Interview with Kenneth Edgar Neve


Interview with Kenneth Edgar Neve
1004,1005-Neve, Kenneth Edgar


Ken Neve served as a runner with the Home Guard before joining the Fleet Air Arm. He was posted to RAF Henlow as an engineer.




00:19:49 audio recording


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Interviewer: Ken, good afternoon. I’d like first of all could you please give us your full name and your date of birth.
KN: Kenneth Edgar Neve, and that’s N E V E. I was born on the 30th September 1925.
Interviewer: Ok. Thanks very much. And what I’d like to do to start talking about your military career really we’ll go right back to the very beginning and talk about the time that you were involved with the LDV and you were a runner I believe.
KN: I was a runner for my father who was made captain of the Home Guard. He worked with a big factory making aircraft instruments and when war was declared they said well you have, we’ve got four or five hundred people working in the factory and we’re going to give, the LDV will be that unit there. That was the first one in Basingstoke and so he would, because he retired from the, from the Army in 1936 so when was [pause] war was declared 1939. So, war was declared and they said, ‘Well, crikey you’re the guy to do the job ex-colour sergeant major, you know.’ He was retired. So they employed him as captain of the LDV which became the Home Guard of course. And because I was brought up in the Army obviously and he said, ‘Well, look —’ he said, I said, ‘Can I join dad?’ He said, ‘Well, we’ll have to call you the captain’s runner.’ They gave me little khaki things and I used to be in there throwing grenades and all this stuff [laughs] And so anyway after, after a while I decided to join the Cadet Force so they made me a sergeant believe it or not. And then eventually I thought well it’s time now to decide whether I’m going to wait until eighteen to be called up or should I do it on the, on my seventeenth. So I did that and I don’t know how far you want me to go but when I went to Reading to say yes I’m fourteen and the guy says, ‘Well, what service do you want to go?’ Army, Navy, Air Force whatever. I said, ‘Well, I really wanted something with, with ships. I thought, I thought that would be rather nice.’ He said, ‘Well, do you mean the Royal Navy? I said, ‘No. No.’ I said, ‘It’s to do with aircraft as well.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘You mean the Fleet Air Arm?’ So I said, ‘Yes, that’s fine.’ So anyway, I went to RAF Henlow for six months and qualified as an engineer and I just came back to my first unit which was, which is now the, which is now the first unit of the Fleet Air Arm was where the Southampton Airport is now and we had Walruses and all sorts of things, you know.
Interviewer: That was at HMS Raven.
KN: That was my first one there look.
Interviewer: Ok. Yeah.
KN: And so anyway, so I suppose I’d only, I was not far from Basingstoke you see and so I used to get home every other weekend. That was fine. So all of a sudden I was just going to breakfast one morning and there was a notice board which said I had to go and report and they said, ‘Oh,’ He said, ‘Yes. Well, they’ve got problems with the RAF. They haven’t got enough people with your qualifications and, —' and he said, ‘We’re going to loan you to them.’ The next thing I know 190 Squadron’s Stirlings. Can you imagine looking at Stirlings after one of those bloody things?
Interviewer: Must have been massive. Was it? Yeah.
KN: I mean the main wheels were over six, six foot six high they were.
Interviewer: Yeah.
KN: And so because I used to wander around there and nobody said, ‘Who are you and what are you doing?’ You know. I’ve got a Navy uniform by the way you see. So eventually I joined one of the units there and, and of course then I was there until after D-Day. I stayed with them all that time.
Interviewer: So, what did, what were your duties then on the squadron?
KN: Just aeronautical engineer. That’s all.
Interviewer: Ground or air?
KN: Ground. Ground. Yeah.
Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But you just, so it was general servicing and —
KN: Yeah. Well, because I’d done quite a big study and I was, I used to do the electrics, instruments, oxygen all those sorts of things. So that was my job.
Interviewer: Yeah. Did you find it a good aircraft to work on?
KN: Fantastic aeroplane. Yeah. Whenever I could get a ride in it I did you know. I’d had probably dozens of rides. We were testing after major work in the, you know. I’m not saying the right word.
Interviewer: Servicing.
KN: Yeah. Yeah. When they did ground, the servicing up to a certain degree you ought to have a test flight afterwards and I was always on that you see and so any way one, and I enjoyed it. It was wonderful life and, and then of course we painted all the white lines and three whites on each on the fuselage all ready for and there was all these soldiers coming on the day that we left with all the parachutists and —
Interviewer: This was ready for the D-Day invasion.
KN: Gliders and everything like that. Yeah.
Interviewer: Yeah.
KN: On the day it happened and there were people were killing themselves. I don’t know whether you know this but all these Army guys here they couldn’t face it and I think there were two or three committed suicide.
Interviewer: Really?
KN: Waiting to be boarding on to the aircraft which I just couldn’t —
Interviewer: The fear of the unknown.
KN: Couldn’t take it. I was only a young lad really still you know.
Interviewer: Yeah. That’s incredible.
KN: It was.
Interviewer: That’s the first I’ve ever heard of that.
KN: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: That’s amazing. I mean obviously then the Stirling had been employed on bomber duties but obviously when you saw it it was towing the gliders etcetera. Is that –
KN: Well, that was just before D-Day.
Interviewer: Yeah.
KN: Oh no. We were, we were doing normal bombing runs.
Interviewer: Normal bombing runs.
KN: And all sorts of things you know. Yes.
Interviewer: So did the squadron lose a lot of aircraft? Or –
KN: Well, fortunately not. I had two aircraft to look after and, with 190 and we never had any problems at all. We had the odd person who was shot up, the navigator or gunner you see and we used to have, well I didn’t have to do it but it was horrible inside, you know.
Interviewer: Clearing the mess. Yeah.
KN: And my, my job also was on the bomb release down in the front there you see. So I used to make sure everything when it was all loaded that it was ready for dropping you know.
Interviewer: Yeah.
KN: I just loved it.
Interviewer: From what I hear you know I mean you must have had a great affinity with the air crew then. The planes you were on.
KN: Oh yeah. Oh, yes.
Interviewer: Were they a young happy bunch?
KN: Yeah. Well, I was sort of left alone because I was this old man out you know. Who is this guy? You know. He must be something special the job he’s doing here you know. He’s dressed different and, oh yeah.
Interviewer: Did you live in a billet then on the station?
KN: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: How was that then? The after hours. What did you do in the NAAFI etcetera?
KN: Not a lot. Generally just a NAAFI you know and then of course the old wagons used to come around with the coffee and tea and —
Interviewer: Yeah.
KN: Various things. Yeah. It was fantastic. And, and of course after that once D-Day took place we carried on. We were dropping people all over left, right and centre. And then eventually the senior, well from Daedalus in Lee on Solent was their headquarters.
Interviewer: Right.
KN: For the Fleet Air Arm. And this guy used to come up every so often. He was a flight lieutenant sort of type you know and he said to me, he said, ‘I think you’ve had enough here haven’t you?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve enjoyed it.’ If you know what I mean. So he said, ‘I want you, we’ve now got a Technical College.’ The Fleet Air Arm. Which we never had before. That’s why I had to do my initial training at RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire. Six months was the first one I did. So they wanted me so I did extra, a lot of extra study and don’t forget I left school at fourteen.
Interviewer: Yeah.
KN: And so I went to the new college and I did ever so well and so when I, it was time for me to go I joined BOAC which was at Aldermaston. What was an aircraft unit. And so I worked for them and then they sent me to America and Canada to study the new aircraft that was going to come over for London Airport when it was made. It wasn’t even made then you see.
Interviewer: Right. What was the name of this aircraft?
KN: Well, there were, there were two or three kinds but they were all American. All American. Nothing English at all. I’m sorry I can’t remember that now.
Interviewer: That’s ok.
KN: I mean, so after, after that I decided, I went to Montreal for a year to study. When I came back we were at Bristol and our aircraft was in in Bristol and they said I’d done such a good job over there and we were going to do this. Well, it never happened because there were seniors coming in from all over the place to Bristol getting ready to go to London Airport. So I didn’t have quite the seniority that they’d got and eventually, so I said well to heck with this because I said, ‘Look, this guy in Montreal said I’m going to send you a good report. You’ve done ever so well.’ He said, ‘Well we can’t because there’s people been in longer than you have and yet you are expecting me to teach them what to do, you know with these new American aircraft.’ So, one thing led, so I happened to go home at the weekend and I went and got “Flight” magazine and there was a firm wanted somebody like me, aeronautical engineer at Blackbushe near Camberley. And I did about four or five years there. They made me, I was in charge of five units there you know. Radio, electrics, this, that, and the other thing and they said, and all of a sudden somebody said to me, ‘The Canadian Air Force are looking for people you know.’ So it was in West London so I wrote to them and I got an interview and all the rest of it. I mean the thing that we, they couldn’t believe was because I did have all these wonderful things. I’d done it. Studied well and I got. So this, what was it? He was quite a senior officer and he sat down. He said, ‘Right, Mr Neve,’ he said, ‘We’re quite amazed at how much you’ve done in the aeronautical world.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve had the opportunities and I’ve enjoyed it.’ So he said, ‘Right, let’s just take some, I’ve got to send all this off to Ottawa before to say yes we’d like to have you and, of course [laughs] I’d like to tell you this story if you don’t mind. He said, he said to me, ‘Ok. Right. Now, let’s talk about education, shall we? University?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘What? Technical College or – ?’ ‘No. No.’ He said, ‘Well, where did you finish up?’ I said, ‘At Fairfield School, Basingstoke. Fourteen.’ He said, ‘You’re having a joke, aren’t you?’ You know. Sort of thing. I said, ‘No. I left 1939 at Basingstoke.’ And so he said, ‘No. I can’t, I can’t send this to Ottawa. It’s ridiculous. They might think oh he’s done ever so well and he left school when he was fourteen.’ That is grade five or something in Canada. You know whatever it was you know. So, he said, so he said to me, he said, ‘Is there any way you can get somebody to write from your school to say that, ‘Yes, you did attend,’ at least, you know. So, Mr Pill, I was in the top grade when I left at fourteen and his name was Mr Pill. He was a Yorkshireman and he was brilliant with bits of chalk. Right between the eyes if you were nodding off you know. So, I wrote a letter to Fairfield School and he’d left there and he’d gone to another big school. But eventually I had a letter to say, “To whom it may concern. Yes, I would like to confirm —” Da da da and all the rest of it. So I sent it off. It went to Ottawa and they accepted it. The next thing I know I’m four years with Sabre aircraft in Germany.
Interviewer: Wow.
KN: Without getting to —
Interviewer: They posted you straight to Germany on a fighter squadron.
KN: Yeah.
Interviewer: Yeah. That must have been marvellous because the Sabre obviously was just for the enemy —
KN: Well, we had more prangs than whatever.
Interviewer: Really? A lot of crashes.
KN: Terrible. Their engines used to suck out you know.
Interviewer: Big problem.
KN: If you went down too low. If you didn’t keep up a certain speed when they, if they went off looking for people or looking for an object or all the rest of it and they used to get and then the engines just used to go, ‘pfft’ like that. And we lost so many.
Interviewer: Really?
KN: Believe me. So after, after four years they sent me to Prince Edward Island, Summerside and had a wonderful time there, you know. I enjoyed every bit. That was my aircraft there.
Interviewer: That’s a, is that some sort of an Electra or [pause] it looks like an Electra.
KN: No. It’s an Argus that one is.
Interviewer: Oh, is it Argus we’re looking at? We’re looking at a photograph now of a Canadian four piston engine —
KN: Yeah.
Interviewer: Obviously, a Maritimes because it’s got a boom tail on it.
KN: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: Yeah.
KN: Well, what, you see this what our job was it was equipped in the front there with looking for submarines which we should have had during the war. We used to fly six foot over the water. I used to go on all the crews because I used to, well there were various reasons I did and because I was crew chief. They made me crew chief you see. So we used to leave, we used to leave Summerside, go right down the east coast of America right down to the bottom then we’d cross over and we were working with the RAF. They had submarines and we had to find them and if the weather was right we were only so many, thirty feet above the water and this was a fantastic machine. Anything within twenty miles it would pick it up. Anything metal. So then we’d go across to South Africa and we would play. We’d do the same thing for other units and we’d go all the way up through Europe and we ended up in Iceland and that sort of thing. It had thirty five flying hours. We had double crews.
Interviewer: Amazing. I mean that, it’s such a story that’s not been told really about what, what fledgling Air Forces after the war did. I mean the Canadian Air Force obviously as you know was quite small at the outbreak of war and was a huge Air Force when they finished.
KN: Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah.
Interviewer: And yeah. That’s wonderful to recount those stories. I mean I’d just like to think of you, looking back really just to go back to we talked about you ended up working on world breaking machines really but you started off there working on what was affectionately known as the old Stringbags when you first started.
KN: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: Did you feel working on that aircraft you had a particular affinity for working with such an old aircraft? Was it something special?
KN: If I tell you something it can be taken off of there? So, I’m working on one of the old Swordfish you see and I’m right down and I’m looking at all the instrument panels behind the flying panel alright. There was something wrong with this one. It wasn’t working. So I worked on that and got it right. So I’m there laying down here and I’m doing all this with just a torch you know. And the next thing I [laughs] a pair of legs come in the cockpit and all I’m looking at is a pair of legs and some knickers. [laughs] So, I said, ‘Who the hell is that?’ You know, and she says, ‘Oh, it’s me.’ Because they were having girls then in the Fleet Air Arm, you know learning instruments and various other things. So I thought that was rather different.
Interviewer: Well, that will always stay with you won’t it forever. Yeah. A lovely little story. Yeah. Yeah. Well, Ken thank you ever so much for just recounting some of the tales there. I mean, I think you can honestly say that your time in the military was certainly and working with the military was certainly varied. To think that you started off before the war really and finished up as part of a NATO operation in Germany.
KN: I’d like you, when you, when you decide you’ve had enough I’ve got something I’d like to show you up behind you. Let me just —
Interviewer: Ok. Alright. Well, you know that’s that done but thank you ever so much as I say and we look forward to putting this on to our Archive and thank you very much, Ken.
KN: I had a wonderful war and you know I, everything just I never worried. I mean the house next door at Beaconsfield Road in Basingstoke you know all those flare bombs they used to drop there? Well, they burned out next door to me. There was a bomber, a bomb, a bomb had dropped, a German bomb had dropped one three hundred mile, three hundred yards away and that was a sort of a hospital thing for women you know I think it was and all. And I used to I mean at fourteen I used to go out at night with all the lads because all the big [pause] you know when there was a, when the siren went we knew there were aircraft coming over from the coast and that and of course we used to have all the big lights, the searchlights and we used to go up by the church if not the school where I went was not far up the road and I’d go and I would be with all the men all the time. It was just something to do you know.
Interviewer: Yeah.
KN: And we’d pick it up. Not we but where they were doing it they’d pick it up and then of course then would drop and they would release sort of bombs going left, right and centre and it didn’t bother me one little bit.
Interviewer: You’ve no fear at that age.
KN: No.
Interviewer: Yeah. It’s amazing.
KN: It was excitement.
Interviewer: Yeah.
KN: It was lovely.
Interviewer: Well, thank you so much for recounting that.
KN: Well —
Interviewer: And I hope you’ve enjoyed telling the story to us.
KN: Yeah. Ok.


Dave Harrigan and This Interview was recorded by Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire., “Interview with Kenneth Edgar Neve,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2024,

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