11th May 2016

Noel Keeble – First World War Flying Ace (RNAS & RAF)

June & Vernon Bull – Local historians & authors

Noel was born on 6 April 1891 in Thorpe Road and achieved six aerial victories in the First World War. He first flew with 1 Wing Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) from Dunkirk until the end of 1915. Noel then became Flight Commander of 202 Squadron and saw quite a lot of action against the German naval units at Flanders.

Noel’s achievements include flying for HQ Squadron 1 Wing RNAS in a Nieuport single seat sport plane and on one occasion he forced an enemy seaplane to land 7 miles off a French aerodrome on 25 January 1916.

As a Flight Sub Lieutenant he flew for No 3 Squadron RNSA on 12 November 1916 and was in pursuit of an enemy seaplane which he had chased from Ghistelles. During this pursuit Noel was flying a Sopworth Pup (N5189) which suffered engine failure and resulted in him having to ditch his plane at sea. Noel was fortunate to be picked up by a French patrol boat “Capricorn” and his seaplane was towed into Calais. Remarkably the Pup aircraft was salvaged and went on to be used by several other naval squadrons.

Flight Lieutenant Keeble, RNAS was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for conscientious gallantry on 23 October 1916 when he attacked four German seaplanes and brought one of them down in a vertical nose-dive into the sea, about 10 miles off Ostende.

Noel was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exploits on sea patrol when he and an observer obtained 1,000 photographs of enemy positions that were located miles behind enemy lines. He was able to bring home these extremely important new images and information from 5 June 1918 to 16 September 1918, inclusive. Noel also destroyed eight enemy aircraft including one biplane during this period of warfare.

In 1918 Captain Eric Betts was teamed with Captain Keeble in 202 Squadron. Eric Betts went on to become Air Vice Marshal from 1943 to March 1946 (and was retired in that rank until his death in 1971).
It was reported in the London Gazette Supplement, dated 21 September 1918, that: “Captain Keeble is a most capable and gallant Flight Commander”.

Noel was granted a permanent commission to Flight Lieutenant in the RAF on 1 August 1919. Two of his three sons followed in his footsteps but tragically were killed while flying combat missions for the RAF during the Second World War. His third son was invalided out of the RAF in 1939 whilst in training.

Noel died in 1963, aged 72, at his home in Chichester.

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