Interview with Wilf Keyte


Interview with Wilf Keyte
1018,1019-Keyte, Wilf


Wilf Keyte joined the RAF in 1937 and was based with maintenance units. He was posted to Scampton and Henlow where he worked with the Queen Bee missile unit. He was then posted in charge of stores to the Orkneys and then RAF Swinderby. Wilf was then posted to India where again he was in charge of stores and was given the task of closing stations in India before returning to the UK where again he continued this role including working with the Royal Navy to close their station at Grimsetter to return it to the RAF.



Temporal Coverage





00:20:26 audio recording


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Interviewer: This is an interview with Mr Wilf Keyte on the 15th of November 2010 at his home in Lincoln regarding his experiences in the Second World War.
WK: I joined the RAF in December 1937 and I eventually made my way to RAF Scampton and joined 83 Bomber Squadron and I was working in the stores, in the Maintenance Flights of 83 Squadron. It had recently moved down from Turnhouse in Scotland and I stayed with the squadron until 1940 [pause] 1940, when I was posted down to RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire where I was, I was working on such things as the Queen Bee which was a guided missile aircraft which we had and it was used quite a lot in those days. But I eventually left. Left Henlow and was posted to the Orkney Island to RAF Skeabrae where I was the barracks, in charge of the barrack stores in in the Orkneys. I was only supposed to have stayed there for a maximum of nine months but in fact I was there from January 1942 until November 1943. I was given a home posting so they said to RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire and I found myself in charge of the barrack stores at Swinderby. We had, it was a heavy bomber Conversion Unit where they were converting crews from twin-engined aircraft to four-engined aircraft. A mixture of Stirlings and and Lancasters they had there. I stayed, I stayed at RAF Swinderby for the best part of two years and I used to live near a village called Burton and the most remarkable thing about living out there that there was the ditches were filled with thousand pound bombs on the roadside. In fact, I had a bungalow which was next, next door to a bomb dump and I used to ride through this bomb dump to get to Swinderby. I stayed at Swinderby until in 1945 and I was, I was posted to RAF Syerston and at RAF Syerston I found myself involved with a force which was called the Tiger Force which was supposed to be to assemble a force of Lancasters, three squadrons I think it was to fly to Okinawa and the intent was to bomb Japan from Okinawa. And I was told that I was due to fly out to Okinawa in a Lancaster on the 15th of September 1945. Events of course took place with the bombing of Japan with atomic bombs which meant that the Tiger Force was was cancelled and they wrote, all the people were being sent here, there and everywhere. That as far as I was concerned it went on for about three months where I was sent down to number 5PDC I think it was. It was based at, in London and the Viceroy Court was the block of flats that we had. And we were repeatedly let go on leave and I finally finished up with amongst us there were six of us that had been there since August waiting to go overseas and the CO saw us. We decided that we’d had enough of messing around with waiting for this movement and we went off to the orderly room to ask if we could go on leave. And the CO came out and saw us and he said, ‘What are you —’ so and sos, ‘Doing here?’ And we said, ‘Oh, we’re waiting to go on leave sir.’ He said, ‘Oh, I’ll fix you.’ Well, the result was that next day we found, we found that we were, we were on orders to move and we went up to Waterbeach in Cambridge and we eventually flew out of Waterbeach in a Liberator and I was down in the bomb bay of this Liberator. We flew to Malta and stayed overnight and then the next day we went on to place called Castel Benito in Libya. It was called Idris Airport afterwards but we flew on from there the next, not the next day because we sat. There was no movement the next day. We flew on to Cairo and we stayed in Cairo for five days and then we flew on to Habbaniya in Iraq. And we eventually the next day we flew on to Karachi which is now in Pakistan of course and there they decided where we were going. Somewhere in India. And I was one of the people who was selected to go. Go down to Puna. What it was that the, we’d been going to the cinema and playing bingo and we started checking on how much was being paid out in prizes because we found out that the sums that were given in prizes didn’t work out how much people were paying. They did. The army were running it and they weren’t very pleased with us and they got rid of us to Puna over Christmas in 1945 and we stayed at, stayed at Puna until after Christmas. Then I went on to where I was scheduled to go and that was Avadi, which was a big base near Madras. And that’s when I came up against the Tiger Force again where I found out that the base had been built for springboard for the attack against Japan and it was for all three services. Fifty miles of rail tracks gives you some idea of the size of the place and we had even three English style pubs there. But before I left England I’d been selected for a commission and I went on from Avadi. I was given a hot weather posting up to a place called Kanpur in the Central Provinces. And it was while I was at Kanpur that a posting came for me to go down to Ceylon to do the officer’s training. And I was down in Ceylon at a place called Kandy which was up in the hills and I then found out why Mountbatten had moved his headquarters from Delhi, actually and the rest of the command had moved it from Delhi because it was beautiful in Kandy. It was like a warm summer’s day. And I completed my course, courses at Kandy and went back to where I came from which was Kanpur in India. But the wing commander I worked for said it was unfair for me to be promoted or commissioned on the same unit as I’d been working as a flight sergeant and he thought I should be posted but the CO said, ‘If he’s any good now’s his chance to prove it.’ But it didn’t last very long because they had a vacancy for an equipment officer at a place called Chakulia which was in the state of [Baha.] That was out towards the east side of the country and I went. I went to Calcutta where the headquarters was and I went in to see the group captain administrator and I was told I’d got to close this unit within a fortnight. And I visited the unit. It was three hundred and twenty miles from Calcutta and said, ‘No. It will take me six weeks to close that station down.’ And there was a door opened in the office and I didn’t take any notice of it but then the AOC walked in and he said, ‘The trouble with you people at Chakulia is that you’re away from all discipline and you’re enjoying yourself out there.’ And the group captain finally got a word in and he said, ‘He’s only been there forty eight hours, sir.’ Anyway, I went back to Chakulia and it did take six weeks because there were, there were several storehouses full of equipment plus a lot of vehicles we had to get rid of and the only place we could get rid of the vehicles was a place called Ranchi which was a two hundred mile trip by road and then you had to wait for the drivers to come back before you could send any more vehicles. But I finally did finish it and went back to Barrackpore near Calcutta and when we got there we were told, ‘Well, you’ve wasted your time because we’re scrapping all this stuff.’ And that’s what happened. It was all put up for sale. Everything that we had there. And I was sent to, to the on another closure job which was at RAF Dum Dum which is now Calcutta Airport and to close that station down and one of the things that we had there was, there was some Spitfires which were being shuffled from England out to Australia and they, we couldn’t get any pilots to fly them and so we were told to put the axe through them and make them unflyable. Well, eventually we moved. We did. We did manage to close the station down and took all the airmen out to Delhi for them to be sent elsewhere and I went up to Delhi and reported into the air headquarters and I was told by two flight lieutenants ‘Oh, you’ll be going to Singapore now but you’ve got to wait to see the wing commander.’ And I waited to see the wing commander and he said, ‘Oh, you’ve been here long enough. Go home.’ So that was the end of my tour in India. And I came home and eventually I was sent up to a unit called RAF Montrose. Eventually I found myself having to close Montrose down. I was, I was made the officer in charge of the marching out and I had to go through all the buildings handing them over to the Works Department to close RAF Montrose. And we moved up to a place called Edzell which was twelve miles inland and they tried to get me posted earlier but the CO said, ‘No. You wait until he’s finished his job,’ and they said, ‘Well, you’re not going to keep him.’ And they sent me down to the Group Headquarters at Hucknall and I left. I left that all behind me. Eventually I got to a place called Kidlington near Oxford. I’d been on an explosives course on handling and sorting explosives and I found myself closing units down all below. They were getting rid of all the bombs from RAF stations and they were being shipped and dumped out to sea. And I finally finished that job and I found myself being posted overseas again. So that’s, that’s the end of the story as it were.
Interviewer: You were, your time in the Orkneys attached to Fighter Command.
WK: Yeah.
Interviewer: Can you tell us what you were doing? Your job more specifically?
WK: Well, I was, I was, I went up there and I was in charge of the barrack stores.
Interviewer: Right.
WK: And I found, found myself getting another job because the RAF was expanding and the Navy were pulling out of a place called Grimsetter just outside Kirkwall and I was sent over, sent across to Grimsetter to go around and check all the barrack equipment. Blankets etcetera. In other words take over the station so that the RAF could move back into Grimsetter and that took me several months of course. Two months when I was working with the Navy.
Interviewer: And you had your family up there.
WK: Yes, we were fortunate enough that my wife and two sons they came up to the Orkneys and we, we lived on a farm in [unclear] and they enjoyed the life there. The one thing they didn’t enjoy was the wind which [laughs] because there was a paper in those days in the Orkneys which was called, “The Orkney Blast,” and it was aptly named, “The Orkney Blast,” because I was blown off my bicycle several times with the strong wind and even our coal lorry was blown off the road with the strong winds. But we lived with the cold wind in the Orkneys. You got used to it but when we left in November 1943 and we got on this ship at Stromness the sea was flat calm. It was just like sailing across a sheet of glass. It was most uncanny because the Pentland Firth is well known for the ferocious seas that you can get up there.
Interviewer: Pathfinders.
WK: Well, not so much the Pathfinders as it was. It was the [pause] I can’t remember the name now. The Tiger Force.
Interviewer: Oh.
WK: Yeah.
[recording paused]
WK: When I was in India I had, I’d been selected for an officer’s training before I left and I arrived, when I arrived in India they knew all about it and they sent me down to Ceylon and there was, there were two squadrons of Dakotas in those days. One was based, well both were based at Karachi and one flew eastabout and the other flew westabout and I went on the eastabout route which we took off at 6 o’clock in the morning because of the weather conditions. The heat was uncomfortable for flying and we landed for breakfast and then we flew on for another two hours and landed for lunch and night stop and it took a week to fly from Delhi down to Ceylon and [pause] sorry. Oh yes. The, when I, my final unit in, in India was in a place called Dum Dum. It was a village which had a reputation for rebels and one the reason it was named Dum Dum was because that was where the Dum Dum bullets were made originally which were well known worldwide for use by terrorists and the, they were flying the people out from Dum Dum when we, when we closed down up to Delhi and the CO decided that we were not going to. He and I were not going to fly in these Dakotas. That he sent the rest of the station and we we were sent aboard a BOAC York flying first class up to Delhi and the pilot was very kind to us. He did a circuit around Calcutta so that we could take a last look of it before we went home. Where they used to get, used to get tea —


Claire Bennett and This Interview was recorded by Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire., “Interview with Wilf Keyte,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 28, 2024,

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