War vet used up eight lives, wife says
War hero Keith Beattie was a man of three great loves - his wife, his family and flying,
Mr Beattie died of a heart attack in Wairau Hospital, in Blenheim, on July 18, aged 90.
Born in Wellington in 1922, Mr Beattie grew up in Christchurch and Auckland and was a pilot for 44 years, including serving in bomber command during World War II where he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.
At his funeral on Monday, family friend the Rev John Neal said as a boy in Auckland Mr Beattie saw a plane crash, which made him determined to be a pilot, "much to his own puzzlement".
Mr Beattie enlisted in the New Zealand air force in November 1940, serving during World War II from 1941 till 1945, mostly in England where he met his wife, Chris.
During his service Mrs Beattie said he used eight of his nine lives. This included being the only survivor of a head-on crash with a German fighter plane during a night mission over Germany in March 1945 and spending six weeks as a prisoner of war. His escape from the crash, through a small pilot's window, was incredible, Mrs Beattie said.
"When he got back to his squadron they said ‘But you couldn't get out of that window'. He said ‘I did', they said ‘Try it' and when he tried he couldn't get out."
He was not easily rattled, Mrs Beattie said. "He gave up smoking the year before his crash. After the crash someone offered him a cigarette and he said ‘It would take more than this to get me smoking again'."
After the war the Beatties moved to New Zealand, where Mr Beattie flew with the National Airways Corporation. He joined Safe Air in 1951 and the family settled in Blenheim, although Mr Beattie spent six years flying in Australia from 1972 to prolong his flying career. In 2008 he wrote his autobiography The Wind Beneath My Wings, which is available from the Marlborough District Library.
Mr Beattie also loved opera and golf and volunteered with the Foundation for the Blind and Meals on Wheels for many years, Mrs Beattie said.
Keith Beattie is survived by his wife Chris, children Stuart, Brendon and Susan, and four grandchildren.
- The Marlborough Express