Interview with Kenneth Ivan Duddell


Interview with Kenneth Ivan Duddell
1008,1009-Duddell, Kenneth Ivan-N Lincolnshire Disc 2


Ken Duddell flew operations as a flight engineer with 460, 12 and 103 Squadrons.



Temporal Coverage





00:27:03 audio recording


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Interviewer: It’s the 18th of May 2012 and I’m here to interview Mr Ken Duddell who was born on the 1st of March 1924 in Horsehay in Shropshire. Good afternoon, Ken.
KD: Good afternoon, Angela.
Interviewer: Could you possibly give me some information about your training with the RAF?
KD: Yeah. I joined [cough] I joined the Air Force in January 1942 just before I was eighteen and I qualified as a flight engineer in July 1943 at RAF St Athans. I was then posted to 1 Group in Lindholme and then on to Blyton for training. After training at Blyton with a crew, I joined a crew, we went to 460 Squadron Binbrook but our skipper went missing on a second dickie trip. So we stayed there a while, then we went to 12 Squadron at Wickenby hoping to get another skipper. We didn’t. And finally we went to Faldingworth where we picked up Squadron Leader John Whittet who was converted on his second tour. He’d done a tour on Blenheims and Wellingtons before in the Middle East and he qualified on Lancasters and we got posted to 103 Squadron Royal Air Force, Elsham Wolds where he became B Flight commander.
Interviewer: Ok.
KD: From Elsham Wolds, we got to Elsham Wolds in November 1943 and the skipper took over as B Flight commander and we commenced operations shortly afterwards. I flew as a flight engineer on Lancasters and our crew, shall I name the crew? Our crew was Squadron Leader Whittet who was the skipper, pilot, Flying officer Jackson who was the bomb aimer, Flying Officer Dennis O’Neill-Shaw who was the navigator, Flight Sergeant John Kinlay who, a Royal Australian Air Force who was the wireless operator, Sergeant George Bishop the mid-upper gunner and Sergeant John Watt the rear gunner. We commenced flying in November and from then on we flew until the skipper had finished his twenty operations on second, second tour. And we didn’t fly every night because the two flight commanders A and B had to alternate as did the wing commander in charge of the squadron. One of the things we did it was wintertime and we, Butcher decided, that’s Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Harris decided that he would attack Berlin as much as he could. So during that time we went to Berlin nine times and on one time going into, going to Berlin we got hit by a fighter. But as the fighter opened fire so the rear gunner opened fire. Within a few seconds the mid-upper gunner turned and he turned his turret and he fired at him as well and the fighter broke off and although he damaged us we carried on with the mission and bombed Berlin and then came back to Elsham Wolds.
Interviewer: So, Ken, when you went out on these missions how did it make you feel because you were only nineteen and a half years old at the time? Were you, were you scared or what?
KD: Well, if you —
Interviewer: How did you feel?
KD: If you said you weren’t scared you were actually telling lies because everybody was in some way or another. I was there because A) I had an elder brother who was in the Air Force serving in the Middle East. He’d gone out in 1939. Second brother was in the Army and he, he was, he had been to Norway and then he went to Ireland and then eventually went over D-Day plus one. A younger brother, I was the third, the younger brother, the fourth was in the Navy. He was on Destroyers and he was on the run to Russia, Murmansk with the convoys that went there. So my, my feeling was that we were part of a quartet who in any way we could help each other we did this. What the system was at, on operations half past eight in the morning we reported to the skipper that everybody was fit on the crew and then we were detailed. In the meantime, they discovered whether there was operations on or not and we had when we’d done this we were found out if we were allocated to fly that night. If we were the idea get everything together. We would go out to the flights, to the aircraft that had been allocated us and then we would do an inspection and then do an air test for probably half an hour carrying out, you know checking the guns, checking the wireless, checking the navigational aids etcetera and the performance of the aircraft. Come back and hand it over to the ground crew who would then refuel and re-bomb and so forth. After that we would just wait ‘til briefing time and briefing would probably, in the winter was about 3 o’clock time in the afternoon. We would report to the briefing room which was a sealed room and you could only get in if your name was on the list and there was two RAF policemen there checking that you were the actual one. But you went in with your crew. Went in with your seven crew. Previous to that the navigator had been doing his map and route to the target etcetera. So when we got into briefing the wing commander or the group captain stood up and gave a short briefing and pulled the curtain back and we found out where we were going that night. Sometimes you’d find there would be quite an uproar in actual fact. There was a bit of bad language spoken because people said, ‘Not going there again.’ And then they would check the route. The navigation officer would go through the route, what’s the name and somebody would say, ‘Well, hang on. The last time I went there a few weeks ago we got trapped in there. It’s a dead, it’s closed up.’ Because what the Germans had done from the German border right up by Kiel down to the bottom of the French Belgian border and the Dutch border they’d put searchlights, anti-aircraft guns. They had radio masts so that the fighters could fly in between them and to try and map out the course of the, which we were going so they could attack us. And then generally yes it will be alright. Everybody went through the briefing and we then, you decided if you had a flying meal then or whether you had it before. We always a flying meal before take off just in case you didn’t come back because it was always bacon and eggs [laughs] And off you’d go. We got rations. They’d give us sweets and Horlick tablets and we also had an escape kit that you signed for and put in your overalls about six inches square and about an inch deep which had got map, a silk map of Germany and Europe. You’d got also some five cigarettes with matches and the matches were like Bengal matches which you had on bonfires. Not ordinary matches because these if you were escape and evasion you could light a fire somewhere or light things. And we also had water purification tablets so that if you, if you were evading and you came across water if you were uncertain whether it was pure you could get some in, put the tablet in and let it operate and you could get in there. Then when we’d had our flying meal we went up to the squadron at the time preferred, collect all our kit. Put our kit on. We had everybody except the navigator and wireless operator wore special clothing. The reason the nav and the wireless operator didn’t because they were curtained off in a section of the aircraft and the heating for the aircraft came through by the wireless operator. So, they were alright. We used to wear ordinary underwear, long johns and long vest. A vest without a collar with three whats the names on. They were lovely. Normal battledress and then I used to wear what they called an outer suit which had a fur collar and it was I suppose gabardine or something like that but it had lots of pockets in so you could put stuff into your pockets. Sea boots, socks like the sailors had, flying boots. We had four pairs of gloves, one pair of mittens with the fingertips cut out, chamois gloves, silk gloves, and a pair of gauntlets. So then you had the WAAFs and airmen who looked after the flying clothing. It was centrally heated in there so it didn’t go damp and so forth. They handed you your parachute, your Mae West and your parachute harness which would be numbered with yours, with your name on it usually too. Put that on, got all your, engineers had a tool kit to carry. We carried a nav bag that we had to keep a log and we’d got technical data about the aircraft on it in case we landed away and off we’d go to the aircraft. Transport would take us out. We’d do a quick check around to see it was alright. Lots of people had different things they did before take-off like seeing the tail wheel was well lubricated or the last cigarette and quite a lot of people had little, little things they carried with them for good luck. I had a, I had a silk scarf which my mum gave me. I never had it washed during that time. I thought it’s luck. You know it would be bad luck if I did that at all. And then we’d get in the aircraft when the time was right, start up and the sergeant would come in with the Form 700 which was the Servicing Unit. Skipper would sign it, close the door and off we’d go and we’d taxi out. And on the runway there was 103 Squadron one side and 576 the other and it would be alternating aircraft going, taking off. As soon as the other had cleared was about two hundred feet you’d start rolling along again. This was a very dangerous time of, of this because if you had any trouble, you had a wheel, a tyre burst or if you had an engine go until you’d got safety speed, until you got flying speed which was about a hundred and five knots you lifted off and away you’d go. Undercarriage up, flaps up and about four hundred feet you’d be on climbing power and away. You were pretty good then at all with it. Then you went up and if we were going out by Mablethorpe or on the east coast this was one of the favourite ways. We would climb straight ahead and we’d go Goole, [crawl] base. Goole [crawl] base until it was time to set course. Then we’d set course over base and off we’d go climbing all the time again trying to get as high as you could. We often got up to, in the cold we’d get up to twenty three thousand feet with the aircraft. It was very cold up there but you weren’t too bad. If we were going down south we just turned left, climbed to four thousand feet and down to Reading and then from Reading you went out Beachy Head. We would start climbing to go out Beachy Head and across to southern France as high as we could get. One time I know we were going out Beachy Head and Jerry was coming in and dropping red markers for his crews so they could see. But we didn’t stop for a cup of tea and a handshake, you know [laughs] we went on. Everybody said good luck to us and then it was just following the route, sorting everything out, keeping your eyes well open. Our skipper used to, you did one thing, you didn’t say nothing unless you had to. And often the navigator would come up with a change of course, the wireless operator would come up perhaps with a message from Group and because they or base they would transmit quarter to and quarter past every hour if they’d got anything to transmit and the wireless op would listen out and he would probably come up and say, ‘Nothing’s come up skipper.’ And that was it. But about every ten minutes the skipper would go around the crew asking if everybody was alright and he addressed the crew as they were. Bomb aimer, flight engineer, navigator, wireless op, mid-upper gunner or rear gunner and if you’d got anything to say to anybody you talked in that way because it was not Tom, Dick and Harry because if you had a spare person come in place of one he would be, he wouldn’t know what was going on. So if you stuck to that system it was well away which we did all the time.
Interviewer: Right. So, when you got to your target and you’d dropped your bombs what, what was the feeling then?
KD: Well, the thing was as you came over and the bomb aimer said, ‘Bombs going.’ ‘Bombs going.’ ‘Bombs gone.’ Two things. We always carried a four thousand pounder so you can, you can realise if you just you know if you’d got something that’s four pound and you drop it you feel a bit better. As the four thousand pounder went the aircraft started to lift up normally and your heart came out of your feet and started to come up your legs. The other, where it should be. All gone and then when you’d, when the, when the bomb aimer said, ‘Bombs gone,’ you still had to fly along for about forty five seconds because you had to wait until the Cookie had hit the ground and exploded and you dropped a flare in the meantime which caused the photo to be taken so you could take [unclear] you’d hit the target or you hit whatever you set out to do and you felt it and you thought God almighty. The big question we’re better now because not only you’d got rid of the bombs but you’d used roughly half the fuel and if you got twenty one thousand pound of fuel on you would use ten thousand pound of that so you know that was better. You could manoeuvre the aircraft better then if you got attacked and so forth. We didn’t get attacked going over the target or going out of the target but we did get attacked one time on the, coming in before we got there and we, this fighter came in and you could, you could not only hear it you could feel it in the aircraft. When the fighter opened fire they were nearly always tracer because this, this again would, I would say trying to make you frightened as well which it was of course if it was hitting you. And the fighter came in between the fuselage and the port inner engine, number two engine and you could hear it thumping in to the, the cannon fire thumping in to the aircraft and you could also see the other going into the side. But at the same time as he opened fire our rear gunner opened fire and within a few seconds the mid-upper gunner was joining him and we got, now normally when the, when the, when either of the gunners or anybody saw a fighter coming towards you, you would take evasive action. But on this occasion some clever bloke at Bomber Command had decided we’d have a little instrument on the front of, in front of the pilot which indicated a red arrow or a green arrow. The red arrow was port so when the gunner opened fire he didn’t need to speak you should have done it this way. But the skipper said, ‘Which way do you want me to go rear gunner?’ And of course, before he, before he could answer, he was so busy looking after the fighter, the fighter broke off. I suppose it would be about thirty to forty five seconds if that that the fighter attacked us and they were hitting him and he went off again. We got damaged but we were able to drop the bombs and go. But coming out again it was, you had to be, you had to be careful for it as well because the Germans adapted a system where they could, they knew which way you were coming out and find you and it was almost like a dual carriageway. On the right hand side they were going in. On the left hand side they were coming out and there were the German aircraft dropping flares just like lamps lighting up a dual carriageway so you had to be careful of those. One of the things we did, the skipper and I apart from the others the bomb aimer would look out but sometimes he’d be doing the radar so he wouldn’t but sometimes the wireless op would stand up in the astrodome and he’d keep an extra lookout. But the skipper and I he looked in front and to his left and to be aircrew you had to be ninety degrees to you to be able to see otherwise you weren’t able to do this. And that was his job and then mine was to look straight ahead my side because I sat on his right hand side. Out to the starboard wing over the top and over the top of the skipper as well and sometimes so I could you know search for him. If we were in searchlights he would drop the seat and he would be on instruments so he wouldn’t be able to see outside but sometimes there was a bulb on the starboard side on the engineer’s side and I’d look down quick. Look down at the target you know and he’d know I’d done it. ‘Don’t look down there engineer.’ He’d tell me off. But you’d come back and you were, you were active all the time. You’d got to keep your wits about you and come back and coming up to the enemy coast no matter which one it was you usually put the nose down and lost a few thousand feet, you know to get the speed to go on because we were keeping it. And then coming back if we were coming back into Mablethorpe as we did often you’d come across the North Sea or come up the North Sea over the east coast of England and you dropped down to what? About three or four thousand feet. Come over the coast and then you’d see lights. Green and red lights coming from the left side. The port side. The left hand side. That was the Halifaxes going back to Yorkshire and that way. You would come in and you, you’d call. Our aircraft was K-King mostly. King 2000 and the WAAF who was on the air traffic would say, ‘Call down wind K-King. Call downwind.’ And you’d come back and you heard a different voice and you knew you were back. You heard this WAAF there talking and sometimes you got to know them you know. Oh, that’s Betty or Freida or something like that. Then you’d come down and then come in, circle in and land back at dispersal depending upon if you’d got any bad damage. If you’d got bad damage you took it to the hangar. You told flying control and they’d take you to the hangar. If not you’d come back and in to the ground crew. They’d have a look and sort it out. See if there was any external damage and then you’d get out and the skipper would just sign the 700 if there was any snags with it. One of our ground crew, Ricky his name was he was LAC airframe mechanic and every trip before we went we used to have jam in four pound tins in the Messes. He’d got one of these tins with a drop of petrol in and some water and a rag and he’d clean the floor of the aircraft from the nose to the tail. And as we climbed in the aircraft to go and the skipper would say, ‘Thank you very much.’ And he’d say, ‘Bring it back clean, skipper.’ Hoping that we would come back. Yeah.
[recording paused]
KD: At Elsham we had obviously that every, every part of every, every aircrew person that the skipper went and sat in the flight commander’s office. The navigators had their own section as did, the same with engineers. Anyway, you can do this too and when you came back and you got stripped off and changed and went into operations to be debriefed from it the first thing you did was look at the board up there to see who’d landed and who hadn’t and then, just in case because you’d got friends on them you know. You would know a lot of people in there. We actually lost about twelve hundred who were killed anyway and you, you just wanted to know how your friends had got you know. You’d come back and you say, ‘Oh, good trip?’ ‘Yeah.’ Or, ‘Oh, we had a really awful one.’ And so you’d look at that and if, if when you went they still hadn’t come back you didn’t, you didn’t say, ‘Oh, well they’re gone,’ because they could have landed somewhere because sometimes especially if they landed at a training aerodrome they wouldn’t think too notify Elsham that aircrew had landed you see. So this often happened because it happened with one, my friend Cyril Bradclough. His crew. They landed at Wellesbourne Mountford I think at times but they forgot to notify Elsham. So nothing had come by about eleven, half past eleven in the morning so they sent telegrams to the families to say they were missing and then about half past one this aircraft came over and they landed. So fortunately, they went on seven days leave straightaway.
Interviewer: Very good.
KD: Survivors leave. But you always looked for people that you’d got, so and so and especially if somebody was coming up towards the end of the tour. The tour was roughly thirty. Twenty if you were second tour. And I did twenty nine and you’d look and see twenty eight, twenty nine. Oh yeah. So and so and so and so’s crew. And you’d got, you’d got friends and you know and if somebody had gone you just hoped that they had been able to bale out and even if they were taken prisoner of war that was better than being killed. But you didn’t get notification until a long long while after whether probably you had left the squadron and gone somewhere else and then you had heard that your friend had survived. Like I had a friend on 576 Squadron, Cyril Van der Velde he was a flight engineer. He got shot down on the 3rd 4th of May at Mailly le Camp and he was, he was, he escaped and he joined the Maquis for about seven or eight months before he got captured anyway. But I had a friend Tom Moore, he was a signaller and he was on 103 and in the beginning of December his brother came to visit and was allowed to live in his Nissen hut because he’d been accepted to be a navigator in the Air Force and we the three of us went out together a couple or three times and then the night of the 16th of December 1943 to Berlin Tom got shot down and he was killed. He’s buried in Berlin and a couple, I’ve always said to Valerie, ‘I must go and see Tom’s grave before I go.’ So a couple of years ago she said, ‘We’re going.’ So we went to see his grave and it was, it was upsetting because to me he was still twenty three year old. My friend Tom. And I’d had sixty seven years since then. Courted the girl I loved, married, had a family and I was still living. He was still lying there where he was. It could be very upsetting. Especially if the crew were popular and nearly every one was anyway. You only found the odd one that was a bit gruffy.
Interviewer: Well, Ken, thank you very much for for telling us your stories and this oral history will be kept for many a youngster to listen to. So, thanks very much, Ken.
KD: That’s fine, Angela. Any time. Thank you.


This Interview was recorded by Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire., “Interview with Kenneth Ivan Duddell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 18, 2024,

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