S.S. Abukir, Dunkirk and Corporal Keyte of the R.A.F.

From the list of War Deaths (R.A.F. – All Ranks) 1939-1948 we have and entry that states – “Keyte, Charles T. Cpl. 531194 SS “Aboukir” 1940″

Charles Thomas Keyte, my 2nd cousin 1x removed, was born 13 Feb 1914 to Charles Thomas Keyte and Louisa Mary Luckhurst.

On 16 April 1938 he married Doris Esther Barter. Their engagement had been announced in the Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette 25 June 1937

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Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette 22 April 1938
Wedding Notice

So what was a Corporal of the R.A.F. doing on the SS “Aboukir”?

From Wikipedia we learn the following:

SS Abukir was a British coastal steamship that was torpedoed and sunk in the North Sea while evacuating UK and Belgian soldiers, airmen and civilians from Ostend on the last day of the Battle of Belgium.

On 27 May Operation Dynamo began to evacuate the BEF by sea from Dunkirk. That afternoon at 1754 hrs the Needham Mission at the Belgian GQG reported that King Leopold III planned to negotiate a surrender to Germany. The Mission then retreated to the Port of Ostend, where Abukir was berthed. The Mission was among more than 200 BEF soldiers, RAF and Belgian Air Component personnel who crowded onto Abukir, along with 15 German prisoners of war, six priests, 40 to 50 women including a party of nuns from a convent in Bruges and a group of British schoolgirls. At 2220 hrs, under the cover of darkness, the little coaster sailed for England.

As Abukir slowly headed west for England, Luftwaffe aircraft bombed her for an hour and a half but failed to hit her. Then at 0115 hrs on 28 May a 44-knot (81 km/h) Kriegsmarine Eboat, S-34 commanded by OLt.z.SObermaier, attacked her off Nieuwpoort near the Westhinder or the Noordhinder lightvessel. Abukirs Captain, Rowland Morris-Woolfenden, took a zigzag course by which the coaster avoided two torpedoes from S-34. The coaster sighted S-34 off her port bow 20 minutes later. Morris-Woolfenden changed course to ram the torpedo boat, but with a top speed of only 8 knots (15 km/h) Abukir was too slow. S-34 fired two more torpedoes. The first missed, but the second hit the coaster amidships, blowing her in two. Abukir burst into flames and sank within a minute. She was the first Allied ship to be sunk by an E-boat.

Many of those aboard were killed in the impact and sinking, but S-34 then trained a searchlight on survivors in the water and machine-gunned them. Abukirs Second Officer, Temporary Sub-lieutenant Patrick Wills-Rust RNR, was on the bridge when Abukir was hit. Concrete slabs that had been installed to protect the bridge from machine-gun fire pinned him down and he went down with the ship. However, as the ship settled on the seabed the slabs were dislodged, freeing Wills-Rust and letting him return to the surface.

At first light five Royal Navy destroyers came to search for survivors: HMS Anthony Codrington, Grenade, Jaguar and Javelin. They spent several hours searching between the North Goodwin lightvessel and the Kwinte Bank lightbuoy but found only a small number of survivors (accounts vary between 26 and 33),including Captain Morris-Woolfenden, Sub-lieutenant Wills-Rust and two nuns. About 480 of the people aboard Abukirwere killed. Based on P/O Ian James Muirhead letter from 5th June 1940: “Only 24 out of over 500 on board were saved and I was the only officer.” There was F/Lt Ives among dead. Both were No. 151 Squadron members shot down near Ostend. Darlow, Steve: Five of the Few. London, Bounty Books 2011, p. 67. HMS Codrington rescued most of the survivors. They had been in the water for six hours.[20]

BEF personnel who were killed aboard Abukir are named on panels of the Dunkirk Memorial in Dunkirk Town Cemetery. RAF and Belgian Air Component personnel who were killed aboard Abukir are named on panels of the Air Forces Memorial at Englefield Green in Surrey.

Charles Thomas Keyte is on Panel 22 of the above Air Forces Memorial.

KEYTE_CHARLES_THOMAS

C. T. Keyte is also inscribed on the granite Cenotaph at Harefield along with 34 other names of Harefield men who died in the second World War.

Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette 12 November 1948

So sad to think you are safely on the way back to England to your wife of two years and with a young daughter not quite two years old and then to have tragedy strike.

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