Memories of Kenley - George Dennis Aitken AFC

Flying Officer George Dennis Aitken
Dilip Sarkar Archive

F/O GEORGE D. AITKEN’s recollections of the daily routine for pilots stationed at Kenley and flying with the Canadian Wing in 1943…

‘Usually the routine was to prepare oneself, shaving, washing and getting dressed and then heading for the mess to partake of what breakfast had been made ready for us. Following breakfast most of us might check to see if we had any mail and then find those trusty bicycles each of us had.

‘I would imagine the NCO pilots would have had a like routine as we might all meet up along the perimeter track and head for our Dispersal area together. The maintenance personnel always seemed to beat us and some Spitfires had already been serviced. Our intelligence officer, doctor and adjutant, and on some occasions our padre, would be with us at Dispersal. Our Mae-Wests, parachutes etc were all kept at the Dispersal hut along with our flying helmet and face mask. We would tie on our Mae-West, fitting it to an oxygen container that was fitted for just such a test. Some of us might also check the parachutes, making sure that the release pin in particular was not bent in any way that might cause a failure should one have to use it.

‘When I was at Kenley, 403 carried out a number of different operational functions, patrols, scramble patrols, flight scrambles, escorts, rodeos, sweeps, ramrods, high cover sorties, circuses. On any operation that might take the squadron over the Channel, we would be briefed by the squadron leader in our dispersal and it was then that we might find out who would be on that type of action, and in what position we would fly in the Flights. On patrols we would know before take-off where we were to patrol, such as Beachy Head etc. On all scramble activities upon getting airborne, the Controller would advise you where, when and what duty he wished the leader to proceed with.

‘How were pilots assigned to the various functions? A good question and I think it was the squadron leader who chose who was to be in his section and each of the flight commanders chose who would be in theirs, and what positions they would fill [Nos 2, 3 or 4].Since we usually had a full complement of pilots, it appeared to me that they did try to share the various functions fairly. Whilst I was keen to keep the same letter and serial number of the Spitfires I flew. I did not always keep the position I flew in the flight. Also, behind the dispersal hut was a place to take a nervous pee!!

‘At dispersal before take-off, or if left behind (ie, not flying on the sortie) we might play cards or chess, write letters or catch up on sleep, or, if the weather was good, take in the sunshine. It might be the time also for some of us to get to know our ground crew, who were just as keen as us to see the Spitfires return.

‘On one occasion I had been left behind, I watched a perfect landing of an unmarked Spitfire. It did not head for dispersal, but further along the perimeter track a staff car seemed to be waiting for the pilot to shut down his engine. Before getting into the car, the pilot took off the helmet to reveal locks of blonde hair. She had flown in one of our replacement Spitfires – a lady member of the Air Transport Auxiliary.

‘One role in these early months of 1943 was to act as a short-range “wall” for US Fortresses and Liberators engaged in attacking German targets in daylight. This meant we would perhaps give them protection part way over and then return to base, refuel, and go and cover them as they came back. On one occasion after a day of protection duties we were treated to several cases of Coca-Cola by the Americans in appreciation.’

GEORGE DENNIS AITKEN AFC was born in Edmonton, Alberta. He tried to get a job in a bank after graduating from school, but he was told he would be wanted in the Forces, so he applied to be a pilot and joined the RCAF in December 1940. Having trained in Canada and southern England, he joined his first squadron, 416, flying Spitfires, at Peterhead, Scotland in August 1941. He became a rare member of both the Goldfish Club (for baling out and landing in the ‘drink’) and the Caterpillar Club for ‘hitting the silk’ and landing on solid ground).

George survived the War and spent his retirement as a historian documenting his wartime experiences. He died in 2012, aged 91.

George’s daughter Dorothy Lowrie, has written a poetic tribute to her father and the RCAF here.


Many thanks to Grub Street Publishing Ltd.  for permission to use this extract from “Buck McNair Spitfire Ace – The Eventful Life of Gp. Capt. R. W. McNair DSO, DFC and 2 Bars, Ld’H, CdG, RCAF by Norman Franks.

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