Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1943, Lieutenant Sidney Keyes, the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, was killed in action in Tunisia.
Educated at Dartford Grammar School, Tonbridge School, and Queen’s College, Oxford, to which he won a history scholarship, he began writing poetry at a young age. Raised by his aunts and paternal grandfather, he suffered with frail health and spent his time reading about mythology, legends and history.
Lieutenant Keyes left his studies in Oxford to join the army in April of 1942. He was considered to be a hopeless soldier yet was commissioned into his father’s old regiment. He published his first book of poetry that year, one of the poems therein foretelling of his own death in battle. In March of 1943 his battalion was sent to North Africa, and by this time Lieutenant Keyes had earned the respect of his men because of his exhibited courage and steadfastness.
On the day of his death, during the attack on Hill 133, near Sidi Abdulla in the Tunisian mountains, he was last seen fighting back-to-back with a comrade in their efforts to fend off a German counter-attack. The exact circumstances of his death are unclear; there is a belief that he was taken prisoner and killed by the Germans during captivity. He is buried in the Massicault War Cemetery, at Manouba, Tunisia.
Lieutenant Keyes had been writing poems up until the day of his death, but these were unfortunately lost, although his notebook and his letters survived. The poet Owen Lowery described him as “an exiled lover in harmony with nature and at odds with the violence of his time”. He is considered to be one of the most outstanding poets of the second world war.
Sidney, from Dartford in Kent, was 20 years old.