The ‘Lucky’ Gunner
Melody Foreman talks exclusively with the family of Squadron Leader Kenneth ‘Lucky’ Lusty about his time as a Bristol Blenheim gunner and as an RAF officer in World War Two.
Having survived five dramatic crash-landings during the Second World War a young air gunner by the name of Kenneth Roy Lusty had justifiably earned the nickname ‘Lucky’. As a person he was bright, fun, optimistic and enjoyed the benefit of having a quick mind and a heart full of courage – so it was hardly surprising that aged just 19 when war broke out, he raced along to the RAF recruiting office in Manchester to sign up.
In a recent interview, his son Richard Lusty said: “In those days all the comics pictured people flying in aircraft, and my father believed the captain of the aircraft would not be the pilot. It would have to be the gunner, as he had the best view of all and therefore had more control during aerial combat. When he joined up that’s what he wanted to be. No question.
“That day in 1939, he cycled quite a few miles to get to the recruiting centre and there was a big queue. So he waited for hours. Eventually, they said ‘no more’ and closed the door. Well, the boys were so incensed there was a mini riot. The sergeant came out and said ‘I’ll tell you what. Come back tomorrow’. He handed out coloured raffle tickets, but father was too far back. They wanted 20 volunteers apparently and he seemed to be number 21.
“Being a shrewd young man my father noticed the raffle tickets were pink. So he went to the village shop, bought a book of them and took out the number 9 which was the day of his birthday (February 9). The next morning, he was back at the recruiting office before anyone else and got in.” The plan worked and it was, indeed, his ticket into the air force.
Desperate time for Britain
Within weeks of joining the RAF, Lusty was off to basic training at Padgate, Warrington, Cheshire. Then he was posted to RAF Aldergrove, Northern Ireland, on 30 December, 1939 for a course in air gunnery. Richard said: “Early on in my father’s training he was asked to guard the airfield. No guns were available so he was given a cocoa tin and six pebbles. He was told that if anybody approached he should shake the cocoa tin which was supposed to make a noise like a machine gun, and he would have to demand: ‘Halt who goes there?’ A sort of Dad’s Army scenario. I don’t know what good a tin of pebbles would have been if the enemy had arrived at the gate.”
Later on Lusty’s astute skills with the Browning 0.303 impressed his trainers and he was posted in February 1940 to 235 Squadron, which operated the Bristol Blenheim. The unit was based at Manston, Kent, and was tasked with carrying out Coastal Command duties.
The 14th of May that year was to prove memorable for Sgt Lusty, who was posted again – this time to 25 Squadron at North Weald, Essex, as an air gunner. It was a role in which he valiantly served throughout the Battle of Britain, flying from several different stations.
For the rest of this exciting story, see the December issue of Britain at War – in the shops now.