Interview with Kenneth Locke Brown


Interview with Kenneth Locke Brown


Kenneth Locke was born in 1923 and wanted to join the Royal Air Force, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a First World War Pilot.
Between leaving school and joining the Royal Air Force, Kenneth worked as a bank clerk, before signing up as aircrew when he was 18 years of age.
Kenneth tells of his time as a Leading Aircraftsman in Morecambe, training as an aircraft mechanic, before being posted to 97 Squadron in Bourn in 1943, and his first involvement with the Lancasters of the Pathfinder Squadron.
He tells of Black Thursday, a day of heavy losses for Bomber Command and how it affected him and his fellow ground crew.
Kenneth was then posted to 635 Squadron in March 1944, which was based at Downham Market in Norfolk where they conducted operations to assist the D-Day landings, and then was interviewed to become part of a Meteorological Air Corp team, to gather information about the weather over the Atlantic.
Kenneth was promoted to Flight Sergeant at the end of his service with the Royal Air Force




Temporal Coverage




00:32:23 audio recording


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KB: [Unclear]
MJ: It's all right
KB: My name is Kenneth Locke Brown, I had been involved with the RAF since I was a child, a long, long, way back, because my father was a pilot in the First World War, and so when I was born in 1923, which is only a few years after the First World War, he was still full of stories about the First World War and his flying experiences. He was a fighter pilot, er and, er, served only as a fighter pilot towards the back end of the First World War, prior to that he was in the trenches, and was promoted out the trenches. But my earliest recollections of the RAF is him trying on his helmet on me, his leather helmet, his gauntlet gloves with a funny mitt to them, and that sort of thing, and so I was enthused with the knowledge about the RAF very early on in my life, and I think he would very much have liked me to have gone straight into the RAF as soon as I left school, but I'm afraid my standard of education, and my intelligence level was not good enough to get me into somewhere like Cranwell or so on, and so I, I didn't get a chance. I had an opportunity to fly, er, at Barton airport in Manchester, which was arranged by my father, but that was my earliest experience, but I always wanted to go in the RAF, and of course you weren't able to volunteer for the services until you were eighteen years of age, so I had a spell between leaving school and going in the RAF when I was a bank clerk. But then I joined up. Now the story about me joining up is interesting in the sense that I wanted to fly, I desperately wanted to fly, and so I volunteered at the age of eighteen for aircrew, and I went and I had all the examinations, medically, intelligence wise, and so on, and I passed them all, er, perfectly okay, and, and I was told that I was accepted as a candidate for aircrew, er, but unfortunately I wouldn't be able to go on a pilots side of it because they were absolutely chock a block with volunteers and so on, 'cause the Battle of Britain had just finished and there was lots of enthusiasm for the RAF and so on. So I went into the RAF just as an ordinary erk, with the, er, knowledge that I was accepted as aircrew, and I wore a white flash in my hat, and I went and did all my basic square bashing and such like, which incidentally, at that particular time of the war, was quite amusing because we all got dragged into the services, and there wasn't the equipment for us. We, we hadn't got necessarily, we hadn't all got trousers, we hadn't all got jackets, we hadn't all got hats, we, looked a right rag bag altogether, but we went out to Redcar and we did our square bashing there, and then we went from there to 3S of TT at Blackpool to do ground, er, engineering. And we were, at that stage, divided into two categories, and I didn't realise at the time, I was, incidentally, all this time, you must realise I was very young, and, erm, hadn't been away from home very much, and so on, so quite innocent, but I was desperate to get to fly and they, we went onto this engineers course, which was divided just by saying those on the left move over that way, and those on the right go over that side, those on the left will go into engineering side, the others will go airframe side. I didn't realise at the time, but those on the left who went into engine side, had the opportunity to become flight engineers, the ones who went on the airframe side didn't have much opportunity to do that, but there was, I was still sporting the fact that I had been accepted for aircrew, so very disappointed, and quite honestly, I was extremely lucky, because those people that went on the engineering side then eventually became flight engineers, and not many of them survived the war. They went straight from there into Bomber Command into, er, warfare over Germany, and so on, because at that age group, and not many survived, quite honestly. So I was incredibly lucky in getting an airframe side. So, although bitterly disappointed as a young person, who didn't really realise what the hell was going on, it is, it is very important to impress upon people just how young people were in those days. There were an awful lot of people were controlled by their family, my mother basically controlled me, I had a, as you know, a mother and father, as I've told you about my father, I was an only son, incidentally, but my mother controlled me, and when I went in the forces, she arranged for me to have half of my pay deducted and given to her, and I mean the pay was negligible, and so I, er, we were managing on seventeen and sixpence a fortnight I think it was, that was all as we had. Anyway, that's another story, er, so I went to 3S of TT, Blackpool and I trained as a airframe mechanic, but the training that they put us through was quite ridiculous, because it was all based on the First World War. We learned how to put patches on aircraft, and sew up the holes that had been done in the fabric of the body, and how to trim the planes, and how to trim the aerials, and oh, all sorts of fancy ailerons and all that sort of jazz, which were all totally useless when eventually I got to go onto a proper fighting unit. Before I went onto the fighting unit, though, I, from this rigger thing which I qualified at, I was sent to Morecombe on an overseas draft, and we were dished out with all the equipment, snake boots, and fancy hats, and all the rest of the things, and we were parading there, hearing about when we were going to go on the boat, was going to go in a matter of a couple of days, and so on, and lo and behold, suddenly my name was called out and I was drawn out of the ranks and said, 'you're not going abroad, because you are aircrew chosen', and I [chuckles] said I hadn't got the qualifications, but that's what they decided, I shouldn't be going to do that. So there I was, still with this white flash in my hat, all I was, was a L, er, I got to be a rank of LAC by this time, stage, er, rigger, or whatever we want to call them, you know, ground crew, ground crew airframes. So, I was dragged off that, I hung around in Morecombe for a little while and it was the summer and it was wonderful, and I am a great swimmer, I was quite a good swimmer, I swam for the RAF at one stage in my career, but that's another story, but, er, I had a lovely time, I had I think four or five weeks, best part of the war really that I ever had, when I spent my time in Morecombe baths. What happened was, we paraded every morning, and they detailed everybody off to go to various duties, and they detailed you off to go to the cookhouse, or so on, you see, and I soon learned that they'd no idea where you were, really. They detailed you to go to the cookhouse, but nobody at the cookhouse was expecting you anyway, so I used to go on parade, as soon as they dismissed us, I used to beetle off to the baths, and had a lovely time. But eventually they caught up with me and 'where were you?' I said, 'ooh, I was here on parade yesterday morning'. 'Well, we've been looking for you, you've been posted, and you've been posted to 97 Squadron, Bourn, on Lancasters.' Well, I thought, that's bloody funny because I haven't learnt anything about, don't know a thing about Lancasters or anything, I, all I know is how to, how to repair a patch in a bi-plane like my father was flying in the First World War. Anyway, subsequently I arrived at 97 Squadron, Bourn, and that would be in the year 1943, and I served as ground crew there, and that was my initial, er, involvement with Bomber Command and the Pathfinders, 'cause that was a Pathfinder squadron. We had many interesting things, but the most important and most dramatic day we had whilst I was there, was Black Thursday. I was on duty in Black Thursday as ground crew and we had a terrible time. We lost so many aircraft, I mean, there's even whole books have been written about the episode and so on, it was horrendous, and the thing that was so horrendous is that they'd been all the way out to Berlin, they'd bombed in Berlin, they'd fought their way back again, and of course, the weather came in on them, and you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, and the only aerodrome around with FIDO, which is the one that they illuminated the runways, erm, was at Downham Market. [unclear] I didn't know about Downham Market at the time, I was at Bourn, but that was the only one where they could get down, so what was happening was these poor buggers had been out there, they were getting short of petrol, and they were crashing all the way round, and two of them crashed within half a mile of the 'drome, one just across the road, we were aware of it, and another one just a field or so away, and some were baling out, some went as high as they could and jumped out, and all those that jumped out survived. The a whole lot of those, but it was a dreadful night, and one that, you know, sticks in the memory. The other thing, on a brighter side about Bourn was that there was a concert party, and I was always a bit of a show-off, and so I joined the concert party, and the historian for 97 Squadron is absolutely fascinated with this, 'cause he's never heard of it, and he's promised me that when he writes his review of his next book, he'll include it. But we had a concert party which used to perform to the aircrew and to the ground people and so on, and it was very, very loose, they used to boo us and jeer at us and tell us to get off, and all sorts of things, but it was great fun, and we, we went round to other aerodromes around, performing and so on. I, I wasn't a professional performer, and I wasn't able to sing very well, but there were professionals in the concert party, and I used to do Stanley Holloway monologues, which everybody knows “Albert the Lion”, and, you know, “Sam Pick Up Your Musket”, but there were some really good ones that not very many people know. I used to do those in my natural Lancashire accent, and I also appeared as a female impersonator, there was a woman called Carmen Miranda at the time who, er, used to perform with a lot of fruit on her head and sing 'I,I,I,I', and I used to do that as well with a backup from a lot of other people. So we had, there were both sides of the thing, but it's a, we all, the thing about the ground crew there that I remember distinctly, is that you never ever heard the ground crew complain about anything. We had appalling bloody conditions to live in, Nissan huts with a stove pipe in the middle, and if your bed happened to be by the stove pipe, well god help you, because everybody sat on your bed to get as near to the fire as they could. It was a long way from the accommodation to get to the dispersal points, which is where the aircraft were kept, all the way round the 'drome, and of course most of us had got our bikes sent from home, and we used to pedal out there day and night, and, er, quite a long distance, I suppose, from where you were billeted to the, well my, my aircraft was billeted on the far side, it'd be two miles, something like that, and of course there were no lights, the, er, 'drome was completely in darkness, and so we, we pedalled around there, and, but nobody ever moaned about it. I think the only thing they moaned was, a bit about the RAF itself not giving us decent equipment to wear, because it was very cold, and particularly if you were sat up on the wing of a Lancaster filling it with petrol, which takes three hours, and not just one person doing, but a number of you. It's bloody cold. It's cold to sit on it, you're elevated, and the weather in that particular year, 1943, ‘44, the winter was very severe indeed, and so it wasn't very good, so there was a lot of moaning about, you know, that all we had was a leather jerkin and a naval type roll neck sweater, big [unclear] sweater. Other than that, just overalls over our ordinary uniform, so it wasn't very good, and gum boots were the order of the day. Anyway, towards the back end of 1943, they were forming a new squadron called 635 Squadron, which was going to be the elite, er, squadron of Bomber Command, it was going to be the elite Pathfinder squadron. Leonard Cheshire had been there at one time, Bennett had been there as well, and don't forget, some of the things I'm telling you are what I've learned afterwards. At the time I was a young lad more interested in trying to get down to Cambridge to go to the dance, or, you know, we, well, it was a very peculiar attitude we adopted, it wasn't very serious I'm afraid, even though we were surrounded by people who were not returning, we'd be servicing an aircraft, and it wouldn't return, and we'd lose the crew, but we [slight pause], the crews were very rarely on the same aircraft. I don't know how many times you've been told this, but very often, they moved from one aircraft to another, sometimes they did four or five flights on their aircraft and so on, and if they got attached to it, I suppose perhaps they got allocated, but in the early days they were flipped around, so you didn't really get to know your crew very well. You know, er, to speak to the officer, you know, and salute him and all that sort of business, but you didn't know them very well, and you didn't relate, you didn't relate to what they were doing. Honestly it sounds terrible, a terrible admission. Anyway, what happened, when they decided to start 635 Squadron, in March 1944, erm, was that they took, I think it was, eleven Lancasters and their crews [background noise], switch it off. Well as I was saying, we were part of the squadron, 97 Squadron, was taken, the leading pilots and so on, were taken to form this elite squadron, 635, at a place called Downham Market in Norfolk, er, and I was fortunate I suppose, I didn't realise, but I was fortunate to be one of the ground crew that had perhaps got a little bit of service in, 'cause service in those days, a matter of months, and you became a, you know, a seasoned person because there were people coming into the services all the time. Anyway, so we were shifted over to Downham Market, and of course, as far as I'm concerned, it's the best thing that ever happened to me. For two reasons, one is that I enjoyed Downham Market in a sense that the airfield and 'drome had all been built especially for Bomber Command in this remote little Norfolk town, er, where my present wife lived, and the town was within walking distance from the 'drome, so we had a communal thing with the town, we went down to the pictures, we went down to the local dance on a Saturday night, and we went down town to the pubs and so on. Not every night by any manner of means, because many a night we were on duty and we were on duty all night, but we were closely associated with, with the town and that [slight pause]. My wife's, now, her, her friend was, er, married to a navigator who got the DFC and that sort of thing, you know they, we, we were integrated with, with the town. So that was the period when we were building up to the D-Day landings, we were doing bombing out as far as [slight pause], well, Berlin was the one that kept on being, coming up, and Nuremburg, Munich, well you, you name them, we did them, and again, we didn't really get attached to any particular crew. We did know one or two, but you couldn't say 'that was my crew and I knew all of them', that wasn't the case. These were the, the aerodromes were again, very far flung, and we would be at Downham Market from where the accommodation was and the catering and so on, it would all of four miles to some of the dispersal points, it really was a long way [pause]. Big event there? Well of course, all the main bombing that went on, the thousand bomber raid that went on, we were part of, the losses were staggering because we were right, sorry I shouldn't say 'we', they [emphasis] were right up front, er, one night we were all watching them go off because, you know, the ground crew would prepare the aircraft and then we would always [emphasis] be there to see them off, and make sure everything was okay, and of course you got the signed certificate from the pilot to say that he was satisfied with the state of the aircraft, and so on. But this particular night they went off, on line past you, and you see them go to the end of the runway, and then they’d rev up and off they'd go, and so on, and this particular night one of them didn't make it, he, he didn't get enough revs, didn't get the height, and he hit the top of one of the hangars, and there was an almighty explosion. It was tremendous, and, it's the first time I really had experienced an explosion, and the hangars, which were pretty big buildings because they had to house sometimes as many as six aircraft, having engine repairs and so on, they, for, for engine work we always went in the hangars and so on, er, it hit the hangar, I mustn't do that [aside], it just collapsed like a pack of cards, the sides came in, the ends went in, the top, and, dreadful, and next day people were detailed to go out and salvage what they could. I'm afraid I didn't go, I, I wasn’t, didn't have the guts to do that, but it was a very nasty experience, and that again brought it home a little bit more to us, and I suppose by this time, I was getting a little bit more mature, you know, I wasn't quite the, er, the child that I was when I first went in. But anyway, I was still sporting this white flash in my hat, and people would say to me, 'what the hell's that for?' and I'd say, 'well I'm, I'm been chosen to be aircrew, I'm still waiting for the bloody call!' Anyway, it came. It came and I was told to report to London, and to report to the Home Off-, not the Home Office, the RAF office in London, and I went through the examinations again, intelligence examinations and the physical examinations, and they said, 'there's a new service being opened up called the Meteorological Air Observers, and we're trying to recruit a small number, and train them, to enable them to go out over the Atlantic and bring in the weather.' This was all, I think, pushed ahead because of D-Day, er, if you recall the situation on D-Day, the weather played an enormous part, in fact D-Day wasn't supposed to be on the sixth, it was supposed to be on the fifth and they had to postpone it a day. And [slight pause] they realised that they were not getting any weather in from the, the Atlantic. When the war first started of course, the Germans seized upon the opportunity on the weather ships, they were just sitting targets, and they saw those off within the first week or two, 'cause what they were, weather ships sat out in the Atlantic, manned by weather men who did recordings of the weather conditions, passed them back by wireless to the mainland and so you had an idea what the weather was that was coming in, but that was, that stopped, and so somebody had this bright idea, 'what we'll do is we'll train a number of airmen to go out over the Atlantic, and there'll be a format of coding, and they'll take readings at, er, two thousand feet and then climb to twenty thousand feet and do readings, and then come back, on an eight hour trip’. And we were eventually, after a lot of training, we, we, I was part of that and went to [cough] Aldergrove in [cough], sorry, in, er [cough] okay, okay, it's alright, Aldergrove in Northern Ireland, and I flew from there, and I, that's what I did for the remaining part of the war. I was promoted to flight sergeant within weeks of the end of the war, not the end of the war, the end of my service. Oh, what I didn't tell you in this association with Downham Market of course, that I met this girl at the dance, and we got off together, and we liked each other, so we decided to get married, and that is sixty nine years ago, and I'm still putting up with her now. So, at that point, I think I've run out of stories about Bomber Command. [Microphone noises]. Well, what I was saying to you is that they wanted to get the weather from the Atlantic, and prior to the war, they'd had weather ships out in the Atlantic, but when D-Day came along, they suddenly realised what a small amount of weather information they had, and they were managing with, managing without definite information, working on guess work. So somebody had the bright idea that they'd train a number of people who would go out, in Halifaxes, we went out in, incidentally, a met observer, a trained met observer of which I was going to be one, would sit up in the nose and take readings all the way through these trips, which were long trips, very long trips indeed, and a bit cold because we went out at two thousand feet, went up to twenty thousand feet, did a leg at twenty thousand feet, came down to sea level, did a reading at sea level and then came back at two thousand feet, and got lost half the time 'cause we were half way across the Atlantic! Anyway, we [slight pause], during this period, I got awarded a brevet, and to this day a lot of people don't believe what it says on my brevet, it says it's an 'M' brevet, not an 'N', but an 'M', and I've had to save this one because lots of people have never heard of it.
MJ: I think we're there. Brilliant. So, you didn't have protection?
KB: We had, we had no protection, we were a crew of [slight pause] six, I think, er, pilot, flight engineer, wireless operator, navigator, meteorological air observer - how many's that?
MJ: Six.
KB: Six. Yeah. We had no gunners on board at all.
MJ: Sounds as though it was a bit more risky than you say really, 'cause -
KB: Well no, the biggest risk, if you want to start talking that way, which I keep on trying to impress upon you, I was very young, very innocent, and totally unaware of the danger, I'm just excited to be going flying, never thought for one minute we might have any problems, er, and the only aircraft we lost from Aldergrove was ones that we believed came down in the sea. We had to do this – we went out two thousand feet, we went up to twenty thousand feet, we went on a leg like that, and then we had to come down to do sea level reading, and we had to come from twenty odd, and we had to set the altimeter, the met observer had to give the pilot the altimeter reading at base for him to come down, and we were, I mean it's at night and all sorts of things, pitch bloody black, you couldn't see a thing. We'd come down with our landing lights on, that would, you know, give us some indication, and we did lose, er, well one we believe went that way, and another one crashed in, in Northern Ireland on the, on the return. Our navigators were a little raw, and of course they were in a very difficult navigating situation, because they'd got no landmarks, I mean, they're going out over Atlantic, there was nothing, you know, they were just over sea, they went out with sea, sea, sea, all the way back. So, er, one notable occasion when I was doing it, was when we came back one time, we missed Ireland altogether [laughs]. Completely. We were looking out for, you know, weather, and the first thing we knew was, hit Scotland [chuckles], and when we hit Scotland, there wasn't an, there wasn't an air, there was an aerodrome at Wigtown, but it wouldn't take us, a Halifax, it was only Ansons and things like that, and we had to go right the way across to the other side and land at Lossiemouth, and landed with sort of, hardly any petrol at all left. We had a similar incident when we were, we were operating from Chivenor in Devon one time, we came back there and our navigator made a cock up and we were coming up the er, the Channel, and, er, not the Channel, the estuary and we missed land again, and we were going on, and on, and looking at estimated time of arrival, there was no sign of any land, and looking at the petrol consumption, and everything else like that, and he, he'd missed his bight [?] and we were going straight on for Bristol [laughs]. I'm going to go and have a quick loo, um [microphone noises].
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command Archives, I'd like to thank Kenneth Locke Brown MBE for his interview on the 6th July 2015, at his home in Monmouth. Thank you very much.


Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Kenneth Locke Brown,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 30, 2023,

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