Charles Keightley

General Sir Charles Frederic Keightley, GCB, GBE, DSO, DL (24 June 1901 – 17 June 1974) was a British Army officer during and following the Second World War. After serving with distinction during the Second World War – becoming the army's youngest corps commander – he had a distinguished postwar career and was the Governor of Gibraltar from 1958 to 1962.

Sir Charles Frederic Keightley
General Sir Charles Keightley in 1949
Born(1901-06-24)24 June 1901
Croydon, London, England
Died17 June 1974(1974-06-17) (aged 72)
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1921–57
Unit5th Dragoon Guards
Commands heldGibraltar
Far East Land Forces
British Army of the Rhine
V Corps
78th Infantry Division
6th Armoured Division
11th Armoured Division
30th Armoured Brigade
Battles/warsSecond World War
Suez Crisis
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath[1]
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire[2]
Distinguished Service Order[3]
Mentioned in Despatches (2)[4][5]
Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)[6]
Commander of the Legion of Merit (United States)[7][8]
Other workGovernor of Gibraltar (1958–62)
Deputy Lieutenant of the county of Dorset.[9]

Early life and military career

Keightley was born on 24 June 1901 at Anerley near Croydon, the only surviving son of Rev. Charles Albert Keightley, the local vicar, and his wife, Kathleen Ross. His early education was at Marlborough College.[10]

He graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in December 1921 into the 5th Dragoon Guards (Princess Charlotte of Wales's)[11] which through amalgamation with the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons became the 5th/6th Dragoons the following year. He was promoted lieutenant at the end of 1923[12] and captain in April 1932,[13] having served three years as the regiment's adjutant.[14][15] He attended the Staff College, Camberley from 1935[16] to 1936, and after a staff posting was in October 1937 appointed brigade major of a mechanized cavalry brigade in Egypt.[17] He was able, however, in November to take part in the coronation of King George VI in London as a member of the procession accompanying the King and Queen.[18] In September 1938 his brigade became part of the new Mobile Division in Egypt commanded by the influential Percy Hobart.[19]

Keightley was able to benefit from Hobart's tutelage for only a brief period and having been promoted to the rank of major he was appointed in December 1938 an instructor at the Staff College, Camberley with a local rank of lieutenant colonel.[20]

Second World War

In 1940, during the Second World War, he was appointed as Assistant Adjutant & Quartermaster General (chief administrative officer) of the 1st Armoured Division, then commanded by Major General Roger Evans, during that division's deployment to France. After the evacuation from France the division reformed in back in England[19] and on 13 May 1941, Keightley, on promotion to the acting rank of brigadier, was given command of the 30th Armoured Brigade, part of the 11th Armoured Division, which by this time was commanded by Major General Percy Hobart. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in July 1941.[21]

In late December 1941 he was promoted to acting major-general[22] to become Commandant of the Royal Armoured Corps Training Establishment. After only five months in this job he was briefly given command on 21 April 1942 of the 11th Armoured Division, which was then based in the United Kingdom and then on 19 May 1942 went to command the 6th Armoured Division, and commanded that division with distinction throughout the Tunisian Campaign, elements landing in French North Africa in November as part of Operation Torch. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath for his services in Tunisia and also was awarded the Legion of Merit by the United States government.[23][24] His permanent rank was advanced from major to lieutenant colonel in September 1943[25] and again to colonel in April 1944.[26]

In December 1943 he swapped commands with Major General Vyvyan Evelegh, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 78th Infantry Division, which had fought alongside the 6th Armoured in Tunisia was then serving in Italy, and which became his first infantry command. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in August 1944 and his success as a commander of both armoured and infantry divisions led to his promotion in August 1944 to acting lieutenant-general[27] when he was given command of the British Eighth Army's V Corps, succeeding Lieutenant General Charles Allfrey, in Italy. At the age of just 43 he was the youngest officer of the British Army during the Second World War to command a corps in action.[28] He commanded this corps during Operation Olive, the offensive on the Gothic Line in the autumn of 1944, and also during the final spring offensive in April 1945, when it took a lead role in forcing the Argenta Gap. The corps moved into Austria with the surrender of the German Forces and forces that were fighting on the German side. On 8 May 1945, he signed a demarcation agreement with the Bulgarian First Army's Commander, General Vladimir Stoychev in Klagenfurt.

In East Tyrol and Carinthia, Keightley's army received the surrender of the "Lienz Cossacks" under their leaders Peter Krasnov, Kelech Ghirey, and Andrei Shkuro and the XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps under Helmuth von Pannwitz. At the Yalta Conference, the British committed themselves to return Soviet citizens to the Soviet Union. After consultation with Harold Macmillan Keightley proceeded to hand over these prisoners and their families regardless of their nationality, including people with French, German, Yugoslav, or Nansen passports. The prisoners were delivered by deceit and force to SMERSH at Judenburg; many were executed immediately, the remainder sent to the Gulag.[29]

In mid-1945, Keightley was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire,[30] and nominated to lead a proposed "Commonwealth Corps" during Operation Coronet, the second stage of a planned invasion of Japan. The corps was to have been made up of infantry divisions from the Australian, British and Canadian armies. However, the Australian government objected to the appointment of an officer with no experience fighting the Japanese and the war ended before the details of the corps were finalised.


In 1946, Keightley left Austria and reverted to his permanent rank of major general (to which he had received promotion in February 1945),[31] to become Director of Military Training at the War Office. In 1948, he became the Military Secretary to the Secretary State of War, gaining the permanent rank of lieutenant general.[32] On 21 September 1949, he assumed command of the British Army of the Rhine in Germany[33] relinquishing the role in April 1951.[34] He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath during his time in the post.[35]

In May 1951, he became the Commander-in-Chief Far East Land Forces[36] in the rank of general. In September 1953, he was appointed Commander in Chief Middle East Land Forces.[37] Also in 1953 Keightley received the honorary appointment of Aide-de-Camp General to the Queen for a three-year tenure.[38][39] His tenure at Middle East Land Forces included the period of the Suez Crisis and Keightley was C-in-C of Operation Musketeer in 1956.[40] For his services during the period October to December 1956 he was advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire and also received the Legion of Honour (Grand Officer) from the French government. In January 1957 he relinquished his Middle East command[41] and retired from the army that August.[42]

From 23 November 1947 to 23 November 1957,[43] he held the honorary post of Colonel of the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. He also held the honorary post of Colonel Commandant, Royal Armoured Corps, Cavalry Wing until April 1968.[44]

In retirement Keightley was appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar, a post he held from May 1958[45] until October 1962 when he retired from the army a second time since his role as Commander-in-Chief, although not paid for out of the army's budget, had technically returned him to active duty.[46] From 1958 he served a term as Honorary Colonel of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.[47]

From 1963 he was appointed Member of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation.[48][49]

He died at Salisbury General Infirmary on 17 June 1974.


Keightley was married to Joan Lydia Smyth-Osbourne of Iddlesleigh in Devon in 1932. They had two sons.


Keightley Way, a road and tunnel in Gibraltar was named in his honour.[50]


  1. "No. 39863". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 May 1953. p. 2942.
  2. "No. 41092". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1957. p. 3416.
  3. "No. 36637". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 August 1944. p. 3605.
  4. "No. 35020". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 December 1940. p. 7175.
  5. "No. 37368". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 November 1945. p. 5791.
  6. "No. 41359". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 April 1958. p. 2357.
  7. "No. 36125". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 August 1943. p. 3579.
  8. "No. 37961". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 May 1947. p. 2287.
  9. "No. 45225". The London Gazette. 3 November 1970. p. 12069.
  10. Dictionary of National Biography 1971-1980
  11. "No. 32589". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 January 1922. p. 724.
  12. "No. 32892". The London Gazette. 28 December 1923. p. 9107.
  13. "No. 33820". The London Gazette. 26 April 1932. p. 2719.
  14. "No. 33489". The London Gazette. 26 April 1929. p. 2763.
  15. "No. 33822". The London Gazette. 3 May 1932. p. 2888.
  16. "No. 34126". The London Gazette. 22 January 1935. p. 547.
  17. "No. 34446". The London Gazette. 22 October 1937. p. 6511.
  18. "No. 34453". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 November 1937. p. 7033.
  19. Mead 2007, p. 227.
  20. "No. 34580". The London Gazette. 16 December 1938. p. 7996.
  21. "No. 35204". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 June 1941. p. 3739.
  22. "No. 35406". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 January 1942. p. 129.
  23. "No. 36120". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 August 1943. p. 3521.
  24. "No. 36125". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 August 1943. p. 3579.
  25. "No. 36160". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 September 1943. p. 3965.
  26. "No. 36509". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 May 1944. p. 2171.
  27. "No. 36669". The London Gazette (Supplement). 22 August 1944. p. 3941.
  28. Mead 2007, p. 229.
  29. Nikolai Tolstoy (1977). The Secret Betrayal. Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 150ff, 176ff, 198ff, 223ff. ISBN 0-684-15635-0.
  30. "No. 37161". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 July 1945. p. 3490.
  31. "No. 36940". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 February 1945. p. 917.
  32. "No. 38197". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 February 1948. p. 889.
  33. "No. 38794". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1949. p. 6161.
  34. "No. 39231". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 May 1951. p. 2797.
  35. "No. 38929". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 June 1950. p. 2776.
  36. "No. 39249". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 June 1951. p. 3109.
  37. "No. 39977". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 October 1953. p. 4249.
  38. "No. 39930". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 July 1953. p. 4249.
  39. "No. 40833". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 July 1956. p. 4191.
  40. "Blitz in the Desert". Time Magazine. 12 November 1956. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
  41. "No. 40990". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 January 1957. p. 719.
  42. "No. 41158". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 August 1957. p. 5033.
  43. "No. 41232". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 November 1957. p. 6773.
  44. "No. 44558". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 March 1968. p. 3864.
  45. "No. 41441". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 July 1958. p. 5327.
  46. "No. 42813". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 October 1962. p. 8265.
  47. "The Royal Gibraltar Regiment". Archived from the original on 14 July 2006. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  48. "No. 43041". The London Gazette. 28 June 1963. p. 5535.
  49. "No. 45667". The London Gazette. 9 May 1972. p. 5536.
  50. "Geology and the Tunnels of Gibraltar (Late Tunnels)". Vox. 12 Jan 2008. Archived from the original on 3 September 2013. Retrieved 22 May 2013.


  • Keightley, Charles (1957). Despatch by General Sir Charles F. Keightley GCB GBE DSO, Commander in Chief Allied Forces. Operations in Egypt, November to December 1956. London: Ministry of Defence. published in "No. 41172". The London Gazette. 10 September 1957. pp. 5327–5337.


  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: a biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II. Stroud (UK): Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.
  • Smart, Nick (2005). Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War. Barnesley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1844150496.
Military offices
Preceded by
Percy Hobart
GOC 11th Armoured Division
April–May 1942
Succeeded by
Percy Hobart
Preceded by
Charles Gairdner
GOC 6th Armoured Division
Succeeded by
Vyvyan Evelegh
Preceded by
Vyvyan Evelegh
GOC 78th Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Donald Butterworth
Preceded by
Charles Allfrey
GOC V Corps
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Browning
Military Secretary
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Mansergh
Preceded by
Sir Brian Horrocks
C-in-C British Army of the Rhine
Succeeded by
Sir John Harding
Preceded by
Sir John Harding
C-in-C Far East Land Forces
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Loewen
Preceded by
Sir Cameron Nicholson
C-in-C Middle East Land Forces
Succeeded by
Sir Geoffrey Bourne
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Harold Redman
Governor of Gibraltar
Succeeded by
Sir Alfred Ward
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