Sir John “Kip” Kemball began his flying career as a National Service pilot before accepting a permanent commission. He became a flying instructor before joining 8 Squadron in Aden flying the Hunter on operations in support of ground forces. He was the first RAF pilot to log 1,000 hours flight time on the Phantom when he was an instructor at Coningsby. He commanded 54 Squadron with Jaguars before becoming the station commander at Laarbruch in Germany where he flew the Buccaneer and the Jaguar. He was Commandant of the Central Flying School and served in the Defence Intelligence Staff where he became the Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence. As the COS and Deputy Commander at HQ Strike Command, he became the COS at the British Primary War HQ during the Gulf War of 1991 where his calm, tolerant and tactful manner was tested, but attracted the admiration of his C-in-C and army and navy colleagues. In retirement he was Deputy Lieutenant of Suffolk and held numerous appointments in the county community.
Freddie Nicoll trained as a pilot in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) before converting to the Hurricane in the Middle East and going to 208 Squadron at an advanced landing ground in the Western Desert. After the Battle of Alamein, the squadron moved to Iraq and then Palestine before Nicoll joined 6 Squadron equipped with rocket-firing Hurricanes. Flying from airfields in Italy, he attacked supply shipping in the Adriatic and off the Yugoslavian coast. He flew from the airstrip on the island of Vis off the Croatian coast and his attacks and leadership were recognised by the award of the DFC. After 55 operations he was rested ands flew target-towing Spitfires and Vengeance aircraft before returning to civilian life as a quantity surveyor.
Polish pilot Jan Baxter (born Jan Zablocki) escaped from his native Poland in 1939, reached France and then travelled to England where he joined the RAF and trained as a pilot. He flew 12 operations on Wellingtons, the majority dropping sea mines in the entrances to Nazi-held ports. After converting to the Halifax, he left for Italy and completed 27 missions dropping supplies to the partisans in Yugoslavia, Greece and Poland, which he visited 11 times. He was twice awarded the Polish Cross of Valour. He remained in the RAF after the war and flew Dakota and Valetta transport aircraftIn Aden and Malaya.. He later worked for the MoD for 10 years as a linguist and translator.
Don Attlee commanded the Queen’s Flight and on a route checking flight prior to the Queen’s visit to Ghana in 1961, had an his crew were arrested with the aircraft in Mali, the first time such an occurrence had happened. The situation was eventually resolved and the Royal Visit passed without incident. Attlee had been a flying instructor during the final years of the war and later served on two Canberra bomber squadrons. As the senior RAF intelligence officer in Germany, he was on a routine visit to Berlin in April 1966 when a Soviet fighter aircraft crashed into a lake in the British sector of the city. He was involved in the dramatic recovery of its engine and top secret radar, which were rushed to England to be analysed. The engine was returned to the wreck, but not the radar, which the British claimed had been unrecoverable from the lake. In his final appointment he organised the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Review of the RAF.
A few editions ago, the magazine Coin Collector began a series featuring military campaign medals with a brief account of the circumstances and actions the led to the issue. For the summer edition of the magazine, I was invited to write a short article and chose the India General Service Medal with the clasp Afghanistan NWF 1919.
Air Marshal Sir Roy Austen-Smith was probably the last senior RAF officer to see action in the Second World War. He flew Spitfires in the closing weeks of the war with 41 squadron, based first at Eindhoven and then at Celle in Germany. After the war he saw action in Malaya against the communist terrorists when he was awarded the DFC. His varied flying career saw him command a Canberra squadron in Cyprus and a Victor bomber squadron in Suffolk. He later commanded RAF Wattisham, home to two Lightning squadrons. He was Commandant at the RAF College Cranwell at a time of great change and later served as the Commander of British Foreses in Cyprus before becoming the Head of the British Delegation in Washington. He was a fine rugby player representing Harlequins, the RAF and the Combined Services.
Mickey Witherow was an influential post-war RAF Regiment officer who specialised in desert warfare, airfield defence and diplomacy. He began his career in Aden attached to the Protectorate Levies and this fired his great interest and enthusiasm for the desert. In a later appointment in Libya, he crossed the Sahara in a Land Rover, a journey of some 1,500 miles. He later specialised in the air defence of airfields and commanded a squadron and served on NATO staffs as a specialist. He commanded the RAF Regiment depot at Catterick and during a tour at MoD he went to Zambia to assess the air defence threat prior to a visit by the Queen for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference. Witherow epitomised the ethos and traditions of the RAF Regiment.
Joan Potts enlisted into the WAAF in 1940 and trained as a filterer before going to HQ 10 Group at Rudloe Manor near Bath where she remained throughout the Battle of Britain and during the Blitz. She worked in a team that filtered the information received from radar sites, the Royal Observer Corps, airborne aircraft and other sources in order to pass the crucial information to the plotting room where the duty commander was able to deploy his forces by reference to the updated map table. She was later commissioned and served at other control rooms. After the war she transferred to the Reserve but was recalled to the recently re- formed WRAF in 1949. She worked in Combined Operations and was appointed MBE. She died aged 102.
Tom Bennett was the captain of a Hastings transport aircraft that flew in support of a detachment Canberras deployed to the Pacific to collect air samples following a nuclear test explosion. He later became a flying instructor before transferring to helicopters. He saw active service during the Malayan Emergency and later in Northern Ireland where he was the station commander at Aldergrove. As the RAF Commander in Hong Kong he was able to remain current flying helicopters. During the Falkland’s campaign he was working in MoD and was heavily involved in developing and supplying the crucial air head on Ascension Island. He was appointed CBE.
‘Dickie’ Bird started flying night-fighters in November 1940, initially on the Blenheim and later on the Havoc ‘Turbinlite’. The latter had a searchlight in the nose to illuminate an enemy aircraft before Hurricanes, flying in close formation with Bird’s aircraft, then mounted an attack. Later, Bird transferred to the Mosquito to fly intruder patrols at night over enemy airfields to catch aircraft taking off and landing. If there was no ‘trade’, he attacked railway rolling stock and motor transport. He was awarded a DFC for his time on the Mosquito. He retired to the family farm in Cumbria.