John Keedwell was the son of Thomas Keedwell and Janet Cox who married in Dursley in 1912. John was born on 2 October 1913 in Axbridge, Weston Super Mare, Somerset.
John’s first career was as a journalist with the Bristol World before he joined the police force, initially in Norwich and latterly in Bath. The Bath Weekly Chronicle Herald of Saturday, 21 October 1933 records the arrival of John and another man to the Bath police force. It goes on to say that both are well over 6 feet tall, are public school boys and play a good game of cricket!
However, his interest in aviation led him to taking flying lessons and gaining his civil pilot’s licence while still serving in the police force. The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror of Friday 29 January 1937 records him joining the Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club as a new pilot member. Later in February the same newspaper speculates that as John has received permission from his Chief Constable to take up flying it might one day see Bath police controlling race-meeting traffic from the air.
John joined the RAF and undertook his basic flying training in Canada. He went on to join 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit based at Ricall airfield near York where he was trained to fly Halifax bombers. He joined 158 Squadron at RAF Lissett on 14 March 1943 along with the six men who were to form his crew.
Two weeks later the crew flew their first operational mission to St Nazaire. On 3 April 1943 they were detailed to attack Essen on their second operational mission and took off from Lissett airfield at 19:40 in Halifax HR754; the third operational sortie for the aircraft. They pressed home the attack and returned home. For unknown reasons the aircraft flew very low and overshot its approach to the airfield and crashed at 00:48 in the morning of the 4th between Stud Farm and Wassand Hall, located east of the village of Sigglesthorne, 3 miles WSW of Hornsea in Yorkshire. John and three of his crew members were killed, two were injured and only Flight Sergeant Leonard Froud, the rear gunner, escaped unscathed.
The injured crew members were taken to hospital. The deceased were taken to their home towns to be buried there. The two injured crewmen, Pilot Office William Simpson and Sergeant Reginald Nurse returned to action and were both killed later in the war. Flight Sergeant Froud survived the war, marrying in 1945 and died peacefully in 1987 aged 79.
John is commemorated in four places, the City of Bath Police Memorial on the ground floor of Bath Police Station in Manvers Street, Bath, the main Bath memorial, the 158 Squadron memorial at Lissett and in the church of St Mary the Virgin in Berkeley. He is buried in the churchyard of St John’s church Slimbridge.
We are deeply grateful to the late John Keedwell for all his help in recording this history and for his kind loan of photographs and John’s pilot licence.
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