Photograph of Michael in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/17/152-170
(L to R) Member of the 4th Class of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO); General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasp 'Palestine'; 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaf
Michael was born on the 18th January 1914 in Hertford, Hertfordshire. His father was called Wilfred Keith and his mother was Gladys Irene. He was their eldest child, Delia Mary was born in March 1916 and Nigel Keith in December 1918.
Wilfred was serving as an officer in the Manchester Regiment when Michael was born. He held the rank of Captain and was the Adjutant at the Regimental Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne during 1914. Michael spent the first year of his life there. Later he would become a Brigadier General and Colonel of the Manchester Regiment. He died in July 1934.
We don't know where Michael went to school, but afterwards he entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst to train as an officer. He entered the College on the 2nd September 1932 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on the 1st February 1934. At Sandhurst he reached the cadet rank of Junior Under Officer. He passed out 25th in his class of 175 and was awarded the King's Medal, awarded to the Officer Cadet who gained the highest scores in military, practical and academic studies. His father was very satisfied to see Michael follow him into the Manchester Regiment.
Michael joined the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, based at Strensall near York. Second Lieutenant Robert 'Rex' King-Clark joined the 2nd Battalion at the same time; the two had become good friends at Sandhurst. Rex's medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection. By November 1935 Michael was a member of B Company; he boxed for them that month in the battalion novice competition. He won his first fight but 'owing to injuries' could not continue to compete.
In mid 1936 Michael left the 2nd Battalion and the UK for the 1st Battalion, based at Moascar in Egypt. He joined B Company and was soon on the battalion rugby team. After the first few games of the season he was forced to go into hospital in early 1937 suffering from 'serious poisoning', and so missed the rest of the season.
On the 1st February Michael was promoted to Lieutenant. At the time he was stationed in Cairo on a course with the Royal Air Force. We don't know what he was taught, but he seems to have received some pilot training, he would sometimes fly over the battalion's barracks.
The 1st Battalion stayed in Egypt until the 14th January 1938, and spent much of this time training to become a mechanised machine gun battalion. This training and reorganisation had to be quickly reversed when they were sent to Palestine on Active Service.
A rebellion had broken out amongst several of the Arab tribes living in this territory, and the British needed more soldiers to bring it under control. Michael served there between the 14th January and the 23rd September 1938. The 1st Battalion was based in the area around the city of Acre. Their roles were to search for gangs of rebels, to patrol the countryside and to guard important areas against attack. During a firefight near Al Baqueia during March 1938 Michael shot an Arab 'bandit or terrorist' and recovered the man's rifle and ammunition bandolier. We don't know the modern name of this area.
At some point Michael had moved to D Company of the battalion. He left them and joined A Company during early 1938. At around the same time he was mentioned in General Orders for Distinguished Conduct in Action.
After serving in Palestine the 1st Battalion moved to Singapore. They began to build defences and train to resist an invasion. Their main role was to man pillboxes on the beaches of the island. Michael left them on the 28th July 1939 when he was appointed Staff Captain in the Malaya Infantry Brigade. This unit commanded the 1st Battalion and 2 others. Michael would have been responsible for making sure the units in his brigade were kept supplied and equipped, and that their administration was in order.
When a 2nd Malayan Infantry Brigade was formed in September 1940 the 1st Battalion was transferred to it, so Michael's link to them ended. At some point he became the Brigade Major. This job involved planning operations and organising the units within the brigade.
The Japanese invaded Malaya on the 8th December 1941, and by the 27th January 1942 the British had been forced back onto the island of Singapore. The island was constantly bombed, and as the Japanese closed in their position became hopeless. The British garrison surrendered on the 15th February and Michael became a Prisoner of War (POW).
Michael was officially promoted to Captain on the 3rd February 1942, but it seems that he had held both this and the next higher rank of Major on a temporary basis by the time he was captured.
We don't know where Michael was held during his time as a POW. Conditions for all POWs held by the Japanese were terrible. Sanitation, food and shelter were in short supply, and the POWs were expected to work long hours in tropical weather. Disease was rampant, and if a soldier fell sick the Japanese would no longer feed him, on the grounds that he could not work.
Michael's brother Nigel had been commissioned into the Manchester Regiment in August 1938. He served with the 1st Battalion in Singapore and was also held prisoner by the Japanese. He also survived the war.
When Michael was liberated at the end of the war in August 1945 he was 6 feet 4 inches tall, but weighed just 7 stones. He seems to have recovered quickly though, and by mid 1946 he was serving in the UK as an Instructor at the Support Weapons Wing of the School of Infantry in Netheravon, Wiltshire. He was reportedly 'much enjoying life'.
This enjoyment may have been connected to his marriage to Elizabeth Mary Shippam on the 2nd October of that year. Michael and Elizabeth, or Betty, had been friends since childhood. Betty had previously been married to Frank Shippam, and had 2 sons. Frank was a Captain in the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was killed in France on the 10th July 1944 whilst serving in the 1/7th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. We don't know the names of Michael's stepsons.
Michael was Mentioned in Despatches on the 1st August 1946 for his conduct during the war. His Temporary rank of Major was made permanent on the 1st February 1947. By July 1948 he had returned to the 1st Battalion as Commander of B Company. He also served as Training Officer during this period. They were based in Wuppertal, West Germany during Michael's time with them. This time was short though, as he left for Sandhurst on the 21st November. He was replaced as Training Officer by William Almond, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.
Michael served at the Royal Military Academy as both the Commander of Waterloo Company, where he oversaw the training of the cadets under his command, and as a representative of the Manchester Regiment. In this role he will have helped select cadets to serve in the regiment.
In early 1952 Michael left this job and the UK. He moved to Jamaica to serve with the West Indies Regiment. We don't know what position he held within this unit. During November 1953 he helped 'with making the arrangements' for the visit of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth the Second to Jamaica. The visit took place between the 25th and 27th November. Michael's work was recognised by the Queen, she made him a Member of the 4th Class of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) that December. Unlike most awards this was her personal gift, made without input from the government.
After 3 years Michael returned to the 1st Battalion at Wavell Barracks in Berlin. He took command of D Company in March 1955, but, like the last time he had been a Company Commander he soon changed jobs again. Rex King-Clark had been serving as Second in Command of the Battalion, but he left in December to serve with 'the Colonial Forces', so Michael took his place.
In January 1956 the 1st Battalion left Berlin for Minden. Michael commanded the Advance Party that left first and ensured the barracks were prepared for the battalion's arrival. His time as Second in Command was short though, and on Saturday the 6th October Michael and Betty were seen off in style by a social evening held in the Officers Mess. He was returning to the UK to take command of the Regimental Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne.
Michael was to be the last Depot commander. Instead of each Regiment training its own recruits, during 1957 it was decided to form Brigades that would train soldiers for several Regiments. As well as this, it was decided that the Manchester Regiment would amalgamate with the King's Regiment (Liverpool) on the 1st August 1958. Michael left the Army on the 20th May. He had hoped to follow in his father's footsteps and command a battalion of the Manchester Regiment; even turning down opportunities to command other units, but ultimately this was not to be.
In retirement Michael spent some time managing a hunting area in Banffshire in Scotland. He then moved to Well Barn House in Moulsford, then in Berkshire but transferred to Oxfordshire in 1974. At some point he ran a 'training establishment for Labradors', although we don't know what he trained them to do. His mother came to live with him at Well Barn House during the 1960s. She died on Christmas Eve 1965 aged 76.
Later Michael moved to 'Unhill' on Spinney Lane in West Itchenor, Sussex. He kept a yacht in nearby Chichester Harbour and enjoyed sailing it around the UK and in the Mediterranean. He also kept in contact with his comrades from the Manchester Regiment, and attended many reunions and commemorations, along with his old friend Rex King-Clark.
Michael's brother Nigel had retired from the Army as a Captain in 1949. He spent several years living and working in South Africa and Ethiopia before returning to the UK. He died in Keighley, Yorkshire in October 1988, aged 69.
Michael died in July 1993 aged 79. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in January 2000, joining those of his father Wilfred.