He was the elder son of Edward Keith-Roach, CBE, District Commissioner of Jerusalem and Violet Olivia Keith-Roach, daughter of Edward Barnard of Stoke House, Basingstoke. He came to Winchester from Ovingdean Hall as an Exhibitioner. He won the Junior Pairs sculling in his first year. He left early to prepare for the Navy, having taken the Special Entry examination and come first in Latin, English and General Knowledge. He passed out of Dartmouth in 1934 as the senior cadet of his term, with Admiralty prizes for engineering and ship construction.
On promotion to Sub-Lieutenant – again coming top of his batch of Midshipmen, with five examination ‘firsts’ – he volunteered for the submarine service. He came first in his course, and served in submarines for his entire naval career, including two on the China station. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1937, and in 1938 won the Naval History Prize, being awarded a medal and £50 by the Admiralty.
After the outbreak of war he served in submarines in the North Sea, Skagerrak and Mediterranean. In June 1940 he was awarded the DSC for: “daring, endurance and resource in the conduct of hazardous and successful operations in His Majesty’s submarine against the enemy.”
He died, aged twenty-seven, whilst acting as First Lieutenant of the submarine HMS Triad in October 1940.
Triad was a T-class submarine, which sailed from Malta on October 9th 1940, to operate in the Gulf of Taranto, with orders to reach Alexandria on completion of her patrol; she was never heard from again.
Keith-Roach’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry states that he died on October 20th (which is when Triad became overdue), but in 1988 the Triad’s loss was dated to five days earlier.
On October 15th 1940, Triad was intercepted by the Italian submarine Enrico Toti whilst cruising off Cape Colonna. Both submarines made failed torpedo attacks on one another, then got so close that their crews began using their machine guns: the Italian submarine’s 120mm gun could not be made to fire, and allegedly an Italian sailor threw a shoe at Triad. But the Italians soon cleared their gun, and also fired more torpedoes. Triad was hit and sank rapidly with all hands.
The British submarine involved was for a long time erroneously identified as HMS Rainbow, but Rainbow was more probably rammed and sunk by the Italian cargo vessel Antonietta Costa in the Ionian Sea on October 4th 1940. Only in 1988 did the British identify Triad as the adversary of the Enrico Toti, making Triad the only Allied submarine sunk by an Italian submarine during World War II. However, there are some who believe that Triad was sunk by a mine in the Gulf of Taranto.
The Captain of his submarine flotilla said: “All the officers speak very highly of him indeed: the Navy can ill afford to lose such men.”
He is commemorated in column 36, panel 3, of the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
There is also a memorial to him, erected by his father, in the nave of the Anglican Cathedral Church of St. George in Jerusalem:
To the Glory of God and in gratitude for the life of Lieutenant Martin Keith Roach D.S.C., Royal Navy. Officer of St. John of Jerusalem. First Lieutenant H.M. Submarine ‘Triad’. Killed in action 1940 aged 27 years. “He only lived but till he was a man, the which no sooner had his prowess confirmed in the unshrinking station where he fought, but like a man he died”
- Surname: Keith-Roach
- Forenames or initials: Martin
- House: C
- Years in School: 1927-1929
- Rank: Lieutenant
- Regiment: Royal Navy
- Date of Birth: 7th November 1913
- Date of Death: 15th October 1940
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner F1
- Decoration: DSC, Officer of the Order of St John of Jerusalem
- Burial Site: NA