Monday, 17 February 1941

Stradishall – Namur

Shortly before 6 p.m. Keast tells Ops that he is planning to take off at 0030; this will only be confirmed after he receives the weather forecast at 10.30. At 2346 he confirms that the operation is ‘on’. He plans to take off at 0100, and estimates his return for 0500, though with a possible diversion to Tangmere.

Keast and his crew takes off in Whitley ‘A’ (T4264) at 0115. F/O McMurdie is the 2nd Pilot, but Keast does his own navigation. The wireless-operator and Rear Gunner are Sgt Dai Davies and David Bernard; Bernard has acquired an experimental parachute-harness from Henlow. Also aboard, flying as ‘Front Gunner’ is F/O Baker, a Lysander pilot on loan from No. II(AC) Squadron. As on his previous sorties, his job is to learn the routes and pinpoints, as he may have to fly this way on his own.

Shortly after they drop the agent, Gaston Poplimon, near Namur, their Whitley is hit by flak, losing at least one engine. Still at low level, Keast has no option but to belly-land in a field by the Namur-Louvain road, near the hamlet of CognolĂ©e. The aircraft lands so close to the road that the wings are only yards from the line of trees by the road-edge. Though unhurt, they cannot escape as they are too close to the village and the road. They are taken to Namur for interrogation. The Germans think Sgt Bernard is the agent due to his unconventional parachute-harness; he is given dental work he doesn’t need. The Germans find documents in the Whitley that link the crew with the trip to Poland two nights before.

At 0445 Knowles is told that the runway had been bombed, and that the returning aircraft would be diverted to Mildenhall. An hour later he is told that there has been no news of S/Ldr Keast.