Kenneth William Savage

Memories of RAF service (as dictated in June 2010 at 88 years of age ) With thanks to Barry Savage


From the ages 6 – 14 I attended a school in Henfield, a fairly small village in Sussex about 10 miles from Brighton.

I don’t think I learnt much there but I did finish up near the top of the class!!

There was very little work in the village but I managed to get a job in a large poultry farm called “Mock Bridge Farm”, we had our own football team and my Dad was the referee.

My Dad asked a friend of his who had been a school master to give me extra lessons, mainly with maths, that helped a lot.

By the age of 17 and a half, war had started and a lot of the lads were called up for the Army which I wasn’t very happy about.

I decided to join up in September 1941 at the age of 18 and half, eventually I would have been called up anyway but thought I would like to have a say in what I was going to do, decided the RAF was about the best bet! 

Once I’d decided I went to Brighton and applied only to be told that the only way I could join up was to join Aircrew, he said “how do you feel about aircrew?” , I said “I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been in an airplane!”, he said that it didn’t matter as there’d been quite a few like that! He went on to say that in a few weeks time I’d be told what to do, I’d be given a travel warrant and that was it. Then a few weeks later I was told to go to Oxford University, I was there for 3 days, they found out on the first day that I was fit and well, I had minor tests the next day and on the 3rd day I was told that they didn’t want pilots or navigators, most of the pilots had been trained in Canada and USA anyway, what they badly needed was radio operators, so that was it! Decision made!

After a few more weeks of waiting, I was told to go to Padgate, somewhere near Manchester, to be kitted out. The bloke took one look at me and I ended up with a jacket that was quite a good fit and trousers not bad at all, all my old gear was put in a box and sent back to Worthing. From Padgate I went to Blackpool to train to be a radio operator which involved having weekly exams and tests on the Morse code. I started out at 1 word a minute, then progressed to 2 words, then 4 words, then 6 words, then 8 words until I finished up at 10 words a minute. If I hadn’t passed each stage after 3 attempts I would have been chucked out! I managed it ok.

The next lot of training was in Yatesbury in Wiltshire, not far away, where I eventually went up to 20 words a minute on the Morse code.

After taking all my tests we started flying in 2-seater airplanes, I was a bit sick to start with but I got over it in the end.

After that course I went to Stormy Down in Wales for 2 weeks training on aircraft turrets and things. I enjoyed it there as there were sand dunes there and in between the dunes they set up model railways and model airplanes to practise with, great fun! 

Next I was sent to Mildenhall in Suffolk for training on direction finding and such like, it was quite good. We had to go to a little place, well away from the airport evidently, where we received signals and had to find out where they were coming from, it was a bit of fun, it lasted quite some time.

I was then asked if I wanted to continue flying. I said that I might as well as I have come this far, that was when I was made up to Flight Sergeant. I was sent to Bobbington in the Midlands where they were all Anson Aircraft, very nice, and all the Pilots and Navigators were new, I was the only one fully trained I suppose.

Every aircraft that had more than 2 passengers had to have a radio on board. Radios operated by the pilots only went approx. 30 miles so if they wanted it to go further they had to get the radio operators to do it using the Morse code etc.

We went flying up and down the countryside from Bobbington, it wasn’t too bad but we did have one or two hairy moments! We had one crash, I think it was a tyre burst and we skidded off the runway and ended in the mud but apart from that I quite enjoyed my stay at Bobbington.

I went home for a fortnight, I think, for a bit of a rest and then I was sent to Kinloss in Scotland to join up with all the other crew members who had finished their courses, met up with them and had a few beers. Then the Pilots had to pick their own crew which was strange as nobody new anybody really. Leo picked me and we ended up as a 7 man crew. We flew in Whitley bombers for a time, not a very good aircraft to fly in, very difficult to get into and very difficult to get out of as well but we had to do it. This went on for some time, training over the mountains and such like, ending up going over to Norway and dropping some bombs on the runway at Helsinki, we didn’t want to hurt anyone on the ground so blew a few holes in the runway instead, it was all training practice, wasn’t too bad, everyone came back ok.

We finished training up in Kinloss and then we were sent down to Rufforth near York to fly Halifax bombers, first time we’d seen them actually, quite impressive sort of aircraft. We did quite a bit of cross country flying doing various things, headed up to Ireland once, near Belfast, anyway, we did quite a bit of that. The only problem we had one particular time was we were coming onto the runway and the aircraft hydraulics had gone, we couldn’t slow it down, ended up going along the runway to the end, through a hedge and across a main road with the front wheels in a ditch and the tyres amongst the hedge, luckily nobody was hurt and very little damage to the aircraft. There was a courting couple in the hedgerows who were very startled to find a Halifax coming towards them, interrupting their courting!!

About this time Leo was having bother as he was a very heavy smoker and was getting very bad bronchitis and we weren’t doing much flying actually because he was always poorly. About that time as well, Churchill wanted a few more heavy planes sent over to the middle east and fortunately for us we got the job (because we weren’t doing anything), to go out to the middle east.

I thought it was a good idea because otherwise we would have been amongst the bomber squadrons in England so we got out of that although we didn’t quite know what we were getting into in the Middle East. So, a few weeks later when Leo was ok, we took off and we went to Rabat sally in Morocco, from there to Algiers (short visit there) and then on to Brindisi in Italy where we stayed for a few weeks. Leo was poorly in Brindisi, unfortunately again, so I volunteered, I have no idea why I did but I did! to fly with other crews over to Yugoslavia, Greece and parts of Italy because they badly needed a radio operator and you had to have one so they got me for a time, theirs must have been poorly or something and I flew with a Sergeant Paulden (I think that was his name). I did 6 trips with them, we dropped supplies and ammunition to the people fighting the Germans, especially in Yugoslavia they were doing a good job blowing up railway lines and bridges, anything to stop the Germans invading. We also went over to Greece where there was a prison camp with English people in it and we dropped supplies to them, whether they got them or not I don’t know, the Germans were there, you could see them, they probably did get the supplies I don’t think the Germans were too bad there with the prisoners.

While we were at Brindisi, amongst the pilots there was “Chalky White” from our village, he was a Halifax pilot and had been to America to train. Also I mentioned I flew with a pilot called Plumton several times, the rear gunner was Bobby Wooler from Henfield, he lived next door to us with his Grandmother for some reason. Three of us from Henfield at Brindisi!!

I don’t know what happened to “Chalky White” but I do know that Bobby Wooler came out ok.

Eventually we left Brindisi and went back to a place called Blida, it’s a place just about 40miles from Algiers where we stayed quite a long time, we crossed the Mediterranean and supplied the French with ammunition and dropped supplies to them, we also dropped a few men by parachute and they used to blow up railway lines and kill a few Germans I suppose, when they got the chance. All the arms and ammunition were carried in big containers which would have normally carried bombs, these huge containers were packed solid with explosives and things quite a worrying thing to carry and quite heavy as well, we had about 4 of them on the plane. We had a bit of bother there one night taking off in very high winds coming in from the side I think, we were doing about 100mph down the runway and there must have been a gust of wind caught the plane or something, we had the tail up ready to take off and we got pushed off the runway, the wheels broke off, the propellers dropped off, we ended up in the mud, well away from the airport itself. We got out very quick as we were wondering if it was going to blow up or not, it didn’t as it happens, we’d stopped the engines immediately we knew something had happened so were all safe. A lorry was sent to pick us up, we got back into base and had a cup of tea and unfortunately I’d lost 2 teeth, I must have bashed my face into the radio, I wasn’t very happy about that!

We completed 344 hours with 624 squadron. We did send one or two spies into France and they eventually came back, not quite sure how they managed that? We sent them out there with radios and jobs they needed to do, they maybe came back on torpedo boats***

About this time I was made up to Warrant Officer which was a bit of promotion, you are privileged when you’re a Sergeant and I was looked after, I had sheets on my bed and was waited-on.

It came to an end in Blida so we went back to Brindisi for the final few trips and we joined up with 148 Squadron where our first trip was to Warsaw in Poland. The trip to Warsaw was a long one and a bit of a job getting there too, we had to come in fairly low over the city at Warsaw, there was a Polish Uprising there you see and they wanted ammunition etc to help out, we had to fly very low to drop the stuff out onto, what was meant to be the Post Office in Warsaw, we had quite a job to find it because the whole city was burning, the Germans were knocking hell out of the place! We found it the first time and decided that was it and came back to base because we’d been in the air 10 and a half hours which was quite a long time. When we got back we went back to where we parked the aircraft and we were the only crew that got back that time, I did hear afterwards that a couple of planes had landed up the coast, but at that time we were the only crew to come back and there were all the ground crew standing about waiting for their planes coming back and they hadn’t come. There was a lot of trouble on these trips, a lot of night fighters and the flack was bad as well, they were quite dangerous trips really. I don’t know what happened to the other planes, I never heard what happened to them at all, whether they got damaged by aircraft fire or landed in Russia I don’t really know but we were the only ones that come back to that particular place anyway.

The second trip was to Northern Italy, not far to go really, about a 6 hour trip there and back. We dropped some Italians over there, I helped them out at the back because they were very reluctant to go really, they liked the idea of going back and meeting up with their families as well as anything else, anyway, we got them out in the end and we also dropped the supplies to go with them. The Italians at that time weren’t very happy with the Germans anyway so we had quite a lot of people wanting to do this sort of thing, it went on ok, we got them away there then came back to base again.

Our next trip was back to Warsaw but when we got near it we were told by radio that it was impossible to find where to dish the supplies out so we diverted from there and went to some forest where there were a lot of Polish people standing there waiting for supplies so we dropped them there. It was a bit dodgy there as we got shot at and we had a night fighter firing at us for a time until we went into cloud. Coming back we had to crash land at a place called Bari, we had ran out of petrol, I think the night fighter had punctured one of the tanks and we’d lost almost all the fuel so we landed on the beach at Bari.

By the time we got out of the aircraft into shallow water it was getting quite light and there were an awful lot of Italians watching us from a promenade, they must have seen us land I suppose.

Our last trip was back to northern Italy again doing the same sort of trip, dropping supplies again, that went off ok and that really was it!!

We’d done 42 operational trips and 302 hours flying time.

While thinking about our trips during the war, we really had it relatively easy compared with what bomber command had in Northern France and Germany. We were flying over to France from the Mediterranean, Blida etc. which wasn’t too bad, they had the aircraft guns on the front in France and the anti-aircraft shells used to come up at us and search lights used to shine on us but we used to get through that ok.  The main problem was where we were flying in to drop the supplies, usually up in the mountains, there would be a clearing somewhere and there’d be a chap there signalling with a lamp and he had a special code number so that nobody else but us Knew. We had a job to find it amongst the trees but did find them eventually after getting lost once or twice but on the whole we didn’t have much bother. We got the supplies delivered and the parachutists, if they were with us, all in all it wasn’t too bad there. 

Over the Med was easy until we hit the French Coast, quite heavy anti aircraft fire and search lights, once we passed that it was calm enough, we got near the target area.

It was quite hilly country and while we were looking for the signals we had to miss the mountains as well.

Dropping the supplies had to be done at about 600 feet, once that was over we had to boost the engines up to get up out of the hills, we had a couple of times when it was a close call.

Now going back to Yugoslavia and Greece, fairly easy again, no such thing as opposition, we never saw any anyway whereas flying over northern Italy, they had anti- aircraft guns flying there and search lights even though the Germans were retreating they were still pretty active. It was quite hairy there at times, makes me wonder how we ever got through the shrapnel that was flying around in the air, when the shells explode there’s bits of metal flying all over the place, it wouldn’t take much to drop a plane out of the sky. 

Going back to Warsaw was a different matter altogether. It was a long trip and all over occupied territory, some places there wasn’t many German troops there but other places, the Germany towns, up went the search lights and shells flying up in the air at us, they didn’t seem to be very accurate with it, thank goodness, we couldn’t really try to avoid them because we knew where we were going and had to fly almost straight. Over the target in Warsaw was deadly, no question about it, it was a deadly place to come to! The whole city was more or less on fire, we had a job to find our targets and if we did we still weren’t sure if we got the right one or not, although I think most of us seemed to get the supplies through the best we could. We did hear by radio that they had received a lot of them but it was a bit dodgy. Of course, coming back we had another 5 hour trip to Brindisi, there was an awful lot of firing into the air, it wasn’t an easy do I must admit. We finished the tour and everyone was glad that we had a rest. 

We then went up to Naples, in a little hotel there for a week or two, recovered a bit. Next they sent us by train to Taranto in a Southern part of Italy, there’s a big port there and a big liner waiting to go to Suez, we were put on that which was a very nice journey across the Med, thankfully no submarines around at that time. We got to Suez and low and behold after a couple of days we were put on another boat, a big boat, one of these castle liners which used to sail between England and South Africa. We were on there with a lot of army men that were going back to England. It took us about 5 days to get through the Med and then through the Atlantic to avoid U-boats, we got back to Liverpool. I had 14 days leave then. Next I went to Bramcote near Wellington, met new pilots, I had to stay with them for a time and then all of a sudden the Germans gave up, packing it all in! so for a bit of fun I went down to London to the Palace and the Royal family were all out on the balcony, I think they came out 3 or 4 times during the course of the afternoon!

Next I got a new Pilot called Terry and we got ourselves a new plane called a Dakota and took off again to India and a place called Baroda where we did a bit of local flying. From there we went to Calcutta by train which took nearly 3 days, very interesting indeed, I enjoyed it except for the beggars on the streets. We got ourselves a new plane there just in time for the war to finish against the Japanese as well. 

From Calcutta we went to Rangoon and had our base there where we had a lot of flying taking supplies to various countries, we had to make up for the supplies that the Japanese hadn’t received. We went to Saigon, back to Calcutta, then on to Cawnpore, Penang, Singapore, Mandalay, campershara, Bangkok, Jakarta, mainly supplies were taken but also a passengers. Flying from Rangoon down to Singapore, Terry our Pilot was taken ill so he sat in my seat, we had a few passengers on board as well, Terry seemed to go to sleep in my seat so I took over the plane.  Not a lot to do on it really as it was automatic control but I still had to keep a check on the way we were going and the Navigator used to tell me anyway if anything was going wrong e.g. Go to the right a bit etc. We nearly got to Singapore actually and we were discussing what we were going to do because the pilot was still poorly, who was going to take over the plane? The Navigator said that I was doing it so I should carry on doing it and he said he would help me to get the wheels and flaps down. Fortunately the pilot did recover a bit and took over with me helping him get it down.

I carried on for some time visiting all these countries dropping supplies and the Japanese helped us all the time loading/unloading the planes so we had no hard work to do at all thanks to the Japanese. They were the ones who were supposed to commit Harri Karri! If they didn’t win the war, but they weren’t doing much of that when I saw them.

This carried on until the fourth month in 1946 and a Warrant Officer wanted to make up a crew to take a Dakota to Egypt (I was a Warrant Officer by this time). I joined in, we had the Navigator already so we had the 3 man crew, we took off with hardly any notice at all and headed back to Calcutta and all the way through to Karachi, Habania and ended up in Suez again. That was a quick trip, it was better than waiting for a boat to take us back to England which would have been a long wait, this was a much better way of doing it. In Suez I met an old friend of mine who was a Warrant Officer as well and he was flying back to England the next day in a York aircraft and he said he would try and get me on board his plane, the three of us, so he did and we managed to get back to England, landed in Shrewsbury. He took me for a glass of beer, or what I thought was a glass of beer, in the local pub, it was cider, but apart from that he was canny.

I had enjoyed myself out in the Far East, Rangoon was a nice place to be then, it’s not now of course, and you can’t even get in to the country evidently! Singapore was lovely, I enjoyed it there but I loved it in Saigon until they had the uprising and drove all the French out and then the Americans out eventually. I also enjoyed India where I went to the races, they had a huge racecourse there where they had racing every so often, thoroughly enjoyed myself there! After the war finished I had quite a good time jaunting around the Far East, I had no bother at all, apart from taking over the aircraft for a couple of hours, all was well.

Kenneth William Savage died on 23 May 2012 aged 90 


Ken Savage and his crew are remembered on the Remembrance Wall at York Air Museum.