Sergeant K. D. 'Tex' Banwell

10 Para

Sergeant K. D. 'Tex' Banwell who died age 81, in the course of a busy life officially impersonated General Montgomery, served in the Long Range Desert Group and the SAS, was captured on a raid on Crete and was guarded by the former world heavyweight boxing champion Max Schmeling, escaped, subsequently took part in the Battle of Arnhem, was wounded and taken prisoner.

He escaped and joined the Dutch resistance, was captured, tortured and put in front of a firing squad by the Gestapo, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and, after being liberated weighing less than half his normal weight, parachuted out of aircraft more than 1,000 times 'for fun.'

Keith Demer Banwell, also known as 'Tex' was born on October 8, 1917, and began his military life with the Coldstream Guards. He then transferred to the Royal Hampshire Regiment (1st Battalion), which was serving on the North West frontier of India at a time of considerable turbulence.

In 1938 his Battalion moved to Palestine, where the Hampshires were engaged in counter-terrorist duties, and then in 1939 to Egypt. In Egypt the Hampshires were joined by members of the French Foreign Legion, to whom Banwell became a physical training instructor. The Frenchg were tough, but Banwell was tougher.

Soon afterwards volunteers were required for an unspecified new force. Tex Banwell answered the call and found himself in 52 Middle East Commando.

A shortage of shipping, however, hampered seaborne raiding by the Commandos and Banwell soon switched to the land-based Long Range desert Group, which operated closely with the SAS.

Banwell was captured in a raid on Tobruk, but with a friend managed to steal a German vehicle and escape. During a subsequent raid on Crete he was taken prisoner at Heraklion and put under the personal supervision of Schmeling, who was serving in the German Army.

Banwell and a few of his comrades managed to slip away from their captors and then acquired an assault landing craft. With the help of some Cretan fishermen they made their getaway, but the craft ran out of fuel and drifted for nine days before reaching the North African coast. The privations of this voyage put Banwell in hospital for 12 weeks.

When he had recovered, someone noticed that he bore a resemblance to General Montgomery. It was decided that he should participate in deception ploys, and so Banwell was sent to Cairo to meet Montgomery, given the appropriate clothing, insignia and General's badges and sent on trips around the Middle East to confuse enemy spies.

However, as he was considerably taller than Montgomery, he was told that on no account should he get out of the car. Banwell, finding the assignment boring, sought a return to the infantry.

Here he was introduced to parachuting and soon joined what became the 10th battalion of the Parachute regiment. Despite his heavy work schedules he also had many successes at Regimental boxing and cross-country running.

In September 1944,  Banwell flew into Arnhem in a Dakota carrying 15 parachutists, of whom 6 were killed when the aircraft was hit by enemy fire. Banwell himself landed safely and fought throughout the battle until he was wounded and once more taken prisoner.

He subsequently escaped by jumping from a moving train as it entered Germany. He then linked up with the Dutch Underground Resistance, for whom he became an instructor in weapons and explosives.

In 1984 Banwell made his 1,000 jump at Arnhem on the 40th Anniversary of the battle. He went on to jump again on the 50th Anniversary at the age of 77.

He was a second Dan black belt at Judo, held the record for the 10th Battalion road walk from Birmingham to London and marched from London to Brighton in 10.5 hours.

He was awarded a BEM in 1969, and in 1992, the Netherlands Silver Cross for his services to the Dutch Resistance.

Note ! This story is an edited version of his Obituary as it appeared in the English 'Daily Telegraph' at the time of his death in 1998.

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