Waterford aristocrat, soldier and journalist who attended the Nuremberg rallies with British fascist Unity Mitford
Published 30/01/2011 | 05:00
Major Sir Richard Keane, who has died aged 101, was a journalist, soldier and farmer whose adventurous life included being parachuted into enemy-occupied Yugoslavia in World War Two.
Keane began his wartime service with the County of London Yeomanry before joining the 10th Royal Hussars. During the Battle of El Alamein, when he was second-in-command of a squadron, a fellow officer, Grant Singer, who commanded a reconnaissance troop, pointed out a tank which Keane had overlooked while shooting at long range.
Keane's gunner knocked out the tank, which came to a halt about 500 yards away. The commander and crew jumped out. The commander turned out to be General von Thoma, who was briefly in command of the Axis forces in the battle, and who then surrendered.
In 1944 Keane was dropped into Vojvodina, a province of Serbia under enemy occupation, to help the Yugoslav partisans. After the German invasion, Yugoslavia had fragmented. In Croatia there was considerable support for the Axis forces; in the remainder of the country, two resistance movements formed, the royalist Chetniks under Mihailovic and the communist partisans under Tito.
Keane was recruited by Fitzroy Maclean, the SAS officer who played a notable part in persuading Churchill that Tito's forces were more effective and that the Allies should drop Mihailovic. Keane described his experiences afterwards as long periods of boredom broken by moments of sheer terror. He subsequently served in the military missions in Belgrade and Rome before retiring from the army.
Richard Michael Keane, the son of Sir John Keane, DSO, who became a senator in the Republic of Ireland, was born at Cirencester on January 29 1909. The baronetcy, in which he succeeded in 1956, was created in 1801 for John Keane, an Irish Tory politician who was an MP for Youghal in the Parliament of Ireland and then, after the Act of Union, for the same constituency in the new Parliament of the United Kingdom.
After Sherborne, Richard went up to Christ Church, Oxford, to read philosophy, politics and economics. In the four years before the outbreak of war, he was diplomatic correspondent for Reuters and then for the Sunday Times.
In 1936 he travelled to Germany with some of the Mitford sisters to cover the Nuremberg rallies for the newspaper.
After a rather disturbed night in their hotel, he complained to Unity that Nazi soldiers had come in late and made an awful noise taking off their boots. She replied that she wished she had had a storm trooper in her bedroom.
Postwar he worked for ICI as a publicity consultant until 1962, when he moved to Cappoquin House in Co Waterford. The house, an 18th-century Georgian structure built on the site of an old Fitzgerald castle overlooking the river Blackwater, has been home to the family for many generations.
Keane's father, John, was nominated for the Irish senate, and in 1923 much of the house was destroyed by arsonists.
Before setting the place alight, the republican perpetrators apologised to the baronet, saying that it was more than their lives were worth to disobey orders. They added, however, that if a conflagration on the following Thursday would suit him, they could provide transport to remove the furniture and pictures. The house was rebuilt over a period of 10 years.
When Keane had taken over Cappoquin, the estate had been run-down, but he restored its fortunes, proving a successful landlord.
The doyen of the old Anglo-Irish families, he was a spirited conversationalist, and people came from far and wide to talk to him. In 1961 he edited Modern Marvels of Science.
Richard Keane died on December 28. He married, in 1939, Olivia Dorothy Hawkshaw, who predeceased him. He is survived by a daughter and two sons, of whom the elder, Charles, born in 1941, succeeds in the baronetcy.