407928 Warrant Officer Keith Howard Lugano DODD – Prisoner of War
Keith Howard Lugano DODD was born at Victor Harbor on 22 August 1921, the youngest of three children of Walter John DODD and Rosina Florence DODD (nee Feutrill) of Port Elliot. Keith was educated at the Port Elliot Primary School and Victor Harbor High School. After leaving school he was employed by the International Harvester Co Ltd on North Terrace, Adelaide where he was employed as an office clerk and studied accountancy by correspondence.
On 21 June 1940, age 18 years 10 months, Keith enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve. On 3 February 1941, he was accepted in the RAAF and undertook his basic training at No. 4 Initial Training School, Victor Harbor and on completion was mustered for training as an air observer. Further training was undertaken at the air observers and air gunnery school in Mount Gambier. This advanced training took Keith up to the end of September 1941 and on completion he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant (Air Observer).
Sgt DODD embarked from Sydney on 16 October 1941 aboard the SS Mariposa. The convoy sailed across the Pacific and berthed in San Francisco on 4 November. The airmen then travelled by train to Canada, across to Halifax and sailed across the Atlantic, berthing in England on 21 November. Further training followed and on 11 June 1942, Sgt DODD was posted to 217 (Exeter) Squadron RAF. The Squadron was equipped with Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers and were utilised against enemy shipping in the Atlantic. The Squadron was earmarked for service in Ceylon but en-route the unit was retained in Malta for attacks against enemy shipping in the Mediterranean. Based at RAF Luqa Station on the island of Malta, the Squadron conducted missions against Axis shipping supplying Rommel in North Africa.
On the morning of 21 June 1942, Sgt DODD and his fellow crew were tasked with the mission of attacking a small enemy convoy of two transport ships and one cruiser escort sailing from Sicily to Tripoli, the convoy carried much needed supplies for Rommel’s Africa Corps. Keith was on his fourth operation. Approximately 80 kilometres from Tripoli, during their target approach, flying at a level of 40 feet above sea level amongst incoming anti-aircraft fire, their Beaufort W6201 was second to attack but was struck by a torpedo launched from the third attacking Beaufort which had overtaken them and was positioned just above them. Their plane was destroyed and Sgt DODD was thrown into the sea along with fellow crewman Sgt Fred Walls who was badly burned when the fuel tanks he was clinging to, exploded. Keith regained consciousness in the water and swam to the dinghies of the two sunken vessels. Pilot Sgt Bill Smyth RAF and wireless operator-gunner Jack Connell RAF were both killed. Sgt DODD and Sgt Walls RAF were picked up by an Italian cruiser and were taken to a Tripoli hospital where Sgt Walls died from his injuries. RAAF Pilot Officer Basil James McSHARRY was wounded in one of the other aircraft that took anti-aircraft fire.
Sgt DODD was later evacuated to Italy and languished in POW Camp No 57 near Udine, Italy. He later recalled the Italian guards were often violent and unpredictable. He witnessed a guard shoot and kill an Australian POW for barracking too loud at a cricket match. After Italy surrendered in September 1943, the POWs were taken to Germany and interred in Stalag Luft IVB, near Koenigstein. During captivity, the RAAF promoted him to the rank of Warrant Officer in absentia. Keith kept himself busy during his confinement by organising social events and activities, including writing and producing manuscript radio variety programs, theatre programs, bridge tournament posters and morale boosting competitions for fellow POWs. Keith brought this material home after liberation and later donated it to the Australian War Memorial (collection no PR88/188). He also donated his diary, wartime correspondence, sketches of aircraft crashes and other memorabilia to the State Library of South Australia.
Sgt DODD was liberated on 22 April 1945 when the Russian advance pushed the German army into full retreat. He was evacuated to England where he married his wartime sweetheart, Rose Mary COOKE on 18 June 1945 at Burrington, Devon, England.
Keith and his bride returned to Australia on 11 September 1945 and WO DODD was demobilised on 14 February 1946. There were two children of the marriage. Keith was the principal of south coast real estate firm DODD & Page for many years. He died on 11 June 1993, age 71 and is interred in the Port Elliot Cemetery.
Service file of 407928 Keith Howard Lugano DODD, purchased from the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.gov.au ).
Trove Newspapers (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/title/832 ).
ROBERTS, Thomas V. – Wingless – a biographical index of Australian airmen detailed during wartime, page 169, Thomas V ROBERTS, Ballarat, Victoria (2011).
Compiled by the Victor Harbor History Research Team, January 2016.