Interview with Ken Done


Interview with Ken Done


Ken served as a wireless operator on an Air Sea Rescue launch.





01:19:31 audio recording


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This is ex-LAC Kenneth Done, wireless operator. I came into the world in South London near the Crystal Palace on the 5th of October 1920. It is cogent to this report that I mention my parents for my father was over six foot and as a young man in 1908 he had enlisted as a trooper in the Household Cavalry, but he had married a pretty but very petite young lady. They married during the war and I had a happy childhood but after a time it became pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to be the handsome man my father was but quite a short little individual. It didn’t interfere with my childhood which was quite happy but on occasions when he was working and I was going out with mother he would say, ‘Look after mother my boy.’ And of course I said, ‘I will.’ But deep in my mind I knew what could I do? I was a wimp. I hadn’t got a lot of courage. But I kept these thoughts to myself. However, I gained a scholarship to a wonderful Grammar School in South London which importantly had a Cadet Corps which I immediately joined. Now with father’s background I was always turned out very smartly and by the time I had left school I had reached the rank of company sergeant major. This was in 1938. The Phoney War. Everybody was in a chaotic state. They felt that something bad was coming but how to cope with it and it was difficult at first to try to find employment until I had the luck to be accepted on the permanent staff of the Borough Treasurers Department in Chelsea Town Hall in Central London. Understanding the situation and knowing that others were doing so I wanted to enlist because I was undoubtedly Army coordinated particularly with my background. But obviously I couldn’t try the Household Cavalry because of my size but I wanted a decent regiment. I tried all the best regiments. Honourable Artillery Company, Inns of Court etcetera but so many people had volunteered that they were temporarily holding back and consequently I got nowhere but there was plenty to do in the office in preparation as everybody, every other council was doing for ARP, air raid precautions as also they were preparing the basement of the building into an ARP Control Room. At this point I was able to make some arrangement to see the recruiting sergeant for the Territorial Regiment to which my Cadet Corps had been affiliated. He asked me for my name, my address, my age and my occupation and when I said Local Government Officer he tore it up and said, ‘You are Reserved Occupation.’ You see, war had been declared on September the 3rd and this was September the 5th. There was nothing I could do about it. I had to accept it. But I did find that I had plenty do with some of the seniors were leaving to join the forces and doing quite a lot of work that I would never have done in peacetime. Now, the whole point of this is to make sure that I and many others like me were in London in the Blitz and my anger changed to the Luftwaffe with the result that I applied to the Borough Treasurer and he agreed and also with the agreement of the Chairman of the Finance Committee I was released and I immediately applied to join the Royal Air Force. I got an interview. I was so vehement in what I wanted that I left the room on the understanding that I might be called for training as a fighter pilot which is what I wanted. Now, at school I’d also been a good sprinter but I loved being in the gymnasium and I was fit. I may be small but I was fit and I had the most enquiring physical examination ever and I passed without any bother whatsoever until I was just walking out of the door when I was called back with the remark, ‘This won’t take a moment. Just look at this.’ And it was a small book with a number of different coloured spots on it and it very quickly pointed out that although I was not completely colour blind I was colour defective. The powers that be at RAF soon sorted me out and that left me in the air. However, I was informed that they needed wireless operators and it would stand me in good stead to become a wireless operator, be posted to an aerodrome and then reapply and like a fool I agreed. Consequently, August 1941 saw me at Blackpool doing basic training and learning the Morse Code and of course I had a very quiet twenty first birthday in Blackpool. In the meantime, Iris and I had become more close and she knowing that she would be called up and her background was of a competent and highly qualified shorthand typing. After she had done her basic training she was then posted directly to Bentley Priory, Fighter Command and she was put into Command Accounts. But before this we had got married and we managed to get our leaves to synchronize but we found it a bit of a bind to have to split each week between the two families. Consequently, I go on but Castle Camps was receiving the necessary ground crews, personnel of all trades and sizes in order to raise Castle Camps to the status of an aerodrome. With the advent of WAAFs as well although an AC2 I was put in charge of one regular watch which thank goodness included a qualified teleprinter operator and naturally when on watch the operating orders for squadron was coming through my hands. But I’d forgotten to tell you that when everything was prepared 157 Squadron flew in with Mosquitoes. In talking to members of the squadron wireless, fitters, etcetera I understood that there was a navigator and more or less what he did. Looking at a screen let us call it for the sake of argument a direction finding screen it meant to say you could find a spot on there that would tell you if it was another aircraft and what you could do about it. And here’s the thing that matters. Apparently, it didn’t matter whether you had colour defection or not. I immediately applied to see the adjutant. I explained my situation and how I felt. He was a very helpful man. He passed me to the CO. A group captain who was also CO of the squadron. With his support I had an interview. I passed out without any bother and whilst this has been passed down to the adjutant he then arranged for me very kindly for the navigating officers at the squadron to give me some basic training before I went on the full course. Going back to Iris and myself having said that we were fed up with splitting our holidays I was talking to one of the WAAFs on our section and she very kindly pointed out that her sister who lived in Newton Abbott in the southwest country would put us up for board and lodging for a week. So we had our travel warrants made out to Newton Abbott and away we went and it was a pleasant leave. But once or twice we spent the day in Torquay when one day being on the harbour I saw a smart looking boat coming in with some throbbing engines and a number on its bows. It attracted my attention and when she got close I could see it had got the RAF roundel on it. Fortunately, she came alongside, tied up and the skipper, a flight sergeant came ashore. Well, I showed him my 1250 and explained who I was and what I was and asked him what this was about. And he said, ‘Air Sea Rescue,’ and proceeded to give me all the information that I needed which I found was very interesting. We finished our leaves. Iris went to Bentley Priory. I went to Castle Camps. The next day I was told that the adjutant wanted to see me. Ah good. This is my posting to the course. How wrong I was. It was to tell me that unfortunately they had enough applications with perfect eyesight and they’d taken my name off the list. But he then said, ‘Is there anything else you would like to do?’ Without hesitation I said, ‘Air Sea Rescue.’ Within a fortnight I was at Calshot. At Calshot I was eventually crewed onto HSL 2677, a Hants and Dorset. I had a peculiar feeling of, as I stepped on board of coming home and I felt that I had eventually achieved something. We were on our way up to our station which was eventually to be I think 22 MCU at Grimsby. However, on our first trip to Dover being yes I’ve got to say being cocky I thought I’d better do my job and I tested everything that was electrical. I even took off the cover off the big searchlight. There were one or two looks but nobody said a thing until towards the end of the day at dusk there was a shout for sparks. Oh, that’s me. Skipper said, ‘Dover Castle calling us.’ And, but it was by light. I grabbed the aldis lamp. Do you think I could read it? No. The skipper said, ‘Give him T.’ I did. And another word, ‘Give him T.’ I did. He said, ‘Give him R.’ I did. And the skipper said, ‘Wellington Dock cockswain.’ To this day I’m damned sure he knew just where he was going so he knew what to come on the light. However, if I’d known that there was a paint locker and it was aft I’d have hurled myself into it. Anyway, we went into Dover. The next morning when we came on deck there were a large number of RAF boats of various types. There were Navy torpedo boats, mounted torpedo boats, motor gun boats. We never really knew what was about but it was some major scheme from high above and what was happening was that we were sent on to a rendezvous with a whaleback every morning just off of Dungeness point each morning. Of course, the whaleback would lift her skirts and push off and we plodded on until one day having been in SHQ signals at Castle Camps I was used to codes and we were issued with one day pads and mainly to pass the time before we left Dover I had encoded a RTB. A Return To Base. And sure enough we were only halfway towards Dungeness when I got an RTB for all boats. I immediately called to the skipper, ‘RTB skipper.’ It was the only time in my life when he queried it. He said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘The whaleback’s still going on.’ And I cheerfully said, ‘Oh he’s still decoding it, skipper. I uncoded before we left Dover.’ ‘Right.’ He said, and of course we got back to base a long while before the whaleback and when they came up and tied alongside my crew were pulling the legs of the other crew offering to take a rope for a tug if they wanted it until I heard one of my crew say, ‘You want to get yourself a decent wireless operator.’ I then knew that I’d been accepted. Eventually we were released and we proceeded on our journey to Grimsby when coming around Kent and [unclear] the coxswain said to the skipper that there was something adrift. In other words when coming, shall we say to say starboard at full speed he could turn the wheel easily but when coming to port at full speed it was very very hard work. The skipper said, ‘Right.’ And we went into Felixstowe and then asked the engineering department to come and try and sort this out and we took one probably a flight sergeant out for a trip to let him try it himself. No answer. It moved up to eventually the engineering officer himself was taken out and tested it. No answer. It went up to Group. Now, all this time we were in Felixstowe waiting to take these people out to try and sort out our problems with the result that we were there for a few weeks. And it was at the Ordnance Pub in Felixstowe where I became a member of Cardinal Puff. I became a cardinal. Cardinal Puff. Yes. It’s a drinking trick and if you don’t get it right believe me you’re drunk. However, in the end the engineers gave up and more or less said, ‘Well, you’ll have to put up with it.’ So we proceeded north and eventually got on our station which was I think was 22 MCU at Grimsby. The fishing fleet at Grimsby were in a dock. I should think it was Alexander Dock and there was before you could get to it there was of course a lock. You got to the lock through a large basin with a muddy bottom and the system there was if you were duty boat you tied up for twenty four hours in the outer basin because at that time it was known as a crash call. There is a difference that it means that it wasn’t until it was received this order that you left port. We did a number of these crash calls and were not successful for by the time we got to the position given the only sort of thing we might find were yellow painted oxygen bottles, somebody’s flying boot or a tail wheel kept afloat by the inflated tyre. And it was on one of these trips that something happened to me as an individual. As you have already heard I had considered myself as fairly useless as far as strength or anything else for certain but I hadn’t been tested in any way and on this particular trip the weather worsened and worsened and on our return she was rolling from side to side nearly rolling her guns under. Then suddenly she’d plunge her nose in and the foredeck would disappear and when her stern went up the skipper was there to ease the engines on the props and I was deep deep down frightened. Completely and utterly frightened. Then I realised I couldn’t get off, nowhere to go and a sense of calm almost took over because although I still was frightened outwardly I was controlling my feelings and I found that I could go on watch and do my work quite correctly. And from that point I had realised that I had been thoroughly tested and to my own satisfaction whether it was good or bad I had kept control and it was from that time that I was able to accept myself completely as I was and it altered my attitude to life and behaviour. Well now, when we were off duty there we would go through the lock into the docks and tie up alongside. There was a bit of scrubland and the fence and luckily there was a hole in the fence. Don’t tell anybody else but we used this to go in and out and walked up the street to three houses which had been requisitioned for the crews. One morning we turned up as usual. The skipper turned up. He said, ‘Go straight back to the village, get all your gear. Everything. We’re posted.’ Ok. We did this and we set off south. I have no complete recollection of how we travelled but we did and I believe that we went first to Lowestoft. Apparently and it did get out but it was tried to be repressed because of morale that some young gung-ho American fighter pilot having spotted the boat, didn’t take trouble to examine it thoroughly but gave it a hell of a thrashing. Killed some of the crew and finally the boat sank and we were there to replace this wretched boat. Now, also during this time from when we’d been in Grimsby and come down common sense had at last prevailed at headquarters and with the increased work done by our Bomber Command and the American daily bombing raids and we could see them with all the contrails as they went down but obviously our headquarters knew the path they would take with the result that if you were duty boat you went out first light. It might take you two, almost three hours sometimes to get to your rendezvous but it meant to say that the boats were already out and waiting and was a great saver of time and I believe of lives. And then we moved up another day that I will never forget. I think it was out of Lowestoft but we had been sent out as usual on rendezvous and I must point out that not only did we have a receiver and transmitter in the radio room but we had a 1054 receiver always switched on to 500kcs, the Mayday call and I had taken the morning watch. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining. Distance was infinity according to we jolly sailors. The sea was quite calm and my oppo, opposite number had had his mid-day meal, came up to relieve me. Before I went below I went up on to the open bridge to have a cigarette. Whilst I was there as clear as a bell, ‘Mayday. ‘Mayday. Mayday.’ I dived into the wheelhouse and started to press the emergency button and started taking things down in my logbook when the skipper came up. ‘What’s the trouble?’ ‘Mayday call.’ We heard, ‘Control. Tell this aircraft what to do and give him a vector.’ The skipper with his knowledge realised it could possibly be us and we also heard Control say, ‘Call Seagull 30,’ which was my call sign. I looked at the skipper because as you know I cannot use any transmission without authority. I raised my eyebrows. He gave me a nod and I took over from there. I called him. Let’s call him for the sake of argument Buffalo 3. ‘Buffalo 3, this is Seagull 30 reading you loud and clear. How do you read me?’ He came back instantly, ‘Loud and clear also.’ Now, this was a normal voice. Steady. But I remember in the end we dropped all officialdom and spoke to each other as though we were on the telephone. I assured him sincerely that we would find him. That we were only a bunch of limeys but it was our job and we knew what we were doing and I could feel him settle down. I suggested things that he could do but I had to be careful because this was in plain language on an open call. But I suggested for example that if he'd satisfied himself not once but twice that he could see no other aircraft he therefore wouldn’t be needing a seatbelt because he wouldn’t be doing any aerobatics to check that his canopy clips were ok. That did he, anything else that kept him in the cockpit and so on. And then as we were talking I had to break in on occasion and say, ‘Hold one.’ Because there was a lot of shouting and it was the fact that they spotted him and I told him that we could see him and in fact that I myself could see him and we were dead in line and his change was almost immediate. I said, ‘Can you see us?’ he said, ‘No.’ I said with frustration, ‘But I’ve told you we’ve got our throttles up against the stops. We must be leaving a wake a mile long. Look dead ahead for our wake.’ And he immediately came back and said, ‘I can see you.’ ‘Can you see the red and white squares on the foredeck?’ ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘That’s us buddy boy.’ And the joy in his voice was a pleasure to hear. Anyhow, only a few moments later he said, ‘Look after me boys. I’m coming down now.’ And I was obviously everybody was on their toes. Everybody was excited. I stayed in the wheelhouse just to finish writing up my log and I walked up, all smiles, cocky as usual to introduce myself as, ‘I am Seagull 30.’ But the crew were gathered around him in dead silence and they said, ‘But he’s dead.’ And I swore at them. I said, ‘He can’t be. I’ve just been talking to him.’ But I was so shattered I never stopped to think. To ask what happened. To this day I still don’t know but that was one of the worst days in my life and has always been with me as to whether or not I could have done enough. Anyhow, we gradually got over it because it crashed and upset the whole crew. We however got over it fortunately and started doing our work as usual and doing a lot of sea time. When before we set out one morning and the skipper came down, called the coxswain and said, ‘I want a white five-pointed star painted on the cabin roof.’ He got it but obviously we were thinking something is in the air. I don’t know whether it was the same day but I know that a few days later, it might have been a week or two but we shifted around into the Channel. I cannot remember where we called in and moored. It was one of the small ports on the south coast. The next day we went out again leaving it to the skipper to take us to the right rendezvous and when we got there and shut the engines down the skipper then said, ‘Today is D-Day.’ At that time I had taken the morning watch and everybody was biting their nails worrying, thinking and about half past ten in the morning I got my most important message I’d ever had. It was to all boats and when decoded simply said, ‘Carry on.’ Skipper said, taking a deep breath, ‘That is what I have been waiting for. It means the landing has succeeded.’ And we proceeded more westerly. At the end of D-Day we returned to the small port on the south coast. D plus one we then went right down in order to join the periphery of the landing area. Our work on the, off the Mulberry gradually faded out as the Americans took the showboat Cherbourg Peninsula and our troops broke out and advanced along the Channel Ports of the continent which meant to say that gradually we could start having a weekend pass. On one such occasion I had gone to London for a forty eight pass and on my return the boats had gone including 2677. Where to? Ostend. However, of course they couldn’t wait for me and I had to remain behind on the base party and was in the whole of the stream of lorries and garreys that were passing and eventually followed by sea. Eventually I arrived at Ostend myself. There I was given the job as a telephonist using a mobile ten point PBX. Until my joy one day the skipper of 2678 invited me to join his crew which I did with a lot of delight. Now this crew like my other was very good. The skipper was a decent man. Sergeant Robin [Hazard] was the coxswain. Corporal Frank Standon, the second coxswain and the rest of the crew were easy and able to get on with. A number of things did happen at Ostend. One when we were off duty Robin and I wanted to have coffee after the mid-day meal and went to a nearby café where we found that the café was empty except for the family who had just finished their own lunch. We apologized but they invited us to join them in coffee and this turned out to be a fairly regular occurrence which enabled me eventually to have some very good conversational French. At the same time we had been billeted in a hotel on the corner of the Place Dame. The ground floor was the usual café restaurant. The upper floor with the side entrance was a hotel. The first floor therefore had been the dining room. This became a small dance floor. And on the first floor also were the owners and the staff. We having I think second third or fourth floors and I found myself on the first, the fourth floor, the top floor which had a balcony. Four of us to a room. Two double bunks. One was occupied by the nipper. He was a motorboat crew on another boat, myself and two corporals. One a corporal fitter, and two a wireless bod called Roberts, Robbie. We all got on exceedingly well. Robbie had a peculiar sense of humour and some information which you may like to know but will find useless he found that a contraceptive would hold something like a pint and a half of water and when tied in a knot at the end a waterbomb. Having produced this and leaning over he decided he’d drop it. He did and it landed right at the feet of two soldiers who were crossing the road. Obviously, they got drenched and were furious much to Robbie’s amusement. In fact, I had to grab his belt to prevent him falling over himself. Another thing that happened was that laughter is contagious and one evening I was writing letters, the usual odds and ends when a lot of laughter was heard and people were coming out of the rooms wanting to know what was going on. They refused to tell us but then doubled up with laughter and eventually they told us to go to a certain café. A day or two later in the evening four of us decided to go to this café. I was leading. I opened the door and you must from hence off put in your own words but as I opened the door he looked up, gave me a nice smile and told me to, ‘Push off.’ Which stopped me in my tracks. However, he indicated four places. I said, ‘Oui.’ And what had happened is that as the British Army had swept through Ostend and stayed for a moment this was a sample of service humour. They had taught him English one, back to front and two, really strong language. I won’t tell you how he described Belgian beer. He offered his two daughters for you know what and it carried on like this until at the end when we finally staggered out I turned around to say, ‘Goodnight.’ And he called out, ‘Hello. Hello. Don’t come again.’ One other thing that happened was most unpleasant. In my recollection entering Ostend Harbour on your starboard side was the town quay which had been taken over by the Navy MTBs and MGBs. We went into another part of the dock where the e-boat pens had been built and we had to use them. They’d been alright for the German boats who had whip aerials but we had to take our masts down every time we entered the damned things when on one occasion something went drastically wrong among the Naval boats. They were refuelling and something sparked and all hell broke loose. There were ammunition all springing up. Torpedo heads exploding. Fuel tanks exploding. It spread quickly from one boat to another and it was complete and utter chaos and one of the bravest things, I don’t know where it came from but it was an Army fire float who was sailing straight into the middle of all this chaos. A very unhappy day. We also continued our sea time and then of course thank heaven, the Armistice. That was something to celebrate. But it didn’t take very long for the fact that 2678 was then ordered straight back to Gorleston. When we arrived there we found another fairly new Hants and Dorset 2696. We were ordered to leave 2678 and take over 96 and with five other boats we were destined to Norway. The reason for this is that whilst on the continent the German forces were retreating but fighting very strongly. There had been something like twenty five thousand German troops still armed in Norway and the powers that be didn’t realise whether or not they would lay down their arms. They therefore thought they were pulling a tough regiment. They may have been commandos, I cannot remember but two boats were sent to Trondheim, two to Stavanger and two to Oslo and we were destined for Stavanger. We arrived there but I have no remembrance as to why but we returned to the entrance of the fjord where there was a small fishing village Tananger. Once again after a short time we received some other instructions and we left behind on 96 as boat watch our doc and my oppo, my opposite number and the rest of us were flown up to Bergen by Sunderland. Having arrived there and settled into a very nice house up on the hills around Bergen we then were ordered to take over a German Air Sea Rescue launch rather different from ours. She was quite a bit longer, higher [shier] and her layout was quite different. For example, there was no immediate private wireless cabin. The wireless operator sat on the starboard side of the large wheelhouse and astern to that was a large platform with three triple gun turrets which we ditched fairly quickly. But we were then ordered up and down the west coast of Norway visiting all the stations, the DF stations that had been established. The idea being they could keep their arms so long as they didn’t have ammunition and one of our main jobs was to go up to each of these stations and remove the ammunition and dump it in the deeps, deep parts of a fjord. Now, on these occasions we obviously needed some extra help and we had German Luftwaffe POWs. On one occasion it had been one of their largest stations and a lot of twenty millimetre Oerlikon sized ammunition in large wooden containers. There was no space on our boat so we had obtained what I believed to be a dumb barge. In other words it was a barge with a deck, all steel with stanchions all around. But instead of chains between the stanchions they were solid bars. Two of them. One at the top of each stanchion and one halfway down. The skipper also gave us instruction to empty the boxes first so that erosion could take place more swiftly on the ammunition in the water and then drop the box. I was working with a German POW quite well and another POW, a large man nearly twice my size plus one of my crew was working and I could hear him saying, ‘Eins. Zwei. Drei.’ Now, unfortunately the ammunition was a mixed version. There were armour piercing, tracer, different types of ammunition one of which hit a cross bar and exploded about nine inches behind my bum. I jumped into the air thinking I’d been shot and when I landed down I lost it and I mean I lost it. I was furious. I was jumping up and down with rage and this big bloke was standing there trembling. I started off by pointing out that his parents hadn’t been married of course. I described the sort of life his sister led, what his brother was suffering from and carried on like this with the man in front of me shrivelling up. I think I even suggested neutering him with a rusty saw. When I stopped for a moment to get my breath I heard a lot of noise behind me and when I turned around the skipper was helpless with laughter hanging over the side railings and all my friends laughing their heads off to see this little bloke really tucking in to the big one. Anyway, that’s another point but Bergen had reaching up from it going north some hour and a half perhaps by sailing with a boat the island of Herdla on which was a German airfield. And one of the other things that we had to do was that the War Graves Commission were aware that back in [pause] I think December 1940 or ’41 a squadron of Blenheims had been sent out to strafe it. Unfortunately, two of the Blenheims had collided and fallen into the lake on this island. What we had to do was to get a number of POWs who set up a landing. A landing dock of timber reaching out into the water and dragging the water to obtain the bodies such as they were. Not a very pleasant sight. But what was so heartening is that the number of British troops other than the Army were very few particularly Air Force or Navy. They had a joint Officer’s Mess. And what we were doing was going up quite frequently because people, officers and the high ranking were flown into the Herdla Airfield and we were fetching them in order to bring them back down to Bergen. But also with some of the DF stations being high up in the mountain we, in our billets were in a sort of a large circle on the hillside of Bergen and officers of the Army were billeted there with their drivers and jeeps and on one or two occasions we had obtained a German fleet sweeper with a large plain poop deck on which could be landed, or loaded a jeep and trailer plus the driver of one of the British Army officers. Now, also having obtained going back to the bodies when they were recovered because of this and most of my crew being used as coffin bearers there only remained one odd RAF warrant officer in Bergen, nothing to do with us and two of my pals and myself as being the official mourners. And to our amazement and can I say pleasure it must have been in the newspaper because the Norwegian people, most of them in black were flooded out and following behind us to pay their respects to someone who had been on the side of assisting Norway. It was a really good feeling. Came the time when our job was over and we left the German boat at Bergen and were flown back to Stavanger where we once more took over 2696. The boats from Trondheim came down and joined us and we four in loose convoy were going around to pick up the other two who were at Oslo. We were in Oslo for a week or two and the winter was coming on and it was bitterly cold. Our main office for our unit was at Oslo. Eventually the six boats in loose convoy proceeded south to Denmark, that being still under the Allies and where we could refuel wherever we went and revictual. However, coming down the Oslo Fjord our centre engine gave up the ghost and we informed the rest of our comrades and the skipper decided to go into [Gothenburg?], the Swedish port where we landed up at a weekend. Ok. However, in the morning the quay was chock a block absolutely with happy cheering Swedes. They swarmed on the boats. They didn’t give a damn whether they’d been invited. They poked into every place. Even the blokes who were still in their bunks in the foxholes. It was complete chaos. I couldn’t even keep them out of my wireless cabin. However, one young man could speak a little English and begged me to remember him. He was going to get someone who had better English. So I nodded and away he went. He came back later accompanied I think by his sister and Rob and I were invited to their home to have lunch. Incidentally I must add going back to Bergen that on one occasion Rob and I went to a concert of Greig’s music and I learned to love the music of Greig’s Piano Concerto. Anyway, moving back now to [Gothenburg] we had a slap-up lunch. There was a large oval table and about six or seven Swedes being pleased to see us and showing that they really had been aiming for us to win anyhow. Before we could get out it was time for tea so we had tea. We staggered away from there hardly able to move. Anyhow, the other boats had moved on and we limped across quite a long way down to Copenhagen and we reached there when it was dark. We edged into the harbour and there was a long long quay which I found out later was known as [unclear] and there were lights, spotlights, there was a band playing music and I thought how the hell did they know we were coming? Well, I then realised that between ourselves and the quayside was another ship. It actually had been and was a training ship for Sea Cadets which had sneaked out just ahead of the occupation by the Germans and was now on its way back home. Anyway, we went further along and tied up. In the morning we realised that it was only ten or twenty yards away from the well-known Little Mermaid. Having got ourselves together the skipper of course wanted to inform the powers that be in England our situation and asked for another engine. I then found out where the RAF signals station was and they kindly and without any argument passed our message and we sat back to await the arrival of our new engine. Time went on and it went on. The skipper sent two or three or more messages. Nothing in reply. By this time Christmas had overtaken us. Now, Rob and I again wanted to go. We decided to see, we would like to go to the opera and we went to a club that had been opened up and it was a lovely club. There were comfortable armchairs. The ladies were either English ladies or perfect speaking Danish ladies and one of them a young woman asked what we wanted and helped us. And then we decided to ask her how we could get tickets to go to the opera. To which she replied it won’t be any use to tell you because it will all be in Danish in the newspapers that a large number of the seats are reserved for members of parliament and other individuals and it would be quite difficult. But however, she said she was willing to help us and then Rob being the gentleman he was said, ‘Well, if she’s going to do that I think we ought to ask if she would come with us.’ Which she did and eventually we did go to a wonderful performance of Figaro. I can still remember the shops in the centre of Copenhagen. Obviously for each Christmas there were little tiny tracks in the windows with puppets and models moving around on these tracks. Very very attractive and it snowed. In the meantime gradually all of us had begun to meet other people and making friends when eventually we had been there for some two or three months at least the skipper said, ‘Right. Take this message, Sparks.’ Or Ken. And when I looked at it I thought to myself if this doesn’t shake somebody nothing will because I have to remind you that each sea area had a Naval officer in command. NOIC. And we would have had to have passed through two areas with different two different NOICs. He addressed it first to the Air Ministry. Then to Fighter Command. Then to our Group. Then to our own unit. Then to two NOICs. There must have been a dozen addressees and for information because as far as I remember the message itself was so simple, “Please may I receive an answer to my message. They did so much.’ Which was obviously a long time ago and that did actually shift them. Now, this has reminded me of one thing that happened in, two things that happened in Norway so I want to switch back to that. One of them because there was only myself I had arranged to have one call I think probably at mid-day each day for any traffic. On this particular day I received the traffic and then I was informed that there was a private telegram and when it came through it was joyful. Frank Standard had become father of a bouncing boy. I quietly gave this to the skipper and suggested wetting the baby’s head to which he readily agreed. So he called for everybody to be in the large wheelhouse plus their mugs. They were bewildered but they all got a tot including Frank. When this had been done the skipper then handed this telegram to him and didn’t he have a load of congratulations and I can always remember receiving such a wonderful message with so much joy. And the other thing was much more serious. Among the Luftwaffe POWs was a junior communications officer who had been and continued to be after the war a teacher and he was the interpreter and during lunchtimes we had begun talking and strange as it may seem a rapport occurred between Helmut [Kluft] and myself to such an extent that we exchanged addresses. Now, I must jump ahead quite a long way back in England. I knew that that winter was fierce, absolutely fierce and I was mentioning about this to my wife when she quick witted said, ‘Why not send them a food parcel?’ Which I did and our friendship was sealed from that moment. But let’s go back to Copenhagen. Having got our, finally got our engine this had been flown in by Sunderland who flew low two or three times over the harbour to give them knowledge that he wanted to land. We got our new engine, fitted it in and we were ready for going. We then started off coming right the way down into the Baltic pretty well and then heading towards the Kiel Canal. Now, we had stopped at various places in order to refuel but the Kiel Canal is quite long and we were half way along it when we moored for the night and it was so bitter that the metal wire struts for our masts were three times their thickness with the ice that was on them. It was bitterly cold. However, eventually we got through the Kiel Canal and we were just off Cuxhaven at the entrance to the River Elbe when fog came. And I mean fog. Thick thick thick fog. And the skipper eased the boat down. He down he said, ‘I’m listening for a bell buoy. Everybody be quiet.’ Somebody said, ‘It’s fine off the port bow.’ Somebody said, ‘It’s not. It’s off the starboard beam.’ And so it went on. The skipper said, ‘We can’t make up our minds. Drop the hook. Ken, get in touch with Cuxhaven lifeboat. Tell them to come and guide us in.’ I did. Waited an hour or so. Did it again. Chased them again. Finally, the blooming fog lifted and everything was clear and suddenly in the darkness was a light. And the light wouldn’t come any further closer to us. So I having remembered a little bit of German sent the word, “Komm.” K O M M, which I reckoned meant come. And then they sent very very slowly and very clearly. M I N E N and there was a deathly hush in the wheelhouse when I said, ‘Skipper, we’ve anchored in a minefield.’ Well, if we were going to get out we had to start an engine and I don’t know how many fingers weren’t crossed or anything else but we started one engine. Fortunately, we didn’t blow up and you’ve never seen a hook come up so gently as the one on 2696 that day. Anyway, we followed them up because it was a long way up the River Elbe to Hamburg because in later years we followed the same route on holiday. Once more having refuelled and stayed at Hamburg I think for a week we made our way gently and leisurely back to Gorleston where we left the boat. I was eventually posted to RAF Stoney Cross, an airfield in the New Forest where I waited to be demobbed.



“Interview with Ken Done,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 18, 2024,

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