Keith Logan "Grid" CALDWELL
CBE, MC, DFC and Bar , ED, mid, Croix de Guerre (Belgium)


Serial Number: NZ1075
RNZAF Trade: Pilot
Date of RFC Enlistment: 15th of April 1916.
Date of RAF Demob: 17th of July 1919.
Territorial Air Force Enlistment: 14th of June 1923
Territorial Air Force Demob: 16th of August 1937
RNZAF Enlistment: 15th of November 1939
RNZAF Demob: 18th of March 1946 (Reserve till 31st of May 1956)
Rank Achieved: Air Commodore
Flying Hours: Over 1800 hours by 1918 alone, total not known yet
Operational Sorties:

Date of Birth: 16th of October 1895, in Wellington
Personal Details: In order to fully appreciate Keith Caldwell and his connection to Cambridge, we have to begin with his family. Keith was the son of a well-known businessman, David Robert Caldwell and Mary Dunlop Caldwell (nee McKerrow). Keith's early life was spent in Wellington but the family moved to Auckland due to his father's business interests in the company 'Macky Logan Steen and Co.' This company developed later into the manufacturing and wholesale firm 'Macky Logan Caldwell', and from 1915, David Caldwell was the company's chairman.

David Caldwell was born in Scotland and had come to New Zealand at a very young age. He bought the family a home in Hamilton Road, Cambridge in about 1905, when Keith was a ten year old. Whilst David Caldwell's business interests were in Auckland by now, he split his time between his Auckland residence and the home in Cambridge - which must have been quite a retreat away from the big city. David Caldwell considered Cambridge home, and it soon became so for his family too.

David Caldwell's obituary in the Waikato Times, dated the 1st of December 1939 (the day after his death) stated, "In Cambridge he identified himself with the communal life of the community, and his advice on financial matters was widely sought. For some years he was the director of the Farmer's Co-operative Auctioneering Company." It is also known that the Caldwells were keen on golf and the Cambridge Golf Club still competes each year for the Caldwell Cup, which was named after David Caldwell.

So, a great deal of Keith's youth must have been spent within Cambridge. However being from a wealthy family his schooling was not local; he was educated at King's College in Auckland, Rose Hill in England, and Wanganui Collegiate School.

Upon leaving school Keith worked for the Bank of New Zealand in Auckland. He remained in that job whilst also serving in the Territorial Army till 1915. At that point he decided he wanted to learn to fly and to become a military pilot. After the First World War, Keith married Dorothy Gordon, who was the sister of fellow 74 Squadron pilot Freddie Gordon. Keith and Dorothy had four children, two boys and two girls.

Service Details: Keith Caldwell's military career really began as a kid when he served in the Defence Cadet Corps while at school. He had done well and gained a commission as an officer in the cadets, and when war broke out in 1914 he joined the Territorial Army. He was keen to enlist in the regular army and join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force which was to go off to the war in Europe, but his attempt to enlist was unsuccessful.

He was attracted however to the idea of becoming a pilot and join the newly established Royal Flying Corps. So he managed to raise the necessary £100 fee to gain him entry into the newly established New Zealand Flying School, at Kohimarama on the foreshore of Auckland's Waitemata Harbour. His flying training began in October 1915, learning the rudiments of flight in the school's Curtiss flying boats. Six candidates began the first ever course at the school. Keith was one of just two students who completed the course and gained their wings. The other was Geoffrey Callendar, who had also worked at the Bank of New Zealand. Many more would follow them through the school and onto the war.

Upon completing the course and gaining his wings in December 1915, Keith left for England the next month in January 1916. He applied for enlistment into the Royal Flying Corps, and was accepted and commissioned with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in April 1916, commencing further flying training at Oxford, Norwich and Sedgeford.

Once the RFC was satisfied with his level of flying skills, Keith sailed for France in July 1916. There on the 29th of July he joined No. 8 Squadron RFC, which was stationed on at Arras. The squadron was at this time flying the B.E.2c and BE2d aircraft which carried two men, the pilot and an observer. It is believed Keith flew alongside the famous Albert Ball VC who joined this squadron in August 1916.

On the 18th of September 1916, Keith chalked up his first kill whilst he and his observer, Captain P.E. Welchman, were engaged on artillery observation work. They shot down and destroyed a Roland C.II at Grevillers-Bucquoy.

Keith remained with the squadron till November 1916, and then he transferred to No. 60 Squadron where he would now fly the Nieuport fighter. With this squadron he was to really come into his own and develop his skills as well as his reputation. The squadron was famous for nurturing many top pilots, and those who'd been among its ranks already had included such greats as Albert Ball VC, Major C.F.A. Portal DSO MC, Major Harold H. Balfour MC and Major R.M. Hill MC.

Other names to come in the ranks of No. 60 Squadron were Major W.A. 'Billy' Bishop VC, Major Alan J.L. Scott OC (a New Zealander), and Major C.K. Cochrane-Patrick. All these men had scored 10 or more victories in aerial combat. Bishop alone scored 47 kills while in the squadron.

Whilst with No. 60 Squadron Keith downed a further eight enemy aircraft, six of them whilst flying his regular mount, Nieuport B1654.

Sometime in early 1917 Keith gun-tested the first Sopwith Camel to be sent to France, but he never flew the type operationally.

In February 1917 Keith was promoted to flight commander with the rank of Captain, initially in charge of C Flight, and later of B Flight of No. 60 Squadron. He became a good leader too. Though he was never considered a very good shot in the air, he became renowned as an exceptional pilot. He was also very brave.

On one occasion he went to the aid of fellow squadron pilot Billy Bishop when he'd gotten into real trouble with overwhelming enemy fighters. Bishop put it into his own words thus; "In one case I had a New Zealander, Captain out of my own Squadron, come eight miles across the enemy lines after both his guns had choked, and he was entirely useless as a fighting unit, just to try to bluff away seven of the enemy who were attacking me... It was a tremendously brave act on his part, as he ran great risks of being killed, while absolutely helpless to defend himself in any way."

On the 9th of April 1917 Keith was Mentioned in Dispatches, the citation reading:

"For distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty, deserving of special mention. Mentioned in the dispatches of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig"

Another notable combat occurred on the 28th of May 1917, when Keith was attacked by the leader of three German Albatross scout planes at a height of 7000 feet, near Leus. The pilot of the Albatross was extremely aggressive, and while Keith attempted all manner of manoeuvres and stunts to shake him, the German continued to follow. By the time they'd descended to around 1000 feet, Keith feigned that his aircraft was now out of control, and began to spin downwards toward the ground. The German followed to confirm his kill, but Caldwell's Nieuport suddenly pulled out if the dive just before hitting the ground, pulled up and managed to get into an attacking position for the first time. He fired 94 rounds, but the Albatross escaped, unharmed, flying east. This was actually a lucky escape for Keith as he believed the pilot he had so much trouble in shaking was German ace Werner Voss, who at that time had 48 kills to his name. He only realised this point later when he was a witness to Voss's last flight, where he recognised the exact same skills and actions. An anti-aircraft battery west of Leus also reported that the aircraft pursuing Keith on that day had indeed been Voss.

On the 11th of August 1917, after a successful tour of operations which had seen his tally now rise to nine kills, Keith was ordered back to England, where he was transferred to Home Establishment and became a flying instructor. A little over a month later his work on the Western Front was recognised with the awarding of the Military Cross. The citation read:

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when leading offensive patrols. On one occasion he led a patrol of five machines against twelve hostile aircraft, all of which he drove down out of control. He has personally destroyed five hostile machines, and has had over fifty contests in the air, in all of which he has displayed splendid skill and fearlessness, and has set an example to his squadron."

Keith Caldwell had earned a reputation for being fearless and he inspired great confidence in others who flew with him. He had earned the nickname of 'Grid' thanks of his habit of referring to an aircraft as a grid - which was an old Kiwi slang for a bicycle.

In January 1918, following the rest period as an instructor, Keith was promoted to the rank of Major and given command of No. 74 Squadron. This unit was equipped with S.E.5a fighters, and it was written in Keith Caldwell's obituary that appeared in New Zealand Wings magazine in December-January 1981 that;

"Gathering his pilots around him on arrival he gave a pep talk, saying that they were equipped with the finest machine of all time and had three battle-experienced flight commanders, one of whom was Capt. Mick Mannock who was later to be awarded the VC. He went onto say that he expected every one of them to fight like hell and that it must never be said that any of them ever failed to go to the aid of a comrade, regardless of the cost, and that no patrol was ever to be late in taking off. The squadron never let him down and a tradition that has never been bettered begun."

No. 74 Squadron moved to France on the 31st of March 1918. There, the squadron soon earned the nickname 'Tiger Squadron'.

Under Keith's command, the unit was very successful, and No. 74 Sqn were credited with destroying or driving down out of control 230 enemy aircraft in less than eight months, for the loss of just 14 killed on their own side, with five more taken prisoner and six wounded. They became one of the most successful squadrons to operate during that period at the front. Among the pilots in the squadron were Mick Mannock VC, who scored 73 victories, Roxburgh Smith with 16 kills, Kiddie with 11 kills, and Young with 8 enemy aircraft destroyed to his name.

On April 12th, the day Field Marshall Hague issued his famous "Backs to the Wall" statement, the squadron made its first contact with the enemy and showed its worth. They downed five planes that day, one of them being shared by Keith Caldwell and Captain Young.

It was not common practice at that time for Commanding Officers of a squadron to take part in offensive patrols, but Keith insisted on leading every patrol he could when his other administrative work allowed him the time to. He believed in getting as close as possible to the enemy, and if there was no enemy in sight he liked to try to draw them out.

In June 1918 he was leading 19 aircraft on a patrol over the Ypres sector. They found no sign of enemy aircraft. Keith decided to immediately set off for Rouhrs with the squadron, and lead his aircraft around the enemy aerodrome in a challenge to come up and fight. Suddenly enemy aircraft were closing in from every aerodrome within fifteen miles, accepting the challenge. However none got within 400 yards of the British squadron as every time Keith turned them into the attack, the enemy aircraft scattered. This continued for half an hour without either side making any contact, and eventually Caldwell flew home with his men in disgust.

On one occasion in September 1918, Keith's quick thinking and resourceful nature saved him from certain death. Whilst on a patrol, another S.E.5a struck his aircraft, catastrophically damaging his wing struts and altering the aircraft's aerodynamics. Instantly his fighter plummeted 1000 feet and went into a flat spin. Keith knew he was doomed if he didn't attempt something radical. So he stepped his left leg out onto the port wing, and grabbed hold of the strut with his left hand. Attempting to balance the aircraft by changing the centre of gravity, Keith continued to try to fly the aircraft with his right hand on the joystick.

With only 500 feet of altitude left he realised it was hopeless, but this activity had allowed him to guide the aircraft away from enemy territory and over the British lines. Just as the plane was about to impact with the ground Keith jumped, clearing the wreck and getting up to find he'd landed in front of a British infantry dugout. Astonished soldiers saw him get up, dust himself off and walk towards them as if nothing had happened. Escaping the flat spin, guiding the plane away from enemy lines and then jumping clear at the last minute and walking away from the crash is nothing short of a miracle.

Like all amazing tales of heroism such as this, there are different versions. The above was related from a June 1945 article by H.H. Russell in Contact. But the book By Such Deeds by Colin Hanson records the altitudes slightly differently, stating:

"WWI history records that: "in Sep 1918 when attacking German aircraft over the Cambrai sector a member of his formation collided with him buckling his starboard upper wing and forcing him into a dive. After his aircraft had lost about 2000 feet of height the dive gradually developed into a right-handed semi-flat spin. At about 5000 feet Caldwell climbed out of his cockpit, placed his left foot on the lower port mainplane and, grasping the port centre strut with his left hand endeavoured to balance his aircraft, flying it with his right hand and foot. Displaying skill and resource of the highest order he succeeded in guiding his crippled aircraft so that it just cleared the front line trenches and, just as it was about to crash, he jumped off and turned a few somersaults on the ground. He then stood up, brushed himself off and walked to the nearest trench asking to use the telephone."

Regardless of the discrepancies of height, it was an incredible feat of quick thinking, courage and sheer will, and has to count as one of the most amazing last minute escapes from a crashing aircraft there ever was. The event has been depicted faithfully in the Aviation Heritage Centre at Omaka, Blenheim, New Zealand. This incredible museum has displayed a full sized replica SE5a with a dummy of Keith Caldwell above a trench, poised to step off seconds before impact.

 

Photo Copyright Dave Homewood, 2007 - by kind permission of Jane Orphan, AHC Omaka

 Photo Copyright Dave Homewood - by permission of Jane Orphan, AHC Omaka, 2007

 

 

 

Keith was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on the 2nd of November 1918, nine days before the war ended.The citation read:

"A fine fighting airman of courage and determination. On the 4th September when on offensive patrol, he, in company with another machine, attacked four Fokker biplanes; one of these was driven down by this officer. He has accounted for five enemy machines"

After the war more accolades came, with a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross on the 31st of December 1918, the reason simply described as "For distinguished service".

On the 15th of July 1919 he received the Croix de Guerre (Belgium), that country's highest military honour. The citation stated it was, "In recognition of valuable services rendered in connection with the war."

By the time the war had finished, Keith had been credited with at least 25 victories. Eleven of them were destroyed, two more shared were destroyed. Also he was credited with forcing 10 aircraft down out of control with one more shared, and one shared captured. Those 25 victories were the most achieved by any New Zealand pilot in World War One.

The following is a list of all his credits is sourced from the excellent website, The Aerodrome (click here). Thanks to Scott Hamilton of The Aerodrome for kindly granting permission to use this information, and to Graham Orphan for pointing me towards it.

Note: Dest means Destroyed.
Capt means Captured.
OOC means Out Of Control

 

Date
Sqn
His Aircraft
Opponent
Location

18 Sep 1916

11 Dec 1916

14 Jun 1917

16 Jun 1917

24 Jun 1917

24 Jun 1917

03 Jul 1917

15 Jul 1917

15 Sep 1917

12 Apr 1918

21 May 1918

28 May 1918

31 May 1918

1 Jun 1918

15 Jul 1918

29 Jul 1918

30 Jul 1918

23 Aug 1918

4 Sep 1918

17 Sep 1918

17 Sep 1918

21 Sep 1918

24 Sep 1918

14 Oct 1918

30 Oct 1918

8

60

60

60

60

60

60

60

60

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

74

B.E.2d (5735) *

Nieuport

Nieuport (B1654)

Nieuport (B1654)

Nieuport (B1654)

Nieuport (B1654)

Nieuport (B1654)

Nieuport (B1654)

S.E.5a (B534)

S.E.5a (C5396)

S.E.5a (C5396)

S.E.5a (C5396)

S.E.5a (C5396)

S.E.5a (C5396)

S.E.5a (D6864)

S.E.5a (D6864)

S.E.5a (D6864)

S.E.5a

S.E.5a (D6864)

S.E.5a

S.E.5a

S.E.5a

S.E.5a __

S.E.5a (C1139)

S.E.5a

Roland C.II (Dest.)

Albatros C (Capt.) *

Albatros D.III (OOC)

Albatros D.III (Dest) *

Albatros D.III (Dest)

Albatros D.III (OOC)*

Albatros D.III (OOC)

Albatros D.III (Dest)*

Albatros C (Dest)

Albatros D.V (Dest)

Pfalz D.III (Dest)

Pfalz D.III (OOC)

Pfalz D.III (OOC)

Pfalz D.III (OOC)

Fokker D.VII (Dest)

Pfalz D.III (OOC)

Fokker D.VII (OOC)

Fokker D.VII (Dest)_

Fokker D.VII (Dest)

Fokker D.VII (Dest)

Fokker D.VII (OOC)

Fokker D.VII (OOC)

Siemens D.IV (OOC)

Fokker D.VII (Dest)

Fokker D.VII (Dest)

Grevillers-Bucquoy

Dainville

Drocourt

Vitry

Douai

Douai

Graincourt

Vitry

St. Julien

SE of Deulemont

West of Ypres

I 36

W of Ploegsteert Wood

East of Dickebusch

South of Roulers

East of Dickebusch

W of Armentières

SE of Houthoulst Wood

South of Lille

North of Courtrai

NW of Courtrai

Lille

East of Armentières

Ledgehem

Quaremont

Asterisked Notes

Note 1

Note 2
__________

Note 3

Note 4
__________

Note 5

The Observer was Captain P.E. Welchman

Shared with Captain Eustace Grenfell, Lieutenant Henry Meintjes, Lieutenant A.P.V. Daly, Lieutenant A.D. Whitehead, and Lieutenant L.S. Weedon

Shared with Lieutenant William Fry, and Lieutenant J. Collier (B1605)

Shared with Lieutenant D.C.G. Murray (B1605), and Lieutenant A.R. Adam (B1569)

Shared with Lieutenant William Jenkins and Lieutenant W.B. Sherwood (B1605)

 

Many of the aircraft he defeated were Fokker DVIIs, the premier German fighter plane of the Great War. It is believed that if he'd been as skilled a marksman as he was a pilot, his tally may well have been much higher and featured near or at the top of the Allied 'ace' list. It was his skills as a pilot rather than his shooting that made him so outstanding. In his whole combat career he was never once wounded.

By the end of World War One Keith had already flown over 1800 hours, and had experience in flying the following aircraft:types:
- Maurice Farman Longhorn
- Maurice Farman Shorthorn
- BE2c
- BE2d
- Avro
- Henri Farman
- Bristol Fighter
- Bristol Scout
- Martynside Scout
- Nieuport Scout
- SE5
- SE5a
- Sopwith Camel
- Curtiss Seaplane
- Caudron Seaplane
- Fokker D.VII

 

Between the Wars

Keith remained in the RAF till the 17th of July 1919. He then boarded a ship and returned home to New Zealand by ship via Sydney in late August 1919. On arrival in New Zealand he returned home to Cambridge on the 29th of August 1919. After settling back into civilian life Keith began work at his father's manufacturing and importing company of 'Macky Logan Caldwell'.

Sometime around 1920 he had another career change when he took up farming at Glen Murray in north Waikato. He specialised in breeding Angus and Jersey cattle. Despite his farm being an hour or so north of the town he remained firmly in touch with Cambridge, the family home.

On the 16th of May 1923 he married Dorothy Helen Gordon at Auckland. Keith became involved in various community activities, and he enjoyed playing golf and tennis. But aviation remained in his veins, and so he became a founding member and first club captain of the Auckland Aero Club, which was based at Mangere. He remained involved with this aero club the rest of his life and was its patron at the time of his death. He was also patron to the Auckland Brevet Club.

Another area of life that Keith became very well known for his fast cars, and he enjoyed a little fast driving as well as dealing in high powered motor cars through the 1920's and 1930's.

On the 14th of June 1923 Keith donned the khaki uniform again when the New Zealand Territorial Air Force was formed, and he was appointed the Commanding Officer of the whole organisation in 1930. He continued as CO till 1937, at which point he resigned his commission.

Keith was also president of the veterans group the New Zealand War Birds - a 1930's association of ex-WWI flyers who met annually in Auckland. They first met in 1935 and continued to meet till at least 1938 each year. Cambridge's Tommy Hampshire and Arthur Broadhurst were also members.

World War Two

But war loomed and once again he returned to the Air Force, joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force in November 1939, with the rank of Wing Commander. He was soon appointed the rank of Group Captain, and became Officer Commanding No. 2 Service Flying Training School, at RNZAF Station Woodbourne. He held that role from December 1939 till June 1942. During that time the school progressed from flying primitive obsolete Vickers Vincent biplanes to modern Harvard monoplanes. The job as OC of the SFTS meant he was also senior man on station and thus Station Commander.

In June 1942 he transferred south to command RNZAF Station Wigram, in Christchurch, becoming OC of No. 1 SFTS and that famous station's other training establishments until November 1944. Here rather than fighter pilots the station was largely producing bomber and transport pilots. Many of New Zealand's finest airmen and WAAF's passed through those two bases under his command.

Then in November 1944 it was overseas duties again for Keith, his first since 1919, when he was posted to India and appointed the role of RNZAF Liaison and Head of the New Zealand Mission to that country, till around June 1945. He was then posted to England, and with the rank of acting Air Commodore he took over command of the RNZAF Headquarters in London. He achieved the full rank of Air Commodore in 1946, and retired that same year.

Keith had held the position of Honorary Aide-de-Camp to His Excellency the Governor General, Sir Cyril Newall, from 26th of March 1942 to 16th of April 1945 as well.

Several sources written during the Second World War still noted his home town as Cambridge, which may or may not have been right. I have not yet found out whether the family kept the Cambridge home after his father's death in 1939. It is possible because Keith's sister, who by WWII was Mrs Barclay Farquar of Fiji, returned here and continued to live in the town till her death many decades later.

Following his return home Keith continued to farm at Glen Murray. He finally retired and moved to Auckland in 1970 where he lived till his death on the 28th of November 1980, from cancer. He was survived by his wife Dorothy, and two sons and two daughters.

Details of Death: Keith died on the 28th of November 1980 in Auckland, from cancer
Buried at: Glen Murray Cemetery, Waikato, next to his wife

Connection with Cambridge: Keith and his family moved to Cambridge in 1905, and though it was one of two family homes it seems to have been their residence of choice before, during and after the First World War, and right through till at least the Second World War.

Thus while he was away fighting Cambridge was considered 'home' to him. For part of the Great War his mother and sister were in England, but his father resided in Cambridge whilst not in Auckland on business. A 1945 article on his career in RNZAF Contact also listed as late as then that he was from Cambridge. His sister also resided in Cambridge for many years after WWII.


Above: Keith Caldwell during World War Two

To read Cambridge's Waikato Independent newspaper's articles on Keith Caldwell, click the photograph below:

 

Sources have included:
- The Waikato Independent newspapers (thanks to the Cambridge Historical Society)
- RNZAF Contact magazine from June 1945
- The New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum webpage (thanks to Ian Brodie)
- The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography webpage by Paul Sortehaug
- By Such Deeds, by Group Captain Colin Hanson
- New Zealand Wings magazine (December January 1981 Obituary by 'PJWS' and a letter in the March 1981 issue by Errol Martyn.
- Wikipedia
- The Aviation Historical Centre at Omaka
- Scott Hamilton at The Aerodrome

 

 

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