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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. H C Kennard

Wing Commander Hugh Kennard, who has died aged 76, was a Battle of Britain pilot and subsequently commanded No 121 Squadron, one of the RAF’s three American volunteer ‘Eagle’ squadrons.

Although a handful of American volunteers had flown with the RAF during the Battle it was not until 1941 that the three ‘Eagle’ squadrons, nos 71, 121 and 133 were formed. With the USA not yet in the war the American volunteer pilots – something of a law unto themselves –were put under British leadership. Kennard was posted as a flight commander to help form No 121 at Kirton-in-Lindsey.

The squadron certainly represented a new departure for a RAF officer. Its badge depicted an American Indian chief’s head adorned with a head-dress of eagle feathers and bearing the motto ‘For Liberty’. Yet under its first commander. S/Ldr Peter Powell and flight commanders Hugh Kennard and Royce Wilkinson the Hurricane-equipped squadron became operational in just two months. Later, after converting to Spitfires, Kennard led the Americans on fighter sweeps across the Channel.

In order to make its Eagle squadrons as British as possible, the RAF resorted to appointing intelligence officers from the landed gentry. One such incumbent, Michael Duff Assheton-Smith, a godson of the Queen (the late Queen Mother), arrived in a Rolls-Royce and used to invite the Americans to his estate in North Wales. The RAF station commander attempted to ease any nostal-gia for America by ordering a five-gallon tin of peanut butter from Harrods.

When the Japanese attack for on Pearl Harbour brought the United States into the war there was a mighty celebration, at which Kennard proposed a toast with the words ‘You're all in it now, Yanks !’ Not one of his pilots wanted to transfer from the RAF; they said they were too fond of their Spitfires. Early in 1942 Kennard received command of the squadron.

Hugh Charles Kennard was born on June 24 1918 and educated at Cranbrook School, Kent. He joined the RAF in 1937 on a short ser-vice commission and was briefly with Nos 66 and 610 Spitfire squadrons before moving back to No 66 in 1940.

In May he flew covering patrols over Dunkirk during the evacuation and from July was plunged into the air battle across southern England. He had claimed a half share in a Me110 fighter when he was posted at the end of August 1940 as a flight com-mander to No 306, a Polish Hurricane squadron which was forming at Church Fenton. It became operational in time for the last phase of the Battle of Britain.

On July 31 1942 Kennard was wounded and shot down while leading No 121 on a bomber escort operation. But he did not relinquish command until September. In the same year he was awarded the DFC.

Kennard was then appointed air advisor to Vice-Admiral Dover and moved to the Air Ministry in the Directorate of Fighter Operations. In October 1944 he was posted to troopship duties, supervising personnel in transit aboard the ‘Orduna’ on the Bombay route and the ‘Queen Mary’ across the Atlantic. Kennard returned to an operational squadron in May 1945 when he received command of No 74, flying Spitfires.

He served as a station commander until 1946. From 1949 to 1952 as a member of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force he commanded No 500, a Meteor jet-fighter squadron (he gave a two--seater jet ride to Anthony Eden, then the squadron's honorary air commodore). After leaving the Air Force in 1946 Kennard became an entrepreneurial pioneer in the unpredictable market of civil aviation. He formed or directed a number of com-panies, including Air Kruise, Ramsgate Airport, Silver City Airways, Air Ferry, Universal Air Transport Sales, Invicta International Air-lines, Aeromarine Photographic and Interland Air Services. He was chairman of UAT Leisure Promotions.

He married, in 1969, Jane Neville; they had two sons.

(With acknowledgment to the Daily Telegraph 1995)

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