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

Service Number: NZ1075
RNZAF Trade: Pilot (General Duties)
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 all 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.

On the 16th of May 1923 Keith married Dorothy Helen Gordon, of Hillsborough, Auckland, who was the sister of fellow 74 Squadron pilot Freddie Gordon. They were married at St Mark's Church, Remuera. Keith and Dorothy had four children, two boys and two girls.

Keith became involved in various community activities, and he enjoyed playing golf and tennis. He was also an active member of the Auckland Agricultural and Pastoral Association from December 1928 onwards; the Pakuranga Hunt Club, and the Northern Club. Another area of life that he 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.

But aviation remained in his veins, and so in April 1928 he became a founding member of the Auckland Aero Club, and by July 1928 was their first club captain. The Auckland Aero Club was based at Mangere so not too far away from his Glen Murray farm. 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.

Service Details: Keith Caldwell's military career really began as a youth when he joined the Wanganui College Senior Cadets on the 16th of October 1912 on his 17th birthday. He did well and after attaining the rank of Colour-Sergeant, Keith gained a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the cadets on the 8th of October 1914. In October 1915 Keith transferred from Wanganui to Auckland where he joined the Ponsonby Senior Cadets, a Territorial Army unit that he served with while working at the BNZ Auckland Branch. However there was confusion with the administration and some documents have him serving at this time with the Petone Technical School Senior Cadets (No. 29 Company) in Wellington, which seems to be erroneous.

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 apparently 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, as well as a passport and permission to leave New Zealand from Internal Affairs, Keith boarded the SS Remuera at Wellington and left for England the next month on the 4th of January 1916. He applied for enlistment into the Royal Flying Corps, and was accepted and commissioned with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on the 15th of April 1916, commencing further flying training at Oxford, Norwich and Sedgeford. His Cadets commission was therefore terminated as of the 14th of April 1916.

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 at Ayr. 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. His colleagues also referred to him as "the Marshal Ney of the Air", as they considered him "best of the best".

November 1917 he was posted to the Central Flying School at Upavon, where he served for a period as a Flight Commander, instructing the instructors.

Then in March 1918, 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.

Keith Caldwell during WWI, from the collection of the late
Malcolm McGregor, via Richard Stowers

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 awarded 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


His Aircraft

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


























B.E.2d (5735) *


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 (D6864)




S.E.5a __

S.E.5a (C1139)


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)









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


East of Armentières



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
- FE2b
- Avro (undoubtedly the Avro 504K)
- Henri Farman
- Bristol Fighter
- Bristol Scout
- Martinsyde Scout (small)
- Nieuport Scout
- SE5
- SE5a
- Sopwith Camel
- Sopwith Triplane
- Curtiss Seaplane
- Caudron Seaplane
- Fokker D.VII

Between the Wars

Keith remained in the RAF till the 30th of June 1919. On 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 14th of June 1923 when the New Zealand Air Force (Territorial) was formed Keith volunteered and was a founding and senior member. with the rank of Major.

Keith was appointed the Commanding Officer of the whole Territorial Air Force Wing in 1930 when it was reorganised, now with the rank of Wing Commander. In February 1936 it was recorded he'd flown 2200 flying hours at that point.

Whilst flying as a territorial pilot with the Air Force, and also being a member of Auckland Aero Club, it turns out that Keith was caught on a technicality in 1933, flying without a licence! The following comes from a letter to Keith from the then Flight Lieutenant Arthur Nevill dated 5th of October 1933:

"Dear Wing Commander,

It has been reported in the October issue of the "Windsok" that you flew cross country from Auckland to Onewhero on September 16th.

As you have no licence, this places both yourself and ourselves in a somewhat invidious position. If you intend to continue civil flying, will you please arrange for a licence to be taken out. If so, please forward fee of 5/- and three photographs of yourself 3 cms. by 2 cms., head to be at least one cm. You will also require to be medically examined by any general practitioner, who should complete the attached form, and return it to this Office."

A rather less bumptious response there than what you might expect from CAA these days if caught flying without a licence!

He continued as Commander of the Territorial Air Force till the 31st of May 1937, at which point he resigned his commission at his own request. At the time when he resigned, the following statement was added to Air Force records by an unknown author:

"Wing Commander Caldwell is now retiring at his own request from the Air Force, and will shortly be posted to the Retired List. His magnificent war record, and the personal qualities which enabled him to lead and organise one of the most famous fighting squadrons on the Western Front, place him amongst the great wartime leaders in aerial combat. His retirement is a heavy loss to the Service, but although he will no longer take an active part in the Territorial Air Force, his presence in New Zealand will remain a fine example to all those who are now undergoing training, and who may one day be faced with the difficulties that he so successfully overcame."

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.

Members of the New Zealand Air Force (Territorial), around 1924, from left to
right, unknown, Malcolm 'Mac' McGregor, Len Isitt, Keith Caldwell, unknown
From the Air Force Museum of New Zealand via John Saunders

Members of the New Zealand Air Force (Territorial), around 1924, from left to
right, unknown, Malcolm 'Mac' McGregor, unknown, Keith Caldwell, unknown
From the collection of the late Malcolm McGregor, via Richard Stowers


World War Two

When the Second World War began Keith was again keen to do his bit. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force on the 15th of November 1939, still with the rank of Wing Commander. His first posting on this date was to RNZAF Station Wigram, Christchurch but this was short-lived as he was posted up to RNZAF Station Woodbourne, Blenheim, on the 8th of December 1939.

There at Woodbourne Keith became Officer Commanding No. 2 Flying Training School. Later the school was redesignated as No. 2 Service Flying Training School. As OC of No.2 SFTS he was senior man on the station and thus held the position of the Station Commander for Woodbourne. He held that position of from December 1939 till June 1942, during which time the flying school progressed from flying obsolescent Vickers Vincent biplanes to modern Harvard monoplanes.

While at Woodbourne, Keith was promoted to the rank of Group Captain, on the 1st of April 1942. At this time he and his family were living off station at Maxwell Road, Blenheim.

In June 1942 he transferred south to become the Station Commander of RNZAF Station Wigram, in Christchurch, now becoming Officer Commanding No. 1 SFTS and that famous station's other training establishments until November 1944. Here rather than fighter pilots the station was largely producing multi-engine rated pilots for bomber and transport duties.

Many of New Zealand's finest airmen and WAAF's served and trained at those two stations under his command between 1939 and 1944.

Keith was appointed as an Honorary Aide-de-Camp to His Excellency the Governor General, Air Marshall Sir Cyril Newall on the 26th of March 1943. He was one of twelve military officers appointed to hold this role at any given time. The other RNZAF officers in his first year in the role were Group Captain Sidney Wallingford, Wing Commander John Seabrook and Wing Commander Malcolm Calder. In March 1943 Seabrook and Calder were relinquished of this post and replaced by Acting Air Commodore Maurice Buckley MBE, and Acting Air Commodore Ron Bannerman DFC. Keith held this position through till the 16th of April 1945. This would mean occasional periods working with Air Marshal Newall, whilst retaining his regular role as Station Commander.

Life was not 100% rosey for Keith however, he was suffering from several health issues on and off, including bouts of severe indigestion problems, osteoarthritis and insomnia, and sometimes pain in his right leg. He was however able to continue to fly occasionally - probably just getting about between stations rather than actual training sorties - up till 1944, when doctors finally grounded him.

Keith was an officer who was well liked and respected by all who served under and with him. Like all officers and men of the RNZAF, Keith was the subject of annual confidential reports, where his abilities and progress were assessed by a senior officer. These reports are available in the National Archives and we can see that his superiors rated him highly indeed. Oddly the first three confidential reports covering his service at Woodbourne between December 1939 and June 1942 are in the file but apart from his personal details nothing has been filled in to actually make note of his abilities and ratings, and for two out of three of these reports no-one has even signed them.

However when he moved south to Christchurch these reports became more detailed, and his first report after arriving at Wigram was assessed by Air Commodore George Hodson, RAF, Officer Commanding Southern Group, RNZAF. The period that the first report covered was the 1st of June 1942, when he joined Southern Group, through till the 31st of October 1942. A/C Hodson wrote under 'Special Remarks':

"A strong personality and sound common sense."

And under 'General Remarks' A/C/ Hodson wrote:

"A capable commanding officer. Interests himself in the welfare of his men, and displays considerable interest in the social and sporting activities of his unit. A good leader who maintains discipline, by a fair and just treatment of all ranks."

Air Commodore Sir Robert Clark-Hall became the Officer Commanding Southern Group following Hodson's departure back to Britain, and he wrote the next report which covered Keith's service from the 1st of October 1942 through till the 30th of September 1943. Sir Robert wrote:

"Markedly possesses all the good qualities referred to, the exception that his health is not too good - he suffers from insomnia but never the less is so keen and conscientious that he will only go on leave when directly ordered to do so by me."

Later in the report under 'Remarks (if any) of senior officer', Sir Robert write:

"In my experience as an A.O.C. extending over 10 years (3 Groups, 2 Areas) I have never had a better keener or more efficient station commander in any of my commands."

In January 1944 Keith made a two-week inspection tour of RNZAF Pacific units in the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands, probably with the Governor General. When he returned to Wigram in early February 1944 he came down with some sort of tropical illness that he'd picked up in his travels, and was forced to spend several days in the Wigram hospital.

In late 1944 another annual confidential report rolled around and was again written by Air Commodore Sir Robert Clark-Hall, covering Keith's working year from 1st of October 1943 till 30th of September 1944. The concluding statement from Sir Robert reads:

"One of the best station commanders which (in an experience of 5 groups or areas) I have ever known. Extreme devotion to duty. In spite of bad health he drives himself to the limit. A born leader. A thoroughly sound organiser. Extremely loyal to his seniors. Takes greatest interest in welfare of his men."

An interesting aside, an extra duty that Keith was asked to perform on many occasions was that of acting as President at Courts Martial and Courts of Inquiry. They included:

Station Duty Date
RNZAF Taieri
RNZAF Nelson
RNZAF Nelson
RNZAF Harewood
RNZAF Harewood
RNZAF Nelson
RNZAF Ohakea
RNZAF Harewood
RNZAF Woodbourne
RNZAF Woodbourne
RNZAF Ashburton
RNZAF Harewood
RNZAF Woodbourne
RNZAF Ashburton
Court Martial
Court of Inquiry
Court of Inquiry
Court Martial
Court Martial
Court of Inquiry
Court of Inquiry
Court of Inquiry
Court of Inquiry
Court Martial
Court Martial
Court Martial
Court Martial
Court Martial
20 Dec 1940
02 Apr 1941
12 Sep 1941
01 Oct 1941
03 Oct 1941
30 Dec 1941
26 Jan 1942
25 Jul 1942
23 Mar 1943
07 Sep 1943
18 Sep 1943
12 Oct 1943
07 Jan 1944
18 July 1944


Keith was forced to take medical leave for a month or so in October-November 1944 as he was suffering from osteoarthritis in his hips, but he returned to duty in the November. This was a condition he'd been suffering since before rejoining the Air Force in 1939, with sciatic pain down his right leg, but the disability it caused him was intermittent. At that point he was forced to give up flying, not that he did much any more. Regardless of this condition he still regularly played squash and other athletic sports.

Regarding his flying, he'd added a few more Air Force types to his logbook since the First World War list of aircraft earlier in this page. He had also flown the Gloster Grebe, Hawker Tomtit, DH60 Moths, Avro 626 and the Vickers Vincent and Vildebeest between the wars and during the war. He'd also undoubtedly flown many DH60 Moths and numerous other types while flying on the Aero Club scene too.

Regarding that sick leave, he was actually posted from Wigram to No. 3 Sick & Wounded on the 2nd of November, then to No. 1 Sick & Wounded at Remuera, Auckland, on the 14th of November. This was obviously a period of recuperation and rest. It seems for part of this Auckland leave he was staying with hi mother at 16 Arney Road, Remuera.

Then on the 1st of December 1944 he was posted to RNZAF Remuera (Transit), and two days later he embarked (or one document states he emplaned) for India. Now fit again he was posted for overseas duties in India and appointed the role of RNZAF Liaison and Head of the New Zealand Mission to that country. This was officially listed as Special Duties. His actual role was to tour Royal Air Force stations, airfields and depots to meet Royal New Zealand Air Force members serving on units in those places and discuss with these individuals their service and welfare matters. Anywhere he found problems he and his team would endeavour to rectify them, whether it was pay and allowances, recreational matters, personal issues or other such things that arose in the airmen's service lives.

His tour took him to RAF establishments in Eastern India and into the Forward Areas in Burma between the 12th of January and 28th of February 1945. In March 1945 he toured the north and north-eastern stations in India, and in April 1945 he visited bases in Southern India and Ceylon.

Keith was awarded the CBE in the New Years Honours on the 1st of January 1945, and he was promoted to Acting Air Commodore (paid) rank on the 26th of April 1945.

On the 24th of May 1945 he was then posted to England, where he became Air Officer Commanding, RNZAF Headquarters in London, replacing Air Commodore Ted Olson who returned to New Zealand. Much of his duties there involved overseeing the repatriation of New Zealand airmen serving in Britain and Europe back to New Zealand.

At the conclusion of his London posting Keith boarded an aircraft on the 14th of January 1946 to fly home to New Zealand. Upon arrival back in New Zealand from England on the 22nd of January 1946, Keith was posted to the Northern Non-Effective Pool at RNZAF Station Mechanics Bay, which was his last posting before his demobilisation. Air Commodore Keith Caldwell retired from the RNZAF on the 18th of March 1946, and was transferred to the Reserve of Officers. At that time he was 50 years old..

Keith still held his Acting Air Commodore rank at the time of his transfer to the reserve, and Air Force circles discussed this because had he stayed in the RNZAF on return to New Zealand he'd have been reduced back to Group Captain. But it was decided that since he was retiring to the Reserve of Officers and would be unlikely to serve again in the Air Force, they granted him full Air Commodore rank to retire with.

Following his release from the Air Force, 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, following several years battling cancer. He was survived by his wife Dorothy, and two sons and two daughters. At the time of his death he'd resided at 755 Riddell Road, Glendowie, Auckland.

Details of Death: Keith died on the 28th of November 1980 in Auckland, from cancer
Buried at: Keith was cremated at Purewa Cemetery, Auckland, and his ashes were later 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 in WWI, 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 he was not in Auckland on business.

Several sources written during the Second World War, including newspaper reports and other documents, still noted his home town as Cambridge, while others stated Auckland and Glen Murray as his home. An example, a 1945 article on his career in RNZAF Contact listed him as being from Cambridge.Of course Keith had a wife and children and so he had an actual home for them nearby his postings, when he was CO of Woodbourne they lived on Maxwell Road, Blenheim, whilst at Wigram it seems they lived in the station, in the Station Commander's house. By November 1944 their address was listed at 16 Arney Road, Remuera, which on a 1943 document was also listed as the address of his mother, who was then his Next of Kin. By March 1946 when he retired his place of residence was now listed as Forres Farm, Puhunui Road, Papatoetoe.

I have not yet established whether the family kept the Cambridge home, apparently known as "Green Hedges", after Keith's father's death in 1939. It is possible because Keith's sister, Vida Mary Logan Caldwell (who on the 7th of December 1923 married Alexander Barclay Farquhar of Fiji), returned to Cambridge to live by WWII and she and her husband continued to live in the town till her death on the 21st of March 1972.

His sister continued to reside in Cambridge for many years after WWII till her death.

Above: Keith Caldwell during World War Two from the Sir George Grey
Special Collections, Auckland Libraries 34-60

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

Photo colourised by Dave Homewood


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

- Air Commodore Keith Caldwell's Service Records at Archives New Zealand via their Archway website



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