BODDEN – Keith Desmond ‘Sonny’

Initials: K D
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Flying Officer (Pilot)
Regiment/Service: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Age: 23
Date of Death: 05/04/1946
Service No: 197812
Additional information: Son of Richard Raymond and Alma Evangeline Bodden, of Kingston, Jamaica.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: IV. D. 31.

Spitfire FR.XIV – 1 ARU (Aircraft Repair Unit) serial MV316 – air test – low cloud – crashed near Moerbrugge, Belgium.


Keith Bodden





















[Picture taken from:]


Sonny Bodden arrived in Gourock, Glasgow, on 12 September 1941 on the SS Port Campbell.  Although his age on the passenger list was 19, he was actually only 17 at the time.  (DoB 05/01/1923). He travelled with two other Jamaican RAF recruits, Carlton Aloysius Crompton Crompton-Nicholas and Ivan Constantine Hendricks.

[Source: AD]


Jamaican (79) visits field where uncle crashed with fighter-plane

Sonny Bodden image1

 [Click to enlarge; English translation below]

Julio Machado (79) from Jamaica visited the field in Moerbrugge where his uncle crashed with his fighter-plane in 1946. Spitfire-pilot Keith Desmond Bodden fought against the Germans during WW2, but crashed after hostilities ceased on his way flying from Germany to England. “This is a very emotional moment”, said Julio, who got in touch with the Heemkring Oostkamp (Local History Society of Oostkamp) through the internet.

“Good that you honour war-heroes”

Defeating the Germans and then crashing in a field after the war ended was the sad fate of 23-year old Keith Desmond Bodden from Jamaica, usually called ‘Sonny’. A nephew, Julio Machado, visited the place where the fighter-pilot crashed on Friday 5 April 1946 yesterday. “I am honoured to be here. It is good that the memory of those who fought during the Second World War is kept alive. I was given a little box containing two pieces of the aircraft that my uncle crashed in. I will be sure to show it to my cousins”, says Julio, who didn’t really know his uncle that well. “| was only a small boy at the time, but I do remember the confusion at my grandparents’ house after the news of his death arrived. All grown-ups were gathered and us, children, were sent to play outside.”

Two years ago Julio already visited the grave of his uncle in the Schoonselhof in Antwerp. “When my uncle left for the war, he was not yet married. He had no children yet. Just like many other young men from Jamaica he volunteered for the army. Usually they ended up with the air force. My uncle was sent to Alabama in the US to train as a fighter-pilot. During the war he was stationed on the Orkney Islands, north of the Scottish mainland. As a Spitfire-pilot he was to defend the Naval base there.”
Shortly after D-day he also flew a Typhoon-plane. “These were used to bomb German military transports and Anti Aircraft installations. Many pilots died and many new men were needed. Thus ‘Sonny’ became a Typhoon-pilot and fired rockets from the sky”, recounts Julio.
For a long time nothing much was known about the crash. “A couple of years ago a document was found in the municipal archives”, tells Wim Deneweth of the Local History Society of Oostkamp.

“I published some queries in newspapers in Kingston. We also tried to reach the family through Internet-fora. This all lead to nothing, untill his nephew contacted us. He had just started with what he called ‘that internet-thing’.
Wim could also give more information about that fateful day of Keith Desmond Bodden. “The pilot belonged to the British Air Force and had to fly a Spitfire back from Germany to England. In Germany he was part of the Occupation Forces. On his way to England he encountered bad weather. He wanted to fly below the clouds and probably was shocked to find himself close to the ground. This caused the crash of his aircraft. It must have been an enormous clash. Parts of the airplane we were able to find through metal-detecting were not bigger than four centimeters. The body of the pilot was shattered to pieces too. Four weeks after the accident a seven-men team of the British air force came to salvage the body and the guns of the airplane. The remains were temporarily laid to rest in a cellar next to the church of Oostkamp. A couple of months after the crash his term in the air force would have ended. His brother had fallen already in 1940”, tells Wim.

Local Frans Will (79) vividly remembers the salvage of the airplane. “My father was an eye-witness of the crash and I still can see the images of the salvage. Such memories are indelible. After schooltime I came to watch and saw how the British dug up a part of the parachute and the guns. At the time I did not know it had been a Jamaican pilot”, says Frans.


5 April 1946 – Spitfire crashed in Moerbrugge (Oostkamp)
Jamaican pilot K.D. Bodden perishes at age 23
Wim Deneweth

Sonny Bodden image2

[Click to enlarge; English translation below]

On Friday April 5th 1946 a Spitfire crashed near the Veldkapel (‘Field Chapel’) in Moerbrugge (Oostkamp). The pilot K.D. Bodden did not survive this crash. A month later his remains were dug up for burial. Now he rests in the Schoonselhof in Antwerp.

Nearly two years before, German wounded were looked after in the field hospital set up at the Ballegeer Farm, across the road from the chapel. The Battle of Moerbrugge (8-12 September 1944) is etched in local memories. The accident of the pilot of a legendary fighter plane was overshadowed by these events. When local archivist Marc Senesael came across a document about the remains of a pilot, it turned out to be an all-but-forgotten story. The research could begin.

Supermarine Spitfire MV316
The crashed aircraft was a Spitfire FR Mk XIV, equipped with a Rolls Royce Griffon 65 engine, which was designed to provide high power at low altitudes. The plane could climb almost vertically. (….) The FR stands for ‘Fighter Reconaissance’, which refers to fighters that carried a specialised camera for aerial photography. (….) The serial number MV316 was produced by Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. in Eastleigh/Southampton and delivered to number 9 MU (‘Maintenance Unit’) on March 26, 1945. Then on April 13 1945 it went to 84 GSU (‘Ground Support Unit’), from where the aircraft were allocated to operational units.

It served in 268 squadron RAF (at the time based in Twente, the Netherlands) from 19 April 1945. From November 1st 1945 it went to 16 Squadron (a merger of former 268 and 16 Squadrons) and was based in Fassberg, Germany. It was sent to 29 MU for servicing on March 30, 1946.

Thus the plane has only seen active service during the last twenty days of the war. Since another Spitfire of 268 Squadron was shot down by German Flak only five days before hostilities ended, we can surmise that MV316 saw some action.


A short biography of Sonny Bodden by his nephew Julio Machado

Sonny was born in Kingston Jamaica to Caymanian parents who had moved to Jamaica so their eldest son – then 12 – could attend high school. Also Capt Bodden’s Caymanian employer shipping co JS Webster had headquartered in Kingston. In those days until Jamaican independence in 1962 the Cayman Islands were administered from Jamaica as a junior colony by the UK government

Sonny, hence the name, was the youngest of 9. His elder brother Ray had enlisted in the RAF almost immediately of the start of hostilities in 1939 and was serving in France in 1940 but missed the withdrawal from Dunkerque. With thousands of others they fought and made their way to western France, around St Nazaire. An attempted evacuation on the SS Lancastria failed when the ship was bombed and sunk, killing thousands including Ray.

Sonny was at school at Jamaica College in the 1930s, probably up to 1940, and only a memoir that he played football and kept goal remains. There is a plaque at the school commemorating the 12 students including Sonny killed in war service. After school he went to work in a bank in Kingston, probably Barclays – a normal career move for a middle class boy wanting to see the world.

He decided to follow the example of his brother and join the RAF, no doubt with a desire to kill nazis, perhaps to avenge his brother and especially as U-boats were operating successfully around the islands. Formal recruitment of volunteers hadn’t started in the islands yet. How he got to England and then enlisted in 1941 I do not know, but I’ve read the story in Caribaircrew of a similar situation, where a West Indian rolled up at the front door of a London recruitment office and was accepted.

Then from Rachelle Peel’s note in Caribaircrew we know he was billeted in Lancashire. D. Lee Albert raised the possibility that he may have been sent to Saskatchewan Canada for flying training, this was not unusual, but I have found no proof of this. The Jamaica Daily Gleaner newspaper had a small column with news that he and another Jamaican youngster had won flying colours, pilots wings, from an USAAF academy in Alabama USA at the end of 1943, as fighter pilots. Hugh Robison was the colleague at training. He was older but had worked at another bank near Sonny but they never served together. He survived the war, came home , moved to Puerto Rico, had a family and died in 2015 aged 95.

I have Sonny’s record for June 1944. He was stationed in the Orkneys flying a Spitfire on picket duty to protect the northern flank. There was an internet rumour that he had shot down a friendly allied plane. The incident did occur, killing a pilot, but Sonny was not involved at all.

With the war moving into France different aerial tactics and a new plane, the Typhoon, came to be used for attacking ground targets, mostly too small to be accurately bombed. As the Allies had command control of the skies, at that time a Spitfire was a relatively safe place but aiming a Typhoon at the ground at full speed to fire 4 machine cannons and 4 rockets at anti-aircraft installations was especially dangerous with frequent mortalities. Sonny volunteered to join the Typhoons at a special base in England. Assigned to a combat wing he followed the fighting of British forces through Northern Europe from late 1944 to war’s end in 1945. He was even shot up by an American plane, a Thunderbolt, and saved himself in a forced landing. Then he went home on rec leave. Family remembered him at that time as highly stressed and “drove a car like a madman”.

He was scheduled to be demobilised from a base in western Germany in April 1946. He had one last flight to take a Repair Unit Spitfire back to England. He met with extreme bad weather and he crashed in western Belgium, killed instantly, the plane and him in smithereens. Parts of his body were recovered a week later for local burial and his final resting place was in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery Schoonselhof on the outskirts of Antwerp.

Most of this information has been put together through research and publication by Wim Deneweth of Oostkamp who fleshed out the story and kept it alive. We shall not forget.

Sonny had told the family about a girl he had met. Very recently I was found by the daughter of that person and she told me her mother still had the letter Sonny had written on the fateful day saying he would be late for their date as he had a surprise flight to make. The lady died this year 2022 aged 95. Sonny’s siblings collected a little money among themselves and added a few extra words to his headstone.
Sonny Bodden 1
Sonny Bodden 3
Sonny Bodden 4

3 additions to “BODDEN – Keith Desmond ‘Sonny’”

  1. Rachelle Peel adds:

    Sonny was billeted with my grandparents at Heaton Park, Lancashire in 1942. I have just found a note book that they kept and which they asked the pilots to sign. My grandparents were Jim and Susan Ward. Sonny left a lovely note and he told my grandmother that she was “a very lucky person to have one of the finest husbands and daughters.” He goes on to say that his cannot write much more because his mind is in too much turmoil at completing his training. He says “I would like to tell you how grateful that my mother and father will be to you when I see them again.” He also left his family contact address: Mrs Raymond Bodden. As I grew up, my family spoke often of Sonny and I was so sad to read that he was killed in action. I do hope he got see his parents again before he died. If any of Sonny’s family would like me to send them an image of the note and the photo he left, I would be more than happy to forward them on.

  2. Billy Machado adds:

    Rachelle I could just hug you. Isn’t this fantastic and I’m just reading how Huntley’s son has found the family he was billeted with. Amazing !
    Please send me your stuff and I’ll send you a photo of my Uncle Sonny when he arrived in Trafalgar Square and also with his Typhoon plane.
    And this week I’ve received info from Chris Thomas the famous military aviation historian/ author about his service.
    I have a post for this site made up from months ago but for a sentimental old gent it takes some doing, but please watch this space
    Billy Machado

  3. DLee Albert adds:

    How long did Keith stay with your grandparents? Did he go to Saskatchewan Canada for any training? My DNA is linked to him and there is a possible chance he is my biological grandfather. My email is I look forward to hearing from you.

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