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The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. J R Kayll


Joseph Robert Kayll was born in Sunderland on 12th April 1914 and attended Aysgarth School, Yorkshire. He was later at Stowe but, after failing all exams, he started work at 16 as a mill boy in the family firm of Joseph Thompson, a sawmill company in Sunderland.

Kayll obtained his ‘A’ licence in 1934 and joined 607 Squadron Auxiliary Air Force. On 1st July 1939 he was attached to CFS Upavon for a two week flying instructors course.

He was called to full-time service on 24th August 1939.

One Luftwaffe bomber pilot shot down over the sea by a 607 Gladiator pilot exclaimed in fluent English 'To be shot down by a bloody barrister in a bloody biplane is more than I can bloody well bear'.

German Intelligence had led him to expect no more resistance than 'a bunch of Auxiliary amateurs'.

He was appointed ‘A’ Flight Commander in 607 in November 1939 and flew from Croydon to Merville, in France, with the squadron on 15th November 1939.




On 14th March 1940 Kayll took command of 615 Squadron at Vitry, as an Acting Squadron Leader. On 15th May he destroyed two Me110s, on the 20th a He111 and another enemy aircraft, on 22nd June a probable He111 and another damaged and on the 30th a Me109 destroyed and another damaged.

Kayll was given the double award of the DSO and DFC (gazetted 31st May 1940). He was decorated by the King on 27th June at Kenley.

On 27th July Kayll shared in the destruction of a He59, on 14th August he damaged a Do17, on the 16th he shared a probable He111, on the 18th he damaged a Me109, on the 20th shared a Do17, on the 24th shared a He111, on the 26th damaged a He111 and a Me109, on the 28th probably destroyed a Do17 and on 25th October damaged a Me109.



Above: Kayll hosted a visit by Churchill, an Honorary Air Commodore of 615 Squadron.


On 22nd December 1940 Kayll relinquished command of 615 Squadron and left for HQ Fighter Command the next day.

He returned to operations on 2nd June 1941, when he was appointed Wing Leader at Hornchurch. On 25th July Kayll was flying as number 2 to the Station Commander, G/Capt. H Broadhurst, who decided to return to the target area to seek further action. He was accompanied by Kayll and two wingmen.

As they climbed into the sun they were bounced by Me109s and only Broadhurst was not shot down. Kayll made a crash-landing in a pea field in Spitfire V R7259 near St. Omer and was immediately captured (below).



He was interrogated by a Captain Eberhart, who told him the Luftwaffe knew about his career from reports published in the Sunderland Echo.

'It was most disconcerting ' Kayll recalled 'they knew I had performed aerobatics with 607 Squadron at Empire Air Days and had played rugger with 603 at Edinburgh. They even knew I had recently married Annette Nisbet of Harperley Hall'.

He was sent first to Oflag IX A/H at Spangenburg Castle, a 12th century castle and former hunting lodge. Here he assisted two successful escapes. Further attempts were frustrated by a dry moat inhabited by wild boar which made a commotion when disturbed. The animals proved impervious to potatoes stuck with razor blades, eating them with no ill effects.

He was moved to Stalag VI Bad Wartburg in October 1941. He escaped in a mass breakout in September 1942 and, with a companion, walked for seven days, covering 90 kilometres, before being captured by a forester south of Fulda.

Kayll was taken to a prison in Berlin and then sent to Oflag XXI B at Schubin, in Poland. He took part in further escape activities. Kayll was transferred to Stalag Luft 3 in May 1943 and was in charge of the Escape Committee for the East Compound.

Escape activities involved a very high proportion of the camp and its direction was both arduous and dangerous. Kayll was unsparing in his efforts in this work and he also organised the whole of the security and intelligence section.

This escape committee's greatest success was the Wooden Horse exploit, in which a makeshift gymnastic horse shielded tunnelling. This resulted in a 'home run' made by Flight Lieutenants Eric Williams, Oliver Philpot and Lieutenant Mike Codner.

Freed in May 1945, Kayll was released from the RAF later in the year as a Wing Commander. He received a Mention in Dispatches (gazetted 28th December 1945) and an OBE (gazetted 26th June 1946).

Kayll returned to the family timber business. He reformed 607 as a Auxiliary fighter squadron at Ouston, Northumberland.

An enthusiastic yachtsman, Kayll founded the Sunderland Yacht Club.

In 1981, aged 67, he sailed the family ketch Wild Thyme home after his sons Joseph and David had completed the Observer transatlantic two-handed yacht race.

His portrait was made by Eric Kennington in 1941 (below).

Kayll died on 3rd March 2000.


Below: his portrait, as a Wing Commander, was made by TC Dugdale.




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