Billy Key

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Berthold Wells Key
Nickname(s) 'Billy'
Born 1895
Died 1986 (aged 90 or 91)
Sandwich, Kent
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Indian Army
Years of service 1914–1949
Rank Major General
Unit Sikh Regiment
Commands held Indian 11th Infantry Division

First World War Second World War

Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Mention in Despatches (2)

Major-General Berthold Wells 'Billy' Key CB, DSO, MC, ADC (19 December 1895 – 26 September 1986) was a British Indian Army officer.


Born on 19 December 1895, he was the son of Dr J.M. Key. Key was educated at Dulwich College in London and commissioned onto the Unattached List for the Indian army on 1 October 1914. On 18 December 1914 he joined the Indian Army.

First World War[edit]

Key served with the 45th Rattray's Sikhs during the First World War, reaching the rank of Captain by 1918. He was wounded in Mesopotamia in 1918 and received the Military Cross. His citation for the Military Cross reads;

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty near Shuraimiyah on 20th October, 1918. During a reconnaissance towards the Fathah position he was ordered to advance and secure a ridge held by the enemy. Although exposed to heavy fire the company successfully reached its objective, where he moved about fearlessly in order to make his dispositions to the best advantage. He was eventually wounded, but refused to undergo treatment until his company had been withdrawn to camp. His behaviour throughout was splendid.

In 1917 he married Aileen Leslie (died 1951), daughter of Colonel E.L. Dunsterville RE, with whom he had a son and two daughters. His son was killed in action in Italy during the Second World War.

Between the Wars[edit]

After the First World War Key served in Afghanistan and, with the 3/11th Bn, Sikh Regiment, on the North West Frontier. In 1935 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and from 1936 he commanded the 2/11th Sikh Regiment. In 1937 he received the Distinguished Service Order while serving in Waziristan.

Second World War[edit]

He was appointed temporary Deputy Military Secretary, India from 21 December 1939 to 17 August 1940.[1] From 18 August 1940 to 13 January 1942 he commanded the Indian 8th Infantry Brigade in Malaya. Key's Brigade were the first British troops to face the Japanese when they invaded Malaya in December 1941. When Major-General Murray-Lyon was dismissed from command of the Indian 11th Infantry Division Key replaced Brigadier Paris as commander of the division. He proved an able commander but the situation in Malaya was at this point beyond salvaging and the British Army under Percival surrendered at Singapore on 15 February 1942 to a numerically smaller Japanese force.

Key spent the remainder of the war as a Prisoner of War in Japan.

Post War[edit]

On his release Key became ADC to King George VI followed by district commands in India. He was promoted substantive Major-General 20 January 1947, with seniority 2 April 1944.[2] He retired in January 1949. Major General Billy Key died in Sandwich, Kent, on 26 September 1986.


  1. ^ Half Yearly Army List January 1946
  2. ^ London Gazette 8 April 1947

External links[edit]