Battle of Britain Profile of Courage: Alfred Keith Ogilvie

Biography / September 8, 2016

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By Shari St. John

609 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Alfred Keith Ogilvie was born in Ottawa on September 14, 1915. After flying in the Battle of Britain, his Air Force service eventually led him to Stalag Luft III and the Great Escape.

Affectionately known as “Skeets”, Ogilvie was an avid sportsman in high school. After graduation he found work as a stock broker, but the deteriorating situation in Europe caused him to re-think his chosen profession. Ogilvie was interested in joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), but his application was not approved because the Air Force wanted university graduates, and he had never even attended University, let alone graduated. Undeterred, the young Canadian applied to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in August 1939 for short service commission; his application was approved of the 14th of that month. Soon, Ogilvie was aboard the Letitia on his way to England to begin training.

That fall, after completing his initial training at Hatfield, Pilot Officer Ogilvie found himself at No. 9 Flying Training School at RAF Hullavington in Wiltshire. Upon graduation, the gifted pilot was sent to the Central Flying School at RAF Upton to training as an instructor. Keen to get in on the action, Ogilvie took the unprecedented step of appealing directly to the RAF’s Air Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard…and it worked!  After a short stint at the Operational Training Unit at RAF Aston Down, he became a fledgling member of 609 Squadron at Middle Wallop, flying the Mark I Spitfire

Ogilvie’s “baptism of fire,” came during the Battle of Britain on September 7, 1940, when he noticed two Messerschmitt (Me) 109’s flying below at close range. Mesmerized by the proximity of the enemy planes, Ogilvie did not initially fire. Snapping out of his momentary awe, he fired a burst at the first plane, unintentionally hitting the second, knocking it out of the sky. Low on fuel, Ogilvie knew he needed to find a place to land and his home base was too far away. With luck on his side, he spotted a Naval Air Station and safely landed. On September 15, Ogilvie claimed a second plane destroyed when he shot down a Dornier (DO) 17 and the following day damaged a Heinkel (He) 111.

Little more than a week later, on September 27, Ogilvie and 609 Squadron came across a defensive circle of enemy planes over the English Channel. It appeared as if the German pilots were waiting for fighters to escort them home. Unexpectedly, the commanding officer’s radio (as well as those of the two flight commanders) failed, leaving it to Pilot Officer Rogers “Mick” Miller to lead the attack. Ogilvie flew as Miller’s wingman and stuck to him like glue. During intense combat Miller and an enemy plane collided head on and, as his number two, Ogilvie was almost caught in the black smoke and flying debris. Reacting instinctively, Ogilvie pulled away from the flaming wreckage and dropped down onto the tail of an Me 110. Ogilvie shot the 110 out of the sky and was ready to fire at the next target when another member of his squadron warned, “Leave him alone, he’s mine!” Ogilvie backed off.

After the Battle of Britain


Effective July 11, 1941, Flying Officer Alfred Keith Ogilvie was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation read: “This officer has displayed great keenness and determination to seek and destroy the enemy. He has shot down at least five hostile aircraft.”

Despite his aircraft sustaining damage on numerous occasions, Ogilvie survived the Battle of Britain. After scoring three more victories in the first six months of 1941, he was shot down on July 4 and became a prisoner of war. However, his story did not end with the destruction of his aircraft.

As a “guest” of the Germans he took part in the “The Great Escape” when 76 Allied prisoners escaped from Stalag Luft III in March 1944.  The prisoners had concocted a plan to escape from the prison camp through three tunnels, “Tom, Dick, and Harry”. Using whatever they could find, the men dug the three tunnels over many months. Harry, the tunnel the men used to escape on March 24, 1944, stretched nearly 122 metres, but fell just short of the treeline that they hoped would conceal them.

The night of the escape, shortly after Ogilvie had crawled out of the tunnel – one of the last men to do so – a German guard saw movement in the snow above the exit. The guard began shouting and Ogilvie ran. He trekked through snow, forests, and along main roads for a few days before he was stopped and questioned by German police who subsequently arrested him. Ogilvie and some of his comrades who had escaped were brought back to Stalag Luft III. Only three men managed to successfully make the journey back to England while 50 of the men who had been involved in the escape plan were executed by the Gestapo.

Flight Lieutenant Ogilvie – who had been promoted while in captivity – was liberated by a British unit in the spring of 1945 and was sent to England to recuperate before returning to Canada in July. There, he worked with the RCAF’s welcoming committee greeting returning members of the air force at docks in Montreal, Halifax and New York.

Ogilvie married his wife Irene in summer of 1946 and retired from the RCAF in 1963 in the rank of squadron leader.

Alfred Keith Ogilvie passed away in 1998. He was cremated and, in accordance with his wishes, some of his ashes were spread in the rose garden of the chapel at RAF Biggin Hill in England.

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