Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes VC
Name: Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes
Conflict: Second World War
Gazetted: June 19, 1942
Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes VC
Place/date of birth: Aberdour, Fifeshire/May 18, 1917
Rank when awarded VC (and later highest rank): Temporary Lieutenant Colonel
Date of bravery: November 17/18, 1941
London Gazette citation:
Major (temporary Lieutenant-Colonel) Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes, M.C. (71081), The Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons), Royal Armoured Corps (Buckingham).
Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes commanded a detachment of a force which landed some 250 miles behind the enemy lines to attack Headquarters, Base Installations and Communications.
From the outset Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes deliberately selected for himself the command of the detachment detailed to attack what was undoubtedly the most hazardous of these objectives – the residence and Headquarters of the General Officer Commanding the German forces in North Africa. This attack, even if initially successful, meant almost certain death for those who took part in it.
He led his detachment without guides, in dangerous and precipitous country and in pitch darkness, and maintained by his stolid determination and powers of leadership the morale of the detachment. He then found himself forced to modify his original plans in the light of fresh information elicited from neighbouring Arabs, and was left with only one officer and an N.C.O. with whom to break into General Rommel’s residence and deal with the guards and Headquarters Staff.
At zero hour on the night of 17th-18th November, 1941, having despatched the covering party to block the approaches to the house, he himself with the two others crawled forward past the guards, through the surrounding fence and so up to the house itself. Without hesitation, he boldly led his party up to the front door, beat on the door and demanded entrance.
Unfortunately, when the door was opened, it was found impossible to overcome the sentry silently, and it was necessary to shoot him. The noise of the shot naturally aroused the inmates of the house and Lieutenant Colonel Keyes, appreciating that speed was now of the utmost importance, posted the N.C.O. at the foot of the stairs to prevent interference from the floor above.
Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes, who instinctively took the lead, emptied his revolver with great success into the first room and was followed by the other officer who threw a grenade.
Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes with great daring then entered the second room on the ground floor but was shot almost immediately on flinging open the door and fell back into the passage mortally wounded. On being carried outside by his companions he died within a few minutes.
By his fearless disregard of the great dangers which he ran and of which he was fully aware, and by his magnificent leadership and outstanding gallantry, Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes set an example of supreme self sacrifice and devotion to duty.
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Other decorations: MC
Place/date of death: Sidi Rafa, Libya/November 18, 1941
Grave/memorials: Benghazi War Memorial, Libya; St Mary’s Church, Tingewick, Buckinghamshire; St James’s Cemetery, Dover, Kent; St Paul’s Cathedral, London; Aberdour War Memorial, Fifeshire
Origin of VC to the Lord Ashcroft collection: Purchased at auction, Spink, London, 1995
Current location of VC: Displayed on rotation at The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes exhibition, Imperial War Museum