Interview 5: Kenneth
aged - 94
"Kenneth had wanted to train in law after Oxford but his father told him he’d done enough, so he studied for a 1 year librarianship diploma instead at University college and then worked for the college for a further year before taking a job in the Sudan. He didn’t enjoy his time in the Sudan very much however, mostly he remembers the extortionate heat and the sand storms. Knowing he wanted to leave there, Barbara sent him the application for a librarian’s job which was available at the FAO (where she was working). Together they then lived in Rome for 12 more years, until their children were of school age and they felt they ought to return to Britain. “We loved it though,” Barbara tells me, “the food!” Kenneth proceeded to read for the bar part-time whilst in Rome and focused on International law (whilst at the UN). Back in England he was, therefore, able to begin working at LSE (the London School of Economics) as their law librarian.
(black and white images from: https://www.battlefieldhistorian.com)
At this point Barbara goes to fetch for me Kenneth’s army jacket from the war.
“It was his 21st birthday the day he was dropped!” she tells me.
Kenneths’ jacket surprises me, I’d been expecting a fitted jacket, part of a suit but it’s much looser fitting/styled. Khaki patterned it has a zip just part way down the front, more like a modern day fleece in design. It’s also slightly parachute shaped, very suitable for his role. Kenneth was a paratrooper in WWII, he was in the 6th Airbourne Division and though he’d been out there since about: “I have in my mind the date of the 6th” (he tells me regarding his arrival) he was dropped from a plane into the appropriate area for the battle of Bois de Bavent on his 21st birthday 14th June 1944 “..part of the last push..”
“There was still Japan to come,” adds Barbara, “did your friend Richard go to Japan?” she asks Kenneth but he’s not sure (the war finished in 1946).
“What type of plane did you jump from?” I ask.
“A Dakota,” he replies, “they were the workhorse transport planes. You had to be careful though because the rigging from the parachute could get caught around the tail of the plane and the pilot wouldn’t necessarily know, to be able to take the necessary action.”
Kenneth served under Brigadier James Hill (at home later I tracked down a picture of him, see: https://www.battlefieldhistorian.com/orne_bridgehead.asp?pg=3) who was in charge of all the paratroopers and other airborne soldiers.
“There were gliders that were sent in also but it was a bit risky, many got torn up and smashed,
you know, from landing in the forest.”
There was a grassy open plane East of Caens where airborne troops landed and later dug
trenches they went back to, but otherwise they were fighting in a forest half of which was under
German occupation and half British. They were trying to push the Germans back, take the forest and
protect a particular bridge (named after the forest: Bois de Bavent).
“When you landed you had to rendez vous with others already there?” I ask
“Oh yes we’d have got cut to shreds if it was just us” Kenneth says.
“Were you fighting alongside French soldiers?” I ask.
“There were none of them to be seen,” he says.
“My unit made a sand table of the lay out, the lay of the land, plotted the area before hand, it was very useful on the ground.”
“And after fighting in the forest?”
“We had to dig trenches for ourselves but not like the trenches in the First World War, these were individual holes just big enough for your own body. You were safer lower down, than above ground, only at risk from mortar when you looked up.”
Barbara adds: “Or someone standing above and shooting down?”
“Yes but you wouldn’t let that happen, you were preventing it from getting that far”
“We visited the place later,” says Barbara, “you were chuffed weren’t you,” she says, directing her words toward Kenneth, “to see that there’s a bronze statue now, of Brigadier James Hill, and the local village has put up signs in the field. You thought the French poo pooed your assistance in the war didn’t you, or didn’t acknowledge it much”. Toward me she says: “They’ve named the field after the parachute regiment that dropped there.”
Kenneth had started out in the territorial’s (when too young to be called up) then he served in the armored core, which included driving tanks (the tank regiment).
He was demobbed (demobalised) just before Japan and slightly more easily than might have been the case because his father requested permission for him to take up his place at Oxford (he had an exhibition to Oxford and had completed only the first term before joining up).
“I still expected to be sent East,” he tells me. “Officially demobbed means you can still be called back up quickly, at any time. Officially I still could be,” he says with a grin.
“How did you cope with it all in your own head when you came home?”
“I didn’t really have a problem.”
“Was normal life a bit of a shock afterwards.”
“It was very welcome”
I ask Kenneth if he’ll put the jacket on for me and we help him with it over his head.
“What would you have worn with it?” I ask.
“A sweater and a shirt,”
“Did you have to wear a tie?” Barbara asks
“And the badge on your arm?” (it shows a tiny open parachute with a pair of open wings)
“That’s the Badge of the 6th Airborne Division.”
“Did it all get very dirty, I mean could you wash?” I ask (cheekily).
“You shaved didn’t you,” says Barbara, “they were billeted in local deserted houses, and had eggs from the chickens”.
“I remember there was a lake too that we swam in,” says Kenneth smiling and Barbara and I join in at the image of soldiers washing au naturel.
After their time in Rome Barbara and Kenneth moved to Dartmoor, living on the East side of the moors. “Its better,” says Barbara, “there’s less rain, about 44” compared to about two hundred and forty four on the other side,” she laughs.
“And how long have you been at Danny?”
“About 6 years now.”"
- Stephanie Smart
Kenneth with the dress inspired by the jacket he wore when he was a paratrooper in WWII. To see images of The Angel Bourne Dress please click here:
To see Barbara and Kenneth talking about being involved in Stephanie's residency at Danny House please click below
(filmed by Melanie Hendricks):