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Keith Banwell

Keith Demer ''Tex'' Banwell, Army officer; born October 8, 1917, died July 25, 1999

Keith Demer ''Tex'' Banwell, who faced death many times as a British Army Second World War officer, twice before a Gestapo firing squad, has died. He was 81, and had only a few years ago completed his 1001st parachute jump. Banwell initially joined the Coldstream Guards and later transferred to the Royal Hampshire Regiment. He travelled to India, Palestine, and eventually Egypt, where he taught physical training to the French Foreign Legion. During the Second World War, he was captured during a raid on Tobruk, Libya, and made his escape in a stolen vehicle. In Crete, he again was taken prisoner and put under the personal supervision of Max Schmeling, the 1930s world heavyweight boxing champion, who was serving in Germany's Wehrmacht. Banwell and another officer slipped away after stealing an assault landing craft. Their boat ran out of fuel and drifted for nine days before reaching the North African coast. Banwell spent three months recovering in a British hospital and, while there, someone noticed he bore a striking resemblance to Field Marshal Montgomery. Banwell was sent to Cairo to confuse enemy spies. Because he was taller than Montgomery, however, he was ordered never to leave the field marshal's car. Although the job included travelling around the Middle East, it bored him, so Banwell requested a return to the infantry, where he took up parachuting. In September 1944, Banwell and 15 other paratroopers were dropped near Arnhem in the Netherlands, but the group was wounded and taken prisoner after US forces failed to come to their aid as planned. Six of the paratroopers died. Once again, Banwell, the consummate escape artist, defied his captors by jumping from a moving train as it entered Germany. He joined the Dutch Resistance shortly afterwards, becoming an instructor in weapons and explosives. Once, while escorting a party of escaping prisoners, Banwell was captured by the Germans and, after a speedy court martial, sentenced to death. Twice, he was hauled in front of a Gestapo firing squad and told he would be shot unless he provided the names of Dutch Resistance members. Banwell refused and was taken to Auschwitz and confined to a tiny cage. When the Russians liberated the camp, he rejoined a British paratroop unit, determined to become fit again. After the war, he worked for the British postal service. He is survived by his wife, Anne, and three children from a previous marriage.

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