War hero who had to row for his life back in boat at 95
An ex Royal Naval fighter pilot who rowed for his life after being shot down in Japan is picking up the oars again at the age of 95.
Keith Quilter, who lives in Wittersham, will be in the quieter waters of the River Rother when he tackles the nine-mile journey from Newenden Bridge to Star Lock, Rye, on Sunday.
The Second World War veteran hasn’t lost the sense of adventure that prompted him to leave his reserve occupation in the aircraft industry to serve on the frontline.
By July 1945, the 22 year-old was part of the 1842 Naval Air Squadron of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm and HMS Formidable was his base.
He was leading an attack on a Japanese destroyer in his F4U Corsair, on the island of Honshu, when he was shot down by antiaircraft fire.
Mr Quilter said: “I ditched the aircraft in the outer reaches of the harbour at Owase and reached for my one-man dinghy that we all carried.
“I was paddling like mad towards the sea to avoid capture when I saw a submarine.
“I didn’t know if it was friendly, but I was lucky it was an American submarine patrol and I was rescued.”
The veteran said he emerged from his brush with death unscathed. “I didn’t have a single scratch on me,” he recalls.
Adopted at the age of five, Mr Quilter, a widower, said that his new parents were loving and gave him “a good education and a perfect life.”
Now he wants to give something back and help young people who have had a difficult start in life.
He is rowing to raise money for Centrepoint, the charity supporting young homeless people, as well as for the St John the Baptist Church in Wittersham.
The Bodiam Boating Station in Newenden is supporting Mr Quilter’s row by loaning the boat.
Mr Quilter will be watched by a members of an American family that he stayed with when doing his training as a pilot in the US.
On the day, prayers will be said at the Rother, Newenden Bridge, led by Rev Judy Darkins at 10.30am, replacing the morning church service and the day will end with choral evensong at Wittersham Church at 6pm.
Mrs Darkins said: “Mr Quilter is a great character and a remarkable member of our congregation. He feels that he was privileged in his young life and just wants to give something back.”
Mr Quilter with a model of the plane he flew, a Corsair MKII
Mr Quilter has a photo of his first landing on USS Charger in early 1945
Mr Quilter in a Corsair in spring 1945
Mr Quilter as a young officer in spring 1944