Keith was born in 1922 and educated at Knox College, Sydney, New South Wales. He enlisted in the RAAF on the 4th March 1941. Following Initial Training at Bradfield Park, NSW, he was posted to No. 8 Elementary Flying Training School at Narrandera. That was followed by Service Flying Training on Harvards at Camp Borden in Ontario, Canada, which he completed in November 1941.
Having been presented with his wings and commissioned, he was posted to Hawarden in Wales for Operational Training on Spitfires. That was followed by a posting to 452 Squadron RAAF on the Isle of Man.
In due course, the Squadron was transferred to Australia and then to Darwin. Keith served in Darwin from January to November 1943 before being posted on to an Instructors course at Central Flying School, Parkes and then to Western Junction, Tasmania as an instructor on Tiger Moths.
Lysle Roberts (who was a fellow student at Knox and in the RAAF too) said, “As seems to be commonly the case with such people, Keith was reluctant to speak about his wartime experiences. My single recollection is not of any tale of ‘derring do’ but his mention of the feeling of fear when there was a Zero on his tail. Aside from that brief insight, he would occasionally refer in a lighter vein to his extreme dislike of Brussels Sprouts and Arnotts Iced Vo-Vos, both of which were apparently provided in some abundance. He never ate them again. It is important that the part played by people such as Keith in our history should be preserved.”
In September 1944, he undertook a refresher course at No. 8 Operational Training Unit at Narromine and at No. 2 Operational Training Unit at Parkes prior to being posted back to 452 Squadron in Darwin. In December of that year, the Squadron moved to Morotai where it was engaged in strafing attacks on enemy installations. Keith was very much involved in this activity and was still with the Squadron at Tarakan when the war ended in August 1945.
Post war he became an enthusiastic glider pilot and was responsible for setting several Australian gliding records.
When news got about that a Spitfire VIII had been restored in a hanger at Scone Airfield, NSW, the then President, Keith Colyer, and Norm Vidler, the Secretary of the Spitfire Association, wasted little time in arranging for the members to enjoy a reunion with the aeroplane on the 10th May as guests of Colin Pay, a collector of WWII machines. Nearly seventy members made Scone, some by car with their families, other flew, and a bus load arrived in time to hear the harsh note of a Packard racing down the strip, then the unexpected sight of a Mustang lifting against the glare of the sun.
Expectant eyes also searched for the Spitfire in the scatter of Lecons, Barons, King Airs, crop-dusters and air charter machines, and then found it standing a little apart from its colourful neighbours.
Those that expected to find a wing weary Spitfire carrying an “only just Airworthiness Certificate,” received a great lift at the immaculate newness of Col Pay’s veteran. It was as though, when almost new, it was sealed into a time capsule labeled, “not to be opened for forty years.” Once in the cockpit, however, members soon found superficial tell-tale signs of age on the instruments and controls.
Crowding around the machine they itched to fly, comments came thick and fast; “Give me five minutes in the cockpit and I will fly it,” and another, “I could get in and fly it straight off.” Others allowed nostalgia to revive mental pictures of action and distant dispersals. Memories of Britain, Malta and the Western Desert and in later days, Darwin, Morotai and Labuan came flooding back. Looking again at the Spitfire, wearing its tropical camouflage, some were reluctant to accept the past with the present; that this military machine was no longer an integral part of the Air Force that spawned it.
Stranger still, with memories bright, was the sight of a civilian easing himself into the cockpit and starting the engine! Very rough at first, it taxied away and out of sight. Moments later, the familiar boosted roar of a Merlin on takeoff brought the Spitfire past the spectators and up into the circle of the airfield. Then, for a demonstration of the machine’s versatility, he warmed the members’ hearts with head on silhouettes and tight banks to display the beauty of the design. Loops, rolls and fly-pasts followed in an all too short a display of fine airmanship. Afterwards, comparing the Spitfire with his Mustang, Col thought that the Spitfire’s ailerons were just as hard as those on the Mustang. Colin Pay has logged 23,000 hours since he began flying in 1951; he owned and operated an Air Charter and crop dusting company.
Colin Pay restored many WWII aeroplanes in a hanger on Scone airfield. These include the Spitfire and Mustang, a Tiger Moth, a North American Harvard and a P40 Kittyhawk. In the hanger, the huge radial engine of a Japanese Oscar sits besides the shell of its fuselage. Yet another test for the skill of the restorer.
At lunch, in the Scone Aero Club where the first beer went down well, an enjoyable barbeque was prepared by our members, after which our President, Keith Colyer, congratulated Col Pay on his triumph over adversity during his two and half year stint reconstructing the Spitfire VIII. Keith thanked him on behalf of our members for his time most generously given to the Spitfire Association and presented him with a framed air to air photograph of the VIII. Then, as an afterthought, he hauled off his own Spitfire Association tie and presented it to his surprised host. Taciturn Col, a man of few words, was obviously moved by Keith’s gesture and admired the tie as he slowly drew it through his fingers saying it had been a pleasure for him to demonstrate the Spitfire to those that had flown them during WWII.
Later, in his office with three members whose flying covered Britain, Darwin, Morotai and Labuan, he described a few of the complexities of reconstruction with Keith Colyer, 452 Squadron, Don Maclean, CO Spitfire VIIIs 457 Squadron Labuan, and Rod Jenkins, 457 Squadron. His outline of the problems to his listeners appeared to have meaning.
Keith took a keen interest in other people’s activities and made many lasting friends. He passed away at his home on the 11th October 2008 leaving his dear wife Joy, as well as children and four grandchildren from a previous marriage.
Ron Cundy and Lysle Roberts
Edited by Lee Hunt
The Spitfire Association