WONZ Episode 168 – Ken Lee

Guest: Kenneth Charles Lee, Squadron Leader NZ39924 and 75419, Royal New Zealand Air Force
(25 September 1919 to 18th of January 2013)

Interviewers: Dave Homewood and Richard Carstens

Recorded: 19th of January 2010

Released: 24th of November 2017

Duration:  1 hour 1 minute 34  seconds

Ken Lee was studying engineering before WWII, and as he had a great interest in aviation he signed up in 1938 for the Civil Reserve scheme, in which the Government paid for him to learn to fly at Auckland Aero Club. By the time WWII began in September 1939 he was a qualified pilot, and on the 26th of October 1939 he was mobilised into the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Ken started his Air Force career with a refresher course at No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School, RNZAF Station Bell Block, in de Havilland Moths and Tiger Moths. He then progressed to flying Vickers Vincents at No. 2 Flying Training School, RNZAF Station Woodbourne, on the first course through the Empire Air Training Scheme. When most of course mates went off to Britain to fly operations, Ken was retained to become a flying instructor.

Following nearly three years instructing on Tiger Moths, Oxfords and Harvards at RNZAF Stations Taieri, Whenuapai and Woodbourne, Ken finally got his chance for overseas service in 1942. He travelled to England, and sent time flying Miles Master trainers before converting to the Supermarine Spitfire at an Operational Training Unit.

Next he was posted to the famous No. 485 (NZ) Squadron RAF, and began flying operations over occupied Europe as a Spitfire pilot. Following a long tour of operations Ken ended up as a test pilot for de Havillands in their propeller unit.

This interview was recorded at Ken’s home in January 2010. On the day we’d recorded several other interviews and this was the last before I had to return home to Cambridge. We sadly ran out of tape and so did not quite cover all of Ken’s wartime experiences, however this recording gives some great detail and very interesting memories.

Below: Ken Lee at RNZAF Base Auckland in March 2010 recreating the photo below it taken at RAF Biggin Hill in 1943. (RNZAF Image AK10-0177-003-2, via Marty Fitchett)

Surviving members at the time of No. 485 (NZ) Squadron in 2012 at RNZAF Base Auckland. Left to right are the late Harvey Sweetman, Jim Robinson, the late Ken Lee, the late Doug Brown, and Owen Hardy. (RNZAF photo, via Marty Fitchett)


Above: ‘Blue’ Flight of No. 485 (NZ) Squadron RAF at Selsey Bill, just days before D-Day. Ken Lee is far right in the group. (Image RNZAF, via Marty Fichett)


An Imperial War Museum image of Ken Lee in front of his Spitfire (via Richard Carstens)


Ken and his Spitfire (via Marty Fichett))


Ken on the right, No. 485 (NZ) Squadron (via Richard Carstens)


No. 1 War Course, RNZAF Station Woodbourne, 1939-40 (Air Force Museum of New Zealand photo, via Richard Carstens)

Thanks to Richard Carstens and Marty Fitchett for their assistance with this episode.

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