Dundas Kenneth Bednall

Dundas Kenneth Bednall 1916 - 2003

1916 - 2003

Last updated : 22/12/2011

Wing Commander Dundas Kenneth (Gabbo) BEDNALL  was born in High Wycombe in September 1916, the son of Dunstan Alfred Bednall, an executive in the motor trade, and his wife Florence Mary nee Butcher. As a teenager with a strong interest in jazz (particularly Bix Beiderbeck) he developed an interest in the guitar and taught himself not only to play the instrument well but also to write music for it and music became one of his lifelong passions. Over the years he organised, wrote for and played in a variety of musical events and some of his own compositions were published "Honey Blonde" (below) which was published in Volume 58 of the BMG magazine in October 1960  and "Tango Tipico" published in Volume 69 of the BMG magazine in 1971 for example.   A painter of water colours,  his works include many Kenyan scenes as well as views of  all the houses he and his family have lived in including Moonfleet near Ansty in Dorset..

One of the  interests he shared with his father was flying and as a young lad he could "be seen at every meeting for light aircraft at Lympne".  In his autobiography [1], he recalled how, while watching "the supermen who flew these marvellous contraptions" he had promised himself that he would one day join them. Eventually he did but not before overcoming some of the obstacles that life put in his way.  Family problems had a drastic effect on family income and for a time it looked as though Dundas would have to leave Ashford Grammar School. However, acting on his headmaster's advice, Dundas sat for and won  a scholarship that  enabled him to complete his grammar school education.  Despite this success,  Dundas had to give up his hope of a university education and find a job to help support the family. 

Fortunately, these set backs did not diminish Dundas' keen desire to fly and in 1936 he gave up his job with the local council, applied for a short service commission in the R.A.F and was accepted.  Overcoming a susceptibility to severe air sickness and the problems (at that time) of a non-university background, he learnt to fly and was commissioned in 1937. An immediate posting to Egypt set the pattern for his future career and he was never to serve in the UK.  His 10 years of R.A.F. service all took place abroad and during this time he flew a variety of single and multi-engine aircraft including  the Hawker Audax, a Vickers Vincent, Wellesleys and Blenheims. However, he is most closely associated with the Sunderland flying boats of 230 Squadron- the squadron to which he was posted as pilot and navigating officer in June 1940.    His autobiography "Sun On My Wings"[1] and other publications such as "Hunt the Tiger" by Tom Docherty [2] provide details of his wartime experiences so these are not, for the most part,  given here. However, a listing of the key events in his R.A.F. career is given below.

Dundas served his country diligently and well applying his intelligence, objectivity, initiative and his remarkable eyesight, in its cause.  It was the latter that, on 28th March 1941, enabled him to spot and track ships of the Italian fleet, under visually difficult conditions, providing information crucial to the success of the British Fleet in the subsequent Battle of Matapan. The contribution of their Sunderland was acknowledged by the Admiral concerned, by the Admiralty and by the Prime Minister but Dundas and the other members of the crew were not to know this until 47 years later!  His clear thinking and focussed approach to whatever task he had in hand, lead him (amongst other things)  to design a navigation aid, improve the range and speed of his Sunderland by removing the upper turret and  attempt to increase the anti-shipping  fire power of his Sunderland by fitting a canon, "borrowed" from a fighter squadron", into the nose as a replacement  for the "puny" 303 machine guns!   Unfortunately, this modification was foiled, at the last minute, by an unexpected station inspection as his autobiography relates. One other unauthorised modification (made when operating from Ceylon at night) was to increase the "stealth" capability of his aircraft on moonlit nights by painting it black.  "Black Peter" as that Sunderland was called will shortly reappear as a Corgi, limited edition, 1/144 scale, diecast model- a small tribute to Dundas. 

In 1942, while at Nakuru in Kenya,  Dundas had met and married his first wife, Patricia (Paddy)Winifred Henderson, and begun to raise a family, despite his long absences on operational duties.

When the war ended, Dundas, faced with prospect of losing his "war substantive" rank and a posting to a non-flying job (imagine the effect on a man who gained an "exceptional" rating as a pilot), so in November 1946, resigned his commission, retaining the rank of Wing Commander. He joined the Labour Department of the Kenya Government Service and devoted himself to  his new career and his growing family.  He applied his organisational skills well and rose to Assistant Secretary level, as Director of the Organisation & Methods Department, in the Kenyan Administration, prior to that country becoming independent. 

Always keen on natural history, his new post enabled him to study the country's animal and bird life and in time, he became Chairman of the East African Natural History Society and an Honorary Game Warden.  Ornithology was his favourite  hobby and he compiled a comprehensive volume of information on the birdlife of East Africa based on his own observations.  Then,  potentially, a very important and useful work it was never published due to the effect of local political attitudes on the previously agreed funding for this. The contents of his manuscript are, however, often referred to in other books on the subject.

In July 1961, Dundas and his family left Kenya and returned to England -for the second time in his life almost penniless due to bureaucratic bungling (to put the most charitable construction on a decidedly bad affair).   Applications to 83 firms who might have been able to use his organisational and management skills brought only 18 to 20 replies but even then he was often turned down as having "insufficient management experience" despite having exercised control over 600 or so people shortly before!.  Eventually he joined Unilever Ltd and worked for them until he retired in 1976. In retirement, he particularly enjoyed the increased contact with his family this gave time and the extra scope it allowed him to devote to his hobbies, particularly ornithology and flying. It gave him great pleasure to share his experiences in wartime flying and  the aircraft he had flown -particularly the Sunderland. It was during this period that he became one of the "Friends of the Royal Aircraft Museum" and for a number of years, editor of their "Newsletter".   His many other interests included astronomy,  archaeology and church architecture and he once carried out a detailed study of the history of the church of the village in which he and his family then lived, tracing it back to Anglo-Saxon times. He was also a member of the Galpin Society and the Thomas Hardy Society.

In the 1980's he began to write an autobiographical account of his early life and his wartime experiences that was published as "Sun On My Wings" in 1989.  Although, as he said in the final chapter of his autobiography, his greatest delight was being with his wife and children, he had also developed and interest in family history and was particularly keen to know of ancestors and kinsman with a military bent. As it happens, he met a military kinsman at the end of the war, when  he was called upon to fight a plague of locusts. Because of tight scheduling,  Dundas arrived only just in time for a meeting of six persons whose task it was to deal with the locust situation. He, therefore, missed the introductions and at the end of the meeting rushed out  without talking to anyone there. Only when he looked through the minutes of the meeting did he discover that one of the six was  Lt. Colonel (later Major General) Peter Bednall  who, although Dundas did not then know it, was a distant cousin.

Age did not diminish his positive attitude to life or the sharpness of his intellect and although ill health began to restrict his ability to walk and travel, he continued, through his writing and other means of communication, an active involvement with others in subjects of mutual interest. A heart attack in 1999 was a setback but aided by his wife Nora's nursing, he recovered well.  This year, however, his health deteriorated significantly and he moved into the Joseph Weld Hospice where he died, peacefully, on the  19th of July 2003.  

Post Script:  His  funeral service was held at the  Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Dorchester on Friday 25th  July and this was followed by a committal service at the Weymouth Crematorium. An obituary was inserted in the Daily Telegraph and in the  Dorset Echo on the 22 July 2003.



[1]"Sun On My Wings" by Dundas Bednall,1989. Paterchurch Publications , 6 Laws Street, Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire SA72 6DL, UK. .  ISBN 1 87070745 01 9 

[2] "Hunt Like A Tiger: 230 Squadron At War 1939-45" by Tom Docherty,  2003. Woodfield Publishing, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, PO21 5EL.     ISBN 1 903953 37 5

[3] Personal communications from Dundas K. Bednall.

[4] The London Gazette (various dates).

[5] Alan Conrad's story of his war time experiences in 230 Squadron provides additional photographic detail relevant to Dundas Bednall's experience

[6]The Colonial Office List 1966, HMSO page 271. D.K.Bednall. Born 1916. Educated Ashbourne Grammar School. Military service 1937-46, RAF. Appointed Officer in the Labour Department, Kenya 1948, Organisation and Methods Department 1955. Director Organisation and Methods 1957-61. See also "Corona: The Journal of His Majesty's Colonial Services: Colonial Office" 1952, page 117, which records his promotion from Labour Officer to Senior Labour Officer, Kenya.

[7] Wild Life: East African Wild Life Society 1961 pages  & 47.D.K.Bednall, Council Member, Kenya Wild Life Society 1 May 1961.

[8] Annual Report of the National Museums of Kenya, Nat. Mus. Kenya 1995, pages 2, 4, Trustees: D.K. Bednall. Appointed 26 May 1959, GN2114, as Natural History Society nominee. Resigned 14 July 1961.

[9] Bednall, DK Black-browed Albatross at Mombasa. Ibis 98 : 138. Zoological record: Volume 93; Zoological Society of London, Zoological Record Association (London, England), Royal Society (Great Britain) 1956

[10] Bednall, DK, 1959. A spotted eagle in Nairobi?  JE Afr. Nat. Hist. Soc. 23 : 1 14. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club: Volumes 87-89  1967

[11] Bednall, DK 1963. "Drumming" by swifts. Ibis 105:566-567. Contributions in science , Issues 267-286Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1975

 [12] Bednall, DK & Williams, Range retraction of the White-eyed Gull Larus leucophthalmus from the eastern coast of Africa.  JG Vol 13: 122-123.

[13] List of Members of the British Astronomical Association 1965, page 1920.  D. K. Bednall, member 24 November 1948. Address then PO Box 80, Mombassa, Kenya, East Africa.

[14] "The following contributed observations: DK Bednall," Journal of the British Astronomical Association: Volumes 59-61 British Astronomical Association - 1949

[15] List of Members: Mr & Mrs DK Bednall, Thomas Hardy Journal Vols. 2-3  Thomas Hardy Society 1986