Kenelm Dundas – the Uncle I Never Knew

2:05AM, February 10, 1942.

Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) Squadron Leader Kenelm Dundas leads what is supposed to be a six aircraft unit into the darkness near Sumatra, Indonesia to perform a night raid on a Japanese occupied airport in Kluang, Malaysia.

Unfortunately, only three aircrafts make it off the ground, and this undermanned trio of planes would have to do the work of six. The target was heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns, searchlights and several night fighters.

The first two planes made it back to the base. However, my Uncle Kenelm, along with his two Australian crew-mates, did not. He was presumably shot down by enemy fire.  His body was never recovered.

My Uncle Kenelm was one of 44,198 Canadians killed in World War 2. When combined with the 64,948 we lost in the First World War it’s a total of over 100,000 Canadians… sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, and spouses who never returned.

We honour our fallen and all soldiers once a year on Remembrance Day, which comes every year at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the same time as the signing of the armistice marking the end of the First World War in 1918.

We are ninety-seven years removed from the end of the First World War. Our personal connection to World War 2 veterans is fast coming to a close as veterans of this war are now in their 90’s. How do we ensure that the memory of all who served is never forgotten? How do we keep Remembrance Day relevant in our lives and those of our children and grandchildren?

It’s now up to all of us individually and collectively to keep the stories of our incredibly brave men and women alive. We need to do it one story, one soldier at a time.

I want to share the story of my uncle Kenelm Dundas, the only sibling of my mother Daphne (Dundas) Hodgins.

He was born in Pelly, Saskatchewan, Canada on September 12, 1916. Pelly was a typical village of about 250 people that became a viable community with the arrival of the railroad in 1908.

Life in Pelly in the 20’s and 30’s was simple and centered around family. Kenelm’s grandfather had been one of the first fur traders in the area and later ran the General Store, which was always the hub of all activity in small-town Saskatchewan. Kenelm spent most of his youth around the store but was a good enough hockey player to play on the Pelly senior hockey team as a teenager. His family was very musical so he became a gifted piano player, pounding out the honky-tonk music of the roaring twenties by ear.

One thing that set him apart from his friends and classmates was his fascination with aviation. Thus, it was no surprise that in 1936 at age 20 he announced that he was going to join the RCAF as a mechanic trainee. He spent a year and a half with the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.) in Trenton, Ontario but eventually felt that he would get more opportunity to pursue his passion of flying if he went to England and joined the Royal Air Force (R.A.F). The simple truth was that the Canadian aircraft fleet and the need for pilots was minuscule in comparison to the British fleet, so he set sail for England in May of 1938, working as a deckhand on a cattle ship in exchange for his fare. On June 27th, 1938 he was accepted into the R.A.F. as pilot trainee and sent to Perth, Scotland for training.

Kenelm’s basic pilot training didn’t last long. His progress was swift and he finished near the top of his class, so in September of 1938, at age 22, he became an acting commissioned officer. He was sent first-class on a beautiful ship to Suez, Egypt to begin nine more months of rigorous training in aviation and navigation. On December 30, 1938 he received his wings, making him a fully qualified R.A.F. pilot.

Life in pre-war Egypt was beyond the small-town Saskatchewan native’s wildest imagination. He was living his dream as a fully-commissioned R.A.F. pilot, active in the lively Cairo social scene and making more money than he ever thought possible. That would all change on June 10, 1940.

Hitler was on a rampage in Europe, having captured Holland, Belgium and France. Miraculously, more than 200,000 British troops had been rescued from Dunkirk in an aborted advance. Mussolini and Italy were flexing their muscles in Africa but were eventually turned back the by the combined efforts of the British, Australians, New Zealanders and at least one Canadian!

In December of 1940 Kenelm and his 211 Squadron were sent to help protect Greece, which was being attacked by the Italians through Albania. By April 6th, 1941 his work in Africa and Greece was recognized in the London Gazette with the awarding of the Distinguished Flying Cross and the following citation:

“Officer Kenelm Crispin Vivian Dundas has been operating continuously since the outbreak of war with Italy and has carried out 36 operational sorties during this period.  On many occasions he had led flights against the enemy, showing great courage in carrying out his duties with cool determination in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire and under the frequent attacks by enemy fighters”.

In May of 1941 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. Later that month Hitler turned his attention to Greece by adding an additional 1000 aircraft to support their Greek effort. The German planes were superior in quality and number so it was not possible for the Allies to retain control of Greece. Kenelm was one of the last to leave Greece, returning to the Sudan in June of 1941.

He was posthumously awarded the Greek Flying Cross for his efforts in Greece. In the book Wings over Greece, he received the ultimate compliment from his squadron-mates, being recalled among “the host of other good fellows” and the “Big, slow-talking Canadian who was quick to smile and slow of speech, the ideal bomber pilot – cautious and thorough.”

The last letter received by my grandparents from Kenelm was dated November 27th, 1941. He may have written others but this was the last one ever received by his parents.  As usual, he ended it with: “May God bless and look after all of you”.

December 7, 1941 changed everything with the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese. Newly promoted Squadron Leader Dundas and his 211 Squadron were sent to the Far East in late January 1942 to try to halt Japan’s advance in that part of the world. It was a very difficult assignment. On February 9, 1942 Robert Livesay, a squadron-mate reported: “I remember Kenelm coming back from flying a sortie to say that the Japanese were coming up the Palembang River.  He asked for a quick service, refuel and rearm of his plane and then left again”.

Sadly, he flew his final sortie the next night, February 10th, 1942 at 2:05 AM. He and his Australian crew never returned.

His life is commemorated with the following inscription on the nearby Singapore Memorial which is maintained in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission:

In Memory of

Squadron Leader KENELM CRISPIN VIVIAN DUNDAS DFC 41000

211 Squadron Royal Air Force

who died age 26

on 10 February 1942

Son of Cospatrick P. B. Dundas and Isabella Dundas of Pelly, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Remembered with honour

Thank you for taking the time to read my uncle Kenelm’s story. I’m incredibly proud of him. There are 44,197 more Canadian stories from World War II that need to be told and read.  Please do so.

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