Raymond Conrad Murray KeefeBorn January-March 1895 - Killed in Action 27th March 1918
Raymond Conrad Murray Keefe was the youngest son of John and Augusta Keefe of ‘Eastney’, Queens Road, Buckhurst Hill. He had two older brothers Healey and Dudley and a younger sister Roma. John Keefe was the managing director of a company dealing in the manufacture and trade in photographic apparatus. Raymond was at Bancrofts between 1907 and the spring of 1911. Towards the end of his school career Raymond proved himself a solid halfback in the school’s football eleven and East house side. He would also go on to play cricket for Buckhurst Hill against a school side which included Robert Tibbs, Charlie Higson and Leonard Whillier. Shortly following the outbreak of war Raymond joined the Public School’s battalion the 16th Battalion Middlesex Regiment. He was quickly recognised as officer material and after training achieved his commission as Second Lieutenant in July 1915. On 24th April 1916 he arrived in France for the western front with the Manchester Regiment. His application was as with many of his fellow Bancroftians endorsed by his own father and the school’s headmaster Mr Herbert Playne. His arrival was just in time to take part in the battles of the Somme that summer of 1916. Raymond’s battalion the 17th was positioned where the British and French allies joined around Maricourt at the southern end of the Somme battlefield. The weeks preceding had been spent in exhaustive practising of the intended offensive behind the lines using replicas of the German defensive lines marked out by coloured flags.
On the night of 30th June/1st July a fellow subaltern would write of his expectations. The attack went in and here, markedly unlike so much of the effort that July morning, significant progress was made, although casualties were high. It was Raymond- aged 20 years - first experience of major battle. He was to experience many more and soon. Next came the strongholds of Bernafay and Trones Wood. Taking Montauban they had lost 10 officers and 196 men.
A week later, at around 2 o’clock on the morning of 9th July the battalion got into position in Bernafay Wood facing Trones Wood a half a mile further on. The wood and the land between the two woods was littered with the bodies of South Africans, men from other Manchester and other battalions. Trones Wood was still quite dense with trees its bombardment being a relatively recent event. Though fired at by machine guns sufficient men of the Manchesters made the wood and then by grenade and bayonet set about fierce combat amongst the trees. With further casualties the wood was cleared. For his action at Trones Wood Raymond was awarded the Military Cross. There were thankfully some lighter moments and like many old boys Raymond was happy to relate the detail back to his old schoolmasters:
Raymond was subsequently promoted in the field to the rank of Captain and the fighting went on. On the 20th October Raymond was wounded in action as the front line was pushed each painful yard towards the east:
In the regiment with him was one of his OB contemporaries Sydney Stranger Chaplin. As we have seen with so many others of our boys that Spring of 1918 signalled no let up whatsoever in the danger that was daily faced. Raymond’s luck could not last and on the 27th March 1918 this Captain of the Manchester Regiment was killed in action. Like many of his contemporaries in an age which took suffering without complaint the files show a man of great courage and stiff upper lip. Following his death his father was to write to the War Office. Father was enquiring as to the act of bravery which had led to his son’s award of the Military Cross for:
"he never spoke about his own heroic deeds"
Like many perhaps the contrast between the horrors of the front and the comforts of home were too much to reconcile. In any event the War Office duly obliged advising his family of their son’s citation: