Interview with Ken Thomas


Interview with Ken Thomas


Flight Lieutenant Ken Thomas flew operations as a pilot with 622 Squadron.



IBCC Digital Archive




Tracy Johnson


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00:25:52 audio recording





Spatial Coverage


GR: This is Gary Rushbrooke for the International Bomber Command Centre. I am with Flight Lieutenant Ken Thomas, 622 Squadron pilot. It’s the 2nd of April 2016, and we’re at Ken’s flat in Coventry. So, so morning Ken. If you can just tell me a little bit about yourself.
KT: Right.
G: I know we’re in Coventry, was you from Coventry originally?
KT: I beg your pardon.
GR: Was you born in Coventry?
KT: No, no I’m, I’m from Liverpool originally and my father was a chemist and he had a business in Liverpool and he moved to North Wales. So I was brought up in North Wales and I went to grammar school in North Wales and I could’ve gone in for anything that I wanted but, as I say, I never, I never took the, what shall I say, the —
GR: The exams or, no —
KT: I don’t, never bothered didn’t I, I just carried, carried on and I went, went to, to grammar school I didn’t learn anything in the grammar school either most of my — whatever I learnt I learnt during my time in the RAF.
GR: In the RAF, yes. Do you have any brothers or sisters?
KT: I have a sister and she, of course, was May Queen in Beaumaris in North Wales and that’s about the, the peak of her, what shall I say,
GR: Yeah.
KT: Childhood thing.
GR: Childhood. So just the two of you?
KT: Just the two of us. Yes. But, er —
GR: Which was unusual for that era in the twenty’s because they were usually big families, weren’t they?
KT: That’s right. I was originally, when the war started, I was about ready to go to sea and I was measured for a uniform and I remember going to Liverpool to do the, um, examination.
GR: Yes.
KT: Which I passed alright and no problem at all and I was ready to go and my mother said ‘you’re only seventeen you’re not going there’s too many ships going down.’ So I didn’t go to sea.
GR: So had you actually volunteered for the Navy?
KT: So I volunteered for the Merchant Navy.
GR: For the Merchant Navy.
KT: Merchant Navy.
GR: ‘Cause you could do that at sixteen?
KT: Er, seventeen I was.
GR: Seventeen.
KT: And she had control because I wasn’t a, of the age of conscription.
GR: Yeah.
KT: So she, she decided that I wasn’t going to go and so I said well listen mother I’ve got to do something. I’ll have to join the RAF. So I joined the RAF and she said on one condition that you don’t fly. And I said alright and —
GR: Well that should be interesting.
KT: I went in as a flight mechanic and I didn’t, didn’t do any work at all you know, and I passed out as an AC2 and then I, then I became an AC1 and then by that time I was getting a bit fed up and I —
GR: So this was actually, you’d, you’d gone in as —
KT: The war was on now.
GR: As ground crew?
KT: That’s right.
GR: Engineering, mechanic?
KT: Yes, yes and well —
GR: Yes.
KT: Stuck you see.
GR: So, so, so you’re there as an engineer, mechanic?
KT: Yes.
GR: Did you then volunteer for — or did you ask for air crew?
KT: No, I, I, I as I say I got so fed up with being on the ground and being messed around and on a little station in North Wales that I decided that I’d go in for aircrew and —
GR: What did you tell your mum?
KT: I didn’t tell my mother, I, I, I didn’t tell my mother till I was on my way to Canada and it was too late to stop me then so, in any case I didn’t have any idea that I would do anything at all in the RAF because I didn’t work very hard anywhere I went.
GR: Yeah.
KT: In those days and I just lounged about you see and I decided I’d go to night school when I got to the RAF and I had some very good instructors and they took a lot of time with me and I found that I could do the work quite easily because I’d already done it in the grammar school anyway but I hadn’t paid any attention to it but it was there and I sailed through the ground school and I remember seeing the CEO in a place called, oh, Talley in North Wales where, where we had, in the early days, we had a bombing school, it was a bombing school where I was and [pause] oh
GR: Now you said you were on your way to Canada, so obviously you applied for aircrew?
KT: Yes, I did, sorry.
GR: It’s all right. You applied for aircrew anything in partic, did you want to be a pilot or did you just apply for aircrew?
KT: No I just, I just, I just applied for aircrew because everybody said you’d never be a pilot because you know there choosey now these days and they’re chucking everybody out and I said we’ll have to wait and see. Well in actual fact I went to ground school as I told you and I had no trouble with the examinations and the CEO in North Wales, I forget what it was a group captain, Group Captain —
GR: Doesn’t matter about his name.
KT: Oh I can’t’ think his name but anyway he said you’d have no trouble and certainly I didn’t.
GR: No. So what did you think about going to Canada to do your training?
KT: So, I went to Canada and everybody said well, you know you, you’ve gone in for aircrew but they’ll sort you out and they won’t, you, you won’t have a chance to get on a pilots course. Well before I went to Canada I did what they call a, an EFTS, not an EFTS, um, a, oh dear —
GR: Yeah, it’s, I think your thinking it’s an exam you can take or like a training to see if you have got the aptitude for flying.
KT: That’s right yes.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And —
GR: You must have come out of that very well.
KT: Into what they call ACRC, Air Crew Receiving Centre in London.
GR: That’s right.
KT: Yeah, and from there they sent me to a, um —
GR: That would have been at St John’s Wood?
KT: Yes that was St John's Wood.
GR: And you would have been marked out as probably pilot material.
KT: I went, went to Paignton before ITW in Paignton and I did my ground school there
GR: Yeah.
KT: In Paignton and after doing the ground school and passing out of that I had to do what they call a grading course which was twelve hours flying on Tiger Moths. Which I did at Desford just outside Leicester and we had to, the idea was to go flying solo day and solo night and I remember doing this going solo in the day time and going solo at night as well. And I did it all in about twelve hours and after that they posted me to Manchester, Heaton Park.
GR: Heaton Park.
KT: Manchester.
GR: Yeah.
KT: To wait for a ship to go to America.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And I got into an American convoy and I was on a boat called The Thomas H Barry, which sailed out of Liverpool in convoy in those days and we had two or three ships sunk on the way across.
GR: On the way across.
KT: And I remember them firing the guns on the back and of course we were doing gun duty as well on board ship and guard duty and fire duty whatever you’d like to call it and we sailed, sailed across. We, it took about the best part of three weeks.
GR: The Atlantic Crossing.
KT: In those days and we landed, I landed in New York and then I got the train from New York up to 31PD at Moncton, New Brunswick.
GR: New Brunswick.
KT: In Canada where they sorted us out again and I went from there to an EFTS to a place called Stanley, Nova Scotia and I did a, a course at Stanley, Nova Scotia on Fleet Finch aircraft. Not on the Tiger Moth on the Fleet Finch.
GR: Fleet Finch.
KT: Which had a Kinner B-5R radial engine, I remember and it was a particular good plane for learning to fly because it had, you know, if there were any snags —
GR: Yeah.
KT: They showed pretty quickly. And I passed out of that school and returned again to Moncton and outside Moncton they had an SFTS, which was a Service Flying Training School and at that Flying Training School, er, I got my wings.
GR: You got your wings.
KT: I got my wings. And —
GR: It sounds as though pilot training was quite easy.
KT: Well it wasn’t — I didn’t find it hard.
GR: No.
KT: I didn’t find it hard in those days but —
GR: And how did you find life in America and Canada? As I understand it there was no food shortages?
KT: Oh no.
GR: And it was quite a good place to do your training?
KT: Very good, yes, yes. I don’t understand [unclear]
GR: Yeah, yeah. So then shipped back to the UK?
KT: I, well, as I say, I did, I did my flying training over in Canada and in Lake, a place called Lakeburn which is just outside Moncton, which was an FSTS and from there I returned to England.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And I, on a boat called the Louis Pasteur.
GR: That’s [unclear]
KT: Which sailed from Halifax. It was a French liner.
GR: It used to have — I was just going to say it used to be a liner.
KT: Sailed by itself, it didn’t have any convoy.
GR: Fast.
KT: Very fast ship.
GR: Fast ship, yes.
KT: But conditions on board the ship were pretty grim because as I say we were all in hammocks.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And if anything had happened you’d never get out.
GR: You’d never get out.
KT: Never get out.
GR: They were banking on the speed of the ship.
KT: Yes. And in any case I didn’t, didn’t like sleeping accommodation because I say we were all on top of each other sort of thing you know.
GR: Yeah.
KT: So hot, down near the engine room, but —
GR: Yeah.
KT: Well, s I say I was glad to get to Liverpool I really was.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And from Liverpool I went to Harrogate and from Harrogate I went to, Harrogate to, um —
GR: Would you have gone to Heavy Conversion Unit somewhere?
KT: Yes I went to, oh dear —
GR: Doesn’t matter. ‘Cause somewhere along the line you would’ve met your crew.
KT: Yes, I’m just wondering, um, oh dear, where did I meet my crew [laughs]
GR: [laughs] You would’ve crewed up probably at Heavy Conversion Unit.
KT: No it wasn’t heavy.
GR: No, just before.
KT: Well as I say we picked up the, picked up the flight engineer at the Heavy Conversion Unit.
GR: And the mid upper gunner?
KT: And I had a mid upper gunner before because I was on Wellingtons.
GR: Right.
KT: I did my OTU, Operational Training Command.
GR: Yeah.
KT: That’s right. And I did that at Northampton, 18 or 16 OTU.
GR: Yeah.
KT: 16 Operational Training Unit.
GR: Right, yeah.
KT: And from there I went to the Heavy Conversion Unit at Stradishall.
GR: Yeah, that sounds —
KT: On Stirlings and when I was on Stirlings I had a medical and the medical people said I had to go into hospital because I had very high blood pressure and they took me off flying for a while and they did various tests. Couldn’t find anything and I finished up at, at London central medical board and I think the idea was to finish me with flying but anyway they passed me there they said they can’t find anything wrong with me.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And they posted me back to operational duties really so I went back from there to Mildenhall really and that’s how I got to Mildenhall well after, after Feltwell, because after the, after flying on the [unclear] original flying on the —
GR: Stirling?
KT: Stirling, on the Stirling I had to get back again into flying then they put me on to Lancasters and they gave me twelve hours on Lancaster.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And then they posted me to Mildenhall that’s where I finished on the —
GR: I think there was something called LFS, Lancaster Finishing School or something.
KT: That’s right Lancaster Finishing School, Feltwell.
GR: That’s right, yeah.
KT: At Feltwell.
GR: Yeah about 12 hours there and then you were posted to 622 Squadron at Mildenhall.
KT: Yeah. I don’t know what you can make of that but —
GR: No, no, no that’s very good.
KT: Very [unclear] but, er —
GR: What did you feel like on your first operation? Can you remember where it was to or —
KT: Er, yes, I did Second Dicky my first operation was a Second Dicky with a Flight Lieutenant Autman [?] and I went to East Burg [?]
GR: To East Burg [?]
KT: Neuss, place called Neuss, N, E, U, S, S. Neuss on the Ruhr.
GR: On the Ruhr.
KT: And it’s near Duisburg and er —
GR: What was that trip like?
KT: It, it wasn’t too bad.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And I got through that alright and from there — oh —
GR: Then you took your crew out for the first op —
KT: First operation, I can’t remember that [laughs] and that’s the truth and er, by that time I’d picked up a flight engineer of course.
GR: Yes.
KT: Because I didn’t have a flight, yes I had a flight engineer after finishing operation training command.
GR: Yeah.
KT: But until I got onto four engines I didn’t have a flight engineer.
GR: That’s right yeah. And did you keep the same crew all the way through?
KT: I kept the same crew right the way to Mildenhall.
GR: Yeah.
KT: But when I got to Mildenhall my navigator was, what shall I say, he said he, he went LMF really.
GR: Right.
KT: Lack of moral fibre and, but —
GR: Was this before you’d actually flown any operations?
KT: Yes, that’s right, yes. Really.
GR: Yes.
KT: And I was then waiting around Mildenhall for a, a navigator to take his place and I got a very good navigator by, well it, I was very lucky, and he was an Indian and he came from Calcutta originally and I flew sixteen, seventeen operations with him.
GR: And then did he have to —
KT: And then he got badly wounded because we got shot up on, on a place called, oh, Homburg in the Ruhr.
GR: Homburg.
KT: Very, very shot up and he had it in the back. I had an engine knocked out and, starboard inner engine and in actual fact it was out, it was panic all stations [unclear] I’m afraid because —
GR: But he was wounded but you obviously got the plane back?
KT: I, I got the plane back. I landed it at a place called Woodbridge on the coast of England.
GR: Yes.
KT: And my navigator had to go to hospital there pretty quickly because he was losing a lot of blood and that’s why I landed.
GR: Yeah.
KT: In actual fact. But I was on, I was on two engines by the time I got there because we had trouble with, with another engine with the [unclear] pressure and as I say that’s where we landed.
GR: Yeah.
KT: Woodbridge.
GR: Yeah. ‘Cause Woodbridge was an emergency landing —
KT: Yes it was an emergency landing place yes. And —
GR: Can I ask you did the navigator make a recovery, your nav?
KT: He made a recovery but not in time to —
GR: To fly with you, no.
KT: So after that I flew with any navigator that I could get hold of.
GR: Right, like a spare nav?
KT: I must have had about seven different navigators during my operational tour, I think that’s why they gave me [laughs] they kept on saying oh well get rid of this bugger you know [laughs]
GR: [laughs] Can I ask, did you get the DFC for bringing the plane back that night?
KT: Yes. My navigator got the DFC as well.
GR: As well.
KT: Immediate DFC. It’s in the book there.
GR: Yeah.
KT: He got the immediate and he told me he said, he said you’re going to get the DFC when you finish your tour, and he was right I got the DFC [laughs] yes. How I don’t know.
GR: Well —
KT: I didn’t’ do an awful lot but as I say he was a damned good navigator.
GR: Well you did a full tour.
KT: He was seconded to DOAC.
GR: Right.
KT: And he did a, well quite, quite a long tour with DOAC and he came out as a nervous wreck apparently and he used to smoke, and smoke and smoke and his ashtray used to be filled with cigarette stubs at the end you know.
GR: Yes.
KT: In the early morning. And, and as I say he’d smoke all night.
GR: Smoke all night.
KT: And he didn’t last long.
GR: Didn’t last long. Oh dear.
KT: Because I think originally before he come to me he was taken ill with TB and, as I say, I did about sixteen operations with him.
GR: Yes.
KT: And I found him excellent.
GR: When did your tour finish? Would that have been 1944?
KT: Yes forty-four end of forty-four.
GR: End of forty-four.
KT: Just beginning of forty-five.
GR: Right, yeah. And what happened to you then Ken did you —
KT: I just —
GR: Did they send you to do training or —
KT: Yes I went to Banbury.
GR: Yeah.
KT: I did [unclear] on an OTU at Banbury for a while.
GR: Yes.
KT: And I didn’t like that and they put me on a, on a, I think I went on a, um, oh —
GR: Because you were probably there as the war finished.
KT: Yes.
GR: Yeah.
KT: Yes and that was on Wellingtons, the OTU.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And then I went from there to, as I say Banbury and —
GR: Well, I’m sure then they were moving you about and doing different, different places.
KT: Yes because they, they didn’t want aircrew in those days and they had too many.
GR: Once the war had finished, yeah.
KT: I was put on Tiger Moths, put me on Tiger Moths course in Eldon, in Eldon, in Birmingham and I did a Tiger Moth course and I didn’t like that very much and I got posted to, after that, to Air Transport Auxiliary.
GR: Right.
KT: So I did a lot of ferry work.
GR: Ferry work.
KT: And that.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And that’s where I finished and I got fed up of ferry work and I said I’ve had enough of this and I just walked out I think [laughs] it was the end of the war so —
GR: End of the war.
KT: They were glad to get rid of me.
GR: Yeah.
KT: Yeah.
GR: What did you do afterwards Ken?
KT: I flew with, well I joined Sir John Black with the Standard Motor Company and I travelled the world after that.
GR: Oh right.
KT: So I saw pretty well every country in the world I should think.
GR: Yeah, yeah.
KT: Not many countries I haven’t been to.
GR: So you let somebody else do the flying.
KT: Oh yes.
GR: [laughs]
KT: I’d had enough flying, I tell you.
GR: You didn’t have chance to go to BLAC then 'cause I know a lot of the pilots at the time were —
KT: I probably could if I’d been keen but I wasn’t very keen, in actual fact I think my nerves were just about shattered.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And I’d enough flying I felt I’d enough because I’d made a lot of, lot of what shall I say, very heavy landings, and I, I had an idea I’d like to get out.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And they were going to get me out anyway.
GR: Yeah.
KT: At the end of the –
GR: Yeah. At the end of the war. Yeah. Yeah.
KT: Period they didn’t want me in the RAF.
GR: So how long had you spent with the Standard Motor Company?
KT: I spent thirty, thirty-three years, thirty-four years with the Standard Motor Company and as I say, that was, that was a good, good move that was.
GR: Yeah.
KT: I had a nice little job with that, with service and guarantee all over the world.
GR: All over the world.
KT: Mainly on standard products in those days. Of course we changed over during the period and, er, as I say they changed companies you see.
GR: Yeah.
KT: So we went on to, to, we went on to Rover, Land Rover, Range Rover, Jaguar and then also went to the Austin Morris we had the whole lot under our wing at one time and I had the opportunity of learning all about these different models that were coming out.
GR: Yeah.
KT: And, as I say, I saw, saw all these countries.
GR: Wonderful. I shall finish it there. Thank you Ken.



Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Ken Thomas,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 19, 2019,

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