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Golden Oldies Life Profile - Keith Kelly

My parents were John and Myrtle Kelly, who lived in a town called Colac in the Western District of Victoria.

My father, in partnership with his brother, owned and operated a small and successful transport business in Colac.

My mother was a housewife and was kept busy bringing up a family of five boys. I was the second eldest in the family and educated at St Joseph's College and attained my leaving certificate.

After leaving school I continued my studies and received a diploma in commercial financials and practice.

Photo: Keth Evans (left) and Keith Kelly (right) at a Golden Oldies get together recently. The group visited the home of one of their steam enthusiast members in Bannockburn and had a play around with a large working collection of all things steam.

My first job was in Colac with a business owned by my uncle, the business was called Bryan Bros who manufactured windmills and other farming equipment, my duties were part factory and part office work.

I was always interested in sport and as a youth I would attend cricket practice and chase the ball around and at the end of the session the senior captain would give a little bat and bowl and after a period of time I eventually got a game in the senior side. I was starting to show some ability when the war started and I decided to join up at 17 ½ years (Airforce).

As the entry age into the Airforce was 18 years my cousin and I went to night school at Colac for 6 months. When we turned 18 years we joined up and came to Melbourne where we received our uniforms and equipment and were sent to Somers for our Initial training. We spent the first days sewing on badges etc.

Everybody wanted to be pilots, but as there was only a limited number required I accepted the job as wireless operator and was then sent to Parkes in NSW where I did my first flight in an aeroplane. I am sure the pilot was trying to frighten the life out of me as he turned the plane upside down that day. I survived and went on to complete my training as a wireless operator. I was then sent to Port Pirie in South Australia, where I completed my gunnery course. 

 This was an experience on its own. You would be clipped in by a lead attached to the aircraft, which was cut away at the back so that you stand up and shoot at a drogue pulled along by another aircraft at different speeds.

They assessed your shooting ability by the number of paint tipped bullets that hit the target.

Soon we found our way back to Melbourne and were saying farewell to our family and were aboard a troopship on the way to England via America. Thousands of Airmen sailed in cramped conditions across the Pacific Ocean, arriving at San Francisco, where we proceeded to the railway station to travel across America from the west coast to the east coast to New York. Along the way we stopped for a few hours at different places including Dodge City, Albuquerque and Chicago, eventually arriving at Boston where we stayed whilst awaiting a ship to take us to England.

Because I had gunnery training I was picked out with 20 others to be gunnery crew on a Scottish ship which was carrying a load of meat to England.

We travelled for many days across the mountainous waves of the Atlantic Ocean and our duties were to spend 4 hours on the guns and 4 hours off. We had to sleep with our clothes on as the Atlantic Ocean at that time was full of German U Boat Submarines. To our relief we arrived in England and were sent to an area to complete our advanced training. I met my cousin from Colac on the parade ground one morning in England. He had become a Spitfire pilot, but unfortunately he was shot down over France and was never found.

We became an operational flying crew (5 members) 2 Australian, 2 Scotsmen from Glasgow and 1 Englishman from Buckingham.

We flew an aircraft form England to North Africa, then onto Cairo. We then had to get on to an army convoy and find our way back to North Africa stopping off at places like Torbruk, Bengasi and sleeping in all sorts off places such as cement floors and sand and truck tops.

We eventually arrived at Tunis where we joined 37 Squadron, living in tents dug into the ground to try to stay cool in a desert country, always sleeping with a gun under the pillow in a hostile country because you didn't know who was a friend.

We started our operational flying from North Africa. On our 8th trip, we had engine trouble and had to return, we sent out distress signals and had to crash land on an American aerodrome, both engines failed and we had a very rough landing. The plane was a complete write off. Apart from our rear gunner who had a lump on his forehead as large as an egg the rest of us walked away unscathed. When we saw the aircraft the next day we wondered how.

Our Squadron moved to Italy and we were stationed at an aerodrome outside Foggia, sharing it with the American Airforce.

They did the day bombing and we did the night bombing on various enemy targets in Europe. We had various exciting moments.Once we returned to base after a long trip and next morning they could not start the engines of our aircraft as there was no fuel left.

On our 32nd mission we were attacked over the target by a night fighter. He made 3 attacks with tracer shells, he missed twice but on the third occasion he hit us in the rear of the aircraft hitting our rear gunner in the foot and doing some damage to our hydraulic system which made the aircraft difficult to fly as we could not close our bomb bays. We flew as low as we could and eventually got away from the target and returned to base. In the meantime we removed our rear gunner from turret, put him on the bed and kept him comfortable. The injury to our gunner was severe, and he had to have part of his leg removed. After rehabilitation he was sent home to England.

We had another 8 bombing missions to complete which we did successfully with a Canadian rear gunner.

I was sent to Egypt and Palestine where I was made an instructor teaching pilots and wireless operators the art of Morse code and survival techniques. The war eventually finished and we had to wait at Cairo for a ship to bring us home. One did come after a month or so and I arrived home in Melbourne on Melbourne Cup Day 1945, after spending three years of my young life at war.

I spent a successful working and sporting life, getting married, having a family and now living happily in retirement, playing golf and following my beloved football team (Western Bulldogs).

In conclusion I would like to say that the English rear gunner who lost his leg on one of our missions is still alive and living in Birmingham, England. We lost contact with each other about 40 years ago when we both got married and when we've changed our addresses our letters were returned. I tried to make contact through English friends returning to England, but to no avail.

Mu daughter Robyn said to me that she had a contact on the internet and between them they found there were 21 people living in Birmingham with the same name as my friend, Harold Dyson. She decided to ring around and the very first Harold Dyson she rang was my Airforce mate. Since then Harold and I have spoken on the phone and exchanged photographs and letters and caught up on a lot of missing years.

My love of sport continued after my war service and I started playing cricket again. I advanced over the years and made sub-district cricket. On finishing my cricketing career I found a tennis club and played for a number of years and was a member of a successful premiership team.

During my sporting life I was always able to fit in a few games of golf and after my retirement from tennis I made it my full time activity and am pleased to say that I had 2 hole in ones. 

The saddest part of my life was when my beautiful wife succumbed and died of cancer at the young age of 54 years.

I struggled on living on my own until my daughter Robyn invited me to sell up and build a unit on her property at Bannockburn where I now live.

As a member of a pensioner and Golden Oldies Groups I have made many friends and hope to continue those friendships for a number of years yet.


The Golden Oldies group just having fun.
How much did Noel have to bribe the kids to let them have a go on their playground?