Keay, Peter John

This story was contributed by Peter’s mate, Lindsay Hemley, a Flight Sergeant in 457 Squadron, as he does not want him to be forgotten.

Peter was born in Lane Cove in Sydney on the 6th February 1921 and he enlisted in the RAAF at Sydney 20th May 1940. 

In Lindsay’s words:
“On completing my Fitter 2E course at Ascot Vale, Victoria, I was posted to No.6 EFTS at Tamworth, NSW, where I met Peter, also a fitter 2E, for the first time. We were both from farming families, so we had a lot in common and became firm friends. You could never have forgotten him. He was six feet and seven inches tall. At Tamworth, we both tried to remuster as aircrew. We made a number of applications without success, so we then volunteered to join the RAF Infiltration Scheme and in due course we were posted overseas to the UK. We left, as did many others, on the Awatea bound for Canada, via New Zealand and Fiji. We then travelled the trans-Canadian railway to Halifax and ship, via Iceland, to Greenock on the west coast of Scotland on 30th August 1941.

(Web master: On 26 September 1939, London invited the Dominions to jointly establish a vast pool of trained aircrew, which could be used to create new squadrons in England and replace combat losses in what was expected to be an intensive air war over Europe. There was an agreement that once individual squadrons reached a predominant proportion of aircrew from a particular nationality, it would be designated as a RAAF, RCAF, or RNZAF unit. This was known as the “Infiltration” scheme, and it was accordingly expected that there would be twenty-five “Canadian”, eighteen “Australian” and six “New Zealand” squadrons.) 

On our first posting, we were attached to RAF Croydon, working on Spitfires. We were paid the RAF rate, which was less than ours, but the difference was made up later. Whilst at Croydon, we learnt that the RAF were offering remusters to Flight Engineers. A short course was involved and then one moved to bombers. Peter and I applied and, after a medical and several interviews we were accepted. Peter was called to his course at the end of May 1942, but I was posted to 457 RAAF Squadron, which was operational at RAF Redhill.

A bomber, with Peter Keay on board as Flight Engineer, was lost on the 16th April 1943. He was 22 years of age. The hearsay was that he bailed out, came down in a river and drowned. There was a German airbase at Chievres, France which was attacked by the Allies 21 times. Airmen who were shot down on these raids were buried in the local cemetery. He is buried in Grave 11, Chievres Communal Cemetery. Rest in Peace.” Chievres DawsonCrew1 2

(Web Master: Information from the RAFCommands website says that even though the historical information section on the CWGC site states that “many of the burials in the communal cemetery are of airman shot down in raids on the airfield, which was attacked twenty-one times by the Allies between November 1943 and 3 September 1944”, in actual fact, not one of the burials was as a result of raids on the airfield at Chievres. 

Furthermore, on the internet, RootsChat.com had the following information: Peter was with 61 Squadron RAF flying Lancaster W4317 QR-R, which was on a bombing raid to Plzen. They were shot down by a night-fighter and crashed at 0430 hrs just to the south of Givry (Hainaut), 10 km south east of Mons, Belgium. The crew were as follows:

Pilot Officer  W. MacFarlane  Pilot  RAF
Sergeant P.J. Keay  Royal Australian Air Force
Flight Sgt W.W. Dawson  Observer  RAF
Flying Officer C.F. Williams  Navigator  RAF
Sgt E.R. Davidson  Navigator  RAF
Pilot Officer J.F. Edwards DFM.  Wireless Operator/Air Gunner 
Sgt J.V. Rees  Air Gunner  RAF
Pilot Officer D.A. Holdsworth  Air Gunner  RAF

Further information and the photo was provided by www.inmemories.com Apparently, only one of the airmen with an article by Pierre Vandervelden.The photo is of the Lancaster crew, left to right: D.A. Holdsworth, W. MacFarlane, W.W. Dawson, P.J. Keay, J.F. Edwards, J.V. Rees and C.F. Williams. The eighth crew member, Edward Reginald Davidson is absent.)

Lindsay Hemley
The Spitfire Association