Interview with Kenneth White


Interview with Kenneth White


Kenneth White trained as an air gunner. He was not sent to an Operational Training Unit but was sent straight to a squadron at RAF Oulton. He flew in B-17s with a special operator on board. On one occasion during an air test there was a fire on board which led to particular tension because two members of the crew who had not taken their parachutes with them. After the war Kenneth joined the police and rose through the ranks in CID. After retirement from the police he joined RAF security.




Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage




00:54:43 audio recording


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IL: Ian locker interviewing Mr Kenneth White at his home in Hayling Island. It’s the 7th of August and it’s about 2.15. So, Ken, how did you get involved with Bomber Command?
KW: Well, it’s a bit of a tale actually. I enlisted in the RAF on the — I’ve got the date here actually. [unclear] [pause — pages turning] On the 8th of March 1943 when I was seventeen and a half. I was accepted for training as a navigator, bomb aimer or pilot and was then put on deferred service because the training programmes at that time were quite full. I was informed about a year later that because of the delay I could no longer be considered for those classifications but I could either remain in the RAF and take another trade or I could transfer to the Navy or Army or I could go to work down the mines. I didn’t choose the mines [laughs] I stayed and I elected to stay in the RAF and I was called up for service on the 27th of May ’44. So, I was over a year waiting really and then took more aptitude tests and was selected for training as an air gunner. I went through the training programme and it was ground. Well, I enlisted at RAF Scarborough. The Aircrew Receiving Centre at that time. And then went to RAF Bridgnorth which was the ground gunner training side of it. And from there to RAF Dalcross where [pause — pages turning] which was, I must have joined about the 20th of October ’44 according to this. And I passed out as an air gunner on the 12th of January ’44.
IL: Right.
KW: And was then promoted to sergeant. At the completion of the course I had leave and then we went, we had to go on, I think it was about six weeks, a senior NCOs course at Whitley Bay. From there we were due to go on leave before going to OTU. Operational Training Unit. As we were parading for our leave passes a few of us were called out and told that we weren’t going on leave. We were going to join a station at RAF Oulton.
IL: Right.
KW: I didn’t know for what. We knew we were going as gunners but we didn’t know for what purpose or what RAF Oulton was. And we arrived there —
IL: Can we just take a step back? What did — you say you were at Gunnery School.
KW: Yeah.
IL: What did that actually involve?
KW: Air Gunnery School.
IL: Air Gunnery School. Sorry.
KW: Yeah. That was the first. RAF Bridgnorth was gunnery courses on land, equipping yourself with —
IL: But using, using the same sort of things that you would be using.
KW: Using 303 —
IL: Yeah.
KW: Brownings. And the Air Gunnery School was the same. We used 303 but were flying with them as well.
IL: Right.
KW: As well as doing in the hangars and still ground, you know. Training there.
IL: How did they — when you’re flying how did they simulate, you know being attacked by aircraft? Or was there no —
KW: Well, at that point —
IL: Was there just —
KW: There was a single-engine plane drawing a drogue.
IL: Right.
KW: And you opened fire at the drogue.
IL: Ok.
KW: Really. That’s what it was like there. And if you, if you managed to get a shot near the end of the drogue it broke it all to pieces so you got a good score.
IL: Right. Ok.
KW: So, I twigged that [laughs] And came out with above average there.
IL: Right.
KW: I think that’s probably why I was dragged away from leave but —
IL: Ok. Ok.
KW: Anyway, I believe we went to [pause] 169 Flight at Oulton. RAF Oulton. That was for joining the crews. Would have joined us there with the six from — I’ve got all the names somewhere, who had been to OTU. To operational training, you know. And four of us who had never been to OTU. That was myself, the starboard waist gunner, the flight engineer and a special operator as we called him who’d come straight from university actually.
IL: Right.
KW: And we didn’t know at the time but he could speak Russian fluently.
IL: Oh right.
KW: And we were crewed up as ten. And on the flight we then had to become accustomed to .5 Browning.
IL: Right.
KW: Weapons which were completely different in, in ways that you handled them and the way the rounds were kept before firing. The Browning, the round was away from the breech. The 303 Browning. With the .5 the Browning was already in the breech.
IL: Right.
KW: And by the heat, if it had been firing could explode and fire another shot.
IL: Right.
KW: I’ll tell you about that later on.
IL: Yeah.
KW: And then.
IL: So, had you, when you went there had you, had you ever seen the sort of B-17s or —
KW: No.
IL: Had you had, you’d never had any —
KW: No. The first —
IL: Because these were American built planes.
KW: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. They were American.
IL: So, were they modified in any way to sort of — for the RAF? Or were they just —
KW: Yes. The belly turret. The Americans flew with a turret underneath as well which was taken off of ours. And we didn’t carry bombs. We carried special equipment. One part of which was a tall cylinder like thing which wouldn’t fit in to the —
IL: Right.
KW: Bomb bays of Lancasters or Halifaxes. But it would stand upright in, in a Fortress and a Liberator bomb bay. So, that’s, that was part of the reasons for —
IL: Right.
KW: Having that particular aircraft.
IL: Right. Ok.
KW: We [pause — pages turning] I’ve got the date. The week. At the beginning of April we passed from the training into the squadron. 214 Squadron itself. Until the first two flights I had there were [pause] on the 18th of April and the 19th of April. One was a night fighter affiliation and the second was —
IL: So, what, sorry what does that mean, Ken? Night fighter affiliation.
KW: Exercise with a night fighter attack.
IL: Oh. So, ok —
KW: Yeah.
IL: So, it was an exercise rather than an actual mission.
KW: It was an exercise. Yeah. It wasn’t a mission.
IL: Right.
KW: I had to get used to the —
IL: Yeah.
KW: The other things and we had longer flights to become accustomed to — and an air test. And in fact I did my first operation on the 19th of April when looking at this I had forty seven and a half hours day flying experience and nineteen hours and forty minutes night flying experience when I went on my first op.
IL: And this was a night, night op.
KW: It was a night op. Yes. They were all nights ops.
IL: Right. Ok.
KW: While we were experienced as a crew the first one we had Murray Peden, you may have heard of, he wrote a couple of books. He’s Canadian.
IL: Right.
KW: But he was a, carried as an extra pilot. They took an experienced pilot to keep an eye on what Ken Kennett, our pilot was doing.
IL: Right.
KW: But that was the only time. Then from the other two I was on my own.
IL: Right.
KW: But we, as well as being air gunners in, in the waist we were responsible when told by the navigator or the special operator as to dropping Window. Window, you’re well aware of I expect.
IL: Yeah.
KW: But a lot of people don’t realise there were different types and had to be dropped at different heights and at different speeds of the dropping. And we had, we had to obey what, what instructions we were given and [pause]
IL: Because presumably when you’re bombing you’re probably at your most vulnerable and so —
KW: Well, no.
IL: That would be the time when you would need to be.
KW: We didn’t bomb. We didn’t carry any bombs.
IL: Oh sorry. Ok. So, what were you actually —
KW: It was actually the first electronic —
Other: Countermeasures.
Other 2: Countermeasures. Yeah.
IL: Oh right.
KW: Yeah
IL: Ok.
Other: They would call it chaff these days.
IL: Right.
KW: Yeah. There’s a book which has recently come out. That’s a good point that is.
IL: So it was sort of like a jamming. Some sort of thing to jam.
KW: Well, we had two, two sections. We dropped, we, we used the Window to jam radar as well but also to give the effect that a heavy raid was going to take place on a certain area. And therefore their fighters were then away from the main stream.
IL: Yeah.
KW: Who were attacking somewhere else. So, that was what we called diversions.
IL: Yeah.
KW: We were diverting the enemy. And the special operator was able to tune in to the German Fighter Control and on occasions break into it and put them off.
IL: Right.
KW: As well, on other occasions jamming. And the bomb aimer — we had no bombs as I said.
IL: Yeah.
KW: But he had equipment as well which followed the same thing.
IL: Right.
KW: So, and I did three ops altogether. That — the last one being the last one of the European war.
IL: So, what was that? What was the last operation of the European war?
KW: Well, it was in the Kiel area.
IL: Right.
KW: We were Window dropping then, in summary. I’ve got it here [pause — pages turning] The three. The three operations that I did. In red. That’s the first one. The second one. They were mainly all in that area because they were back up in Schleswig. The Germans were back up in that area.
IL: Right.
KW: At that time in the war.
IL: So, what, the people who were bombing were they actually they were bombing ground troops presumably or were they bombing —
KW: Well, they were bombing Kiel at night.
IL: Kiel, yeah.
KW: Yeah. And we were protecting them on that occasion and, as much as we could but in the, we lost nothing. I’ve got — I don’t know whether this is of any interest to you or not [pause — pages turning] That’s from the operation record book of the squadron at that time.
IL: So, on those, on your obviously three missions over Germany, how operational were the sort of, you know both fighters and defences?
KW: Well, that’s a hard question. I —
KW: I’ve wrote that article.
IL: Oh right.
KW: With respect of Alan Mercer, the navigator, when he die. But he was, he was the ninth to pass away which left only myself still alive now. If you read through that you’ve got the history there.
IL: Right. But, as I say, did they, were there, you know was there still a lot of sort of anti-aircraft fire and was there still a lot of — were there still — you know?
KW: Yeah. Yeah, there were still fighters.
IL: There were still fighters.
KW: If you read that you’ll see we saw what we thought were rocket type things but in fact it was confirmed later that they were jet fighters.
IL: Right.
KW: German jet fighters.
IL: Right. Gosh.
KW: But we lost no —
IL: Because —
KW: No aircraft — well, it shows on, we lost no aircraft from our squadron. But on that very last raid 262, which was in the same group I think they were Halifaxes. They were in the same area and they lost two aircraft. The second was a tragedy really because the first apparently, I’ve read since was hit and out of control and crashed into another of the same squadron.
IL: Gosh.
KW: And they were both lost. They were both lost.
IL: How did — how did it feel? Because presumably coming up to that point I think — I don’t know I don’t know but I would imagine most people felt the war was coming to an end.
KW: Coming to a close. Coming to an end. Yeah.
IL: And to — did you, did you, were you just sort of this is what I’m going to do? This is what I’m doing. Or did you feel somehow well is this not a little bit of, you know putting people into a you know difficult position when they, you know, when it’s, when things are almost, things are almost over?
KW: No. You just felt it was your duty.
IL: Yeah.
KW: You joined to do that particular job. You volunteered for it and you just got on and did what the job was.
IL: Ok. Ok. So —
KW: You didn’t realise, we didn’t realise all that was happening. Especially with the special operator. He was very secretive. Even to the crew. The rest of the crew. But he was a nice chap, but he was the first to pass away after the war. He got killed. He took a flight. He went on to air traffic control. Was out in Poona and grabbed a chance of a free flight and the aircraft went in to the ground and he was killed.
IL: Gosh.
KW: And as I say, he’d had no, no life.
IL: So, was he — presumably your special operator was, he, he was presumably RAF?
KW: Yes.
IL: He wasn’t sort of —
KW: No. No he wasn’t —
IL: Military intelligence or —
KW: No. That’s, that’s our crew that I flew with.
IL: Oh right.
KW: That’s Ken. There was only one who had any previous operational service and that was Steve, the wireless, the actual wireless, normal wireless operator.
IL: Yeah.
KW: Who had flown on either a Hudson or Ventura squadron in the Middle East. He’d done a tour out there. He was the oldest. Oldest of us. Then a warrant officer. He remained in the RAF after.
IL: So what did you do after? You know, once you finished. Once you’d done your couple of operations. You know, your three operations and you said that—
KW: Well, we remained on the squadron. Flying. Still flying on pre-arranged things. We also took ground crew to flights over Germany and France to show what had been happening with the damage and all that sort of thing.
IL: Right.
KW: And, well, and still practiced gunnery.
IL: Yeah.
KW: And still fighter affiliation because we didn’t, we didn’t know at that stage what the next move would be.
IL: Right.
KW: You know. The, the war in the Far East was still going on and we could have well been posted. But then they disbanded the squadron and we were all torn —
IL: Because obviously.
KW: Seriously.
IL: With you being, you know your squadron being designated Malayan Squadron presumably you’d have thought that you’d be highly likely to get sent out.
KW: Well, I think that’s, there were a number of squadrons that had designations of some sort. I think that’s because they’d been funded in the first instance.
IL: Right. Oh right. Ok. Yeah, I’ve spoken to people who were in — I think one of the Lincolnshire squadrons was a Kenya Squadron and they’ve — so when did you, so when did, when did you, when did you — when was the squadron disbanded?
KW: I think that might be in [pause] where’s the one that [unclear] [pause] I turn these out for 100 Group. Something like that. What did I do with that? [pause] You’ve got two books there.
IL: I’ve got, I’ve got your Spring 2010 and Winter 2014. Shall I just put this off for a second?
[recording paused]
IL: So, we’re still talking about when the squadron was disbanded, Ken.
KW: Yes. Yeah. That was mid ’45.
IL: Right.
KW: New Zealand crew members returned home and the remaining crew were posted as I said earlier on to various other duties and trades, you know.
IL: Yeah.
KW: I was a clerk for a bit. I was selected as a clerk. I passed the course as an LAC but I still remained a sergeant and I was posted out to India.
IL: Right.
KW: And — at air headquarters. I was promoted to corporal in that trade and then to acting sergeant paid in that trade before I returned home but I still was a sergeant all the while because of my aircrew rank.
IL: So, how long did you stay in the RAF after?
KW: I —
Other: You put it down again.
KW: I had a letter somewhere. Oh. It’s in the logbook.
Other: Yeah. I think so. I didn’t see it in the book.
KW: I’m getting a little bit. Well, I’ve still got a few marbles but I think some of them have out of time.
IL: Some of them rolled away. I think we all, I think we’re all a bit like that sometimes.
KW: I had a little letter.
Other 2: Yeah. You had an envelope.
KW: An envelope. Yeah. It’s in there. The date I —
Other 2: You put the letter back in the envelope. I saw you doing it.
KW: Now, where did I put it then?
IL: So, was it 1945 or was it much later?
KW: No. No. It was 1947.
IL: Oh right. Ok. So you were in India for a couple of years.
KW: A couple of years. Well, almost two years. Yeah.
IL: Right. [pause] So, how did you find India? Was this sort of — was it the time of —
KW: Terrible place. Well, it was just —
IL: Unease and partition coming up.
KW: It was just coming up to partition. It wasn’t too bad when we first got there but [pause] What did I do with that? [pause] It gives the exact date on that letter. That’s why.
IL: Don’t, don’t worry, Ken. So what did you do after? After you came out of the RAF what did you do in your later life?
KW: I — well, before I joined the RAF I left school at fourteen. I became an apprentice grocer at the International Tea Company. You won’t remember that I suppose.
IL: Not quite.
KW: And I did a three year apprenticeship.
Other: Carry on.
KW: The first year it was ten shillings a week. Second year fifteen shillings a week. And the third year a pound a week. And then I became assistant and got an increase. Then I went in the RAF. I came back and I remained. I came back to them for a while as an apprentice and started studying grocers [unclear] and then, oh thank you — and then, and then I changed to the Home Colonial Stores.
IL: Right.
KW: Where I was called a first hand which now they would term as an assistant manager.
IL: Right.
KW: Because the manager was the way I ran the shop. And you wouldn’t believe this but every week on a Saturday we took stock of the whole, you had in the store and you worked out the cost to make sure that you hadn’t lost any money. Each shop did that.
IL: Gosh.
KW: So, Saturday you didn’t get off very early in the evening. But —
IL: So, was that, was that back in Oulton? Or was that back in —
KW: That was back in Oulton.
IL: Right.
KW: And then I joined the Hampshire Constabulary as a policeman. After, in fact I was posted back to Oulton on, after my training at the Police Training School because while I was away my wife had managed to get a little cottage. Two up two down across the yard from [laughs] and share a washhouse. That was our home. And then in, that was in ’49 I joined the police. Then I was posted to Christchurch which was then in Hampshire and I did — I was there until February ’52. And during that time I was a bit lucky with — there was a very good detective constable there who and I had a few lucky arrests and things like that. He took me under his wing and I came back then to Fareham as a detective constable after less than three years’ service which was unheard of in those days.
IL: Right.
KW: But we were at Fareham. Then from Fareham I was posted to Havant. And [unclear] used to move every two years and they provided a house for you. For Havant. And I remained there until 1957. And Havant, then Leigh Park was I don’t know if you know about, you don’t know the area.
IL: I don’t know the area. I’m sorry.
KW: Terrific estate. Built for Portsmouth people really.
IL: Right.
Other: It was, when it was built it was the biggest council estate in Europe.
KW: Yeah.
IL: Oh gosh.
KW: And that was being built up and I was a DC covering Havant, Hayling Island, Emsworth, Purbrook and Waterlooville. That one DC then and I I then got an aid. Dick Barton.
Other: Good name.
IL: He was a good man. A good man. He was. He wouldn’t take his exams for a long long time. Mainly because he, he didn’t, he’d found the bungalow over here because his wife had [pause] what was it she had?
Other 2: I think I’ve got [pause] I don’t know.
Other: She was disabled wasn’t she?
KW: She was disabled.
IL: Right. Ok.
KW: So, they, they were able to rent a bungalow for her so he didn’t, but he did eventually take his sergeant’s exam and he later became a sergeant. We were friends until, well his wife passed away and then he could visit. We came down here and he would visit Pam and myself every week for a meal.
IL: Oh lovely.
KW: So, and he was a good man. Anyway, where had I got to.
Other: You were in Havant. You were a DC in Havant.
KW: A DC. And then I was promoted to detective sergeant. They made a detective sergeant at Havant with six constables. They had two of us were running it at that stage. But all hours. All hours. I enjoyed them but and then I went over to Winchester in ’57 as a detective sergeant. And I passed my inspector’s exams and in 1960 I was the first one actually attached from Hampshire to New Scotland Yard and on a branch they set up with half Metropolitan and half from mainly the Home Counties. But ours was not a true Home County but I was the first for them.
IL: Fantastic.
KW: And I was supposed to have been there for two years as a detective inspector but in fact they kept me there for four years. During that time we lived at Aldershot, didn’t we? And I travelled up. Well, I took my our own car which caused some problems with some of the metropolitan officers because they provided me with a, that was when the Yard was on the Embankment there.
IL: Yeah.
KW: With a parking place for my car as they did with all the other county officers who were attached. And of course that left the police with nowhere [laughs] to park. But no it was it was good, good unit.
IL: Yeah.
KW: It was a good unit and worked hard. And then I came back to Gosport. That was ’64. I was detective inspector there. And during that time I took a team across to Jersey to assist with a murder out there.
IL: Gosh.
KW: And then in, it was ’64 or ’67 the amalgamation of Portsmouth, Southampton and Hampshire took place and I was promoted to detective chief inspector and posted to Aldershot where I remained until ’69. Then I was promoted detective chief superintendent, detective superintendent sorry. Not chief. Covering the whole of the north of Hampshire. It was divided by three and one, one headquarters and then — when have I got to? ’69 an that was the north, then but ’71 I came in to headquarters as a deputy head of CID in the county.
IL: Gosh.
KW: And I eventually retired December 1974. And I started in January immediately with the MOD as an investigating officer there.
IL: Yeah.
KW: And, well, during which time when I was at headquarters as detective superintendent in the job I took then. We had quite a, we were talking about MI5.
IL: Yeah.
KW: With them because I had special branch in the county and we had good liaison with them. With MI5. Also, once or twice a year they threw a party up there where drink flowed freely.
IL: Yes. It was a good party.
KW: Anyway, and then I got a promotion. I went then to Grade 1 and was then attached to the RAF security.
IL: Right. It came full circle almost.
KW: Yeah.
Other: Yeah.
KW: And then I was responsible for the south of the county to the other.
Other: South of the country.
KW: South of the country. From North Wales across to Essex.
IL: Right.
KW: And so, and I was rather amazed after having been a sergeant in the RAF but the first function I was invited to with Pam was, I went to the mess. They said accommodation in the mess. I got there and I found that the accommodation I had was a wing commander’s [laughs] because my grade —
IL: Yes.
KW: In the civil service was equivalent to a wing commander’s. So we took a rapid rise from sergeant to —
IL: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, you know.
KW: At the time. There we are. Eventually I did ten years at that and things were getting a bit much for me because of my heart really. And so, that’s when I had the triple bypass.
IL: Fantastic. So you had, so you had two very successful careers. Well, three actually. As a grocer as well.
KW: Yeah [laughs] So, but, better than all that I had three good sons. There’s two of them here now.
IL: I’ll just flick this off again.
[recording paused]
IL: So, restarting.
KW: Right. Do you want the names of them all?
IL: No. But I think it’s quite interesting, you know how you kept in touch and kept contact after the war.
KW: Kept in touch. As I say we weren’t all that long together but we became a family. And I have, we kept in touch after the war and a couple of the New Zealanders, we had three New Zealanders in the crew and two of them came over with their wives and with their families. And even the great grandchildren of one of the New Zealanders had been. And there was one picture in one of those books. I’ve got some somewhere where we had, while they were over here we had meetings with all of us who were still about. And, you know it’s wonderful. And when I lost her, Pam it was family flowers only and the New Zealanders ignored it. They sent a wreath, ‘”From your New Zealand family.”
IL: That is wonderful.
KW: But we became very very close. You know.
IL: When did you first, when did you first start? Or did you just continue to always meet up? Or was there a sort of time when you had your first reunion? Or —
KW: Well, the 100 Group, those of us who were alive or still in England which was with mainly Smithy, Alan Mercer and myself we, we joined the 100 Group Association and we three went up to the Memorial they, they put up at Oulton.
IL: Right.
KW: That was erected there for all that had flown from Oulton. It’s still there. They meet every night, every year.
IL: Right.
KW: Pam and I and Alan and Smithy have been up various time but the New Zealanders they’ve never been over when as I say unfortunately through the years they’ve gradually all —
IL: Right.
KW: Passed away.
IL: But was this, as I say did you, did you meet as a group and join the Association immediately after the war?
KW: No.
IL: Or was this much much later? So, when was the Association formed? Just roughly. It doesn’t have to be an exact day. Was this the 60s or earlier? Or —
KW: Yeah. Later that that I think.
IL: Oh right. Ok.
KW: ’94 I think the Memorial stone was put up.
IL: Right.
KW: And —
IL: So, was that, was that the first time you got together after the war?
KW: No. No. No. We’d been together.
IL: Or were you continuing to sort of see each other on a fairly regular basis.
KW: Yeah. Yeah. As soon as someone from abroad, from New Zealand they were the ones that came. As soon as we knew we got in touch with the other and those who were available.
IL: Yeah.
KW: We’d meet up with them. We’d arrange where we’d meet. You know, the New Zealanders stayed here during their visit and so we were able to get together somewhere and that sort of carried on from there. And Christmas exchanges and things like that a couple of times a year.
Other: Was the squadron quite, quite typical — or your aircraft quite typical of most others with the number of Commonwealth airmen?
KW: Well, yeah, they were, it was fairly well mixed because —
Other: You had three New Zealanders.
KW: Well, in our crew.
Other: Yeah.
KW: Some of the others are Canadians.
Other: Yeah.
KW: And Australians. Altogether.
Other: Yeah. Yeah.
KW: The Australians. Some of them lost their pay as soon as they got it [laughs]
IL: Yeah. The crew. You said that there was six of them and you guys joined. Were the six a transfer as a crew or had they been —
KW: No. They transferred in. They’d done their operational training.
IL: Right.
KW: As a crew.
IL: Right.
KW: But —
IL: So, had they done their operational training on B-17s or had they done their operational training on Lancasters?
KW: I’m not sure exactly.
IL: Oh, ok. Ok.
KW: Alan went on. The navigator. When we were redundant he was transferred to another squadron. A Stirling squadron taking stuff over to Germany and Holland. You know we were dropping supplies at that point.
IL: Oh yes. Operation Manna which was —
KW: But I had nothing — no part of that.
IL: Because it’s interesting that you know we hear stories of people who you know, twenty pilots, twenty flight engineers, twenty gunners, sorry twenty, you know mid-gunners, twenty rear gunners just put in and they’d go around. And, you know they’d choose who they want and it sort of smacked to me a little bit of, you know being the kid nobody wanted in the football team. You know, it was a sort of, it sounded like a pretty horrendous sort of thing to have to go through.
KW: I think you do find your place in it really I suppose. But with our crew it certainly worked out anyway. Well Freddie, the main one. The other waist gunner he’d been the same with me at Dalcross and then the Senior NCO School afterwards and we were two that were called out so. But his son is still in touch with me. And —
Other: Didn’t Freddie blame poor health, back problems on rough landings?
KW: Well, rough landing. Yeah. Yeah.
IL: Well, I can imagine. I can imagine. How did.
KW: I mentioned early on about the difference between the —
IL: Oh yes.
KW: The 303 and the .5. Well, Curly, that’s Herlihy, Herlihy was his name but he was also often also known as Curly and Duke. His name was Maddox. Curly was the mid-upper gunner who had a turret. Curly had, you know Duke was the rear gunner who sat on virtually a motorcycle saddle with a gun position. Of course ours, there were no turrets in the waist. They were just gunner positions. And Curly one day after a firing exercise did what he shouldn’t have done. Swung the gun around and it was pointed at the rear and fired. Fired a round which went through about a foot above Duke’s head. So, they weren’t very friendly for a little while [laughs] Luckily it did no damage.
IL: Did anything happen to him?
KW: Pardon?
IL: Did anything happen? Or any formal action or anything.
KW: No. No. It was just —
Other: Nobody said anything.
KW: Just, it was just the repair was —
IL: Goodness me.
KW: But, and then on another occasion we had a fire, or there was a report of a fire in the bomb bay where this electrical equipment was. But all it was was that one of the junctions had caught fire and managed to carry on, out. But on that occasion because it was just an air test. Two of them hadn’t taken their parachutes with them.
IL: Right.
KW: So, they were a little bit anxious.
IL: I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised.
KW: Yes, well we used to go out as a group regardless of rank and that, and certainly the special observer never, never joined in that sort of thing. The special operator. And on one occasion we were coming back from the village and some of us had station bikes and some didn’t. And I had Alan Mercer, the navigator on my crossbar. And we came out and Curly again took a wide range and there was a couple of WAAFs coming back the opposite way and of course one collided with me and Alan went and Alan in fact had a small fracture of the skull. All I had was water on the knee. The WAAF had a cut across her head, and I got, appeared before the CO for causing injury to a warrant officer and a WAAF. But they took no action.
IL: I can imagine. I can imagine. Just put that down again.
[recording paused]
KW: Well, it was nothing to do with me but we got picked up by a searchlight and we knew we had to get out of it quickly. The skipper decided he was going to corkscrew a Fortress. It was a corkscrew procedure, but God did it shake you all up. But we managed to get out of the lights anyway because at that time they had some lights which automatically fixed on you and would remain on you. Sort of radar controlled I suppose. We missed it so we then resumed our flight.
IL: Right.
KW: It was a little bit, and that was the only time the navigator had ever been sick in the air. He made a mess over his mask but luckily he had a spare.
IL: But this was, this was what I was saying a little bit earlier you know that I, you know, obviously this is your, you know this is what you trained for but it‘s sort of it’s interesting isn’t it that you know that Germany was, it was only, it was a matter of few days you almost you know.
KW: Yeah. Yeah.
IL: Probably. Was VE day something like the 11th of May. 7th or 8th of May.
KW: 8th yeah.
IL: Six days before and you know a country that is almost on its knees. Obviously we didn’t know at the time but with hindsight you know we’re still as you say seeing jet fighters. Were still operating a coherent air defence.
KW: Yes.
IL: You know. It doesn’t, I think that’s the fascinating thing about the fact that so late on.
KW: Yeah.
IL: You know they were still such a coherent organisation.
KW: Yeah.
IL: I think that’s the fascinating, you know a particular fascination —
KW: Yeah.
IL: Of talking to yourself. That, you know you were a part, they were a very — I don’t know, certainly Peter was, Peter Jones was very keen to sort of get some information about the, you know the later part of the war. I think this is the fascination as I say that the Germans were still able to put up a coherent air defence.
KW: Yeah. Yeah.
IL: At a time when you expect them to be on their knees and it would be a walkover almost.
KW: Yeah.
Other 2: Yeah.
Other: But the, the jet was Messerschmitt 262s weren’t they? I think they were twin, twin-engine jets. I think we were just about starting on the Meteor, weren’t we? Which I think was a single engine jet at the time. So, they were well advanced with the jet aircraft.
KW: Yeah.
Other: The Germans.
KW: Yeah. Well, I think the whole idea was if they could was to get across to Denmark.
IL: Right.
KW: That’s where they were pulling for. To sort of resume the battle from there. But I don’t know. But the other thing that I am a little disappointed in the RAF that I only did three ops. I know that. Nothing compared with some but I haven’t got the aircrew medal. The clasp.
IL: Right.
Other: Bomber. Bomber Command clasp.
KW: Bomber Command clasp. Yeah. Because they say, the person who drew up the plans for it said it should be worn on the ’39 ’45 Star and you had to do sixty days on the squadron to get that, and one operation. But although I’ve done three I didn’t do sixty days so they —well Ken and I’ve written all over the place and Ken wrote to the local MP and things like that but they said no. That was the ruling.
IL: Right.
KW: I’ve got the France and Germany for it but why couldn’t that be —
IL: Absolutely.
KW: Fitted on that and they just ignore that and so there we are.
IL: It’s just one example of a lot of the sort of inequities of the — you know. It’s a personal one but obviously Bomber Command itself had you know. —
KW: Well —
IL: Didn’t get, didn’t get it’s recognition.
KW: No. No. No.
IL: Did you or your friends have any particular feelings about that?
KW: Well, not only myself and my friends but numbers of others have certainly had.
IL: Absolutely.
KW: But it wasn’t recognised. There we are.
Other: Well, when you look at the death rates.
KW: Yeah.
Other: You know. The casualty rates were huge, weren’t they?
KW: Yeah.
KW: They certainly were.



Ian Locker, “Interview with Kenneth White,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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