Interview with Ken Souter


Interview with Ken Souter


Kenneth Souter was born in Sunderland. His father ran a business importing wooden pit props. Kenneth learned to fly at Cambridge, and his first air experience flight was on the 5th of July 1939, and after training he went solo on the 31st of July 1940 flying a Hawker Hart. After completing advanced training he joined 43 Squadron flying Hurricanes. He flew off HMS Furious to North Africa, and joined 73 Squadron. After flying many aircraft types and on fighter operations and having to contend with flying in the desert he flew back to the UK. He was posted to RAF Usworth on his return. He was attached to the Royal Navy target towing with Martinet aircraft, and in 1945 he was seconded to the Royal Navy flying amongst other aircraft the Seafire. He left the RAF after the war, and re-joined in 1951. He took part in Battle of Britain flypasts and in 1953 took part in bombing missions flying Lincolns against the communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency. Whilst flying as a display pilot he took part in the filming of the Dam Busters film flying Lancasters which involved low flying. He flew Canberras in 61 Squadron and he continued flying after he had left the RAF.







01:32:07 Audio Recording

Conforms To


IBCC Digital Archive


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TS: For coffee. Ok.
[recording paused]
DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell and the interviewee is Ken Souter. Ken’s son Tony Souter is also present and the interview is taking place at Mr Souter’s home in Morden in Surrey on the 10th of July 2021. Ok. Ken, maybe you could start off by saying a bit about what you can remember about where you were born and growing up and your childhood.
KS: When I was born?
DM: Yeah.
KS: Oh. Well, that must have been 1918 I think, and I was living, my parents were living in Amberley Street. That’s in, well not the rough end but you know not very much up and up in Sunderland. Eventually moved to a better house, and still in Sunderland, but by Seaburn was the seaside part of the operation. From there I went to school there at the Argyle House, I don’t think. I can’t remember the name of the school. It’ll come to me maybe.
DM: Yeah. Don’t worry.
KS: Something. But it was just a private school, and I stayed there until I was about probably fifteen, sixteen, and we moved to various houses. Moved from one house to another, but still in Sunderland and my father had a, well it was a big company for buying and selling props. What are called props. The props were —
TS: He was importing timber wasn’t he from Finland to be used as pit props in the mines?
KS: Pardon?
TS: He was importing timber from Finland and Norway.
KS: Correct. Yeah.
TS: To be used as pit props for the, for the coal mines in the area.
KS: For the what?
TS: The coal mines.
KS: Correct.
TS: Yeah. Yeah.
KS: That’s right. Yeah.
TS: So, he had, he had a couple, I think he ended up buying a couple of ships and whatnot.
KS: I think to cut it short we, did we move to, the family moved to Spain?
TS: No. That was much, much later. You moved to Chester. Chester le Street, Chester le Street, which is just down the road from Sunderland.
KS: Oh yeah. Yeah. And then I remember, I remember —
TS: Yeah.
KS: Not much about it.
TS: No. And then you, you went. You joined up. You went to the Air Flying School didn’t you at, were you, actually you were involved in boxing for a little while, weren’t you? You joined a boxing club.
KS: Yeah. That’s right.
TS: Because we had a picture of you.
KS: What? In the, in the, my father’s company where these pit props were imported. They’d come by ship.
TS: Yeah.
KS: And then what they do the pit, they called it the yard which stores all the timber. And then the boxers used to come and train there.
DM: Right.
KS: Yes. Because it’s hard work, you know. You get a lump of props and they put them on their shoulder and stack them up. And I worked with them for exercise, because a lot of the boxers came just for exercise. And from there I can’t really remember very much. I can’t remember very much.
TS: But—
DM: Did you, after you finished education did you go straight into the Air Force or did you do something else first?
KS: I couldn’t say.
TS: I think you worked for your dad for a while, didn’t you? You worked in your dad’s company for a little bit.
KS: Yeah. Not very much.
TS: Right.
KS: Perhaps a year.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Something like that.
TS: Yeah. My memory is that you ended up in Cambridge at the, at the Flying School for aspiring pilots. Is that, would that be correct?
KS: Yeah.
TS: Yeah.
DM: What, what, can you remember why you decided to learn to fly? What prompted you?
KS: I’ve no idea. I was a —
DM: Just a young man’s fancy, I expect.
KS: Yes. It was a toss-up between that and the, and the college for drawing, for art because I was keen on drawing then. And, so I went to work for my father which is quite, well it’s difficult in a way because as the boss’s son I don’t, I hadn’t been naughty with him and all this sort of stuff, you know. You can imagine it. And I just remember then going to South Africa.
TS: No. That was, that’s a long time later.
KS: Was it?
TS: Yeah. A lot happened before you went to South Africa. The Second World War for a start.
KS: Oh.
TS: No. The chronology is much later but maybe David might be interested in what happened when you went to flying school at Cambridge. Ken’s brother was, his older brother joined the Army and became a captain eventually during the war but Ken went off to Cambridge to, to train as a pilot.
DM: Do you have any memories of Cambridge and learning to fly?
KS: Yes. A little bit. Not very much. It’s all boring stuff with biplanes.
DM: Yes. Of course. Yes. Because this would have been in the 1930s, wouldn’t it?
KS: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
TS: I have your first, first flight here, in a, air experience flight on the July the 5th in 1939.
KS: Oh really?
TS: And you were in a de Havilland 82 which is probably a Tiger Moth I should think, isn’t it?
KS: Pardon?
TS: In a de Havilland 82, which might well be a Tiger Moth.
KS: A Tiger Moth. Yeah.
TS: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s when you started your training.
KS: Started what?
TS: That’s when you started your training on the Tiger Moth.
KS: Yes.
TS: And then you went solo. You went solo. It’s here somewhere. First solo in June the 4th in 1940. That was your first solo.
KS: Oh. My solo. Yeah.
TS: Ok.
DM: So, you learned to fly. You got your pilot’s licence. You were in the RAF. Can you remember where you were posted first of all? What, or what job you did? You know, what, were you, did you go into Bomber Command then or was that later?
KS: No. No. It was later. Once you qualified on Tiger Moths and Harts you remember Hart.
DM: Yeah.
KS: Harts. That was the Tiger Moth. Hart. And then the aeroplane you’re going to fly. I forget what it was. It’s just an upbeat from the Tiger Moth. I don’t know what it was.
TS: Yeah. You were on Harts.
KS: Harts.
TS: Yeah. Your first solo on a Hart was in July 31st in 1940.
KS: Yeah. I joined the Air Force. It was around about that time, I think. I did training. Funnily enough down here, across the road there was my initial training where at the time there were not all that many pilots around so you could apply to go as a pilot, or not. I’m wrong. I said that wrong. You could apply to, at school you could apply to go into various things and I applied to [pause] I forget what it was now. I can’t remember.
TS: So, the Cambridge flying was like a, like a Cadet Corps presumably.
KS: That was training.
TS: Like a training Squadron.
KS: Yeah.
TS: Yeah. And looking at your logbooks here when you went on to the Hart —
KS: Yes.
TS: That was when you had started serious fighter pilot training and they taught you aerobatics, and combat flying and all that sort of stuff on the Hart.
KS: That’s correct.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Yeah.
DM: So, at some time, you must then have been trained to fly multiple engine aircraft because you ended up flying multiple engine aircraft so you would have.
KS: Sorry. I’m not with you.
DM: Well, you were flying single engine aircraft. Learning aerobatics and all that.
KS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DM: And then ultimately you ended up flying aircraft with four engines. So, you would have had some additional training.
KS: Yes.
DM: Before that happened.
KS: Correct. Yeah.
DM: But that wasn’t at Cambridge, or was it?
TS: If I could help you out here. It’s, there was a long gap between him flying fighters and bombers.
DM: Right.
TS: The fighter pilot stuff was all during the Second World War, and you can come on to where he was —
DM: Yes.
TS: Later on.
DM: So, in, in the Second World War when you’d completed your training what, what did you get? What were you flying then? What were you posted to fly?
KS: The heaviest one I flew I think was a Hart. A Hart. It’s a sort of forerunner of the Spitfire I think really. It was very difficult. It was difficult to fly. Yeah. So that’s, and then, I was on the BNF.
TS: Yeah. You went on to, I mean Harts and I think the Audax, which I think were similar aircraft. And from the Hart you went on to, to fly Hurricanes.
KS: Oh. Was it?
TS: Yeah.
KS: Oh.
KS: So, in October 1940 you were on, converted on to Harvards, training aircraft.
KS: Oh.
KS: And then from Harvards you went. Your first flight was on a Hurricane was on October the 20th 1940. So, you were training on Hurricanes for quite a while before you got posted.
KS: The forerunner to a Hurricane.
TS: No. No. You were on Hurricanes in, in October 1940.
DM: And where was that?
TS: Just having a look [pause] 43 Squadron.
KS: 43 Squadron.
TS: Yeah. Does that ring a bell?
KS: Oh yes. Yes.
TS: So, I think, I think all is, at some point he was posted to 43 Squadron with Hurricanes and completed his training on those.
KS: Yeah. 43 Squadron. You’ve got to remember there weren’t all that many aeroplanes available.
TS: No.
KS: And the people like the guy that [pause] I don’t know. A lot of famous people, I can’t remember who they were.
TS: Well, in the meantime there was the Battle of Britain, of course.
KS: That’s right. Yes.
TS: Which you missed out on.
KS: Yeah. I was stationed down at, after —
TS: There you go.
KS: I was stationed at the, on the, all the pilots of the Battle of Britain were based around London.
TS: Yeah.
KS: And I was on, I was flying there but I wasn’t, I wasn’t —
TS: You weren’t part of the Battle of Britain because you were still training.
KS: No.
TS: Yeah. Ok. So, I’ve got you flying with 43 Squadron until January the 9th in 1941, when your Squadron was shipped out to North Africa. Do you remember that?
KS: No.
TS: Yeah. You do. You’ve told me often about it.
KS: Eh?
TS: You’ve told me a lot about it in the past so —
KS: Have I? [laughs]
TS: Yeah. You were put on an aircraft carrier.
KS: Yeah.
TS: Yeah. You remember that.
KS: Just. Yeah.
TS: So, tell us about that.
KS: Well, I got a lot of my grey hairs there on this aircraft carrier. It was terrifying [laughs] because you go balling down the runway and the end of ship approaches very quickly, and you sort of quickly visualise going under the water [laughs] It’s terrifying.
TS: So, I’ve got your logbook here. You ferried your Hurricane down to Tangmere.
KS: Tangmere. Yes.
TS: Yeah.
KS: That was a big Battle of Britain station.
TS: And then in, as I say in January 1941 your Hurricanes were put on board HMS Furious.
KS: Furious. Yeah.
TS: On the way to North Africa.
KS: Yeah. David, do you want all this small talk?
DM: Oh yes. That’s fine.
KS: Yeah.
DM: Yeah. It’s all interesting stuff.
TS: Right. So, so, you were bundling along in the aircraft carrier. At some point —
KS: Yeah.
TS: Some guys flew off to Malta along with your best mate who went to Malta and you went a little further and flew off to Africa.
KS: Yes.
TS: And through a very circuitous rate ended up in the, in the northern desert.
KS: Yeah.
TS: Yeah. Led by a, it says, your logbook says you were led by a Blenheim. So, at some point a Blenheim must have picked the Squadron up, and led you on this circuitous route through, through Nigeria and parts of Africa.
KS: We were led because a lot of the part was no, no maps.
TS: Yeah.
KS: So, you followed the Blenheim. That’s why they were there.
TS: And hoping that they didn’t get lost.
KS: Yeah.
TS: The Blenheim presumably had a navigator on board.
KS: Yeah.
TS: With a map.
KS: Correct. Yeah.
TS: Ok.
DM: Do you have any memories of your time in the desert?
KS: Pardon?
DM: Do you have any memories of your time in the desert?
KS: Well, yeah. There’s not much to write about. Sand and more sand and more sand, and then it gets into the trees. Yeah. I remember it very well. Lived in tents. [unclear] I just continued flying training and we, I think we, yeah, I don’t know how long I flew in the desert. About six months, I think. Or a year.
TS: Yeah. You joined 73 Squadron in the desert.
KS: Oh. Did I?
TS: Yeah. Yeah [pause] but you also did a lot of test flying didn’t you of repaired aircraft that you were flying quite a bit? The photographs that we have from that time shows you flying a number of different types of aircraft that had been repaired.
KS: I think I must have flown into Africa like we just discussed and eventually went back to England.
TS: Well, that was much later on so we’re going to cover the time in the desert now.
KS: Well, there’s not much to tell you really.
TS: Right. It was just routine operational stuff in the desert.
KS: Yes.
TS: Patrols and —
KS: That’s right.
DM: Yeah. Looking at the logbook it’s —
KS: Yeah.
DM: It’s patrols and convoy patrols and —
KS: Yes. Routine stuff.
DM: Patrol over enemy prison camp. I assume that was a prison camp where —
KS: Yeah.
DM: Your enemies were rather than enemy. And I see you flew to Tobruk.
KS: Tobruk.
DM: Yeah. So, all the sort of and Sidi Barrani, and I see you’ve got, you’ve written down here in your logbook which was in April 1941, “Chased some JU87s but too late.”
KS: What’s it say?
TS: Chased, “Chased some JU87s.”
KS: Oh yeah.
TS: But too late.
KS: Oh [laughs] really.
DM: So obviously they were too far in front of you. And then you say on the next day you got hit by Jerry ack ack.
KS: Oh, was I?
DM: You had quite an eventful time really. And then there was a gentleman. You said Bill Wills was killed by ground strafing.
KS: Yes.
DM: Was he —
KS: Where was he killed?
DM: While ground, while ground strafing. So, he obviously crashed, or was shot down, I imagine.
KS: What was his name?
DM: Bill Wills.
KS: Oh yes. I remember him very well. He was a very nice guy. Was he shot down?
DM: Yes. And killed it says.
KS: Oh.
DM: Yes.
KS: Well, there was a period of [unclear] weather.
DM: Yeah. And then I don’t know if you remember this at the end of April you went sick with acute tonsilitis.
KS: Got what?
DM: Acute tonsilitis.
KS: Tonsilitis.
DM: Yes. Probably the dry air or something I expect and all that sand.
KS: Really?
TS: Yeah. He had a big issue which dogged him right through his flying career of ear infection which probably was about that time and he ended up in Cairo Hospital and was off flying for quite a while. And, and that eventually when he, when he returned to civil flying much, much, much later that eventually did him and he had to give up his licence because of his ear problem. What’s interesting, I don’t know whether, whether Ken will be able to remind you of he had a big accident with his Hurricane trying to take off in a sand storm. Do you remember that?
KS: What was that?
TS: You had a big accident in your, in your Hurricane while trying to take off in a sandstorm and you hit a truck.
KS: Oh.
TS: And the story goes.
DM: Oh yes. It’s in here. That was on the, that was an eventful month, April. That’s was 8th of April in 1941, “Wiped off Hurricane taking off in sandstorm.”
KS: Ah yeah. I remember.
TS: The back story, do you want to hear the back story of that?
DM: Yeah.
TS: If you remember something, just cut me off and butt in but the story you told me a while ago —
KS: Couldn’t be reliable.
TS: Was that you were, one of your pilots had landed out in the desert and you and another pilot had seen where he was and you were going back to pick him up. And there was some urgency to get back there and hence you were committed to taking off in this sand storm which was in hindsight probably not a good idea. But the idea was to go and rescue this other pilot, and apparently that used to happen quite a bit. Pilots used to land out and they’d climb in another, sit on the other pilot’s knee as they flew back. So, I think that’s, if I remember rightly that’s what you were doing at the time. And there are some interesting pictures of what you did to the Hurricane. And the clock that I have of yours came from your crashed Hurricane if you remember.
KS: Yeah.
DM: That would be one of the famous Smith’s clocks, would it?
TS: Yeah.
DM: Yeah.
TS: I’ve not got a picture of it here but I’ve got it at home. Yeah. It was one of a number of accidents actually [laughs] he had out there because he was, he was test flying repaired aircraft and there are pictures in his albums of him landing with a trail of smoke out of the engines and engines catching fire and all sorts of things.
DM: Yeah. And I see in here that you started to fly other aircraft. Particularly when you were posted to the Met flight in Khartoum. That’s when you started to fly Lysanders. A Valencia on one occasion.
KS: Oh really? A Valencia.
DM: And Blenheims as well.
KS: Oh God.
DM: So, you were starting to get some practice on different aircraft then.
KS: I don’t remember much of that. Where was that? In Africa?
DM: That was in Africa. That was still, that was in May 1941.
KS: ’41.
DM: Yeah.
KS: Oh right.
DM: Yeah. You had a few hours on all, on all of those. And then that continued on into June. You sort of, I guess this is when you were starting to test aircraft because in, in June you flew Hurricane, Blenheim, Valencia, Tomahawk, Blenheims again, and then back to the Hurricanes again. So, you know, you were, you were flying a multitude of aircraft. Mainly the Hurricane.
KS: Yes.
DM: Mainly.
KS: It was. Yeah. It was mainly Hurricane.
DM: So, you, how do you remember when you came home from Africa or did you go somewhere else first?
KS: No. I came straight back to the UK. I can’t remember when it was.
TS: You flew to Portugal, I think. In a Sunderland.
KS: Oh, that would be taking me home.
TS: Yeah. This is what we’re talking about.
KS: Oh yes.
TS: I think after your ear infection I think you were taken off flying duties and —
KS: Yeah.
TS: Is that right?
KS: Probably something to do with that.
TS: Is that right. Yeah. There are pictures of you in Cairo Hospital with lots of nurses around.
KS: Oh yeah [laughs]
TS: And the odd, according to your photo album, the odd floozy here and there.
KS: Was what?
TS: The odd floozy. Which is a term we don’t hear nowadays.
DM: Yeah, because you were still flying in December 1941 in the desert. You were, you were sort of doing a lot of test flying on Hardys, Kittyhawks, Tomahawks which you seemed to fly in Tomahawks quite a lot.
KS: Yes. It was at one time. I can’t remember why.
DM: Test flights I think it says.
KS: That would make sense to me.
DM: Yeah. Yeah. On one occasion in a Kittyhawk it says you overshot into bushes.
KS: Oh no. No. Really?
DM: It doesn’t sound like you, does it? No. I can’t believe that.
TS: I’m surprised they had bushes in the desert actually.
DM: Well, yeah. Well, I think —
TS: There can’t have been many.
DM: I don’t know where we are now. We’re obviously still out there somewhere.
KS: Yeah. There are. Little clumps.
TS: Yeah. Little, little shrubs aren’t they?
KS: Yeah. Yeah.
DM: It mentions Wadi Halfa.
KS: Wadi Halfa, yeah. I remember that.
DM: And it says you flew something called a Lodestar as well.
KS: A lodestar.
DM: Yeah. L O D E S T A R.
KS: I don’t remember that.
TS: An American transport plane, I think.
DM: Oh right.
KS: Possibly.
DM: Obviously, you must, I think, I mean there’s a gap. So, you were continually flying in the desert up until February 1942.
KS: Yes.
DM: And then you don’t fly again until May. So that may well I presume have been when you were in hospital probably, do you think?
KS: It’s possible.
DM: 1942.
TS: I think.
DM: Yeah.
KS: I probably went home to the UK.
DM: You were, well once you started again you were still. No. You were still [Wadi Natrun] or something. So you —
KS: Wadi Halfa.
DM: Wadi Halfa. Yes. You were, you were, after your, your enforced break you were still out there in June 1942. So, you were away from home for a long time.
KS: Yeah. I spent quite a bit of time in the desert.
DM: Yes.
TS: Look, that’s Ken in 1942.
DM: He looks like a film star.
TS: Doesn’t he. Yeah. Do you recognise him?
KS: No.
TS: No. Ok.
[Needs to be excused. Recording paused]
DM: Ok. So eventually you came back to the UK.
KS: Yes.
DM: And according to your logbook the first part of the journey was in a Sunderland. In a Flying Boat.
KS: Yes. That was when we went to [pause] where’s that holiday resort?
DM: Lisbon No. No.
KS: Yeah. There. Around there.
DM: Yeah. And then you sort of, you came home. You came home from there. So it says here that you flew from Cairo to Khartoum.
KS: Yeah.
DM: Then from Khartoum to Lagos.
KS: Oh, Lagos. In the desert.
DM: Yeah. Then to Bathurst which I always thought was in Australia, but there’s obviously another one somewhere. And then from Bathurst to Lisbon. Then from Lisbon to Foynes in Ireland.
KS: To where?
DM: Foynes in Ireland. I expect it was a refuelling stop.
KS: Sounds —
DM: And then, then to Poole. I imagine the one in Dorset where all the rich people live.
KS: [laughs] I don’t remember much about that.
DM: So, I assume when you came back you must have had some leave.
KS: Yeah.
DM: And where, were your parents, where, would they still be living up in the north east then?
TS: I think so because his dad would be a Reserved Occupation wouldn’t it, for the —
KS: Yes.
TS: For the coal mines.
DM: Yeah, and he might have been a bit old anyway then.
KS: Yes. Up north. Up north. Sunderland.
DM: Yes.
KS: That’s right. Yeah.
DM: So then after —
KS: I went to Usworth.
DM: Right.
KS: There. Where is that near? Usworth. Have you heard of it? Usworth.
DM: I was waiting for you to tell me where it was near because —
KS: Eh?
DM: I’ve heard of it but I’ve no idea where it is.
KS: That’s, well, it’s northeast. Newcastle. That way.
DM: Right. Yeah. You don’t sound like a Geordie, you see.
KS: No. But there was [laughs] I don’t, I don’t suppose I was home long enough to get the accent.
DM: No. That’s probably true. That’s probably true. So, after that you started, I think you did some test flights and reconnaissance flights and some photography flights as well in a, in a Prefect which I always thought was a car but obviously there was —
KS: A what?
DM: Was there an aircraft called a Prefect. Do you remember that?
KS: Yeah. I’ve heard of that. I can’t remember what it looked like. A Prefect.
TS: If you look at the front there’s some pictures of the planes he flew on. I don’t know whether it’s there.
DM: What have we got? Let’s have a look.
[recording paused]
DM: So, you come back home. Had your leave and then you start sort of like a new chapter in your Royal Air Force career, and I see that one of the things you were doing was target towing.
KS: Oh yes.
DM: Was that in Scotland?
KS: Yeah. I think so. Yeah.
DM: Did you have any sticky moments with people hitting the aircraft or anything like that?
KS: I don’t think so. No. No. I don’t [laughs] There might have been. I can’t remember having one.
KS: And I imagine that was mainly low-level stuff.
KS: No. No. Not necessarily. I think. No. It was just normal flight, you know. Perhaps maybe up to ten thousand feet. Something like that.
DM: Right. And then you did a lot of, you have to help me out here one of you, CCG duties. Is it coast guard or something do you think?
DM: Yeah. It was in a Martinet.
KS: CCG. Was it a flying thing?
DM: Yeah. It says that the duty was CCG.
TS: It would be Coast Guard, wouldn’t it?
DM: I think it must have been. Yeah.
TS: Yeah. Yeah.
KS: I don’t know what it, what it stands for.
DM: It must have been Coast Guard work I would imagine.
TS: So, it was up near Scapa, well the Orkneys would have been Scapa Flow, isn’t it? Up in that direction?
DM: And then there’s a lot where you’re doing, obviously I assume this is a route. Some Y Line, Z Line, X Line. Things like that.
KS: What?
DM: Y line, Z Line, X Line. I don’t know what they would have been. Whether they were patrols perhaps. They were all about an hour, an hour and a half long.
KS: What did it say?
DM: So, for example, “July the 13th 1943 Martinet. Self and second pilot McGilvary. McGilvary. Y Line. 1 hour.”
TS: Was that to do with target towing do you think? Maybe it’s —
DM: It’s listed among the coast guard stuff so I don’t know.
TS: Whether that’s a patrol route or something. Or —
DM: I think it must have been.
KS: I don’t think it must have been very important.
DM: I think it’s a job for Mr Google.
TS: Yes.
DM: But it was mainly flying the Martinets, and mainly target towing. You did a lot. You seemed to have done a lot of that. Do you remember who you were providing target practice for? Was it, I suppose it was trainee fighter pilots was it? Or was it for bombers?
TS: I think a lot of it was for the Royal Navy, wasn’t it?
DM: Oh right. Well, that would make sense because it was obviously over the sea by the sound of it.
KS: I don’t know. Yeah. Maybe, yeah. Maybe target. I don’t know. Is it in Scotland?
DM: Yeah. We’re still in Scotland, I think. Yes.
KS: Yes.
TS: You had a great times in the Orkneys, didn’t you? There’s a, in your albums there’s a number of pictures of you up in the Orkneys, and you quite enjoyed it there.
KS: What?
TS: You quite enjoyed your time in the Orkneys, in Scotland. I remember you saying because in your albums there’s quite a few pictures of you up there. Usually with floozies of some description.
KS: A what?
TS: I think you had a girlfriend up in, in the Orkneys.
KS: Yeah. I had.
TS: Yeah. And a dog whose name you remembered I think when I last discussed it with you.
KS: Yes.
TS: And here’s the picture.
KS: Oh yeah. That’s the dog.
TS: Yeah. What was the name of the dog?
KS: Butch, I think.
TS: I think it was. You’re right. Yeah.
KS: I think it was Butch.
TS: Yeah. I think it was.
KS: Yeah. That was in the Orkneys.
TS: Yeah. Yeah.
KS: A nice girl.
DM: So, you were up, you were in Scotland for quite some time, and then in 1944 you were doing a lot of air tests of various Martinets and Ansons. It was basically. And something called curve of pursuit crops up from time to time which, is it some sort of navigational exercise maybe? I don’t know.
KS: What is it? What did you say?
DM: Curve of pursuit.
KS: Don’t know.
DM: No.
TS: But that would be some aerial manoeuvre wouldn’t it be? Do you think?
KS: Does it say a lot of that?
DM: There’s a fair few of them.
KS: I must remember then.
DM: So, like in a Master with pilot officer Bullen, curve of pursuit. With Sergeant Clark, curve of pursuit. Always with a different co-pilot or passenger, so it could have been a navigation exercise or something, I guess.
KS: Yeah. I think so.
TS: Well, unless there was some sort of protocol for vectoring pilots onto enemy aircraft or something. There was some sort of protocol for that.
DM: Maybe. I don’t know where you are now when you, when you’re doing this. I imagine you’ve left the Orkneys. We’re in 1944.
KS: Yes.
DM: And then we, we sort of, you then had a, you had a couple more flights in a Hurricane in 1944, in August 1944. Local it says, so —
TS: Does it mention the Seafire in there somewhere?
[recording paused]
DM: So, I see from your logbook that in 1945 —
KS: Yes.
DM: You started flying, you were seconded I imagine to the Fleet Air Arm. To 771 Squadron.
KS: Yes. I remember that.
DM: Do you remember what you did?
KS: No.
DM: Were you testing aircraft? Was that, was that why you were there?
KS: Yes. We were testing aircraft and it was at Oxford. Oxford? The airport near London. Where was —
DM: Right.
TS: Not Duxford?
DM: Oh. Could be Duxford. Duxford?
KS: Where?
DM: Duxford.
KS: Don’t know.
DM: It’s not far from London. It’s Cambridgeshire.
KS: The name seems to ring a bell but I don’t know why.
DM: I mean you were doing all sorts of things there. Like it’s got, “Destroyer. Anti-aircraft. Winged target.” Whether they winged you or you winged them I don’t know.
KS: Oh yeah. Yeah. That was an aeroplane towing a target and the following that is an aeroplane testing out its guns if I remember rightly.
DM: Right.
TS: On the Seafire business there’s an interesting picture here in his album. It’s a drop tank. Drop tank trial on the Seafire Mark 15.
KS: What’s that?
DM: Right.
KS: Drop tank trial on the Seafire.
TS: Yeah. That was part of your NAFDU work, I think.
KD: Oh yes.
DM: Yes. Which we think stood for — NAFDU.
TS: Naval Air, Naval Air —
DM: Force.
TS: Force.
KS: Fighter Unit.
DM: Fighter.
TS: Yeah. Fighter Defence Unit.
KS: Fighter Unit, NAFDU.
DM: Right. Right.
KS: NAFDU. Yeah.
DM: Can you remember what a DBX was?
KS: Pardon?
DM: A DBX. Because you did a, you did three flights to DBX Duke of York which is obviously a ship or a land base because —
KS: No. I don’t know what that is.
DM: DBX. I don’t know what that is. Do you know how you can, this is a very unfair question but do you know how you came to be seconded to the Royal Navy? Why that happened?
TS: It’s perhaps on the back of your test pilot work in North Africa maybe.
KS: Hmmn?
TS: Maybe on the back of your test pilot work in North Africa. I think you had a reputation.
KS: I don’t know. What was the question?
DM: How you came to be in the Royal Navy. Why they moved you across to the Royal Navy.
KS: I don’t know. I think probably it was from the Air Force. Royal Air Force that. I really don’t know.
DM: No.
KS: I don’t know.
DM: You probably, you probably volunteered in inverted commas. That’s what it was. I mean looking, looking at your logbook from the war, so your first stint in the Royal Air Force there are, you’ve, you’ve compiled a list in the back of the aerodromes that you visited during your service.
KS: Oh yes.
DM: And there’s a hundred and twenty three of them.
KS: No.
DM: Yeah. A hundred and twenty three.
KS: I didn’t think there were that number.
DM: No. Range and that’s sort of like ranging from Cambridge of course. In fact, the first one was a place called, it’s near Newcastle. Walsington.
KS: Usworth.
DM: No. It says Walsington here. Or Halsington. I can’t see if it’s a W. I think it’s a W. Walsington I think. But then it was Cambridge which of course was where you did your training as we’ve already seen. And then eventually of course you end up in 1941 in Lagos and that was when —
KS: Lagos.
DM: You started out there.
KS: Yes.
DM: And then so many places out in Africa until you make the flight back via Lisbon and Foynes. And then after that you make your way up to Inverness and then to Tain which I imagine is the place in the Orkneys.
KS: Tain.
DM: T A I N. Tain. It’s in Scotland. It says it’s in Scotland.
KS: Yeah. It rings a bell somehow. Yes.
DM: Yeah.
KS: Tain.
DM: Yeah, and then various places in Scotland, and then ultimately in 1945 you end up in places like Gosport, Westhampnett which is obviously when you were with the Fleet Air Arm.
KS: Yes.
DM: And then I think the last place in the logbook is a place called High Post. Where ever that was.
KS: Is what?
DM: High Post. That was probably part of your demob, I would think. Probably where you flew to finish. So, you did, were you given the opportunity, can you remember at the end of the war?
KS: Yes.
DM: And as you visited a few German airfields and places obviously after the war ended.
KS: Yes.
DM: But were you offered a commission to stay on and refused it or —
KS: I think I had, a commission. I was a flight lieutenant.
DM: Right.
TS: I think that was after the war. When, when you re-joined the RAF for the second time.
DM: Right. So, anyway, you left the Air Force at the end of the war, didn’t you? You took a break from the Air Force.
KS: Take a break. Yeah.
DM: Yeah. What —
KS: I went civil flying.
DM: Right. Right. And what, what, who were you flying for?
TS: I think you’ve got the order mixed up because you went out to South Africa. Do you remember? To visit —
KS: Yeah, with —
TS: With Harry. Your brother.
KS: The family.
TS: No. No. No. With your brother.
KS: Yeah.
TS: Who had a business out there and I think you worked with him for a few years in his engineering business.
KS: I think so.
TS: Yeah. Which was when I was born in 1949. Out there.
KS: Were you born there?
TS: Yeah. And then we came back.
KS: Yeah.
TS: I think the following year. In 1950 or something. And then later on, I think ’54, I think you re-joined the RAF.
DM: It says ’51 in here.
TS: ‘51. ’51.
DM: Yeah. ’51.
TS: That would figure because I was born in ’49 and we came back in 1950 to the UK.
KS: Did I, did I re-join the Air Force then?
TS: Yeah.
DM: Yeah. According to your logbook you re-joined the Air Force, well, you started flying again in March 1951. And the first aircraft that you flew was a Lincoln.
KS: Was it?
DM: Yes.
KS: Lincoln.
DM: Which was quite a new aircraft then. A new type. Well, I mean I know it’s a version of the Lancaster.
KS: Yeah.
DM: But it was a new, a new type.
KS: That’s right. It was.
DM: And a new thing and it was familiarisation and landing, and stalling and asymmetric feathering, and all the multi-engine type stuff, I imagine.
KS: Yes. It was quite a handful.
DM: Yeah. Do you, can you remember why you joined the air, re-joined the Air Force?
KS: I don’t know.
TS: I think you were probably looking for a job, weren’t you? I imagine getting a job in those days was —
KS: Yeah. I, yeah, I thought that why I joined the Air Force was to get some flying in so that I could go civil flying.
DM: Right. That makes sense.
KS: Yeah.
DM: Hence the Lincoln of course because —
TS: Yeah.
DM: It’s a big aircraft.
TS: Yeah. There’s some letters we have in the album from the Air Ministry actually signing him up for his second stint, and with it came a commission to flight lieutenant, and you were signed up for twenty years’ service at the time. And you actually, at the advent of the, of the dawn of the, of the V bombers they were downsizing the Air Force, and they were making crews redundant and I think you took a golden handshake. Early retirement. So, you didn’t actually do the twenty years. You baled out before that.
KS: Silly thing to do, wasn’t it?
TS: Well, not really because that was the beginning of your civil flying career.
KS: Oh.
TS: After that.
KS: Oh, I see. Yeah.
DM: I don’t know. It’s difficult to see from the logbook where you were based. Tangmere is mentioned quite a lot but I don’t think that was your base.
KS: No.
DM: You were flying to and from Tangmere and doing, doing air tests and so on.
TS: I don’t know whether you would get a Lincoln, would you, into Tangmere?
DM: Well, it says [pause] where are we? I can’t find it now, can I? Yes. Oh no. You’re quite right. That was in an Anson. The first, the first Tangmere venture.
TS: Right.
DM: Which would make sense.
TS: I’m only guessing because Tangmere was a fighter, fighter squadron, wasn’t it?
[recording paused]
TS: Yes. You were. You’d, they put you in Bomber Command, and the go to bomber at the time was, was the Lincoln which was a derivation of the Lancaster. A later model of the Lancaster. So, a lot of your time, early time was spent refamiliarizing yourself with a multi-engine plane and doing all the tests. All the tests, and test flying that are associated with flying big heavy bombers. And I think eventually, I mean David will correct me, I think you ended up at Scampton and Hemswell up in East Anglia. In Lincolnshire.
KS: Scampton.
TS: Yeah.
DM: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s right. I think, and that would have been 83 Squadron, wouldn’t it?
TS: Yeah.
DM: That was your Bomber Command Squadron was 83 Squadron, and I think they were based at Scampton at one point. And it mentions here in 1952 you did some Battle of Britain flypasts. Or you did the Battle of Britain flypast. You did a rehearsal.
KS: Yes.
DM: A couple of rehearsals. Including landing at Biggin Hill.
KS: At Biggin Hill.
DM: Yes.
KS: Oh.
TS: It just so happens I have the picture here.
KS: Eh?
DM: Oh yes.
KS: Oh, is that, is that what it is?
TS: That’s the Battle of Britain flypast.
KS: Oh, that’s me in the middle.
TS: In 1952.
KS: That’s 414. That’s right.
TS: Is that right David? Does that tie up with —
DM: That’s the right date. Yeah.
No. But the aircraft.
KS: You can see, you can see the cutback where the bomb —
DM: It’s a Lincoln and it says —
KS: The bomb went out there.
DM: 414.
TS: Yeah. No. No. This was a Lincoln which was, the thing you’re looking at is a radar dome under, under the aircraft. For the Dambusters you use, you use a Lancaster but this is a, this is a later aircraft so the big bulge under the fuselage which you, I think you thought was the bomb is, is a radar dome.
KS: Oh really.
TS: So, this is in 1952 and the, the Lancaster was then redundant. It was obsolete.
KS: Redundant.
TS: Yeah. And this was, this was a new version of it.
KS: Oh.
DM: Basically, I mean we’re continuing on to 1953, and of course you were operational but there was no war on, and it’s mainly instrument testing and sort of just flying from one place to another. But that was when you were based in Hemswell.
KS: Yes.
DM: A number of exercises in crew training and that sort of stuff.
KS: Yes.
TS: Was that a concrete runway at Hemswell then?
KS: Oh yes.
TS: It was.
KS: Yeah.
DM: So —
KS: All the interesting ones are while the war was on.
DM: Yeah. Although, of course, there is a very interesting one coming up which was when you ended up flying for the film of the Dambusters.
KS: Oh yes.
DM: And you were sort of in charge of the group of pilots who were, who were flying the planes for the film, weren’t you?
KS: That’s right. Yes.
DM: Yeah.
KS: Yeah.
TS: But prior to that he was in Malaya doing, doing the stuff in Malaya which you’ll probably come across.
KS: What?
TS: Do you remember going to Malaya? To Singapore.
KS: Pardon?
TS: You went out to Singapore with your Squadron.
KS: Yes.
TS: And you were based in Changi. Do you remember that?
KS: Yeah.
TS: And you were doing bombing missions over, over Malaya to try and suppress the communists who were trying to take over the country there. So, I remember you telling me that you used to, there was a lot of partying going on, and then you would get an instruction to go and bomb. Drop some bombs on some bombs on some coordinate in the jungle on some poor people who were trying to reclaim their country back from the, from the United Kingdom. And then you go back and finish partying. Is that right?
KS: I can’t remember.
TS: No. I shouldn’t think you can.
KS: I can’t remember.
DM: So, that, that’s what they called the Malayan Emergency, wasn’t it? And were you based in Singapore then? Or —
KS: Yeah.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Yeah.
TS: So, you must have flown out. It must be a long trip out from the UK because I remember when we joined you out there for a year we flew from, I think from Croydon in some, some Hermes or something, and it took us about three or four days to reach Singapore going via India. So, when you flew your Lincolns out there it must have taken quite a while to get there. Do you remember that?
KS: I remember going out. Flying the Lincolns out.
TS: Right.
DM: So would that have been in —
KS: Well, we landed at Changi.
TS: That’s right. Yeah.
DM: I’m trying to find out when? Can you remember what year that would have been?
TS: Fifty [pause] fifty. Well, the Dambusters was ’53, I think. So it must have been early 50s.
DM: Oh no. Here we are. No. the Dambusters is ’54 and this was, it was ’53. So you were in the UK in July ’53 doing various RAF Review rehearsals for formation flying and then you were off to Habbaniya in August 1953.
KS: Off to where?
DM: Then to Mauripur, Negombo and then to Tengah, in brackets Singapore.
KS: So, was this flying out there?
DM: Yes. You see, that was, that was your route out I imagine. So, you took a Lincoln. 672 was the aircraft.
KS: Yes. I remember the number.
TS: Do you? Really. That’s his Squadron, David when he was out with the Lincoln.
DM: So, yeah. You had five crew and three passengers on the flight out there.
KS: Oh, was it?
DM: So quite a crowded aircraft I would imagine. And you arrived in, on, I think you finally arrived in Singapore on August the 26th 1953.
TS: So how long would that take to get there?
DM: They set out [pause] I guess it was the 21st so it was [pause] they flew to somewhere called Idris then, and then from Idris to [Habbaniya] the next day. And then the next leg was [Habbaniya] to Mauripur. Mauripur. And then the 24th was Mauripur to Negombo which I assume is in North Africa.
TS: Yeah. Sounds like it.
DM: Sounds like it doesn’t it? Yeah. And then on the 26th from Negombo to Tengah stroke brackets Singapore.
TS: Gosh.
DM: And then it’s —
TS: It must have been a very boring flight.
DM: Well, yeah. And then you didn’t fly for five days after that, and then on the 31st you and the five crew did a cross country navigation exercise.
KS: What was that?
DM: That was, so after you arrived in Singapore, they gave you five days off.
KS: Oh.
DM: And then you went on a navigation exercise.
KS: Oh.
DM: And then four days later was your first bombing mission. So, you [pause] and then, then still out there you did a Battle of Britain flypast in September.
KS: Where?
DM: Well, I assume you were still, you must have still been still been out in Singapore because there’s no mention of any transit flight or anything. I suppose, outposts of the empire.
TS: Yeah. Yeah.
KS: Yeah. I don’t remember that.
DM: Frighten the locals you know [laughs]
KS: I don’t remember that at all.
TS: I remember visiting the airfield when you were there and they had an aircraft called a Beverley which was a huge transport aeroplane, an ugly thing, and they used to do parachute drops over the, over the airfield which for a, you know for a young kid was very exciting.
KS: I don’t remember.
TS: Well, you were probably off doing something else but it was a very busy airfield. It’s now, it’s now of course the main international airport in Singapore.
KS: At Singapore.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Yeah.
DM: So, in 19, on the 13th of November you probably won’t remember this but I’ll give it a go. You were involved in an air sea rescue search off Singapore.
KS: Oh.
TS: I don’t remember that either.
KS: I don’t remember.
DM: Two and a half hours that was.
KS: How long did it last?
DM: Two and a half hours. It doesn’t say you found anybody but, and then you did some more strike flying and then —
KS: Air Sea rescue.
DM: Yeah. Somebody must have come down in the drink, I guess. You went to Hong Kong in December. And then you, you came home in January 1954 and again that was another very long flight. You took off on the 7th of January from Tengah to Negombo. Then from Negombo to Mauripur the next day. Mauripur to Bahrain. Then Bahrain to Fayid. Fayid to Idris and Idris to Hemswell. So, you were actually six days flying back.
KS: Really? Six days.
DM: These days you’d be about eleven or twelve hours wouldn’t you, you know?
TS: Yes. Yeah.
DM: So then then you were back home and you were made a flight commander. Do you remember that? In February 1954.
KS: What was it?
DM: You were made flight commander.
KS: Oh, I can’t remember.
DM: Do you have a recollection of that?
KS: No.
TS: What does a flight commander do? [pause] Apart from commanding a flight.
KS: Commands a flight [laughs]
TS: Ok.
KS: Yeah.
DM: I suppose that would explain why you were the man in charge of the seconded people and some civil pilots too who were doing the Dambuster film. Because you were a flight commander so you, you were sent there to keep them in order and take charge.
KS: Yeah.
DM: So, you did a number of air displays and various other things and you were, it’s interesting actually. Obviously, you started flying Lancasters again. So, you’ve been flying the Lincoln and the Lancasters were mainly sort of, you did some low flying practice and various other things and then you were attending air shows and doing flying displays. So almost an early version of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, I would imagine. Something similar.
TS: So that was about the same time as the Dambusters film though.
DM: This was May 1954. And then [pause] yeah. So, the actual, yes, no, you’re right. The dam, so there was some local familiarisation flying and some display flights. There was display flying in the Lincoln. Local familiarisation flying in the Lancaster, and then you started practicing for the Dambusters film on the 8th of April 1954. Low flying practice.
KS: Oh, was there?
TS: Because, because according to the book about the filming of the Dambusters they had to get the Lancasters out of mothballs. They were mothballed in various places, weren’t they? And then —
KS: Yeah. They would be, wouldn’t they?
TS: They were.
KS: Yeah.
TS: There were four aircraft all together and I think they —
KS: Four?
TS: Well, there were four. Three and one spare, I think.
DM: Yeah. And I remember, remember reading that each aircraft was painted with a different number on the side so they could duplicate six aircraft with the three that they were flying. Yeah. So filmed from one side it looks like one aircraft. Filmed from the other side it looks like another. Do you have any recollection of how you got involved in that? Was this another case of sort of somebody telling you, you were going to do it or —
KS: Yes. I can’t remember that.
TS: I think it was mainly due to your flying. Flying prowess that you —
KS: Oh yeah probably because —
TS: Because you’d got —
KS: All this flying.
TS: Yeah. You got good reports in your logbook for your flying skills.
KS: Yeah. I think something like that. Yeah.
DM: I mean you were still flying the Lincoln from time to time in, during filming. So, to do an instrument rating test on the Lincoln in the middle of flying on the Battle of Britain, the Dambusters film. I know there was a lot of very low flying involved in the Dambusters film.
KS: Oh yes.
DM: And I’ve read in the book about it that you took some exception to that at one point because you thought it was too dangerous.
KS: What was that?
DM: You, apparently you had a bit of a set to with the director, or one of the assistant directors because you felt you were being asked to, you and the other airmen were being asked to do things that was somewhat dangerous.
KS: Yeah. It was all dangerous. I remember bad things. Over the, over the lake, and where we were practicing prior to the big show I came along the water. I was sort of almost touching the water and ahead of me was a hill and I left it too late and I got myself into the position that I’d got to climb over the hill and I took on too much. And I said often this flying over the hill, and the crowd got closer and closer. As I was going up the hill it was becoming bigger. Oh dear. I was, I was right on the ground by the time I’d got to the top of the hill. I was almost scratching the top. I said to myself never again. How could you be so stupid to take on things like that? Because it had a certain amount of power, but not all that much. I remember that very well.
TS: Because I think the director, at the sixty feet that you were flying at over the water I seem to remember you saying the director thought on the camera it didn’t look that low so he asked you whether you could go even lower.
KS: Right. Yes.
TS: And you said you’d give it a go.
KS: Yeah.
TS: And I think at some point you were so low that the prop wash was whipping up water off the lake surface.
KS: Yes. That’s right.
DM: Yeah. That may well be. It doesn’t, doesn’t mention the incident but on the 22nd of April you were low flying and being filmed over Lake Windermere. So that that could well have been it I would imagine.
TS: Yeah.
DM: And those fells are pretty steep.
TS: Yeah.
DM: Aren’t they? Around the lakes out there.
KS: Yeah.
DM: So, you survived the war but nearly bought it when you were making a movie basically.
KS: Yes.
DM: Do you have any other memories from that time about making the film?
KS: Making a film.
DM: Yeah.
KS: Oh yes. I remember. Yeah. I remember making a film but it was fairly straightforward like over, flying over Lake Windermere, you know. Just a normal flight. Only it was low. But that was the only difference. It was quite fun. Quite, quite fun.
TS: Well, I think for pilots who like, you know if you want to fly low, it was legal during the filming but probably —
KS: That’s right.
TS: Not otherwise.
KS: Yes.
TS: I remember you telling me a story about going mushrooming in a Lancaster. Do you remember this? I’ll remind you. Then maybe you might remember. You were, I think you were at Kirton Lindsey because of the —
KS: Yeah.
TS: The original road went off a grass runway.
KS: Yes.
TS: And both Scampton and Hemswell were concrete runways.
KS: Right.
TS: So, I think you went to Kirton Lindsey, didn’t you?
KS: Yeah.
TS: And I think between takes of the filming, you were just sitting around and being very high up in the cockpit you could spot these. I remember these massive horse mushrooms you used to get on airfields.
KS: Oh.
TS: And you used to trundle about with a Lancaster looking for these mushrooms, and then the tail gunner would nip out when you found one. Out of the back door, grab the mushrooms and then you’d go to the next one.
KS: Yeah. That’s right.
TS: But, and you told me a story about the station commander banning you from the airfield because of the, the hairy flying that you were doing.
KS: Yeah.
TS: Do you remember that?
KS: Yeah.
TS: Can you tell David what happened?
KS: Yes. Well, I mean, it wasn’t all that big.
DM: No.
KS: Kirton Lindsey. And to get right back as far as you could get, and turn the aeroplane around and right brake, flaps down, and all the rest of the trip because there was not much space and putting the power on, and we started. We were here. That’s the end of the airfield.
TS: Yeah.
KS: And here were the offices. The officer —
TS: Officer’s mess.
KS: Offices as a, as a —
TS: Oh the —
KS: Not a person but the office, you know.
TS: Yeah.
KS: And we got balling up to this, and it seemed to be so long that we were on the ground and this office was coming up getting bigger and bigger and eventually I lifted the thing off the ground, and you usually get a bit of side kicking if you haven’t got enough speed and we just scraped over that one. Seemed to be living, I don’t know I make it sound very dangerous but I suppose it was really.
TS: So, so, so what happened when the CO called you in and said that you —
KS: Oh, we were banned.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Don’t come back.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Yeah.
DM: So, you were quite a long time on the filming weren’t you because looking in your logbook you’ve still got Dambusters, and still flying 679 mainly, the Lancaster. At the end of August, you’re still, still going strong doing various filming and things. And then I think it looks as though it was about, yes still September still flying the Lancaster. You must, must have got very familiar with it as an aircraft.
KS: Oh yes. Yeah.
DM: How did it compare to the Lincoln?
KS: Well, virtually it was the same as far as I was concerned.
DM: From the pilot’s perspective. Yeah.
KS: Similar.
DM: And then you, then again in September 1954 you were back on the Lincoln.
KS: Yeah.
DM: To do the Battle of Britain flypast, but you actually rehearsed in the Lincoln and did it in the Lancaster, so I suppose because they decided since they’d got the plane they decided they’d do the flypast. Then you also had a spell with the Lancaster again while they’d got it. You did an Air Ministry Film Unit photo, photoshoot in the Lancaster in October 1954.
KS: What was that?
DM: “Air Ministry Film Unit. Photos and ferrying,” it says.
KS: Air Ministry?
DM: Yeah. I suppose while they’d got the aircraft up and running they thought they’d take a few pictures of it for posterity or something like that.
TS: Yes.
KS: I don’t remember that.
TS: We’ve got some stills from the film which are also in the book, and there’s one of a, I think it was a Varsity they used for the filming, air to air filming and there’s a picture of the cameramen in the cockpit or something but which has been mislabelled in the, in the book I think as you and it’s not. It’s actually a film unit. This was a camera platform they used, and they used a Varsity aeroplane to have the camera in to do the aerial shots from the, from the, you know air to air shots of the Lancasters.
KS: Oh yes.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Well, they had the camera out of the window.
TS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
KS: Yeah.
DM: So, it would seem that after you’d finished you did a little bit more flying in the Lincoln in October 1954, but then there was a gap in your logbook until 1955 and then you had a trip in a Vampire. That was your, I think that was your first flight. Yeah. You were second pilot in a Vampire. Circuits and landings.
KS: Was I?
DM: And you were cleared for solo flying in a Vampire on the 17th of January 1955.
KS: A Vampire. I don’t remember flying that.
TS: I think this must have been the beginning of your conversion on to, I think the Canberra bomber had come on stream, and I think all that early jet stuff with the Vampire and the, I don’t know what other aircraft there was. A Meteor, I think. I think that was part of your conversion on to the jets from the Lincoln.
KS: I think it would be, yeah.
TS: Prior to flying the Canberra.
DM: Yeah.
TS: Yes.
DM: And then you were out in the Far East again.
TS: Right.
DM: Well, Changi. In a Valetta. You obviously didn’t fly there because you did a flight from Changi to Labuan. And then Labuan. And then Labuan to Clark Field. That was at the end. That was in a Valetta.
TS: Really? I don’t remember that.
DM: Yeah. And then in February 1955 you flew from Clark Field to Kai Tek, Kai Tec to Saigon and Saigon to Changi. You weren’t doing much flying then. And then back. Then in March you were back on the Vampire and that’s when you started to fly the Vampire all the time. Although again not many flights. The flights seem to have been very few and far between on the Vampire. Probably hadn’t got enough fuel or something.
TS: Do you remember the Vampire? It was a —
KS: I remember the Vampire. Yeah.
TS: It was quite a small aircraft with a twin boom tail.
KS: Yeah. I never flew it.
TS: Yeah. You did. It says in there. But I remember you telling me it was a very nice aircraft to fly.
KS: Oh really?
TS: Yeah.
KS: I don’t remember flying it.
DM: I’m not sure where you, yeah you were flying it out in the Far East. You were flying it at Changi. You were based in Changi and you also flew a Valetta while you were out there.
KS: A Valetta. Yeah.
DM: And then you came back home in [pause] so you, obviously the flying was a bit fewer and further between then, because in January you were, in 1956 in January you were still out in the Far East. And then you don’t fly again until April, and that’s when you were flying at Boscombe Down and Andover in April 1956.
KS: Boscombe Down. What’s that? Was that an airfield?
DM: Yes. It’s an airfield. Yes.
TS: Test Pilot’s School.
DM: It’s where you were and you were flying. You were flying an Anson. And then in May 1956 you started to fly the Meteor.
KS: Meteor.
DM: I’m sure you remember that.
KS: Yeah.
DM: Quite a dangerous aircraft by reputation, I think.
KS: The Meteor.
DM: Yeah. I mean quite a few pilots came unstuck in Meteors, didn’t they?
KS: Oh really. I didn’t know that.
DM: I think so. Yes. There were quite a few crashes. Particularly early on.
TS: Were they difficult to handle then? Or —
DM: I think there were problems with them.
TS: Problems with the —
[recording paused]
DM: So anyway, you really got back in to flying in May 1956, and that’s, that’s when you were, you were actually usually the second pilot but sometimes the first pilot in a Meteor and it was obviously when you were doing your training then.
KS: Doing my —
DM: Doing your training in the Meteor in 19 —
KS: I think so.
DM: Yeah. And still in June and you were up to the type 7 and the type 8 Meteor by then. I don’t know what the differences were. Did you enjoy flying a jet?
KS: Yeah. Yeah. That’s —
DM: Still young enough to enjoy it.
KS: Yes. It was alright. It was good fun.
DM: I imagine that everything happens very fast when you’re flying a jet.
KS: Oh yeah.
DM: You’ve got to have your —
KS: Very fast.
DM: Yeah.
KS: Yeah. If you’re taking off and something goes wrong, and you’re just off the ground what do you do? Go straight ahead.
DM: Yes.
TS: But did they have ejector seats in those days? In the early days of — did they have ejector seats in the early days of jet flying, or was that a later development?
KS: Yeah. I think they had.
TS: They had. Ok.
KS: I think so, yeah.
TS: Right.
KS: Yeah. As they, as they used to drop people in behind the, behind the lines. The German lines.
TS: Yeah. But I don’t think [laughs] that’s quite the same thing I don’t think.
DM: No. So latterly in your Air Force career I see you were flying the Canberra.
KS: The Canberra. Yes.
DM: Yes. You did a lot of flying in the Canberra, which I suppose was all good practice for when you went into civil aviation after you left the Air Force really. It doesn’t say where you were based. I don’t know where you based.
KS: I was based at Scampton.
DM: Oh right. 61 Squadron it says for one of them.
KS: I can’t remember the number. I was based there. Yeah.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Basically, a lot of the war I’d go away and come back. Go away and come back.
TS: There’s the, there’s the Canberra. Do you remember that one?
KS: Oh, oh yes.
TS: Yeah. It’s a pretty aircraft actually. And there’s one here of you in Gibraltar with someone.
KS: Very easy to fly a jet. No big problem.
DM: Yes, that was 61. After you had done your training, you were in B Flight, 61 Squadron. Had you been promoted or were you still a flight lieutenant then?
KS: No. I never got any higher than a —
DM: That was it.
KS: Flight lieutenant.
DM: That was the ceiling of your career.
KS: Yeah.
DM: Too much of the bad boy. You probably answered back too much. Yeah. So —
KS: Yes. There’s not much you can take out of that really is there?
DM: Well, no. I mean we know that you signed up for twenty years in the Air Force.
KS: Hmmn?
DM: You signed up to do twenty years in the Air Force the second time you went in but you didn’t do twenty years, did you?
KS: No.
DM: You, you sort of, I suppose these days it was, you’d say you took voluntary severance.
KS: Yeah.
DM: And that, that’s when you went into civil aviation was it?
KS: That’s what?
DM: When you went into civil aviation.
KS: Yeah, well, I can’t remember the date.
DM: No.
KS: 1950, was it?
DM: Well, you were still in the Air Force in ’58. I think ’58 was when you came out of the Air Force.
KS: Was that it?
DM: Yeah.
KS: Oh.
TS: His, his first job if I remember rightly was with Napier’s. And —
KS: Sorry?
TS: Your first job when you left the RAF was as a test pilot for Napier’s flying, quite coincidentally, flying a Lincoln that had been kitted out with a dorsal wing. A wing coming out of the top of the fuselage which they were doing experiments about de-icing on the wings, so they had all sorts of nozzles and cameras and stuff.
KS: Yes. Yeah.
TS: And I think you had to go off and find some clouds that were, you know likely to be to be, to precipitate some icing.
KS: Cumulonimbus.
TS: Yeah. So, so you did that for a while, and in your album there’s a letter of thanks at Napier’s for your time test flying with them.
KS: Who was that?
TS: Napier’s. The, well, the aviation people. They used to make engines, didn’t they?
KS: Oh, did they? Such a lot. I don’t remember it.
TS: Well, you crammed quite a lot in so it’s difficult to remember all the detail. I’ve been pouring over your logbooks so I probably know more about it than you, and David’s found stuff that I didn’t even know about so I need to go and have another look at them.
KS: Yeah. What you just said. Something about [pause] what was it?
TS: I was talking about Napier’s and test flying.
KS: Yes.
TS: For the de-icing rig that they had on, on a Lincoln.
KS: Yes.
TS: And I think that worked quite well because you’d been flying Lincoln and so you could, you know you were quite useful to them, I think.
KS: Yes. I don’t remember very much about that.
DM: No. You weren’t with them very long I don’t think.
KS: No.
DM: But I can remember coming to visit you at Cranfield Aerodrome which is now, it’s —
KS: Where?
DM: Cranfield.
KS: Oh.
DM: In Bedfordshire. Which is where you were based and flying from.
KS: Oh right.
DM: And at the time I don’t know if it’s relevant to this, but at the time when you were flying, I used to wander around the hangars at Cranfield.
KS: Oh.
TS: And at the time it was a kind of overspill for the Imperial War Museum.
KS: The what?
DM: For the Imperial War Museum, and what later became the RAF museum at Hendon.
KS: Oh really?
DM: And the hangars were stacked full of German aircraft.
KS: German.
DM: Which had been captured.
KS: Yeah.
DM: And also some experimental aircraft that were there. There was, I remember seeing a seaplane. A jet seaplane that was there. And I think all this stuff eventually were, was transferred to the RAF museum at Hendon. But as a young kid it made quite an impression.
KS: It’s a wonder they let you get out alive.
TS: Well, yeah actually.
DM: So, just to finish up you’ve left. You left the Air Force. You worked for Napier’s doing testing.
KS: Yes.
DM: And various other things. Where did you go after Napier’s?
TS: That’s a tricky one.
KS: I was flying for [pause] I was flying for what was that? Oh, how could I get it out?
TS: Well, the executive.
KS: Pardon?
TS: The executive flying you did.
KS: Yes, the executive.
TS: But before that, before that you were going around job hunting. Doing various jobs flying where ever you could find them. And I remember you used to go to air shows and you’d be flying a, something like a Rapide, to giving people just, you know joy flights.
KS: Yeah.
TS: At air shows and I think you did that, you know where ever you could just to keep your hours up.
KS: What?
TS: Just to keep your hours up.
KS: Yes. That’s right.
TS: Just to keep your flying hours up.
KS: Yes.
TS: And I remember going on a trip with you once in a Rapide with all these people who hadn’t flown before.
KS: Oh.
TS: And then I think you got a job and I’m not sure how you got the job and I’m not sure how you got the job but you got a job with a merchant bank flying a de Havilland Dove, that they’d bought as an executive eight seater aircraft or something, and you were based at Hatfield which was a de Havilland or Hawker Siddeley, it became. It was their airfield so you were based there with this Dove.
KS: Yes. I was there a long time.
TS: Yeah. So off you go with the Dove. Do you remember. Do you remember flying the Dove? I used to fly with you a bit.
KS: Yeah.
TS: In the Dove.
KS: Yes. I remember.
TS: So, so you’d be flying what? To mainly in the UK with these merchant bankers doing —
KS: Yeah. A lot in the UK but on the continent.
TS: Ok.
KS: Quite a lot in the continent really.
TS: It was a nice little aeroplane I seem to remember.
KS: Hmmn?
TS: It was a nice little aeroplane.
KS: Yes. It was.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Yeah. I remember we used to go at weekends. We used to go to [pause] I can’t remember the name. There’s an airfield.
TS: You used to go, you used to go to Norfolk quite a bit, because the head of the merchant bank had an estate there and they used to go shooting, didn’t they? They used to have shooting parties and things.
KS: Oh yeah. That’s right. But that’s not the one I’m thinking of. I was thinking of Manchester. That way.
TS: Oh right.
KS: I remember taking, in a Rapide, a group of ladies.
TS: Oh, this was doing your joy flying.
KS: Yeah.
TS: Your air experience flights.
KS: That’s right. Anything to get a few coppers.
TS: Yeah.
KS: But this, they these ladies their average age about forty five, I suppose and their weight was about the same in stones [laughs]
TS: They were matron, matron type ladies, were they?
KS: What?
TS: They were kind of matronly ladies.
KS: Yes.
TS: Of some girth.
KS: Oh yes.
TS: That’s right.
KS: I doubted how many of there, because I was only flying a Rapide, you know, and it’s not, not a very big aeroplane, and it turned out I think there were about four or five of them. I thought Jesus. I wouldn’t like to have this weighed you know. It wouldn’t be allowed I wouldn’t think. Anyway, they were all happy and merry, you know. All off. They’d been saving up to go to London I think it was. Somewhere. And it was all right. I took off. It didn’t take too long to get off. I thought it might take the whole runway but they were very sweet ladies [laughs] and that was it. Weekend flying.
TS: Yeah. I remember you did quite a bit of that, I think just, just to make ends meet.
KS: Yeah. Anything like that. Yeah.
TS: Yeah. Because I remember, I remember you telling me that, you know being a pilot, being a civil pilot in those days was feast or famine. They either had too many pilots or not enough and I think you probably hit a period when a lot of the RAF pilots were out trying to find work, and I think work was quite difficult to find.
KS: Right. Yes. It was.
TS: So, after the Dove. Do you remember what, what happened after the Dove? They bought a Hawker Siddeley 125. A jet aircraft.
KS: A 125.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Yeah. That’s right.
TS: Yeah, and then they shared that with, with Beecham’s, the pharmaceutical company.
KS: That’s right.
TS: And —
KS: That wasn’t a jet. It was a propeller, wasn’t it?
TS: No. No. No. It was a jet. The propeller was the Dove.
KS: Eh?
TS: The propeller driven aircraft was the Dove. That was a twin engine propeller.
KS: Yeah.
TS: And then you went on to the Hawker Siddeley 125 which was a jet. One of the first executive jets that were, that were around.
KS: Was it?
TS: Yeah. We have a model of it somewhere.
KS: Really? I can’t remember.
TS: You can’t remember [laughs] and you did a lot of European flying I remember with that because —
KS: A lot of European.
TS: Yeah. Because eventually you went to work for Trusthouse Forte. Do you remember that? And they had holiday villages all over Sardinia, and all over Europe so you were doing quite a lot of European flying then.
KS: A lot of work was what?
TS: You were doing a lot of European flying with Trusthouse Forte.
KS: Yeah.
TS: The hotel group people.
KS: Yes. Yeah.
TS: And then you, then you retired from that. I think you had another bout of problems with your ear if you remember.
KS: Probably.
TS: You were getting ear infections from the damage that was done way back in the war, and I think eventually you chucked it in because you were, you were, you know you were having problems with it.
KS: Yeah. That was —
TS: I don’t know how old you were then. Probably, what, in your fifties?
KS: Sixty.
TS: Yeah. There’s, there’s, a civil flying logbook there somewhere.
KS: Oh, is there?
TS: And that was that.
KS: Oh. That’s in there.
TS: And I tried to get you in to a glider to go flying.
KS: Hmmn?
TS: When I was doing gliding at Lasham.
KS: Yes.
TS: I tried to get you in to a glider to take a trip, and that was the, that was the first time you would have flown for quite some time, I think. Apart from going on an airliner.
KS: Yeah.
TS: And I remember you saying that you’d survived the war, and years of flying with the RAF and you weren’t bloody getting into a plane with no engine.
KS: Yeah.
TS: Yeah.
KS: It could be.
TS: Yeah.
DM: So, when you retired that was it. You didn’t fly again after that. Not as a pilot at least.
KS: No. I never really retired. I stayed and I’d do some —
DM: Just stopped.
KS: I could do weekend flying there.
DM: Right.
KS: And I went to fly for Trusthouse Forte for their top brass and there was some money there. But they were all very nice people really.
DM: And I guess once you did retire. You left Trusthouse Forte and retired, you, you were able to sort of have a life of leisure.
KS: No.
DM: Did you take up, did you take up art again because I know you were a very keen artist.
KS: What?
DM: You were keen on art, weren’t you?
KS: Oh yes.
DM: And so you did some of that when you retired.
KS: Yes. I’m still doing it.
DM: Right. Oh, that’s good.
KS: Done that one up there. That painting.
DM: Yes.
KS: Here you are, David. The —
DM: Oh right. So, this is your, this is your civil aviation logbook. From London Heathrow to Swansea. Something you don’t see very often. Yeah.
KS: When was that?
TS: What?
KS: Finished flying.
TS: It’ll, David will tell us. It’s in your logbook there.
DM: I can’t find a year.
TS: No. I couldn’t either.
DM: I can tell you it was October. Oh, 1970. We’ve got 1970. I think 1970 it looks like it finishes.
KS: 1970, was it?
DM: It looks like, unless there’s any more lurking at the back. No.
KS: No. There wouldn’t be.
DM: 1970. So, you would have been just over fifty, wouldn’t you?
KS: Fifty?
DM: Yeah.
KS: I was looking for a job.
TS: But you, did you miss flying? I don’t think you did, did you?
KS: I think I did in a way. Yes.
TS: You probably missed the travel and the high rolling lifestyle.
KS: Pardon?
TS: I think you missed the travel and staying in nice luxury hotels when you were flying but I remember you saying that you know you’d done, you’d done so much flying that actually you didn’t miss it that much when you finished.
KS: Yeah.
TS: But where some people I know, and certainly when I was at Lasham they, you know some pilots couldn’t get enough of it you know. They they’d retired and they wanted to carry on flying so they went and bought Tiger Moths and other aircraft so that they could keep going.
KS: Oh really? I think if they’d been flying like I was with commercial flying, I think at the end of the day I think you’ve, I think you’ve had enough.
TS: Yeah. I think you probably had the best of it actually, because I think flying these days is probably not, not that interesting or it is certainly safer though.
KS: Yeah. They’ve got all the aids. Yeah. I still, still —
TS: So, so, what, what was your favourite aeroplane out of all, all the aeroplanes you flew?
KS: The Spitfire.
TS: Right. That’s what everyone says.
KS: Eh?
TS: That’s what everybody says.
KS: Oh really?
TS: Yeah.
KS: Yeah. It was a nice aeroplane.
TS: What about the Hurricane?
KS: Yeah. It was, yeah. Well, I didn’t fly the what the, what was it called?
TS: What? The Hurricane?
KS: Hurricane. I flew that a lot.
TS: Yeah. You did. Yeah.
KS: But —
TS: You didn’t fly the Spitfire that much.
KS: No. There’s not all that difference.
TS: Because you were with a Hurricane Squadron for most of the war.
KS: Yeah. That’s right.
TS: Yeah.
KS: But the Spitfire was nicer.
TS: Yeah.
KS: To fly in.
TS: But what I didn’t know was, I mean reading some of the books that you’ve got is that the Hurricane made up the bulk of the aircraft during the Battle of Britain, you know, there were far more Hurricanes weren’t there?
KS: Yeah. That’s right.
TS: Then there were Spitfires. It was a much easier plane to make, I guess and repair.
KS: Yes. As I say it was a jack of all trades.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Yeah. It was a nice aeroplane.
TS: And did you, I mean when you, when you moved to bombers was that, was that, was that interesting for you because having handled a fighter aircraft, bombers were very sluggish and a very different type of flying, I imagine.
KS: Not really. I wouldn’t notice any difference.
TS: It was, because, as you said before, you know it was a job, and you know it seems very glamourous now but at the time it was just run of the mill flying, I guess.
KS: Right.
TS: Is that, would that be fair?
KS: Yeah. But I mean to fly a Hurricane or any of these fighter aeroplanes they were owned by the government. I mean, the fighters, and you didn’t really get a look in unless you were in that part of the world.
TS: Yeah. I think you cost them quite bit of money with the planes that were written off through no fault of your own but —
KS: Yeah. We don’t talk about that.
TS: No. I remember reading about the Hurricanes in Malta which they, they didn’t have very many and they had to keep them flying at all costs.
KS: Yeah.
TS: And they repaired them and repaired them.
KS: Yeah, that’s right.
TS: And they became unreliable.
KS: Yeah. That was in Malta.
TS: Yeah.
KS: Yeah.
TS: Do you remember your mate who flew off the aircraft carrier at the same time as you and went to Malta? The Scottish guy.
KS: Yeah. I can’t remember who they were.
TS: No. Your best friend went to Malta, didn’t he?
KS: Yes.
TS: Yeah. Do you remember his name?
KS: No.
TS: Because I don’t either.
KS: Eh?
TS: I don’t. it’s in the back of my head somewhere. He was probably called Jock because he was from Scotland. So —
KS: He was a Scots. A Scotsman.
TS: He was. Yeah.
KS: Yeah. His picture was on one of those.
TS: In one of those books. Yeah.
KS: One you brought.
TS: Yeah.
KS: The photographs.
TS: But he flew off the aircraft and you never saw him again did you because —
KS: No.
TS: He was killed in Malta not long after.
KS: No. I didn’t. I didn’t. I don’t know what happened to him.
TS: Well, I did explain to you he, he his engines started leaking oil, and he was trying to get his aeroplane back to the airfield because they were short of aircraft and then I think he was very afraid that it was going to catch fire which they often did apparently.
KS: They were afraid.
TS: That it was going to catch fire. That the oil was going to ignite.
KS: Oh, I see.
TS: And, and so he, he baled out, but he wasn’t high enough and his parachute didn’t open.
KS: I never heard that version.
TS: Yeah. I’ve told you before about it but you’ve probably forgotten.
KS: The latest I heard that he was flying from Malta and he got shot up and he got back but it was a job to get back. But he died soon after, so whether he was shot out there. Bullets in him I don’t know.
TS: No. Whether he, whether he got shot up and the engine was damaged. That could have been the story. But, unfortunately, he did, it was reported at the time because someone witnessed the accident. He tried to bale out and he wasn’t, didn’t have enough height and that happened quite a lot apparently in Malta, and it certainly wasn’t the first incident like that and —
KS: It could be but I, I thought, I thought one of the stories was that I was stationed out, not in Malta but where ever.
TS: In North Africa. In Libya.
KS: Yeah.
TS: Yeah.
KS: That he, he got back, because someone told me that he had a job walking up getting in and out the aeroplane. I was all muddled up.
TS: I think that’s probably somebody else, but certainly the accounts that I’ve read in the two books, one is, “Hurricanes over Malta.”
KS: Yeah.
TS: And the other one which was called, “Scramble,” which is —
KS: “Scramble.” Yes.
TS: Takes in a fair chunk of Malta but that’s what happened to him. That he baled out and his parachute didn’t open but whether he’d been shot up before that and his aircraft was damaged but he, they had a lot of problems with reliability with the engines.
KS: Well, yeah. There was. They didn’t have all the —
TS: Well, they didn’t have spares for a start.
KS: That’s right. They had, it was very hard to keep them airborne.
TS: Yeah. So, when did you hear about him dying? Was it after the war or did word get back to you at the time?
KS: No. I think the war was still on.
TS: Right. Ok. Because he’s buried in Malta. There’s a —
KS: Hmmn?
TS: He’s buried in Malta. There’s a naval cemetery there.
KS: Yes.
TS: And a lot of the Hurricane pilots ended up in, in that cemetery.
KS: Yeah. I’ve never heard that one before.
TS: Yeah. it was in the book.
KS: Oh really?
TS: Yeah.
KS: It’s a good bet that there were a lot of killed.
TS: Oh, they had a hell of a time. They really, you know, I mean it’s just, you know amazing.


David Meanwell, “Interview with Ken Souter,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed January 25, 2022,

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