Keith Ogilvie poses with a model Spitfire, with the same markings as the one his father flew in the Battle of Britain. He will read alongside Ron Norman at the SHOAL Centre May 11. (Hugo Wong/News Staff)

North Saanich author pieces together his parent’s wartime story

Keith Ogilvie reads at the SHOAL Centre May 11

As a “service brat” moving from base to base, Keith Ogilvie said his father’s past was not of particular interest to him.

“I had kind of always tucked that away, never more curious than any other kid would be,” said Ogilvie, now a resident in North Saanich.

When he was eight, that began to change.

“There was a public speaking contest in school and I had nothing to talk about. My mother said, why don’t you talk about your father’s experiences in the Great Escape?”

Decades later, he wrote The Spitfire Luck of Skeets Ogilvie about the remarkable journey of his parents, Skeets Ogilvie and Irene Lockwood. He will be reading at the SHOAL Centre as part of the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival on May 11.

While his father’s name is in the title, Ogilvie said the book is really about the two of them.

Skeets was rejected from the Royal Canadian Air Force, so he went to England instead, where the Royal Air Force accepted him. In short order, he was in the cockpit of a Spitfire and flew in some of the most intense days of the Battle of Britain, shooting down six enemy aircraft.

There, he met Irene Lockwood, another Canadian living in London. Irene was a censor with British intelligence before becoming a photographer for the Royal Canadian Air Force, one of the first women to do so. She documented social occasions like funerals and weddings, but also “The Guinea Pig Club,” a group of pilots badly burned in airplane crashes, all treated by pioneering plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe.

In June 1941, Irene secured tickets to the opening of the American Eagle Club. It was a home away from home for American ex-pats in London. She spent all her clothing coupons on an outfit for the evening, but Skeets never picked her up that night.

Hours before, he was shot down, wounded, and captured in France.

He was lucky to have lived, and his luck did not end there. He was sent to a hospital meant for German officers, so he received very good care. He was also lucky to be sent to be a Luftwaffe-run prison (Stalag Luft III), not a Gestapo prison. It was the site of the Great Escape of March 1944, when a daring plan would have had over 200 men escape through tunnels under the prison. Only Skeets (the second-to-last man out of the tunnel) and 22 others managed to survive the attempt.

After the war, Skeets helped repatriate RCAF personnel, including Irene. They has exchanged letters while he was a POW and when she stepped off an ocean liner in New York, he was there to greet her. They married the next year.

When asked if his father’s character had anything to do with his extraordinary life story, Ogilvie said it is something he has wondered himself.

“On the one hand, he was someone with a great sense of humour who was extraordinarily resilient, but not somebody that held feelings strongly or with conviction,” said Ogilvie. “He knew a war was coming, and he was concerned, but his father saw it as a way to learn to fly, an opportunity for adventure.”

Skeets died in 1998, and Ogilvie did not start this project until about a decade after.

Working part-time, it took Ogilvie about 10 years to complete the book. He regrets not interviewing his father more extensively while he was living, but he could at least interview his mother, who died in 2014.

“For me, the most memorable of that whole process was getting to know them as young people, as if they had been my peers instead of my parents,” said Ogilvie.

“That, to me, was a really nice thing to be able to do, and I don’t think many people have that opportunity to get to know their parents. It’s really worthwhile. It’s really worth exploring.”

Keith Ogilvie will read alongside Ron Norman at the SHOAL Centre on May 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Tanner’s Books or at sidneyliteraryfestival.ca. Proceeds will support the 2019 Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival.

Just Posted

Belmont students show off acting chops in new play

A Streetcar Named Desire hits the stage next week

Land purchased for new elementary school in north Langford

John Horgan and Rob Fleming make announcement

Humpback Rd. has reopened

Car nearly drove off a cliff

Sidney fundraiser helping kids fight diabetes

Nicola Politano organizing May 26 dance at the air cadet hall

‘ALR golf courses should return to farming,’ says ex-ALC chair Frank Leonard

Former mayor says Saanich could appeal Cedar Hill Golf Course application

VIDEO: Grand Forks shores up defences as floodwaters rise to peak levels

Canadian Forces, volunteers working to protect low-lying areas

Watch: Saved from highway harm, ducklings waddle into Swan Lake

Saanich Pound rescue, release ducklings in cute video

175 evacuation orders lifted as floods recede in Grand Forks

Officials hope to have all 3,000 people back in their homes by Monday night

B.C. Lions bring back 6-time all-star offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye

He was acquired by the Montreal Alouettes last year.

Whitecaps rally for 2-2 draw with FC Dallas

Vancouver climbed out of a two-nil hole to tie FC Dallas 2-2

B.C. VIEWS: Making sense of climate policy

Flood and fire predictions have poor track record so far

Chilliwack Chiefs moving on to RBC Cup final after thrilling win over Ottawa

Kaden Pickering scored the winning goal in the 3rd period as Chilliwack won their semi-final 3-2.

VIDEO: As floodwaters recede, crews assess the damage to Grand Forks’ downtown

More than four dozen firefighters and building inspectors came out to help

Royal Oak loses Canada Post outlet

Potal outlet in Country Grocer closed after nearly two decades, service handled by other locations

Most Read