Through the Wire - The Journal of  Flying Officer Herbert Keen  
   
Webmaster's Note:

Airmen that became Prisoners of War found themselves with vast amounts of time on their hands, often this inspired them to keep journals of their time in captivity. Many, such as the example shown here, contained artwork depicting camp life created by the prisoners themselves. The following account is from the journal of Flying Officer Herbert "Bruce" Keen.

On the 29/30th May 1944 Wellington Mk. X LN-318 took off from Amendola, Italy  to bomb the airfield at Feuersbrunn, Fels am Wagram in Austria. It crashed near Hofstatten, East of Graz, Austria, all of the crew were captured and became Prisoners of War.

The crew consisted of:

Name Service Trade Hometown POW Camp
F/O Herbert Keene - POW RAAF Pilot Randwick, N.S.W L3
F/Lt William Todd - POW RAAF Navigator - L3
Sgt. Edward Yeo - POW RAFVR W/Op/AG Peckham, London L7
Sgt. James Gallagher - POW RAFVR Bomb Aimer Scotland L7
Sgt B.T Halligan - POW RAAF Air Gunner - L7

 

 Wellington LN-318's crew (L to R): Brian Halligan, Edward Yeo,Bruce Keen, Ken Todd, Jim Gallagher

May 29th 1944

 The fateful day and the luckiest day in my 23 years. An op. to Vienna. Leaving at 2100 hours, we maintained track well up to 2200 hours. From this time till the time over the target the Bomb Aimer was able to pin point. At 2300 hours we were successful and an uneventful trip except for the odd search light and a few lit up towers in Yugoslavia. At 2400 hours we turned right, off target, five minutes early on ETA at what the Bomb Aimer recognized as the target. There was a little flak. We turned for home, still not sure of our position. At 2430 we were over Vienna with some search lights shining all around us. Bombed once with a little flak. Bombed twice with heavy and accurate flak. We maintained constant and rather furious evasive action, diving from 10,000 feet to 2,000 feet, still over the outskirts of Vienna. We remained in the searchlights for approximately ten minutes. Fighters contacted us at 3,000 feet as we tried to gain height Hydraulic system, Electrical system and intercom system shot away. I imagined the gunner to be killed. Fighters attacked approximately four times, height 6,000 feet-2500 revs.

POW H. Frisby of 158 Sqn's depiction of a typical op.

 Ailerons and elevations useless. Ordered crew to bale out and appeared to be on fire, in a slight dive. The Bomb Aimer seemed to be dazed and gave the Navigator and Wireless operator a little trouble The .Navigator, Wireless Operator and Gunner jumped and fighter attacked for the last time. Had a spot of trouble grabbing my ‘chute. Made the Bomb Aimer jump, left the controls and jumped head first. The fraction of a second and I realised my chute had opened. Thank god for that! A marvellous thrill and experience from then on except a little anticipation of my actual landing spot. A beautiful moonlit night and in a few seconds I was able to see the ground.. Very little wind, so no drift-saw pleasant farm fields below me. Landed on a wheat crop. no wounds, no scratches-just winded slightly and a little bewildered.

Navigator Ken Todd's drawing entitled "Happy Landings"

 Spent my first grateful few minutes thanking God once again for the feel of Terra firma. Captured 31st June(May) by an Austrian farmer who had appeared friendly as were all the Austrians I had met. Handed over to German Authorities in St.Poleton, questioned in a local Police Headquarters. Another beautiful day and was struck and amazed at the beautiful countryside.

Taken to St Poleton gaol-the first I have been in incidentally! Was quite unhappy but was able to sleep a good four hours. My first meal-dry bread and cold tortillas and coffee At1900 hours I was driven to a local Russian prison camp where I met the bomb Aimer and wireless operator which brightened me up considerably, as the conditions there were quite comfortable. Many Yanks accompanied us.

Room 7 Stalag L 3.

Some  of Bruce Keen’s room mates.

H.H.Haszard RNZAF Camp no 2532 Paterong Rd,Ville,N.Z.

J.D.Golds RCAF Camp no 2530 15 Amhurst St.,Guelph,Canada

J.Macdonal RAF  Camp no 601 19 Deanbank Lane, Edinburgh

A.J.Hill RCAF,Camp no. 97-254 sqdn 2251 Macpherson Ave.,Burnaby,New Westminster,B.C.

I.D.Cromb  RCAF Camp no.3219 2252 Montague St., Regina, Sask.

C.A. Steven RAF Camp no.1039 64 Carmarthen Ave.,Portsmouth

W.Wanless RCAF.Camp no.3016 9929 91st Ave., Edmonton, Alberta

Peter Pearson RAAF 5 Corrington Ave., Mosman, Sydney, Australia

Robert “Bob” Braid RCAF Camp no 3297

25 Kenilworth Ave, Hamilton,Ontario

F/O G.D.Nicoll RCAF camp no 3012

1061 Laviolette St.,Trois Rivieres, Quebec.

F/L John Harder 1115 Fifth Ave.,New York.

Shows seen at Belaria

French without tears, Major Barbara, Astonished Ostrich, George & Margaret, Music Society of town Belaria,McCarn goes to town, The Spoilers, The Male Animals, Tony draws a pulse & the Christmas Band Show

 

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Typical Bunk in POW camp

Below are transcripts of notes made by Bruce of the evacuation from Belaria and his subsequent liberation after the Russians arrived.

Evacuation from Belaria

1)Russian offensive started Jan.12th

2) Ordered to evacuate with  half an hour’s notice

 Jan.28th.Snowing heavily-3inches of snow on the ground, bitterly cold. Started off at daybreak  on 29th Jan

Route

Belaria-Sagan-20k-Halbau-18k-Zessendorf,4k from Priebus-21k-Birkinstedt-7k-Spremberg-Cattle truck-Luckenwalde

3)arrived at Luckenwalde,Sun.4th Feb.-2 days, no marching. Arthur Hill and myself pulled a small sledge as far as Birkinstedt whence the thaw enforced us to pack our swags for the remainder of the journey.

Wearing Apparel

3 jerseys,1 long u.pants,1 pyjamas,balaclava,1 pair long pants, battle dress,overcoat,mittens

Liberation

Luckenwalde

April 21st-Germans evacuated

April 22nd-Russian spearhead arrived, same day,8 Russian tanks arrived and driven past our compound

May 7th-Escaped Luckenwalde under Russian guard-arrived Barbary American reception centre

May 9th-Started hitchhiking via Magdeburg,Brunswick Peyne.

 Bruce Keen returned to Australia and married Pearl Cooke in Birmingham, Australia. Before being discharged on November 30th 1945.They went on to have 3 children, Ross, Susie and Andréa. Brian Halligan retired to Brisbane after being discharged and remained good friends with Bruce while Ken Todd married Bruce’s sister. Jim Gallagher was also to stay in touch.

 After the war Bruce and his wife travelled to the family property “Dolgelly” in Northern New South Wales which he owned and managed till he passed away.

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Bruce and the crew.

 

 On November 30th 1945 Bruce Keen was discharged officially, receiving his Certificate of Service on 11th January 1946. He was awarded the 1939-45 Star, Aircrew Badge and eligible for Returned from active Service Badge.

 

 

 
 

 Photo’s and excerpts from Bruce Keen’s Wartime POW Journal courtesy of Andrea Murphy (daughter) and the Keen family. Special thanks to Adrian Yeo, research by Linda Ibrom