Pilot Officer Kenneth Helliker RAF VR (the disappearing pilot)

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Pilot Officer Kenneth Helliker.

It is not often that I doubt my research, or basically get stumped, but on this occasion, I did. A recent visit to the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton, Suffolk gave me the opportunity to copy and view the log book of Kenneth Helliker, a former pilot of No.218 Squadron who operated between November – December 1942, and then just disappeared.

Kenneth’s flying starts in August 1941, his flying log book records his early pilot training with No.5 Elementary Reserve Flying Training School, flying the Miles Magister. His first flight was on August 4th, his instructor was Flying Officer Plunkett. By August 24th, Ken carried out his first solo of 10 minute duration. On August 28th, both Ken and Plunkett become lost while on a instrument flight, the result of which was a forced landing at Mansfield, neither were injured.

On September 7th 1941 while flying solo in Magister N3975 Ken crashed and ran into a hedge at Brereton, Sandbach, Cheshire while on a map reading exercise. Kenneth was slightly injured in the crash. The reason and outcome of the crash are unknown as no details other than the basic flight details were entered in his log book.   By the end of September with 25 hours 20 minutes dual and 25 hour solo he had completed this stage of his pilot training, he was assessed as “Average”.  Interestingly, while at No.5 E.R.F.T.S his instructor was Flying Officer Desmond Plunkett, who would serve on No.218 Squadron and take part in the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III in March 1944.

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Course 131, Squadron 1 , Cranwell College October 4th 1941. Kenneth is seated front row, centre.

In October, Kenneth had his first flight in the twin engine Oxford, with No.1 Squadron RAF College, Cranwell. Here, over the winter Kenneth refined his flying, carrying out over 70 hours duel and 75 hours solo flying, once again his flying ability was assessed at “Average.” On March 3rd 1942 he was posted to No.1516 Blind Approach Training (BAT) Flight at Middleton St George, Yorkshire, his stay was brief, by the 15th the training was completed. There followed a posting to No.23 Operational Training Unit at RAF Station Pershore. This unit was equipped with the Vickers Wellington, Kenneth was at the controls for the first time on June 19th, joined by P/O Grant, his instructor. On June 30th, Kenneth and his crew soloed completing a 20 minute circuit. July was spent pounding the runways and carrying out numerous flights in the summer sunshine. The crew’s final flight was on August 9th when a 5 hour 30 minute cross country was successfully completed.

It is here that the log book starts to get confusing, Kenneth does not record his next posting destination, however it is believed he and his crew were posted to 214 Conversion Flight, based at RAF Stradishall. (This is confirmed by the 1651 CU ORB and 23 OTU ORB, however no posting date is given in 23 OTU.) however, it is not confirmed by 214 CF ORB. No flights appear to have been flown or recorded in Kenneth’s log book. Over August 7th or 9th (dates differ depending on what document you read) 214 CF arrived at Waterbeach and attached itself to 1651 CU. A familiarisation flight on September 5th in Stirling 3674 was their first introduction to the mighty Short Stirling, joining the crew was their screened instructor F/O Ballauff. The crew undertook a further 10 flights before 214 CF merged with No.1651 Conversion Unit on October 1st. A further seventeen flights were completed before conversion was completed on October 27th with a 2 hour fighter affiliation exercise. Kenneth’s log book is signed at the end of October by OC “A” Flight, F/Lt Peter Boggis DFC, F/Lt Charles Lofthouse, DFC, OC “Ops” Flight and Wing Commander Stewart Menaul DFC commanding officer, 1651 Conversion Unit. These names will be familiar to anyone with an interest in No.3 Group and RAF Bomber Command. The 1651 ORB does not record the date that the crew were posted.

Interestingly the 1651 ORB states “ 214 CF arrived with their aircraft & crews. The two courses under instruction are without exception the worst we have ever had, the 11 crew passed out are well below average”

The crew’s next posting was to No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron based at the recently opened RAF Downham Market, Norfolk. Once again, accurate details on the crew’s movement is unavailable. Kenneth’s log book does not record any dates, and sadly neither does No.218 Squadron Posting In / Out document. Kenneth was posted to “B” Flight which at the time was commanded by the experienced Canadian, Squadron Leader Sammy Samson DFC.

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Kenneth’s RAF Identity Card.

Kenneth’s first flight was a real baptism of fire, a daylight operation on November 3rd to the railway workshops at Lingen. This cloud covered operation was flown by just three crews, all drawn from 218 Squadron. Kenneth joined the crew of Sergeant Ted Gough, aboard veteran Stirling, N3721 HA-P “Peter.” For some reason Kenneth’s Log Book records the operation to Dortmund-Elms Canal. An excellent account of this raid can be found in Bill Jacksons book “Three Stripes and Four Brownings”. Bill was Ted Gough’s rear gunner. Interestingly, in the book Bill acknowledges the crew took a 2nd pilot but states he was a Canadian! On November 7th Kenneth was aloft with his flight commander on a 25 minute flight, this was probably just an opportunity for S/Ldr Samson to assess Kenneth’s flying ability before he took his crew on operations. Kenneth’s next operation was with the crew of New Zealander F/Sgt Don Thomson, the target was Genoa, Italy. No.218 Squadron Operational Records Book does not record Kenneth’s  flight with Thomson, however it was not a uncommon oversight.

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Kenneth’s operations undertaken with No.218 Squadron

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Page 2. Sadly all the pilots mentioned in these two pages would fail to return from operations over the next weeks and months.

Kenneth’s first operation as captain was on November 10th, he was tasked to carry out a mining trip to the Frisian Islands. Aloft at 17:55 hours in Stirling R9244 HA-W he joined four other squadron crews. Kenneth successfully dropped his five mines from 800 feet and watched as each of the mines slowly descended by parachute before heading back to Downham Market they were back at dispersal by 21:55 hours. The crew were airborne again on the 16th when they were briefed to mine the waters off the island of Terschelling. Departing Downham Market at 17:45 hours, their Stirling N6077 HA-V was loaded with six sea mines. The crew pin pointed the eastern end of the island before dropping the mines from just over 800 feet. Weather conditions prevented observation, but the crew were confident that the operation was a complete success. The squadron was active on the 20th when 8 crews were detailed to attack Turin, a further 4 crews including Kenneth were detailed and briefed to carry out a mining operation off the French port of Bordeaux. On this occasion, Kenneth was aloft in Stirling R9243 HA-Y leaving Downham at 16:45 hours. Once again, the operation was a successful with four mines planted, they were base at dispersal by 23:35 hours. It was back to Bordeaux the following night, once again at the controls of HA-Y. Six crews were briefed and all six reported “Duty Carried Out”.

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Kenneth’s officers mess bill for November 1942. A fascinating insight into the almost unknown mess activities of young officers.

 

This was the last operation flown in November, Kenneth had flown six operations, two as second pilot, and the remainder as captain. The last entry in Kenneth’s log book is dated December 2nd when he completed a 1 hour air test in Stirling “T”.

It is at this point that Kenneth’s movements are unknown, the 218 ORB sadly is missing the Posting In / Out sections of the ORB. In January 1943 the London Gazette announce, “The commission of Pilot Officer (Prob) K S Helliker is terminated 9th Jan 1943”.

What this means is unknown, it is suggested that Kenneth failed to come up to the required level of ability and the Air Ministry terminated his commission. Did Kenneth do something during December which resulted in his commission being terminated, there are no clues in his log book and I have found no additional information. I do however have one photograph (see below). On the back of this photo Kenneth as written 1944. He is still a pilot officer and appearances seem to dictate that he is still in the RAF, and from the scarf and flying boots, still flying?

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Kenneth Helliker. On the reverse of this photo the date 1944 is written.