Kenneth Robert James Warren was the only son of Walter and Eliza Warren (née Newman). Born 2nd December 1922, the family lived at 14 Alexandra Street. Walter was a Railway Transport Driver and indeed the wider family had strong connections through the Newmans as this cutting from the Western Gazette from May 1944 shows.
Kenneth won the class prize at the 1933 Speech day (incidentally Stanley Cole who is also on the memorial won the class prize for the year above Kenneth at the same time).
After school, given his family connections it is perhaps unsurprising that Kenneth got a job at Blandford Station as a Goods Clerk. His full RAF service records are still unavailable but we know that he enlisted at Oxford some time after November 1940 and volunteering for aircrew trained as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner eventually being posted to 103 Squadron flying Lancaster III’s. (The same squadron that Robert Perry was in when he died in July 1943 – there is no definitive evidence that their paths will have crossed at RAF Elsham Wolds where 103 were based.)
On the night of 3 May 1944 a month prior to the D-day landings in Normandy, Kenneth and his crew took off in Lancaster ME673 for a bombing raid on France. The pilot was Syd Rowe, the only Australian on board. The rest of his RAF crew were Sgt Jack Henry Sallis (engineer), F/Sgt Ernest George Housden (navigator), F/Sgt Edward Arthur Metcalfe (bomb aimer), Sgt Phillip Arthur Staniland (mid-upper gunner) and Sgt Dennis John Coldicott (rear gunner).
The target was a complex at Mailly-le-Camp where the Germans had assembled a force of hundreds of tanks, guns and vehicles that could not be allowed to reinforce their Normandy defences. It was a brilliant moonlit night for the 362-strong Bomber Command force, of which 346 were Lancasters from No. 1 and No. 5 Groups. The squadrons flew from their home bases to assemble over Reading, form up into their battle order and head east across the Channel to landfall over the French coast, about 15km north of Dieppe. From there they flew to a staging point that had been marked by bright yellow flares, 22 kilometres north-north-west of Mailly, near the village of Germinon. They would be called to the target once the Pathfinders had marked the precise bombing points with their inextinguishable flares.
At this point, it all started to fall apart. The first bombs were scheduled to fall on the German camp at 1 minute after mid-night. But though the target was precisely marked the bombing controller, Wing Commander Deane, found that he could not transmit the order calling in the waiting Lancasters because his wireless channel was being drowned out by an American forces broadcast, and his back-up transmitter was wrongly tuned. Eventually the deputy controller took over, but in the meantime the Luftwaffe had had plenty of time to scramble, and to find the Lancasters flying an anti-clockwise circuit in their holding pattern.
They were sitting ducks. No. 5 Group was called in first, and so suffered lower losses. No. 1 Group had to maintain its holding pattern for up to 15 minutes longer as its squadrons were progressively called in. By now, the night fighters were among them. 460 Squadron (RAAF) – saw five of its 17 Lancasters go down, a 29 percent loss. No. 5 Group overall lost 28 of the 173 Lancasters it had despatched. All up, 42 Lancasters were lost, or 11.6 percent of the force. But the real metric is the human loss, with more than 250 young men being killed.
Many Lancasters were pursued and shot down by German fighter planes before being able to discharge their bomb loads. Terrible explosions filled the air as Lancaster after Lancaster was blown out of the sky. The devastation of raking gunfire and exploding bomb loads is evident from the comparison of 250+ fatalities, with just 60 aircrew who managed to parachute to safety. The night-fighter attacks continued over the target and on the return route.
Apart from the appalling losses, the raid was reasonably successful. Some 1,500 tons of bombs were dropped with great accuracy. 114 barrack buildings, 47 transport sheds and some ammunition buildings in the camp were hit; 102 vehicles, including 37 tanks, were destroyed.
The Lancaster with Kenneth on board crashed in the suburbs of Chalons-sur-Marne. None of the crew survived. Kenneth is buried in the Eglise Saint-Loup churchyard there, along with his crew.