Interview with Maurice Kemp


Interview with Maurice Kemp



IBCC Digital Archive




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00:20:25 audio recording




Temporal Coverage


GR: This is Gary Rushbrooke for the Bomber Command Association, I’m with Flight Sergeant Maurice Kemp at his home near Boston in Lincolnshire, 25th April 2016. And Maurice could you just tell me a little bit about yourself, when you were born, where you born?

MK: Yeah I was born at West Keal near West Keal Church up up the top of the road there.

GR: Oh so local.
MK: And I was there till I was about six months old, and then we moved down to a well not really a smallholding but we’d a few acres of land, kept poultry, had a couple of milk cows to make butter, and that’s where I lived until I was about thirteen.
GR: So was mum and dad, dad was a farmer?
MK: Well he was a farm labourer, a farm labourer really but he did have a few acres of land.
GR: Oh right.
MK: You know which he did part time little bit on the side like as well as he went to work during the day and did that at night.
GR: Yes.
MK: I think we’d about eleven acres of grass and two acres of what you would call arable.
GR: Yes. Brothers and sisters?
MK: I had, I had a half-brother, he was seven years older than me, he was illegitimate, my mother had him when she was in the First World War, she was in London in service during the First World War and he was born in 1918. And I stopped there moved to New Leake in 1938, we’ve generally I worked on the land a little bit, I worked on Coningsby Aerodrome for quite a long time in the building process.
GR: So you helped to build?
MK: I helped to build Coningsby Aerodrome.
GR: The aerodrome.
MK: And I was there until such time as it was virtually completed. By that time I was getting on to be seventeen years and I got a driving licence and I started lorry driving the day I was seventeen. I did that for.
GR: Was that working for a local company?
MK: Yeah for a small, well a chap who had three lorries.
GR: Yes.
MK: And I worked for him until such time as I went in the Air Force, and I was in the Air Force a bit less than four years I think.
GR: Did you, obviously you volunteered?
MK: Yeah, yeah, because I was volunteered and I was deferred until my age because going in as a gunner it was
GR: ‘Cos most chaps.
MK: You weren’t allowed to do.
GR: You’d be called up at eighteen?
MK: Eighteen.
GR: And you were allowed to volunteer at seventeen?
MK: Yeah. I was called up at eighteen and a half because you wasn’t allowed to fly on operate operations under nineteen.
GR: Right.
MK: And it was a six month course from starting in the Air Force to get in there and that’s what I did.
GR: Was that always the case then during the war or was it something that came in later on?
MK: I don’t know it was always the case but it was the case in mine. I went to a an Aircrew Reception Centre at at Edgbaston in Birmingham on a three day course, and I was then deferred you know. I I passed as a wireless operator gunner you know for that for that category and I finished up as a gunner. And er I was, I joined up on the 17th January 1944, and I was a year training I went to, I started off at in Lord’s Cricket Ground that’s where I joined up.
GR: Right.
MK: And I went from there to Bridgnorth in Shropshire and that was you know sort of what do you call it square bashing and messing about you know general things. And I moved from there to Walney Island that’s at at Barrow in Furness.
GR: Yes.
MK: And I did an air gunnery course there. From there I went to Silverstone, I went on Wellingtons at Silverstone and that’s where we was crewed up.
GR: That’s yeah, so that would have been five of you on the Wellington wouldn’t it?
MK: Yeah, yeah. There was, no six.
GR: Six was there?
MK: There was two gunners.
GR: Two gunners?
MK: Although there weren’t a mid-upper gunner, there was two gunners ‘cos we was we was getting prepared for Lancasters really, well we was and I was there at, for I don’t a few months, and we was moved out to a new satellite aerodrome just up the road from Silverstone.
GR: You know when you actually joined up was it to be an air gunner or did you have any aspirations of?
MK: Well, when I was I volunteered for aircrew.
GR: Yeah.
MK: That’s what you could do and it it comes down to education.
GR: Right.
MK: My education wasn’t pilot navigator class so I was drafted in to wireless operator/air gunner and I finished up being put in the air gunner category, and you know we did these, it was three days at this test in Birmingham and they after you been and done all the courses they channelled you into what they wanted you to be and I was to an air gunner. And then we was told we wouldn’t be called up until we were eighteen and a half which I was eighteen and a half on the 16th January, and I was called up on the 17th. And then progressed through there and by the time I got passed out it was early ’45 when I got on squadron.
GR: Right. Did you end up going to Heavy Conversion Unit?
MK: Oh yes.
GR: Yes. Was it Lancaster Finishing School?
MK: Well the first, the first Heavy Conversion Unit I went to was at Stradishall and it was on Stirlings, now that was a bloody education never you mind. And it was the middle of us gunners privilege to wind the undercarriage up and down there’d no hydraulic, it was, it was a marathon of job.
GR: Right, well that’s something I didn’t know, so you had to wind up.
MK: Yes I did. [turning pages of book].
GR: We are just looking at the log book.
MK: And that’s Silverstone, it was just after that.
GR: Yes.
MK: Twelve and a half hours I was on Stirlings, there we are that’s what I did on Stirlings, and then we was moved from there to North Luffenham on Lancasters.
GR: Yes, so that was 1653 Conversion Unit?
MK: Yes that was the conversion Heavy Conversion Unit and then I went to North Luffenham.
GR: Yes.
MK: And that’s where I converted onto Lancasters.
GR: And that was a better aircraft?
MK: Oh Christ, the Stirling was, it really it was I mean I was well eighteen, eighteen near enough nineteen, and it was it was bloody horses work winding that undercarriage, and if you look at that they were all circuits and landings.
GR: Yes.
MK: You did a circuit, wind the undercarriage up, round you went, flew, wound the bugger down and by the time you’d done a couple of hours of that you was knackered, absolutely knackered.
GR: And presumably that was when they were using Stirlings ‘cos it had been taken out of frontline operations in 1943.
MK: It was a stepping stone that’s all it was, and I mean when we got on the Lancs well of course that was automatic, because that was hard word.
GR: [laughs] So I’m looking at the log book and I would say most of well yeah January and a bit of February you were at Lancaster Finishing School?
MK: Yes, that’s 115 Squadron.
GR: Then off to Witchford
MK: Yeah.
GR: Which is 115 Squadron and I think the first flight you took there was on the 21st February ‘45. How did you feel, I mean obviously at the time you probably knew war was coming to a close obviously we’d invaded Europe and we’re pushing up into Germany so was it a case of you wanted to get on to operations before the war finished or was it the other way?
MK: Yes you were keen to get on operations but what I’ve got to say in all fairness the twelve ops I did I was in nowhere near the danger the blokes had been in earlier.
GR: Yeah, yeah.
MK: I mean I saw aircraft shot down, one of the photos which was I shall always remember seeing a Lancaster going down in flames and you could see the silhouette of the aircraft down in the flames you know that was at Potsdam.
GR: Was that daylight or?
MK: No no.
GR: Night time.
MK: No night time.
GR: Night time.
MK: Somewhere, here we are Potsdam, that one. That was a gentle reminder we was taking to the Nazis that the war was about over we were just it was a bit of a persuader that was the last one thousand bomber raid of the war.
GR: Right, that was on the 14th April 1945.
MK: We was led to believe that it was the last thousand bomber raid.
GR: Last thousand altogether yeah. I was just going to say were all your operations at night but?
MK: No, no.
GR: Heligoland was a daylight wasn’t it?
MK: The three red ones were at night, twice to Kiel and once to Potsdam I think it was, and the rest was daytime. I was in 3 Group and 3 Group specialised on daytime bombing mainly, 5 Group round in the Lincoln area they was the main night time.
GR: What was the first operation like obviously?
MK: Well, I can’t really remember like, I can remember going on and flying and sort of been bloody pleased when I got back home again. But, I was never, I never used me guns in action, I never had occasion to to use ‘em.
GR: Yeah, and I would think I mean obviously towards the end of the war the Luftwaffe whether it was a night time or day time were pretty thin.
MK: We was getting on top.
GR: Yes you were getting on top but the flak.
MK: Yeah.
GR: And certainly around looking at Kiel.
MK: Oh aye.
GR: They were still going strong.
MK: We we we got hit with flak you know, not enough to damage, but we did get flak damage.
GR: Yeah.
MK: Yeah.
GR: Yeah so not excited about being on operations and not afraid but probably something?
MK: Well you was, you was shall we put it like this you was all in it together, I mean I wouldn’t going to do a bombing raid on my own all the aircrew on the squadron were going want they, so you was just one of a band it’s like a gang going to a football match.
GR: Yeah.
MK: You know, you don’t look at the dangers you can’t look at the danger.
GR: No no no. So er more training although by into May ’45. So where was you when the war finished?
MK: Witchford.
GR: You was at Witchford. Was you on ops or?
MK: Oh aye. VE night we walked down into Ely it was about two and a half miles into Ely. We walked down and had a night out on the on the beer and stuff in in Ely, and you know that was I actually remember it was everybody we was, there was a pub we used to visit in Ely we got down there and it was full we couldn’t get in but it didn’t matter because the people was handing us beers through the window.
GR: Yeah. Obviously in uniform?
MK: Oh yeah, oh Christ aye.
GR: How did it feel you know you’d done nearly a year’s training?
MK: Yeah.
GR: And flown on operations for a month two month.
MK: Yeah that’s right. Yeah I mean I’ve got to say I was one of the lucky ones I wasn’t in when it was at its worst, but we was there and.
GR: Oh absolutely.
MK: If I’d been sent out to the Far East I could’ve still at been at it longer but you know ‘cos the war in the Far East carried on a bit longer.
GR: Was you approached to go on it was Tiger Force wasn’t it they got together to send out?
MK: Well, it was, it was you know, we was getting boss of ‘em like. I’ve a friend from New Leake he’s he was on Liberators on the Far East and he was still at it a little bit longer than me.
GR: So then I’m looking again at the beginning of May you took part in Operation Manna.
MK: Yeah.
GR: Which was supplying food.
MK: Food to The Hague.
GR: Yeah to the Dutch.
MK: Yeah.
GR: How did you feel about that it was a pleasure I presume?
MK: Well It was yeah. It was very interesting after the war we did such a lot of different things, we dropped supplies there, and then we we was flying troops home for leave from Italy and flying them back, I did that I can’t remember how many times seven or eight times, and we really enjoyed that. And then we did what they called Baedeker tours flying over the bomb damage of the of Germany and taking a few of.
GR: Taking a few of the ground crew round yeah yeah.
MK: So I went over the dams and things, and then we did a trip when the launch was of the Queen Queen Elizabeth, one of the big liners she was launched and we went out to fly to her and fly round her and back you know on an exercise that was good.
GR: ‘Cos there was a victory fly pass wasn’t there?
MK: Yeah I wasn’t on that.
GR: You wasn’t on that one yeah.
MK: [unclear] It was after that.
GR: So all the training went into a lot of logs. I know obviously Operation Manna there was four or five food drops.
MK: I did a lot of flying after the war it was till I was demobbed like you know then. There was a dodge [?] to Naples that was a trip, that was the trip when we lost the pilot’s luggage.
GR: Go on then tell us a little bit about that?
MK: Aye?
GR: Go on tell us a little bit about that?
MK: I’ve told you about it it’s that what was on the bottom there.
GR: Go on just repeat it again that was the pilot releasing the bomb bay doors by mistake.
MK: Yeah, we’d been airborne probably half an hour and he required the toilet, so he stood up from his pilot’s seat and as he was standing up his intercom cable caught the bomb door lever and opened the bomb doors, out went all the kit, and when we got to Naples I’d the privilege of telling the blokes that all the luggage is lost and that was a bit of a hairy few minutes.
GR: How many servicemen was there, how many servicemen did you get into the Lancaster?
MK: I would say about I would say about twelve or fifteen they just sat on the bomb bay top, on top of the bomb bay.
GR: ‘Cos it wasn’t the most –
MK: Oh no.
GR: It was a cramped aircraft?
MK: Well, no they’d.
GR: All right for a crew of seven?
MK: But they had they had room but they were just sat on the bomb bay they had no no comforts.
GR: Oh.
MK: Well it well it wasn’t you know.
GR: And when you were bringing the prisoners back?
MK: Yeah they was the same.
GR: The same thing they just sat.
MK: Yeah, yeah they just sat on the bomb bay. Whether you’ve been in a Lancaster?
GR: Yeah.
MK: You know where the rear gunner’s, there’s the bomb bay like here, and then there’s a big drop down in’t there.
GR: Yes.
MK: And they were sat from there to where the navigator and wireless operator sat, on on top there was a big flat area there, quite comfortable, room for well I would say you could have sat twenty on but I don’t think we brought quite as many as that, I can’t really be sure of the number.
GR: No no.
MK: No not to be honest I’ve an idea I would have said twelve or fourteen but I would stand corrected on that.
GR: So you lost all the servicemen’s kit?
MK: Yeah, we lost all their, all their personal kit yeah.
GR: When was you demobbed?
MK: Demobbed well I can’t remember.
GR: ’46?
MK: Yeah it was.
GR: Yeah.
MK: I can’t remember looking in here.
GR: Yeah. Was you given a chance to stay in or?
MK: Well there was, I I couldn’t get out quick enough, but by the time I’d come out I I realised I didn’t ought to have done. I’d have stopped in because there was an opportunity to re retrain and I would have liked to have stopped in and trained as a better tradesman gunnery for you know what I mean, but I didn’t do I come out. [unclear] ’44.
GR: It’s 1947 isn’t it, yeah 24th June 1947. I know some chaps who came out who were demobbed but then went back in again a couple of years later. What did you do after the war then?
MK: I was lorry driving.
GR: Lorry driving yeah.
MK: I was lorry driving for I don’t know about ten or eleven year and I finished up being transport manager for a company till I retired.
GR: Yeah. But you enjoyed your time in the RAF?
MK: Oh I did, oh I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t have missed it, no.
GR: Well that’s excellent, thank you.



Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Maurice Kemp,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 4, 2020,

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