War hero who had to row for his life back in boat at 95

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Helping Others - by Rachael Woods rwoods@thek­m­group.co.uk @rachael­wood­skm

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.”

Pic­ture: Paul Amos FM4845179

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

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