Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Chisholm, Keith Bruce (1918–1991)

by Anthony Staunton

This article was published online in 2014

Keith Bruce Chisholm (1918-1991), air force officer, was born on 22 December 1918 at Petersham, Sydney, son of Australian-born parents Kenneth Bruce Chisholm, dentist, and his wife Marion Wilson, née Whitford. Keith attended Newington College and was studying dentistry at the University of Sydney when World War II broke out. On 24 June 1940 he joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He trained as a pilot in Australia and Canada before being promoted to sergeant and posted in March 1941 to Britain where he joined No. 452 (Spitfire) Squadron. In August and September, during offensive patrols over France, he destroyed six German aircraft for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. On 12 October, however, Chisholm was shot down. Parachuting into the sea near Berck-sur-Mer, France, he was rescued by the Germans and sent to Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf, Silesia, Germany (Łambinowice, Poland). He was promoted to pilot officer on 1 May 1942.

Prisoner working parties offered the best chance of escape but airmen were excluded from them. Chisholm, however, swapped identities with an Australian soldier and joined one. In June he absconded and reached Brno, Czechoslovakia, before being recaptured and returned to Lamsdorf.

Chisholm prepared for his next escape by exchanging identities with a New Zealand soldier. With four others, among them Wing Commander Douglas Bader, Royal Air Force, he joined a working party destined for a camp near Gleiwitz (Gliwice) airfield. The plan was to steal an aircraft but it failed when Bader and another pilot were identified and sent back to Lamsdorf. Nevertheless, on 11 August 1942 a group of four, including Chisholm, escaped into Poland and met sympathetic locals near Oswiecim. They arrived in Warsaw in October but the failure of successive travel plans delayed Chisholm’s departure for eighteen months.

Disguised as a Belgian in the German army and given money and false papers by the Polish resistance, Chisholm left Warsaw on 23 March 1944 aboard a military train for Brussels. During a fifteen-hour stopover at Berlin he spent time at the cinema, in restaurants, and viewing bomb damage. He reached Venlo, the Netherlands, but had to return to Aachen, Germany, to obtain a frontier pass before continuing to Brussels and then to Paris, arriving on 10 May. There he joined the French Forces of the Interior and engaged in the street fighting that preceded the city’s liberation.

Chisholm was back in Australia by February 1945 and was awarded the Military Cross for ‘his dogged persistence and careful planning’ (NAA 9300) in successfully escaping from the enemy. From December he flew with No. 38 Squadron, RAAF. They were based at Archerfield in 1945-46 and flew throughout the South-West Pacific. He was demobilised on 5 March 1946 with the rank of flight lieutenant.

After the war, Chisholm became a wool buyer with a French company and in 1952 married Eliane Defferriere in Paris. The marriage did not last and Chisholm subsequently married Marie-France Baudry. In 1957 he moved to New York and joined J. P. Stevens & Co. Inc., one of the world’s biggest textile firms, rising to executive vice president and becoming an American citizen. Survived by his wife, he died there of liver disease on 23 August 1991. His ashes were re-interred at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery in 1993.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Daily Mirror (Sydney). ‘German Prison Could Not Hold RAAF Captive.’ 7 November 1977, 20
  • Herington, J. Air War against Germany and Italy 1939-1943. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1962
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, Chisholm, K. B
  • National Archives (UK). WO/208/3322
  • People. ‘The Wartime Adventures of Keith Chisholm Rank with the World’s Greatest. He was a “dark horse”!’ 3 June 1953, 28.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Anthony Staunton, 'Chisholm, Keith Bruce (1918–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chisholm-keith-bruce-15354/text26562, published online 2014, accessed online 25 June 2019.

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