Captain Robert Archer Keene

 

Unit : "C" Company, 7th Parachute Battalion

Service No. : 143508

Awards : Military Cross

 

Captain Keene was Second-in-Command of "C" Company, but upon landing in Normandy it was found that Major Bartlett was temporarily missing and so Keene briefly took command and led the Company to its positions at the Chateau de Bénouville. Later in the June battle, "B" Company's commander, Major Neale, was wounded and evacuated from Normandy, and so Keene was ordered to assume his duties and he was later promoted to Major. Now based in the Bois de Bavent, "B" Company, who had been held in reserve, were ordered to carry out an attack on a farmhouse that was known to be held by the Germans. The farm was later christened "Bob's Farm" by the men of the 7th Battalion, named after Major Keene.

 

The Company were to advance behind a barrage laid down by the 53rd Airlanding Light Regiment, but after the bombardment ceased and Keene was preparing to advance, it became clear that a German platoon was about to attack their left flank. Despite this inconvenience, Keene quickly reorganised his Company and assigned one of his platoons to deal with this threat whilst the remainder pushed on to the farm. As a result of the action that follow, Major Keene was awarded the Military Cross:

 

This officer took command of a company during a most difficult phase of the fighting in Normandy in June 1944. His handling of the company was quite excellent throughout both in action and out.

 

On 18th June in Bois de Bavent he led his company as a fighting patrol on a most important mission. His officers were wounded early in the battle, his CSM was killed and his men were battle weary before they started. The enemy were stronger than anticipated and the company came under heavy and accurate mortar and Machine Gun fire from an unexpected direction. Captain Keene not only prevented his men from becoming disorganised but by superb leadership also managed to carry out the mission. He would have been quite justified in withdrawing.

 

Later he reorganised and withdrew in good order and brought all his wounded with him. His ability avoided very heavy casualties. The energy, enthusiasm and sense of duty of Captain Keene have been outstanding.

 

"B" Company had suffered fifteen casualties on the raid on Bob's Farm, but nevertheless had inflicted heavier losses upon the enemy with thirty men killed, more wounded and nine taken prisoner. On the 10th July, "B" Company again attacked Bob's Farm. The raid was to have been carried out by the 13th Battalion, and the scaling down of this to a mere company action caused much concern as the enemy position was believed to be held in great strength. "B" Company went forward but quickly found themselves in difficulties under an intense machine-gun and mortar bombardment, whilst also suffering casualties from anti-personnel mines. The Company withdrew with several prisoners, and despite the disappointment of those who had participated, Major-General Gale was happy with the raid as it had achieved its object. It had, however, cost "B" Company three killed and twenty wounded. Major Keene was amongst the serious cases, having stepped on an anti-personnel device during the attack. He was evacuated from the Normandy battlefield.

 

Despite this injury, Major Keene fully recovered and later rejoined the Battalion, commanding "C" Company during the Ardennes and Rhine Crossing operations.

 

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