The Kenneth Kemp Story. Memoirs of a rear gunner
The Kenneth Kemp Story Memoirs of a rear gunner and his crew. 215 Liberator Squadron SEAC. Dedicated to all those who lost their lives or became prisoners of war in the Far East and all who have suffered since. Ken Kemp
When Kenneth Kemp and the rest of his crew were posted to the Far East, it was a far cry from the homes that they had left behind. They had entered a world of monsoons, hurricanes, heat, humidity, a terrain of jungles and paddy fields and malaria, dysentery, typhus and cholera, which many airmen succumbed to
Food was monotonous, enhanced by the arrival of Australian meat and the disappearance of imitation sausages. Also there was the ever-present risk on each mission that they flew, that they could be shot down and executed or become prisoners of war in the many notorious camps run by the Japanese.
While the war still raged in Europe, crews like Kens were fighting a different kind of war in the Far East.
South East Asia Command was set up to be in overall charge of Allied operations in the South-East Asian theatre during world War Two.
In October 1943 Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia appointed Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten till SEAC was disbanded in 1946.
The initial land forces operational area for SEAC was India, Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, Sumatra and for offensive operations in Siam (Thailand) and French Indochina. On August 15th this was expanded to include the Dutch East Indies and French Indochina. When most of Burma was captured, attention was turned to Malaya but the war was brought to a sudden end by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 06th August 1945 and Japan surrendered on 02nd September 1945 on board USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay.
I first met Ken Kemp, a brilliant and very likeable eighty three year old, when I was researching his brother, Robert and writing an article on his death. (Sgt. Robert Reginald Kemp - 11 OTU Wellington LN660 KJ-O) When Ken mentioned that he himself had flown in a Liberator crew in the Far East, I was very interested to know about his experiences. He was kind enough to write down his memoirs for me of his time as rear gunner in Squadron Leader Roy Williams crew of 215 Squadron SEAC
Pembrey, Llaneth, Wales.
Total flying for course 17.45. Remarks on achieving 81% - “A good pupil, efficient in his work. Should make a good member of aircrew”.
1673. HCU Kolar.S.India 20.7.1944-208. 1944 Liberator V1
Total time: 44.20 hours
215 Squadron: 24.8.1944-3.5.1945. Liberator V1.
Rear: John Graham, Sidney Dyball, Reid,Cecil Quinn, John Clifford, Roy Williams Front: Ken, Hedley Lambert and Spencer.
War Operations from Ken’s log book:
5.9.1944 (Pilot W/O. Cameron): bombing and fighter interception. 7.9.1944: Bombing and cine camera, gun firing.
9.9.1944: Bombing, slight evasive action, cine camera exercise with deflection. 11.9.1944: Bombing, Air to ground firing and cine camera, 50 rounds. 15.9.1944: Movement from Jessore to Digri.
20.9.1944: Fighter affiliation.
25.9.1944: Cine camera D.N.C.O.
26.9.1944: Formation bombing and fighter affiliation.
17.10.1944 Air Test
. 28.10.1944: Consumption test.
1.11.1944: Air Test
2.11.1944: Ops to A.L.G. 3x500 Base Jessore
2.11.1944: Ops to A.L.G. 3x500 Jess ore to Citt.
3.11.1944: Chittagong-Base. Art horizon u/s
10.11.1944: Practice bombing Jessore-base 24 bombs dropped.
13.11.1944: Formation and bombing practise,16 bombs dropped
16.11.1944: Formation and bombing practise, 12 bombs dropped.
18.11.1944: Air test
19.11.1944: Formation bombing practice 9 a/c.
26.11.1944: War operations: Attacked Pyinmana Railway Yards. Sqdn formation (12 a/c) 4x1000lbs. 5x500lbs. 7,000feet. intercom u/s.
28.11.1944: War operations: Attacked Mandalay Railway yards. Heavy flak.
30.11.1944: War operations: Digri to A.L.G.
31.11.1944: War operations: Attacked military camp at Vinh-Yen, stopping at Chittagong for refuelling.
1.12.1944: Citation to base, returned from op.
8.12.1944: War operations: Attacked railway station and engine sheds at Kanchana buri. A/C damaged.
16.12.1944: X country formation flying.
Rangoon - Mingaladon map of Anti aircraft Defences - 26th December 1944.
January 1945: 1.1.1945: War operations: Attack on Bangkok-Moulmein Railway at Thanbyuzayat area. Low level 300 feet.
8.1.1945: War operations: Attack on Bangkok-Moulmein Railway.
11.1.1945: War operations: Attack on Bangkok-Changmai railway bridges nos 26,36,38. height 300feet. Bomb load 10x500lbs. Crew: Sq/Ldr. Williams, F/O. L. Russell, F/O. S. Dyball, W/O. J. Clifford, Sgt. C. Quinn, W/O. P. Monoghan, Fl/Sgt. E.J. Graham, Fl/Sgt. H.Lamberty, Fl/Sgt. W.Maclennan, Sgt. A. Spencer, Sgt. K. Kemp. 16.1.1945: War operations: Attack on Zayatkwin Aerodrome, Rangoon. Fighter cover. Height 9,000feet. Bomb load 2x1000lbs and 7x500lbs. Squadron formation. 18.1.1945: War operations: Attack on Meiktila aerodrome. Fighter cover. Heavy flak. Height 9,000ft.bomb load 4x1000lbs and 8x500lbs.
21.1.1945: War operations: Combined SEAC attack Mount Peter amree Island. Bomb load 8x1000, 8x500 lbs. height 6000ft. 25.1.1945: War operations: Attacked store sheds at Amarpura, Mandalay. Heavy flak. 8x1000lbs and 4x500lbs. height 6000ft.
28.1.1945: War operations: Attacked Japanese held positions north of Kangaw Combined ops.10x1000lbs and and 2x500lbs. height 3,000feet. 31.1.1945: War operations: Attacked Amin Buildings at Kyaumse, South of Mandalay. 8x1000lbs and 4x500lbs. height 6000ft.
February 1945: 3.2.1945: War operations: Attacked railway yards at Jumbhorn. 9x500lbs. height 5,000ft. 5.2.1945: Pilot W/O. Mazengarb. War operations: Attacked railway and military camp at Mandaya, North of Mandalay. 12x500lbs. Height 6000ft., 8.2.1945: War operations: Attacked Japanese troop concentrations at Singu.Bomb load 10x1000lbs and 2x500lbs. Height 5,000feet. 11.2.1945: War operations: Attacked supply dumps at Rangoon, heavy flak, one enemy fighter shot down. Bomb load 6x 1000lbs and 2x 500lbs. height 13000ft.
“This was the heaviest bombing attack to date of the Burma war. Other Liberators and B- 24’s of Strategic Air Force participated, with USAAF Superfortresses. An escort of Thunderbolts and high cover by P-38’s over the target was provided. One enemy pilot was seen to bale out” 12.2.1945: War operations: Attacked enemy artillery positions at Menmu bomb load:10x1000lbs. height 5,000ft.
17.2.1945: War operations: Attacked Rungborn aerodrome.10x1000Lbs, 2x500lbs bombs. height 10,000ft. 21.2.1945: War operations: Attacked Japanese H.Q. and stores at Myittha.bomb load: 10x1000lbs and 2x500lbs. height 10,000ft.
23.2.1945: War operations: Attacked Japanese H.Q. and supply dumps at Pruk.Bomb load 11,000lbs. height 5,000ft. 25.2.1945: War operations: Attacked Japanese military store sheds at Taunggyi.Bomb load 10x1000lbs and 2x500lbs. height 10,000ft.
March 1945: 2.3.1945: War operations. Attacked Makasan railway Yards and sheds at Bangkok. Heavy flak. bomb load 3x1000lb, 6x500lbs. height 3,000ft. 7.3.1945: War operations: Attacked Jethesand railway sidings at Martaban, heavy flak.bomb load: 3x1000lbs and 8x500lbs. Height 7000ft.
17.3.1945: War operations: Attacked store dumps at Rangoon. Bomb load: 4x1000lbs and 8x500Lbs. height 15,000ft. 19.3.1945:War operations: Attacked railway yards at Nan-Hoi. (Kra Isthmus) bomb load:9x500lbs. Height 2,500ft.
22.3.1945: War operations: Attacked Loco’s and railway stock on Bangkok and Moulmein railway. Bombing and ground strafing. Low level 300ft.bomb load 10x500lbs. “This raid above a 200 foot bridge built by prisoners of war caused many casualties among the prisoners of war held in Burma and Thailand. The railway was also being used to evacuate sick and wounded Japanese and survivors from their defeat in Burma”
24.3.1945: War operations: Attacked railway sidings at Pauuk, Moulmein. Bomb load: 3x1000lbs.9x500lbs. height 7000ft. 27.3.1945: War operations: Attacked supply dumps at Bangkok. Bomb load 9x500lbs. Height 11,000ft. Heavy flak.
29.3.1945: War operations: Attacked Japanese Burma army H.Q. at Rangoon. Heavy flak. Bomb load 4x1000lbs, 9x500lbs. Height 11,200ft.
April 1945: 2.4.1945: War operations: Attacked railway yards at Khaeng-Khoi, Siam. Bomb load 12x500lbs. height 5,000ft.
5.4.1945: War operations: Attacked Dumpsand stores at Rangoon. Heavy Flak. Bomb load.12x500lbs. height 10,500ft.
The above are entries from Ken’s logbook, signed by James Sindall, Acting Wing Commander. Wing Commander Sindall went on to receive the DSO on July 20th 1945, being promoted to Wing Commander in July 1947.Then to the Air Ministry on 10th May 1949, General duties Branch, RAF and transferred to the Secretarial Branch on 5th April 1949. Before retiring from the RAF in 1958. Ken flew 33 sorties for his tour with a total of 323.40 day hours and 84.00 night hours.
Liberators Ken flew in: 969,176,”Q” EW284,”C” EW 285,”A” KG 830, and “B” KG831 ,”D” KH214,”R” KG 846,”V” KH 322,”T” KH 275,”O” KH326, ”P” EW 125.
“Q” EW 285 after the war
Many aircraft were either scrapped or given to the Indian Air Force.
Left: John Graham, Stanley Dyball and Hedley Lamberty Front row: Jock Mclennon, Cecil Quinn, Ken Kemp. Right: Back row: Hedley Lamberty, Peter Monaghan. Front row: Jock Mclennon, Cecil Quinn, Ken Kemp.
Left: Newspaper article (Courtesy of Len Russell)
Ken flew under Squadron Leader Roy Douglas Williams RAAF, DFC (service number 400609.) Squadron Leader Williams was born in South Yarra, Victoria, Australia. Enlisted on 18.9.1940 at Melbourne. He was discharged at Base PO AC SEA on 20.12.1945. Presented with his DFC for “gallantry and devotion to duty on many successful sorties” by the Governor of Victoria at Government House, Melbourne on 10th July 1947. Co-Pilot-Len Russell from Portsmouth. Navigator - Stanley Dyball, R.A.A.F.
413839. Born in Croydon on 5.4.1914 and enlisted on 13.9.1941 at Sydney, N.S.W. Discharged at RAF Station Bhopal on 15.1.1946.
Bomb Aimer - W/O. John Clifford RAAF
Flight Engineer - Sgt.Cecil Quinn RAF. 1st wireless operator_- Peter Monoghan (196352) RAFVR from Portsmouth. 2nd. Wireless operator/OT Beam gunner_- F/S.John Graham. RAF
Nose Gunner - Sgt Hedley Lamberty. RAF. Mid Upper Gunner - Fl/Sgt.W. ”Jock” Maclennan.
Ball Gunner - Sgt. A.W. “Taffy”Spencer RAF a Welshman from a mining area in South Wales.
Rear Gunner - Sgt. K.A.Kemp.
On some ops front gunners and ball gunners weren’t taken.
W/O. John M Clifford, finished his tour early as he had done ops. on Wellingtons and was replaced by a P/O. Vise.
Sometimes crew members were temporarily replaced with others, owing to crew members being in the sick bay with malaria. Also a Sgt. Dineen and even the Group Captain (station commander) flew on one op.
Menu for Christmas 1944
“I joined my pilot, then Flight Lieutenant Roy Williams, RAAF at the conversion unit Kola Gold Fields, Southern India, where 215 squadron were converting to B24 Liberators Mk V1. and was allocated to him by our gunnery leader as rear gunner. After our training there we moved up to East Bengal where we did further training and then I flew as rear gunner with him on 32 operations. I did an extra operation with a New Zealand pilot, W/O. Mazengarb when his rear gunner reported sick. Roy Williams was promoted to Squadron Leader and he took over “B” flight as Flight Commander. I stayed with him throughout flying Liberators. He was an excellent pilot and a real gentleman. Stan Dyball, our navigator was also an Australian. Our bomb aimer for about 20 ops, Clifford was from Sydney. Peter Monoghan, our wireless operator came from Portsmouth and, was a W/O. when he joined us and a real veteran, being an ex-Blenheim aircrew from 1941 days and a very good friend. I think he was awarded a commission after his tour with us and became an airfield control officer. Len Russell, our co-pilot was an excellent mathematician and worked out our petrol consumption etc at certain revs and boost control, which improved our performance in staying in the air so long. He also came from Portsmouth. Unfortunately Len often succumbed to malaria and often had to miss operations. In the meantime we had several co- pilots to train as captains on their first operation, some were shaky, but Fl/Sgt. Harling,an ex boy entrant was an excellent pilot and would later finish up as a Wing Commander.
Another chap Wilf Tindall who sometimes flew as our starboards wingman when in formation was an excellent pilot and Squadron Leader Williams had every confidence in him. Wilf later flew in the Berlin air lift and also as an instructor on Dakota’s. All our bombing operations were carried out against the Japanese military. They had invaded Burma, Siam, Indo-China etc .in fact they got repulsed at Kohima and Imphal,15 miles from the Indian border. Our job was to hit their supply lines, airfields, railways and bridges and support the 14th Army in their advance as we were now on the offensive. We avoided cities and towns where possible. We aircrew knew that if we were captured, our chances of surviving were nil, it was made plain by “Tokyo Rose”, we would be executed. We did lose aircraft and friends. Sometimes we had to go down under 500 feet to machine gun trains and bridges to stop the trains, dropping one bomb at a time, to put it out of action.
They were very long operations. Liberator B24’s were the only aircraft we had with the range to reach these targets. We were operating from East Bengal and would go on these long trips down to the Margin Archipelago and fly inland from there. This was an entirely different war to the one in Europe. We were not allowed to take anything with us that were useful to the enemy, i.e. personal papers. We had escape overalls made up in Calcutta (designed by Squadron Leader Clive Vernon Beadon DFC)*. These concealed different types of escape needs, such as compass, maps of the area etc., then we had our personal .38 revolver and 18 rounds of ammo. We also carried a dagger in our belt together with a full water bottle.
Right: Brother, Sgt. Robert Reginald Kemp - killed earlier whilst with 11 OTU Wellington LN660. - killed earlier with 11 OTU Wellington LN660.
A machete was strapped to the lower half of our right leg (for cutting through the jungle). We had 600 rupees to buy from or bribe the villagers for help. Leaflets in different languages to show the people we were RAF and friendly and needing help. We also had a goolley chit, a good pair of walking boots also, so you can imagine that I had to take off up front of the aircraft, as we were always tail heavy with a full bomb load. Directly after take off, I had to go through the bomb bay and put on all my gear, including parachute harness, Mae West, revolver etc., and get in the rear turret and report to the pilot by intercom. I then made my checks and gave the navigator the wind drift.
Then, with the pilot’s permission, tested my guns with a couple of short bursts before starting my search and look out. I also operated an Aldis signalling lamp to give messages to other aircraft as we were on radio silence over enemy territory. I was also responsible for the First aid kit and the dinghy in case we had to ditch into the sea. I was also briefed to take over the Flight engineers duties, such as transferring fuel, in case he got injured. We all as a crew had to know roughly about other duties in case of injuries or fatalities and relied on each other for our safety. On 8th December 1944 we had flown over the Bay of Bengal to Tavey island, a pin point on the Siam coast, flying under 500 feet to get under enemy radar. We turned east to KancharBuri for our subsequent bombing run. However just as we had picked out target, we were hit by heavy machine gun fire from the ground. No 2 engines had been damaged and smoke emitted from it. We immediately gained height and jettisoned our bombs at about 1000 feet to lighten the aircraft. I was firing at the ground positions where the action was coming from to stop further damage.
I could hear bullets hitting the aircraft and knew that we were in trouble. However we had a first class pilot in Roy Williams who banked over on a reciprocal course, opening up the power to escape further damage. The damaged engine was throttled back to save blowing up. We proceeded to fly about 5 miles out to sea following the coastline, in case we had to force land and agreed the beaches would be the best place. Luckily the Liberator kept going, despite sparks and smoke coming from the damaged engine. We later found out it was oil burning as the oil tank had been hit. As a result we were an hour overdue when we reached base. We had been airborne for 14 hours 40 minutes. Next day we inspected “A” KG 830 and I noticed a row of bullet holes starting from about 3 inches from where my head was extending along the fuselage.Our wireless operator remarked that they were ricocheting off the bombs and our co-pilot had them going under his seat. Luckily no one was injured but we lost a lot of sweat!
After completing my ops. with 215 squadron I had two months of rest and then I awaited posting for a jump masters course in Northern India. This was to be in preparation for the invasion of Malaya. But as a result of the atom bomb being dropped, this course was abandoned.”
* Squadron Leader Clive Vernon Beadon: Distinguished Flying Cross awarded as per London Gazette 17th August 1945.
Citation from Air Ministry Bulletin 19448: "This officer has completed three tours of operational duty, two of which have been served in the Far Eastern theatre of war operations. He has led the squadron on several occasions achieving excellent results. On one occasion he flew his badly damaged aircraft safely back to base, a distance of over 1,000 miles, after attacking, at low level trains on the Bangkok-Chiengasi railway. Squadron Leader Beadon is an exceptionally able and courageous flight commander who by his enthusiasm and fine fighting spirit have set an inspiring example to the other members of his squadron”.
Right: Ken had to get a “home-made” badge made up when his other one wore out.
While Ken was acting as rear gunner, unbeknown to him, the man who was to become his future brother in law, Victor Hunt (Royal Artillery Anti-Tank gun section) was a PoW in the same area. Victor left England on an overcrowded troopship going round South Africa to Mombasa. Here the Navy Eastern Fleet escorted them to Singapore. In another quirk of fate Ken’s brother William was a marine on the cruiser Emerald, part of the escort to take them to Singapore. The Japanese were almost there and their aircraft bombed the troopship as it entered harbour. Victor and the other soldiers had to jump into the sea in just a pair of shorts. He was lucky enough to be picked up by natives in boats before being captured by the Japanese. In the melee the escort ships were ordered to withdraw and William Kemp’s ship was in collision with a destroyer, both damaged and ordered back to Durban for repairs. Victor had to work on the notorious Burma Railway for two and a half years before being shipped to Saigon to build an airfield for the Japanese. Nearing Saigon they were bombed by American aircraft and again had to abandon ship. During his time as a PoW he had to endure appalling conditions till the war ended and he was repatriated and coincidentally, met Ken’s sister Jean and married her. Although Ken and his crew attacked the railway yards on several occasions, they did not know there were PoW’s there. After the war Ken and Victor talked about Kanchanaburi and their experiences in the Far East. As a result of his time as a PoW Victor had a leg amputated. He was a modest, hardworking devoted family man who died recently aged 85.
Maps of Prisoner of War Camps
Map given to Ken by W. Davis of the PoW camp he was in at Tamakan.
Made famous by the Bridge over the River Kwai which was completed in June 1943 using PoW’s as slave labour. Many died of malnutrition and disease or beatings by guards. Tamakan was also used as a hospital camp.
Of Ken’s original crew, Roy Williams is in a nursing home in Melbourne, Hedley Lamberty is in a nursing home in Carlisle, Stanley Dyball and John Clifford have sadly died.
Ken is now in touch with Len Russell and Peter Monoghan but would be pleased to hear from any of the rest of the crew or anyone who knew him in the Far East.
Left: Ken 1947 with nephews Robert, Bruce and Clifford.
After the war:
“With my job as rear gunner redundant, I was elected to help out in the accounts department at Group H.Q.Bangalore (older airmen who did these jobs were going home). I did day parades and jobs pertaining to airmen’s pay. I was then posted to R.I.A, F Bombay to learn RAF accountancy. I had Sergeant Barber as my tutor and we became lifetime friends (he has since died). I played cricket, swam and went on leave to Darjeeling for 3 weeks .I n fact I had a wonderful life living in smart flats on Marine Drive, Bombay seafront before moving to Red Hills Lake, Near Madras. In 1946 I was repatriated back to England, leaving many good friends behind. I arrived home to a very drab, still rationed England in early January 1947.
After only seven days I was recalled to RAF Marham to assist with the paying of airmen going home on leave due to heavy snowfall and frost, and also no fuel to heat the place for 500 personnel. I bought a motorbike and met the girl I later married. As she did not want me to stay in the RAF, I got de mobbed and joined the Air Ministry Civil Service, but after becoming bored, joined a large group of farming companies in Lincolnshire as their accountant till I retired”
"66 Years Later"
In October 2007, Ken Kemp had a reunion with Len Russell, the co-pilot on the Williams crew. The meeting took place on the Isle of Wright, near Len's home.
Ken and Len, 66 years later
Linda Ibrom received the sad news that on the 22nd September 2019 that Ken Kemp passed away, aged 94, after a long battle with prostate cancer. Ken was the last surviving member of his crew. Linda remembers him as a kind, gentle, witty and brave man.
"The Last Landing" penned by Sgt. Alfred Sleep apparently two days before he was sadly killed on the 30th August 1944, is a fitting memory to Ken Kemp.
Off this earth I leave behind
And soar God’s heavens
till our stars I find
And fence the towering clouds
With others of my kind.
Fear not if I should lose my way
Nor keep, keep sad hearts for my returning day.
Tis that I flew the heavens too high
and reached God’s guiding hand
and heard him answer my cry:
Your journeys done - now land
Acknowledgements and thanks to: Ken Kemp, Len Russell, Robert Quirk, Matt Poole. Written by Linda Ibrom - researcher for Aircrew Remembered.