World War One Connections
Cambridge and the World War One Airmen

Keith Caldwell

Cambridge sent many of its men and boys off to the First World War, and sadly a great deal of them never returned. Almost all of them served in the New Zealand Army as part of the 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force. However, at least one man who could call Cambridge 'home' took part in the air war over Europe in World War One.

Cambridge's connection is actually the most famous of all the New Zealand pilots from the First World War, Keith Logan Caldwell. Known as 'Grid', Keith became the highest scoring New Zealand fighter ace in World War One. Though not born in Cambridge, the town was 'home' during the conflict because his parents and family had moved to the town.

Early in the war his mother and sister had embarked for England, but Keith's father, Mr D.R. Caldwell, remained in the town. He was a well known local, living between his home on Hamilton Road in Cambridge and Auckland where he had business interests.

It was to Cambridge that Keith would write home to his father, and during the course of the war, Mr Caldwell allowed the Waikato Independent newspaper to print details and transcripts from the letters he received from Keith at the front. The letters give us both an insight into Keith's experiences and also some idea of the aerial conflict itself.

The following are the articles and letters that have survived in the newspaper archives at the Cambridge Museum. Thanks to Eris Parker of the museum for supplying these.

If you'd like to learn more about Cambridge's involvement in World War One, Eris Parker has written a superb local history book that details all the men who took part from the town and district. Entitled Cambridge World War One: Something To Remember, and you can attempt to get a copy through Eris by emailing her by clicking here

11th of April 1916

Mr D.R. Caldwell has just received a cable from England stating that his son Keith had received an appointment in the Royal Flying Corps and is at present stationed at Christ's College, Oxford

2nd of May 1916

Mr D.R. Caldwell has received a letter from his son Keith, who is at present attached to the Royal Flying Corps, along with Mr Callender, son of the general manager of the Bank of New Zealand. The letter states that at present about 1800 men at home waiting to join the corps, but men with previous experience are taken on first. It will be remembered that Mr Caldwell took lessons prior to leaving New Zealand at Walsh's Flying School at Kohimarama, Auckland. The rate of pay while on probation is 15/ a day and as soon as they are supplied with a machine, or as the men term it wings, they receive 22/6 per day.

11th of July 1916

Mr D.R. Caldwell has just received news by cable from his son Keith to the effect that he has passed his final examination , and has now got his machine (or in Aviator's terms, his "wings"). He also states in a letter, that out of 87 aspirants for the aforesaid honours, only 17 passed. he says that four airmen were killed in his aeroplane while taking instruction flights.

26th of September 1916

Mr D.R. Caldwell, of Cambridge, received a cable from London yesterday stating that his son, Lieutenant Keith Caldwell, had been successful in bringing down a German aeroplane in France. Lieutenant Caldwell has only been in France about a month, and it is pleasing to learn of a young New Zealander being so soon successful in the flying profession.

17th of October 1916
Note: Spelling is as printed in the paper


Lieutenant K.L . Caldwell, writing from France on August 15th, states:-
Have been on several bombing expeditions since I wrote last. Generally five bombing machines, accompanied by three protectors or flying scouts took part.
The last raid was most exciting. It was twenty miles over the Hun lines to an important objective. The Huns must have known we were coming, as they put up a tremendous fire on us all over the place. The place was alive with "Archers" and flaming "Onions" - things which the Huns shoot up to set your grid afire. These were tearing around in the middle and all round us in great style. I don't know how they missed getting some of us. They put up a tremendous barrage of fire on the home side of our objective.
However we got back safely, and I think we were "damned" lucky. High explosive shells or coal boxes are much worse than shrapnel. You hear an awful bang in your ear and see the flash and then tipped right over by the explosion.
Shrapnel isn't half so bad. You see little puffs of white smoke all round you, and they don't worry at all. Very rarely are Hun machines about, but in spot balloons. As soon as we get within a mile they go down like the devil.
Coming back from this raid the Rhodesian chap and I came back together on the right of the rest, and did a couple of loops each over the Hun lines just to show them there was no ill feeling.
Yesterday I did another loop over a town close by with an observer who had never looped and wanted to. At the top of the loop when the machine was upside down, the machine gun fell out of the stand into the plain, and made a large hole, and broke some ribs as well. I came down pretty fast.
The Newport Scouts are priceless little buses, and give you a great chance of getting a Hun, as they are very fast. Terribly hot here, much worse than Auckland, but the nights are cooler. We have an absolute gift in Lieutenant Burt, who used to be the violin player in Madame Melba's Company. He plays simply rippingly everything under the sun. The Squadron had a cricket match yesterday against the men, and we play an infantry team to-morrow. Wish I was in Cambridge for a "rest" cure.

11th of November 1916




An interesting account of a fight with a German airman is given in a letter written by Lieutenant Keith Caldwell (son of Mr D.R. Caldwell of Cambridge) to his mother, who is now in London.
Lieutenant Caldwell, who is on duty in France, and who succeeded in downing his opponent, writes as follows:-
My observer, Captain Walshman, and I brought down a Hun aeroplane last night just before dark. We were up on a sort of "joy ride" just about 7.30 or so, looking for Hun battery flashes, about six miles over their lines, at a height of 4000 feet. It was pretty dark then, and we could not see very clearly.
We were just going to turn back for home when we heard a machine gun firing like blazes quite close. We saw a Hun machine about 200 yards away firing at us, and another one lower down and further away. We turned towards the one that was firing, and got our front gun onto him, and fired about 10 shots at 100 yards range or so, when the beastly gun jammed and stopped firing. The Hun then climbed
Story cut off - check newspaper

26th of March 1917

Lieutenant Keith Caldwell, who is engaged with the British Flying Corps, has been promoted to the rank of Flight Commander, which is equal to that of Captain. This young airman, who is the son of Mr D.R. Caldwell of Cambridge, learnt the art of aviation at the school at Kohimarama, Auckland. At the meeting of the Cambridge Golf Club last night it was decided, on Mr C.H. Priestley's motion, to send a message of congratulations to Flight Commander Caldwell through his father (the club's president).

7th of August 1917

Amongst the latest recipients of the Military Cross is Flight-Commander Keith Caldwell, a New Zealander, and only son of Mr D.R. Caldwell, of Mackay, Logan, Caldwell Ltd., whose home is in Cambridge.
Flight-Commander Caldwell was educated at Wanganui College, and subsequently was on the staff of the Bank of New Zealand in Auckland. Taking a keen interest in aviation, he was one of the first pupils at the flying school at Kohimarama, and since joining the flying squadron at the front has acquitted himself well.
Although quite a young man, his daring and skill brought quick promotion, and he is known as one of the most capable of the New Zealand flying men who are rendering excellent service on the western front.

4th of September 1917

Amongst the names of those drawn in the recent ballot for military service is that of Flight-Commander Keith Caldwell, son of Mr D.R. Caldwell, of Cambridge. Flight-commander Caldwell has been on active service for some considerable time past, and a short time ago he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. It is to be regretted that more care is not taken with list of the men balloted for as ridiculous mistakes like this could easily be avoided.

27th of November 1917

Details are now to hand of the deed, the performance of which gained for Flight-Commander Keith Caldwell, the only son Mr D.R. Caldwell, of Cambridge and Auckland, the Military Cross. The fact that the honour had been conferred was announced on August 6 last. The London Times says the award was for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when leading offensive patrols.

On one occasion he lead a patrol of five machines against twelve hostile aircraft, all of which he drove down out of control.

Flight-Commander Caldwell has personally destroyed five hostile machines and has had over 50 contests in the air, in all of which he has displayed splendid skill and fearlessness, and set an excellent example to his squadron. He was one of the first pupils to graduate from the New Zealand Flying School at Kohimarama. he was formerly employed on the staff of the Auckland branch of the Bank of New Zealand.

16th of February 1918

At latest advices, Captain Keith Caldwell is now located in Ayr, south of Scotland, in charge of an air squadron. Captain Caldwell is the son of Mr D.R. Caldwell, Hamilton Road, Cambridge

12th of March 1918

Advice has been received that Captain K.L. Caldwell, M.C., Royal Flying Corps has been promoted to Major and given charge of a full squadron. This promotion at the age of 22 reflects credit on our colonial youths.

27th of August 1918

The following extract from "Air Warfare" by Major W.A. Bishop, V.C., D.S.O., M.C., refers to what he describes as "one of the bravest deeds I have ever heard of," which was purchased by a Cambridge district soldier, about Keith L. Caldwell of the Flying Corps.
"It is a code of honour to help any comrade in distress , and no matter how serious the consequences may seem, there is only one thing to do - dash straight in , and at least bring morale support. In one case I had a Captain out of my own squadron, a New Zealander, come eight miles across the lines after both guns had choked, and he was entirely useless as a fighting unit, just to try to bluff away seven of the enemy who were attacking me. It was a tremendously brave act on his part, as he ran great risks of being killed, while absolutely helpless to defend himself in any way."
"Three of us went out early one Sunday morning, and after a bit suddenly found four enemy scouts, who at the same moment saw us. They approached, obviously with the intention of attacking us, but when only 300 yards away recognised the machines we were flying, and turned away quickly. They had been looking for easier prey and were not very anxious for battle. We went after them, though, and owing to our superior speed were able to catch up with them. Into the middle of them we went, and there followed a merry scrap. One of our trio, by some misfortune, got mixed up in a bad position as he was not seen again and must have been shot down. The other man's guns had both jammed at the beginning of the fight, and he was so furious at this bad luck that for several minutes he stayed in the fight, just to bluff the Huns. Then one of them made it a little nasty for him, and it was necessary to escape. Back to the lines he went making short dashes of 100 yards every now and then, two huns following him all the way, and firing at him as he went, but owing to pure good flying and clever maneuvering he was able to avoid even having his machine hit.
"Then, on looking back from the lines, he saw the fight going on some distance over, and realising that I was alone in the middle of it he came back all that way, without either of his gins in working order. I referred to this in an earlier part of my new book, and I still think it one of the bravest deeds I have ever heard of, as he had a hard time getting back to me, and then also in escaping a second time. He returned to the aerodrome, landed, had his guns fixed, and immediately hastened out again in the hope he would be able to help me."

12th of October 1918

News has been received that Major Keith Caldwell of the flying corps has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross decoration. He had already been awarded the Military Cross. Major Keith Caldwell is the son of Mr D.R. Caldwell.

11th of January 1919

Latest advices to hand state that Major K.L. Caldwell, D.F.C., M.C., has received a bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. He is still in France.

2nd of August 1919



"The New Zealand Ace", the title gained by Major Keith L. Caldwell, M.C. D.F.C. and Bar, the only son of Mr D.R. Caldwell, of Cambridge.
Major Caldwell has had many thrilling adventures at the front. He gained his M.C. for bringing down the first five enemy machines, and altogether is credited with the destruction of 21 machines, while three others were seen descending out of control but were not officially recognised as bagged.
He had a rather exciting experience a few weeks before the signing of the armistice, and it was only by a narrow margin he escaped death. He was flying over No Man's Land when he met in collision Flight-Commander Carlin, who's machine's tail was torn off. Carlin landed behind the lines safely, but Major Caldwell was not so fortunate, for the wing of his machine was torn off, and it was only his quick resource that saved his life. He managed to get off his seat and balance himself on the remaining struts of the wing in an attempt to maintain the aeroplane's equilibrium. He was rushed earthward at a rate of about 140 miles an hour, and he finally landed just behind the British lines, his machine being dashed to pieces, while he himself only avoided disaster by jumping to earth at an opportune moment.
During his service he had been six times shot down by hostile machines, but on each occasion managed to land within the lines and escape practically unhurt.
On one occasion his aggressor was a German named Voss, a crack airman, who was born in Australia. On a later occasion he had the satisfaction of seeing his victor brought down in flames.
One of his most perilous adventures was when, with five comrades, he was engaged by 21 Germans 10 miles behind the enemy lines. The fight began at a height of 17,000ft., and concluded at 6000ft.
On this occasion Carlin, after doing some particularly fine fighting, was sent crashing to the earth, where he was made a captive. Several enemy machines were destroyed , and the four remaining Britishers, after a nerve-racking fight against overwhelming odds, managed to reach the British lines with their machines practically in ribbons.
Again he was in a fight in which five British machines tackled eight enemy 'planes, of which they accounted for seven.
Major Caldwell arrived in Sydney by the Bremen last Saturday, and is now awaiting transport to New Zealand. he was one of the first pupils to graduate from the New Zealand Flying School at Kohimarama.

28th of August 1919

Major K.L. Caldwell, D.F.C. and Bar, M.C., and Croix de Guerre, arrives back in Cambridge on Friday. We regret to hear that Major Caldwell on his arrival in Sydney contracted influenza pneumonia. We hope that the beneficient climate of Cambridge will soon restore him to his usual health.

9th of December 1980
From the Cambridge Independent

Mr Keith Logan Caldwell who died at Glendowie recently at the age of 85, was well-known in Cambridge. His father, the late D.R. Caldwell, a prominent Auckland businessman, had a home in Hamilton Road in the earlier years. His sister, Vida, married Mr Barclay Farquhar , and they were longtime residents of Cambridge.
As Air Commodore, Keith Caldwell was New Zealand's most decorated air ace in World War I. He was a distinguished fighter pilot with 22 victories to his credit. he served again in World War II.
His decorations included the CBE, MC, DFC and Bar and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.
After the second war he returned to farming and later retired to Glendowie. He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.



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