The International Bomber Command Centre have kindly allowed us to reproduce this extract from “A SEVEN YEAR SCRATCH, MEMORIES OF A WORLD WAR II PILOT” by ARTHUR JOHN ‘JACK’ BALL, DFC, which relates to the author’s time serving at Kenley soon after completing his RAF basic training and prior to commencing pilot training. The author went on to serve in Bomber Command flying Wellingtons and Lancasters. The link at the end will take you to the full article.
“In January 1941, a hard winter with snow, fifty of us arrived at Kenley, a fighter airfield south of London, as the Main Gate guard. The airfield had taken damage and casualties in the Battle of Britain the previous summer and was very heavily defended by units of the Irish Guards and Essex Regiment among others. They were out on the perimeter; we just had responsibility for the gate and some 20mm Hispano-Suiza AA gun-pits close by. Known as Kilby’s Killers after our CO, we were clearly more of a danger to each other than the enemy. Getting out of bed one morning, I watched the sentry coming off guard fail to clear his rifle properly. The resulting bullet went through the just-vacated next bed, split on the frame and ricocheted via the wall into the ear lobe of the early riser. Watching the blood pour through his fingers was a salutary lesson.
“A minor irritation was the total absence of light bulbs, bath plugs and toilet paper from the washrooms, which made evening toilet an adventure on those winter nights. Such items had to be commandeered from wherever.
“There was a Bristol Beaufighter in one of the hangars. Still on the secret list, it became one of the great weapons against enemy shipping. I enjoyed climbing over it. The days were spent at ground classes on related military subjects.
“After a month, about ten of us were detached to Redhill, a satellite airfield used by the Hurricanes to re-arm and re-fuel. It had been a flying club and facilities were limited. We seemed to be the only defence, having two sets of stripped twin Lewis guns, 1917 pattern on AA mountings, gratefully sold by the USA. Patrolling at night was nerve- racking: the hangars were full of interesting old aircraft but were unlit, whilst out on the airfield there were desultory shots from airmen potting rabbits for the local butcher. We did have an Armadillo for tackling enemy paratroops. This consisted of a flatbed lorry with a loop-holed, single brick enclosure on the back.
“I opted for duty on the crash tender which, because of limited aircraft visits, gave me a chance to acquire some valuable time on the Link Trainer, where the instructor was grateful to have some interest shown. This was the counterpart of a modern simulator. Its purpose was to brush up your instrument flying and to teach associated procedures such as radio range and blind landings. You sat in the cockpit with a hood over, whilst the instructor introduced rough air, cross-winds and other difficulties. Your course was reproduced on a glass-topped table by a crab-like copier. I found it fascinating and always got as much time on the Link as possible.
“Most of the men there were ‘old sweats’, who had been in France with the British Expeditionary Force and had escaped one jump ahead of invading Germans, minus most of their equipment.”