Friday 11 December 2009


Doesn’t officialdom sometimes make you sick?

There is an amazing story in the Mail about a World War II soldier. Just an ordinary guy, Bombardier Robert Key was blown up by a grenade in a field by a little French village. (Link in the title.)

Apparently he was on patrol and saw some children playing with the grenade. As he approached he saw that one little boy had pulled the pin and Mr Key grabbed it from him and cradled it in his coat as he made away as far as he could get from the children. The grenade exploded and he was blown to pieces.

Investigators sent to discover what had happened did not speak French and misunderstood the gestures that the villagers, who could not speak English, made to describe what had happened. So the investigators reported that he had been showing off in front of the children and had been killed as a result, and this was the information that was sent to his family. He was disgraced.

Meanwhile in the village of Annezin, Mr Key was considered a hero who had saved the lives of the children and in doing so sacrificed his own life. They had no idea that the Army had picked up a completely wrong version of the events.

This year the Mayor of the tiny village employed an English genealogist to trace Mr Key’s relatives to invite them to a ceremony naming a street in a new development after him. Fortunately he was successful and many of Mr Key’s relatives will be able to attend the event.

The family, who had been deeply ashamed of the reported behaviour, are overjoyed to find that he was in fact a hero. They have asked the Ministry of Defence to change his service record. His niece, Gill Mills said that the news transformed him from a villain to a hero.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said that they could not change the service record retrospectively, but if a member of Bombardier Kay’s family wished to write to the Ministry of Defence with the details, the letter would be included in his file.

Not nearly good enough in my opinion. The MoD needs to investigate this case with the authorities in Annezin and make a proper report, preferably conducted by someone with at least a rudimentary knowledge of French. A letter from relatives just isn't good enough.

Time, I would say, for a letter to Secretary of State Mr Ainsworth, and if he won’t or can't do anything about this brave man’s memory and the mistake made by slipshod investigators, then a letter to the Queen! In the days when honours are handed out to all and sundry, a medal for a young man who gave up his life so that some children would live would not be out of place


  1. Seems that things were not so good in the “good old days” after all. The War Office as I suspect it was then, was clearly as cack handed as the current Ministry of Defence, but why break the habits of a lifetime. Honours and bonuses (for top people) all round I say!!

  2. Well Munguin, mistakes will happen at any time, and the fact that it was back in 1945 doesn't mean that everything was perfect.

    What annoys me is that clearly the French people in the village have the man as a hero. The records in Whitehall have him as a fool. His family accepted the findings and were ashamed. Now it seems that this was incorrect and in my opinion they should find someone from the massive bureaucracy that is the MoD to go to France and investigate. Lord it's not that far away. The village is in the Pas de Calais. It could be done in a day.

    The file should be amended with full admission of the error that was made that sullied that boy's reputation for 60 years and more. Not some attached letter from a family member.

  3. I agree with all you say much else to add!

  4. Tris,

    Not only should this man's service record be amended but surely some posthumous honour could be awarded in public recognition of his heroism instead of some heartless prat hiding behind "the rules".

  5. Dean... he he... well, thanks for saying so anyway... :-)

  6. I compltely agree Brownlie. Of course it is fitting that the French remember him in the naming of "une rue", but it's a shame that the rules get in the way of what is his by rights here, and in the days when they hand out honours hither and thither to people who sing songs or act, or who just do the job that we pay them to do, it's a shame that this man can't receive something for saving kiddies' lives.

    Maybe someone in his local town could follow the example of the Annezins and name a road or a square after him if our government is too busy bestowing Lordships on its mates.