Sergeant Robert McKeag (1522883) served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during World War Two. He flew with RAF 50 Squadron at his time of death.
Born in Belfast, Co. Antrim in 1922, he was the youngest son of Robert McKeag and Agnes C McKeag. Robert Jr had his baptism at St Martin’s Parish Church, Belfast. Before going to war, he lived at 5 Baltic Street, Belfast. Known to family and friends as Bobby, his elder siblings were Henry, Lilly, and Mary.
Robert died on 4th September 1943 aged 21 years old. He was an air gunner on a Lancaster Bomber conducting a night raid over Berlin.
Lancaster ED755 Crash
On 3rd September 1943, between 1930hrs and 2045hrs, 316 Lancaster Bombers departed for Berlin. They took off from RAF Skellingthorpe, near the city of Lincoln, England. It was the third such raid on Germany’s capital city since 24th August.
Robert McKeag’s plane was Lancaster Mk III ED755 VN-Q. Pilot Flying Officer Percy H Coates took off at 2011hrs. Around three hours later, the formations of bombers were over the target city. On the way out of Berlin, the Lancaster took a direct hit either from a night fighter or flak to the north of the city.
One of the wings caught fire and the bomber began to fall from the sky observed by witnesses in Schoenberg and Vielitz. There was panic in the latter, as the wing broke off and the descending Lancaster veered dangerously towards the village. Before impact, the plane exploded in mid-air, showering Vielitz with debris.
Ammunition on board the plane continued to burn and explode throughout the night. It was later the following day before locals visited the site.
Locals Visit The Site
The bodies of some of the crew remained on board the wrecked fuselage. Others came to rest in nearby trees having attempted to bale out. A witness at the time reported a survivor with serious injuries was taken to the town of Neuruppin for health care.
Those injuries would overcome the crew member as on 8th September 1943, all seven men of Coates’ crew were buried in Neuruppin. At a later date, all were reinterred in the 1939-1945 Cemetery, Berlin.
As well as Sergeant Robert McKeag, the following men lost their lives on board Lancaster ED755.
- Pilot Flying Officer Percy H Coates RCAF.
- Navigator Flying Officer Jack M Lauder RCAF.
- Flight Engineer Sergeant George B Buchan RAF.
- Bombardier Sergeant Rae WB Collins RCAF.
- Wireless Operator Sergeant Reginald G Cooper RAF.
- Air Gunner Sergeant Anthony RD Bedbrook RAF.
Medals awarded to Sergeant McKeag were:
- 1939-1945 Star.
- Air Crew Europe Star.
- War Medal 1939-1945.
Remembering Robert McKeag
Sergeant Robert McKeag’s grave is in Section 7, Row J, Plot 21 of the 1939-1945 War Cemetery, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany. His headstone bears the inscription:
Amidst life’s changes, I’ll never forget, my son.
In June 2018, Bobby McKeag’s great-niece Sharon Kerridge contacted WWIINI with some further information. The family were unaware of Bobby’s grave site until the 1980s. After a lot of research and work from her father, they found Bobby’s final resting place and received his war medals. The family has since visited Sergeant McKeag’s grave in Berlin, finding comfort in remembrance services and laying flowers, wreaths, and enamel poppies on the grave.