John Edward Keith Rae was born in1919 in Cheshire, and educated at Marlborough, where he excelled at fencing. This was followed by attendance at Wye Agricultural College, Kent, where, at Rae's suggestion, his class, 39 in number, subscribed £1 a head and drew lots to decide who would take the girl from the print room out to dinner. In this way, they obtained an advance copy of the exam paper and graduated with top marks.
At the outbreak of WW2, Keith enlisted as a Gunner Officer in 385 Battery of the Kent Yeomanry. In 1940 his unit was near Reims, close to the Maginot Line. On June 11, after fighting a rearguard action from the Somme, 97 KYFR arrived at St Valery, on the Normandy coast., where the British troops were aiming to evacuate. The next day they were cut off and ordered to surrender.
Rae and two comrades (Hopkins and Mills) paddled out to sea in a canoe to waiting destroyers, but were machine-gunned and forced to swim ashore. Hand grenades were thrown at them from the cliff top and they were taken prisoner.