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Okanagan Military Museum

MILITARY BIOGRAPHIES

FLYING OFFICER LES PERKINS

Flying officer Les Perkins during WWII, Short Stirling bomber in the background

 

RAF Air Gunner Wings RAF Air Crew Europe medal

 

Les Perkins was born in London, England, on November 17, 1923. During the Great Depression, he and his brothers were installed in a boys' boarding school in Buckingham, where he obtained his basic schooling to School Certificate, later upgrading to Junior Matriculation. He then attended an agricultural training school in Kent, not far from Biggin Hill, and as a seventeen year old, mad about flying, thrilled to the Battle of Britain almost over his head.

German Heinkel 111 bomber over London

His mother spent some time in the Women's Air Force during the First World War, and delighted her eldest son with a description of the downing of the first German Zeppelin, which took place near London, she being an eye witness. On another occasion she dragged young Les out to the back garden to investigate a strange humming sound; it was the British airship R100 passing overhead. As a boy, Les delighted in the Biggles and Algy stories and all together the above had a part in creating for Les a fascination in aviation. At any rate, he graduated from agricultural school and put in two years dairy farming, as he had promised; then, at age nineteen, took his day off to travel to Maidstone and volunteer for aircrew duty.

Britain's R 100 airship

A short time later he passed muster at a selection board in London, and early in 1943 was introduced to the Royal Air Force at Lords Cricket Ground, where he was kitted out and given two haircuts in one day, later given over to the gentle care of a drill corporal and the joys of square bashing. Everyone in charge made sure Les and his sprog companions understood they were now the lowest of the low, even a worm would need to descend to get to their level. In due course he moved on to ITW at Bridlington in Yorkshire, to suffer further indignities on his way to being aircrew. But at last, Les escaped to #2 Air Gunnery School, at Dalcross in Bonnie Scotland.

Avro Anson trainers in formation
Bouton-Paul Defiant fighter

His first flight, in an AVAC Anson, was an experience in self control, since his companions all suffered from air sickness. Getting in and out of the turret was a slippery business and the aircraft stunk like an abattoir. Les was pleased when told to wind down the undercarriage, it took his mind off the discomfort. The real gunnery training was done using Bolton Paul Defiant aircraft. They were truly clapped out old kites and probably dangerous, but thrilling to ride in nevertheless. Les finally graduated to receive the coveted half wing, thankful to be in one piece and as keen as ever.

Bomber squadron aircrews walk past a Vickers Wellington bomber

On to #12 Operational Trainin Unit (OTU) at Chipping Warden, in Oxfordshire, and some equally clapped out Wellington bombers. It wasn't long before Les discovered war was no game, and a lot of his preconceived notions gleaned from Biggles and Co. flew out the window. A leaflet raid to Rennes, France, a finale to operational training, resulted in his crew being shot down and ditching in the Seine estuary. They were lucky to survive and get back to England.

Following about three weeks at #1657 Conversion Unit at Stradishall in Suffolk, his crew was posted to #199 Stirling Squadron at Lakenheath, part of #3 Group. Later, the squadron was transferred to #100 Group for special duties, and were sometimes rather rudely referred to as those funny fellows from 100'. Les went on to do a varied two tours which included bombing, mine-laying, low-level supply drops, and diversionary support operations to main force using, Window, Mandrel, and other special electronic devices. He spent three years in such places as Egypt, Morocco, Malta, Gibraltar, and sundry other parts of North Africa, before taking his discharge in London, England.

Short Stirling bomber in flight

He then spent several months hitchhiking through Europe and North Africa before emigrating to become a Canadian citizen in 1949. Following an early retirement from the farm equipment business because of ill health, Les and his family moved to Kelowna where he enjoyed the company of many friends. He belonged to a number of ex-service organisations, including #883 (Kelowna) Wing Royal Canadian Air Force Association, and kept up a lively correspondence with his old skipper in New Zealand and their wireless operator in England.

Les was a volunteer at the Okanagan Military Museum. His experiences were published his experience in the airwar during WWII in a book titled "Flight into Yesterday" copies of which can be purchased through the Okanagan Military Museum.

 

 

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