Lancaster bomber pilot from Eastbourne passes away

Ken Gilderdale
Ken Gilderdale

One of the last surviving Lancaster Bomber pilots has passed away in Eastbourne.

Ken Gilderdale, who would have been 95 in July, died and his funeral was held last Friday.

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His family placed a wreath from the service at the Bomber Command Memorial at Beachy Head to honour Mr Gilderdale, who lived in Polegate in recent years.

The former bank manager volunteered for RAF aircrew duties when he was 19 at the start of the Second World War and trained as a pilot in California before being posted to Operational Squadron 150.

He clocked up more than 2,100 flying hours flying Oxford and Lancaster planes and among the raids he took part in was an attack on Hitler’s home, the Eagle’s Nest in Berchesgaden, as well as prominent SS barracks.

He also flew the Lancaster on missions to drop food in Holland, helped bring back British ex-prisoners of war from Brussels and Naples and flew generators out to Nuremburg where the trial of all the leading Nazi officials was taking place.

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Mr Gilderdale, who returned to a career in the bank after the war, said witnessing the trial and seeing the prisoners in front of the judge Lord Shawcross marked the end of his crew being together and flying Lancasters.

When interviewed by the Herald in 2012 Mr Gilderdale said, “The period on the Lancasters is the time I shall always never forget along with my crew.”

His son Richard said, “My father, who we call Pop, learnt how to turn, spin, stall and carry out loops. He also learnt navigation and night flying and eventually became an instructor. He flew Harvards and Oxfords before moving on to fly his beloved Lancasters.

“On April 7 1942 his log book records a mission to bomb Hitler’s mountain retreat known as the Eagles Nest and during that mission his perspex windscreen was splintered by flak from the enemy and so he plugged the hole with chewing gum.

“He had a very distinguished career of which we are all very proud.

“In 2008 I organised for him to attend Biggin Hill as a guest at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight to see the only remaining flying Lancaster in the country.

“We could see the memories appear to come flooding back to his face – a real display of mixed emotions before he climbed the ladder into the fuselage and almost pole-vaulted over the Lancs equipment, before taking himself up to the pilot’s seat. We had to prise him out whilst hearing him tell the crew about his exploits.

“His passing is truly the end of a special era.”