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Richard Kelliher, VC

13 SEP 1943: World War II and Private Richard Kelliher, 2/25th Battalion, originally from County Kerry, Ireland, earns the Victoria Cross at Nadzab, New Guinea. Kelliher was born in Ballybeggan, Tralee, County Kerry in Ireland, then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. and emigrated to Queensland, Australia in 1929 with his sister Norah.

Due to lack of work during the Great Depression his sister moved to Sydney while Kelliher became a swagman, working a variety of jobs.

Kelliher enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 21 February 1941, and was sent to the Middle East. He was assigned to the 2/25th Battalion, (Queensland) which was on garrison duty in Syria.

The battalion returned to Australia in March 1942 and was sent to New Guinea, where it took part in the Battle of Buna-Gona, later that year. During this battle Kelliher was arrested after allegedly running from the front.

He was later court martialled for cowardice in the face of the enemy where he claimed his platoon commander had sent him back for information.

The commander had been killed in the battle and Kelliher had no witnesses to his version. He was acquitted and after rejoining his unit stated he would prove he was no coward.

On 13 September 1943, during the Battle of Lae, the platoon to which Private Kelliher was attached came under very heavy fire from a concealed Japanese machine gun, at Heath’s Plantation.

The machine gun inflicted severe casualties and prevented the platoon’s advance. Private Kelliher suddenly, on his own initiative, dashed towards the post and hurled two grenades at it, which killed some of the enemy.

He returned to his section, seized a Bren gun, dashed back to the enemy post and silenced it. He then asked permission to go out again to rescue his wounded section leader, which he accomplished successfully under heavy fire from another enemy position.

The citatation for his VC reads: “During an attack by this soldier’s platoon on an enemy position at Nadzab, New Guinea, on the morning of 13th September 1943 the platoon came under heavy fire of a concealed enemy machine gun post approximately 50 yards away. Five of the platoon were killed and three wounded and it was found impossible to advance without further losses. In the face of these casualties Private Kelliher suddenly, on his own initiative, and without orders dashed towards the post and hurled two grenades at it killing some of the enemy, but not all. Noting this, he then returned to his section, seized a Bren gun, again dashed forward within 30 yards of the post, and with accurate fire completely silenced it. Returning from his already gallant action Private Kelliher next requested permission to go forward again and rescue his wounded section leader. This he successfully accomplished, though under heavy fire from another position. Private Kelliher, by these actions, acted as an inspiration to every one in his platoon and not only enabled the advance to continue, but also saved his section leader’s life. His most conspicuous bravery and extreme devotion to duty in the face of heavy enemy fire resulted in the capture of this strong enemy position.”

Kelliher had bad health after suffering from both typhoid and meningitis before the war. In 1944 he was declared medically unfit for active service and discharged.

He later travelled to London to take part in the London Victory Parade of 1946. He married in 1949 and had three children. While working as a cleaner at Brisbane City Hall he applied for, but failed to get, a taxi driver’s licence and the family moved to Melbourne where he got a job as a gardener.

By the late 1950s Kelliher was completely disabled due to ill health and on 16 January 1963 had a stroke. He died in Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital on 28 January.

His battalion association bought his VC for $2,000 in 1966 and donated it to the Australian War Memorial, where it is on display. Photo: Pte Richard Kelliher, VC, reads the paper in 1946. More; And worth a read;

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