Memorable Manitobans: Robert George Thomas “Bob” Kellow (1916-1988)
Aviator, civil servant.
Born at Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia on 13 December 1916, son of George William Kellow (?-1973) and Violet Florence Edith Kellow (?-1968), he attended Newcastle High School and worked as a Shop Assistant at M.D. Co-op in Newcastle.
In July 1940, he was accepted into the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Reserve. By July 1941, he was en route to Canada for training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Program, where he was stationed at Winnipeg in the No. 3 Wireless School, and later in the No. 5 Bombing & Gunnery School at Dafoe, Saskatchewan. It was during his time in Winnipeg that he met Doreen Alice Roberta “Pal” Smith (?-1992), whom he would correspond with regularly during the war. He made Sergeant in December 1941 and departed Winnipeg for the European Theatre in January 1942.
In England, he completed a tour of operations with No. 50 Royal Air Force (RAF) Squadron before being selected for the secretly and newly-formed RAF “Dambusters” No. 617 Squadron, based at RAF Station Coningsby, where he worked as a Wireless Operator. He attained the rank of Pilot Officer in March 1943. A few days after making Flying Officer in September 1943, he took part in another raid. Returning from the target, the Lancaster bomber he was aboard sustained sufficient damage to necessitate bailing out over northern Holland, something which was only made possible by the sacrifice of friend and pilot Flight Lieutenant Leslie Gordon “Les” Knight, DSO MD. With much assistance and great risk, he escaped back to England via Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, and Gibraltar, later writing a meticulous manuscript about his three-month journey, escape, and those in the Underground that guided him along the way. He was unable to locate a publisher by the time of his passing in February 1988, when family friend and fellow serviceman George Waters helped coordinate the story’s publication, entitled Paths to Freedom. The book launched in April 1992, just a few weeks after Doreen’s death. His book would prove popular, appearing in the top ten of Manitoba-published book charts. A portion of the book sales went towards the Robert Kellow Scholarship, managed by the St. James Scholarship Foundation, and granted annually to several students within the St. James-Assiniboia School Division.
Upon returning to England in 1944, and faced with the prospect of not being allowed to fly over Europe, lest he be downed again, captured, and risk having his knowledge of the Underground exposed, he opted to return to Australia. He served with No. 37 Transport Squadron in the RAAF Transport Command. He made Flight Lieutenant in March 1945, and was discharged from the Air Force in 1946.
He married Doreen in Merewether Methodist Church at Newcastle on 13 April 1946, and went on to have two children: Robert Leslie “Bob” Kellow and Janice Doreen Kellow. They lived in Australia until moving back to Winnipeg in 1952, where they resided at 1491 Alexander Avenue before settling at 162 Riverbend Crescent in 1955. He took employment with Engineering Division of the Manitoba Power Commission (predecessor to Manitoba Hydro), starting as a draftsman (1953) and retiring as an executive assistant (1982).
The 1955 Hollywood film The Dam Busters highlighted his squadron’s story of the 1943 bombings of the German Ruhr valley dams, in which he took part. During part of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Winnipeg in October 1974, at the Western Canada Aviation Museum’s unveiling, he and his wife were both formally and personally introduced to Her Majesty. He was member of the Royal Air Force Escaping Society, the Down Under Club, and an Elder and Board Member of the Sturgeon Creek United Church. He served as as Commanding Officer of with the Royal Canadian Air Force Auxiliary (Reserves) Recruiting Unit, Chairman of the Accommodations Committee for the Commonwealth Wartime Aircrew Reunion (1980), and President of the Wartime Pilots’ and Observers’ Association (1984). He was decorated with the RAAF’s 1939-1945 Star, the Air Crew Europe Star, the Pacific Star, and awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (1943). On more than one occasion, he returned to Europe, visiting where he was stationed, as well as people and places along his escape route.
Marriage and death registrations, Australian Registry of Births, Deaths, & Marriages.
Australian Elector Rolls, Ancestry.
“Dam wreck may cut Italy’s coal,” Winnipeg Free Press, 19 May 1943, page 1.
“Engagement notices,” Winnipeg Free Press, 9 March 1949, page 9.
“Doreen Smith wed in Australia,” Winnipeg Free Press, 29 June 1946, page 12.
“Here There and Hollywood with Frank Morris,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 September 1955, page 2.
“Engagements,” Winnipeg Free Press, 17 April 1982, page 39.
“We’ve found Davina,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 July 1980, page 35.
“The Queen in Manitoba,” Winnipeg Free Press, 3 October 1984, page 18.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 13 February 1988, page 33.
“Old warrior,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 August 1988.
“Book details the life of a ‘Dam Buster’,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 May 1992, Weekly West Edition, page 2.
“Dam-buster’s heroes finally get their due,” Winnipeg Free Press, 17 May 1992, page 1.
Obituary [Doreen Alice Roberta Kellow], Winnipeg Free Press, 31 March 1992, page C33.
Alumni, Newcastle High School.
Robert George Thomas Kellow, Australian War Memorial.
“Bestsellers,” Winnipeg Free Press, 17 August 2003, page D3.
Canada’s War Grooms and the Girls Who Stole Their Hearts by Judy Kozar, 2007.
R. G. T. Kellow, RAAF Officers Personnel files, National Archives of Australia.
Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.
Paths to Freedom by Bob Kellow, 1992.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 2 November 2022