogue. A drogue.
PL: A drogue.
KM: Yes.
PL: Right. And you - and that was your target?
KM: That was my target, yes. I shot at this and eventually I shot the wire which was pulling it, see, and the drogue flew off and not seen again. I finally passed out as a sergeant. I was posted to Barford St John in, near Banbury and commenced training with Wellingtons when I met my first crew. And that was the pilot — Flying Officer Adams. And the navigator, Flying Officer Eddie Preedy. Staff Sergeant Gunner was from Canada and he was a bomb aimer. Sergeant Teddy Knox was the wireless operator. And Sergeant Jock Milne — the mid-upper gunner. I first met my first wife and got married in 1945. I continued my training and first sent to Swinderby to train on Stirlings and Lancasters until 26th of March 1945. Then I went to Woodhall Spa, you see, and that’s when I joined 617 Squadron as rear gunner. But as they had plenty of spare gunners there and we were flung off the squadron and went to 619 Squadron. Well the war was coming to an end, I was posted to Anglesey where I was classified, re-classified as a sergeant and ground crew, and as I was a clerk in civvy life it wasn’t long before I became a clerk in the RAF. I returned - while in India I was sent to Yelahanka, an aerodrome near Bangalore and remained there until I was discharged on the 17th of the 3rd 1947. I returned home to Wales and lived there with my parents where I applied to join the Metropolitan Police — which I did. And on the 17th of the 2nd my warrant number was 130491, issued and I went to Hendon to train as a police officer. My first posting was at Stoke Newington and I stayed there for a while until I went to Edgware where I qualified as a driver until I was promoted to sergeant having passed the examination, stationed at Paddington Green. The old Paddington Green. Later promoted to station sergeant and posted to Golders Green. And from there I became an inspector and I stayed at Enfield most of the time until I retired after having completed about twenty eight years.
PL: Amazing.
KM: Yeah.
PL: Amazing.
KM: And then of course by that time I’d met Josie and we eventually started living together and got married in, I forget now —
PL: 1980 was it?
KM: 1980.
Other: It wasn’t. It was 1974.
PL: ’74.
KM: ’74. Yeah. So that’s about a brief description of my life, oh aye —
PL: That’s a wonderful start. Can I take you right back.
KM: Aye.
PL: To the beginning.
KM: Yeah.
PL: And was there, what attracted you to the, to the RAF? What did you, did you have history? Did you have family history?
KM: No. I don’t have any family history. It’s just that I wanted to be, join the RAF. I always wanted to join the RAF from way back.
PL: From being a boy.
KM: Yeah, right.
PL: Right. Fantastic. And when you, your first squadron that you were involved with.
KM: Yeah. 617.
PL: 617 Squadron. How did you all, how did you all meet? Were you —
KM: Well we were posted to the 617 and then we had a lot of — I wanted to stay on 617 but they wouldn’t have me because I was a good shot, see, in the air. And that’s when they decided to get rid of me and there we are.
PL: There you are. So what actual active service did you see? Would you like to tell me about some of your experiences actually as an air gunner?
KM: I was an air gunner but I didn’t go on any trips or anything. I just sat in the back.
PL: Right.
KM: And —
PL: When you say sat in the back.
KM: Yeah.
PL: What do you mean by sat in the back?
KM: Sat in the turret.
PL: Right.
KM: Turret swinging to the left. Swinging to the right and shoot up. Of course the big bomb came along and there wasn’t any room for us then.
PL: Right .
KM: And as there more pilots and gunners than they wanted, nobody wanted me. So I went as a spare bod to 619 Squadron and we did there for a while, until the war was finishing then.
PL: So you did all that training.
KM: Yeah.
PL: And then you never had the opportunity to —
KM: To go and fire. Never.
PL: What did you think about that?
KM: Well I was hurt, yeah. Did all that training to be a gunner and then never went up in the air. So there you are.
PL: So what sort of period of time was that in the war? So this coming towards the end of the war?
KM: The war.
PL: Right. Ok. Ok. Ok.
KM: Yeah.
PL: So, your first wife. How did you meet her? Was she in the WAAF?
KM: Well, when I went to Barford St John, I met her. She was one of the girls that, you know, go up to and dance and things like that.
PL: Amazing. So are there any other experiences? I mean I’m very curious to hear what it was like on, you know, being at the airfield. Were you based at the airfield?
KM: Yeah.
PL: When you were doing your — ?
KM: Training.
PL: Right. Yeah. So what was that like for you all?
KM: Well it was alright I suppose. Waiting, the training of course. Jump in a plane and go off flying somewhere. We all had — my logbook. Flying logbook. Here it is. There we are.
PL: Thank you. Wonderful. Gosh. So these are all the times that you —
KM: Flew.
PL: You flew. And so when you, when you actually flew, were you, did you have to be in the gunner’s turret?
KM: Yeah. Turret. Yeah. All the time.
PL: That was always your —
KM: Always my station.
PL: Right.
KM: Yeah. In the turret.
PL: Right.
KM: Oh aye.
PL: And what was it like? Did you, did you feel claustrophobic at all?
KM: No. Not at all. Not at all. I felt at home.
PL: Really.
KM: Really at home.
PL: So you had the whole world at your feet.
KM: Yeah. And a heated suit.
PL: Sorry.
KM: A heated suit.
PL: Oh right.
KM: It was cold, you know, in the back.
PL: Of course.
KM: I was covered me head to toe. It was heated by the plane’s — plane heating system. You know.
PL: So when you went on to the plane did you go in any sort of order? Was there any sort of way in which everybody went in?
KM: Yeah. Up through the bottom. And up, jump up a ladder you know, and then I would step over the elsan, which was situated at the back and climb in, over in to the backseat and there I was master of my own dominion. Yeah.
PL: And did you feel part of the team?
KM: Of course. I was part, part of the team and if it had been when we were attacked I would direct, I would say to the skipper corkscrew left or depending on where he was coming from the left I would go that way and this way and down and up and at the time I would try to shoot him down, you see.
PL: Goodness.
KM: Aye.
PL: So I guess you were the guy they didn’t want to hear from.
KM: Yeah [laughs]
PL: A good trip would be when you were quiet the whole time. Right. Ok. So there were no active ops.
KM: No.
PL: Right. Ok. Ok. So did that apply, then, to your whole crew? You stayed together as a crew did you?.
KM: No.
PL: What happened to the others?
KM: The others stayed on 617.
PL: Right.
KM: And went flying with them as far as I know.
PL: Right. Right.
KM: I lost contact with them.
PL: Right. Right. Right.
KM: And I went on to a spare bod to the other place you see.
PL: Very good.
KM: Aye.
PL: So, so what year did you join? Did you actually join up? Do you remember?
KM: 1944, I’ve got it here. [pause] when I went to Sealand it was [pause] I think it was ’44 I think.
PL: In the RAF.
KM: ‘44. Aye.
PL: ’44. Ok so it must have been very frustrating for you.
KM: It was. Very frustrating. Having trained all that time, you know and then not go to.
PL: So how old were you in 1944?
KM: Oh I was eighteen. Eighteen.
PL: Goodness. So did lots of your friends join up at the same sort of time?
KM: Yes. And they were all coming from Wales and Scotland and all over England, you know to join. Same time.
PL: Is there anything else that you’d like to tell me about your, your experiences in Bomber Command before we move on to anything else.
KM: No. I don’t think so. Nothing happened to me you see. I was lucky as some say. As I say — unlucky.
PL: Well it’s just as important part of the story.
KM: Yeah.
PL: As everybody else’s part.
KM: Aye.
PL: It wouldn’t be a complete story.
KM: Aye.
PL: Without your contribution.
KM: Aye.
PL: So I guess one of the other things I’d like to ask you is how you felt about Bomber Command and how they were treated historically.
KM: Well Bomber Command were always second best to the first of the few. The fighters. You know, when they got their reward it was well and truly deserved of course and, but we should have had a reward then for our contribution.
PL: So how do you feel about the recognition that has come now?
KM: Now it’s alright. Now it’s alright of course. They’ve put that right. Everybody agrees now the role that the bomber boys had has come true.
PL: Fantastic. Thank you very much indeed Ken for talking to me today.
KM: Oh it was nothing.
[recording paused]
PL: Ok. So we’ve resumed recording because I just wanted to ask you Ken about what happened when the big bomb came. You talked about the big bomb. What was that and what were the implications for you?
KM: Well it was the Tallboy bomb. It was the biggest bomb we ever had and that’s why it was necessary to take out the one turret. To minimise the weight you see and allow the bomb to be carried. So it was only from that day that they needed one gunner instead of two see.
PL: And so who made that decision? And did that vary between crews or was it just a blanket decision from on high?
KM: Blanket decision.
PL: Ok. Thank you.
KM: Thank you.
PL: We’ll pause.
[recording paused]
PL: So we’re back on now. We were just having a conversation, Ken, about the fact that everybody volunteered for the RAF.
KM: Yes. Yes.
PL: I was just interested to know how you felt as such a young man joining up.
KM: Well it was great. You know. Get in the RAF. Do a job that was worth doing and it was wonderful.
PL: Did you feel excited by it?
KM: Yes. I was excited.
PL: But did you feel afraid as well?
KM: No. I didn’t feel afraid.
PL: Really.
KM: No.
PL: Very interesting. And did you, I mean as a young man I often think it must have been very interesting being a teenager during that time. Did you sort of feel like you were working towards your time?
KM: Yeah. Working towards my time with the RAF and joining a crew you know. To go and bomb.
PL: That’s very interesting.
KM: Tough for the people underneath who were receiving it of course but that wasn’t my worry.
PL: So do you think people did think about that?
KM: Yes. They did think about it but they couldn’t do anything about it anyway. No.
[recording paused]
PL: Put this back on. So we’re recording again. So you were this young man full of vim and vigour.
KM: Aye.
PL: But you weren’t afraid.
KM: No.
PL: But you knew about the statistics.
KM: Yes. I had a cousin that were training and lost him on training you see. Yeah.
PL: But you still did it. You still went ahead and did it.
KM: Oh yes. You couldn’t go back you see. Well you didn’t think about that. Going back.
PL: Very good. Very good. Thank you.
[recording paused]
PL: So we’ve starting recording again. So we were just talking, Ken, about you know this young man who was there in your own world. Master of all you surveyed.
KM: Yeah.
PL: Waiting and checking the sky.
KM: Yeah.
PL: For, for other planes.
KM: Aye.
PL: And believing that you would be victorious.
KM: Aye.
PL: If there was a problem and the plane was hit in any way, what happened then?
KM: Well I would turn my turret to port, pull the doors open on the back and flip myself out, see. And go down then. I had a clear run.
PL: With your, with your parachute.
KM: Parachute. Aye. And all I had to do was put it to port and flip myself out you know.
PL: So did you do all of that during your training I guess? You had practice runs did you?
KM: Yeah. Yeah. We had practice runs but nobody jumps out of a perfectly good aircraft when its flying alright do they?
PL: So how? So you just literally, you did some, you had the experience of a parachute drop though did you? In your training.
KM: Yeah.
PL: But not from the turret.
KM: From — we done from a static point in the, jumped about, I don’t know, and then it was suspended and then you pull a certain thing and down you came you see.
PL: Goodness gracious. So you didn’t actually go up in an aeroplane.
KM: No. Had to do it.
PL: Goodness me. So, so if there had been an emergency that would have been the first time.
KM: The first time and the last time you would wave bye bye to them, to the crew.
PL: What, that was the deal.
KM: That was the deal.
PL: Is that what everybody used to say? You would have to wave bye bye to the crew.
KM: Aye.
PL: Goodness me. Wonderful. You see all of these things are just taken for granted by you.
KM: Yeah.
PL: But for the people who are listening to this recording they won’t know those sorts of details.
KM: No.
PL: It seems extraordinary in the twenty first century that you would be sent to war.
KM: Yeah.
PL: And never actually jumped out of an aircraft.
KM: No [laughs] It’s quite safe though to jump out, you see.
PL: What do you think about your generation?
KM: I don’t think, well my generation, if it happened again I would go, of course, even though I’m no good now. But it was the thing to do, see. Everybody did it. Everybody thought the same and it was just one of those things.
PL: Wonderful. Thank you very much Ken.
KM: Alright.


Pam Locker, “Interview with Kenneth George McVicar,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 23, 2024,

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