Monday, April 25, 2022

REMEMBERING HEROES: BRUCE KINGSBURY VC

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Anzac Day

Today, 25 April, is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand, the national day of remembrance commemorating Australians and New Zealanders "who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations" and "the contribution and suffering of all those who have served". It was originally devised to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who served in the Gallipoli Campaign, their first engagement in the First World War (1914–1918). It is the most scared non-religious day in the Australian year.

It is therefore appropriate to post another instalment in Remembering Heroes series.

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Remembering Heroes

The stories behind the names on the signs at the rest stops on the Remembrance Driveway, which goes from Sydney to Canberra.

The highway commemorates persons awarded the Victoria Cross by naming rest stops after them.


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Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest and most prestigious award of the military honours system. It is awarded for valour "in the presence of the enemy" to members of the British Armed Forces and may be awarded posthumously. It was previously awarded by countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, most of which have established their own honours systems and no longer recommend British honours.

It may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command. No civilian has received the award since 1879.

Australia was the first Commonwealth country to create its own VC, on 15 January 1991. Although it is a separate award, its appearance is identical to its British counterpart.

The VC was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War. The metal used to make every Victoria Cross medal has been made from cannons captured by the British at the siege of Sevastopol.

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Bruce Kingsbury VC



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Location of rest stop

Penrose State Forest, Hume Highway, Penrose






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Summary of VC award

In the Isavura area, New Guinea, in August 1942 the battalion to which Pte. Kingsbury belonged had been holding a position for two days against continuous and fierce attacks. 

On August 29th the enemy broke through on the right flank, creating a serious threat to the battalion and its headquarters. It was essential to regain the lost ground immediately, and Pte. Kingsbury, one of the few survivors of his platoon, volunteered to join another platoon ordered to counter-attack. 

Rushing through terrific machine-gun fire, and firing his bren gun from the hip, he succeeded in clearing a path through the enemy, inflicting an extremely high number of casualties; but was seen to fall, shot dead by a sniper. 

Pte. Kingsbury displayed a complete disregard for his own safety. His initiative and superb courage made possible the re-capture of the position, which undoubtedly saved battalion headquarters as well as causing heavy casualties among the enemy. His coolness, determination and devotion to duty in the face of great odds were an inspiration to his comrades.

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More detailed comments:

Bruce Steel Kingsbury, VC (8 January 1918 – 29 August 1942) received the award of the Victoria Cross for action in the Battle of Isurava during the Kokoda Track Campaign in the south-east of the island of New Guinea.

Born in the Melbourne suburb of Preston, despite his parents' disapproval, Kingsbury signed up to the Australian Imperial Force on 29 May 1940.

Kingsbury proposed to his girlfriend, Leila, and gave Leila a wristwatch as an engagement present However they could not arrange a marriage licence before he left and the marriage never took place.

Kingsbury saw action in the Middle East before being moved to New Guinea in 1942 for action against the Japanese.

Kingsbury with the other members of his platoon on 16 August 1942. Kingsbury is second from the left in the bottom row. The man right next to him is Private Harry Saunders, brother of Reg Saunders, the first Aboriginal Australian to be commissioned in the Australian Army.

Following the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese abandoned the attempt to capture Port Moresby from the sea and, on 21 July, landed ground forces at Buna in north-east Papua. After capturing the town of Kokoda for the second time on 9 August, the Japanese began advancing along the Kokoda Track towards Port Moresby. The 2,500-strong Japanese force met the 39th and 53rd Infantry Battalions, at the town of Isurava. As the battle was beginning to develop, on 26 August, members of the 2/14th, including Kingsbury, arrived at Isurava to reinforce the exhausted 39th Battalion.

The two combined battalions began digging in around Isurava. A headquarters had been set up at the top of the hill, which was vital to the defence of the position. While the Australians dug themselves in, the Japanese, led by Japanese Major General Tomitarō Horii, prepared to attack.

On 28 August, the Japanese launched their offensive. The Australians, who had initially been outnumbered but were now roughly equal in strength, resisted in the face of heavy machine-gun fire and hand-to-hand combat. On 29 August, the Japanese broke through the right flank, pushing the Australians back with heavy fire, threatening to cut off their headquarters. The Australians began to prepare a counter-offensive, and men volunteered to join an attack party. Kingsbury, one of the few survivors of his platoon, ran down the track with the group.

You could see his Bren gun held out and his big bottom swaying as he went with the momentum he was getting up, followed by Alan Avery. They were cheerful. They were going out on a picnic almost.
— Lieutenant Colonel Phil Rhoden, The Spirit of Kokoda

Using a Bren gun he had taken from wounded Corporal Lindsay Bear, Kingsbury, alongside Avery and the rest of the group, engaged the nearby Japanese. The fire was so heavy that the undergrowth was completely destroyed within five minutes. It was then that Kingsbury, firing from his hip, charged straight at the Japanese.

He came forward with this Bren and he just mowed them down. He was an inspiration to everybody else around him. There were clumps of Japs here and there and he just mowed them down.
— Private Allen Avery, The Spirit of Kokoda

His actions demoralised the Japanese, killing several and forcing others to find cover. The rest of the Australian group, inspired by Kingsbury's actions, forced the Japanese further back into the jungle. Kingsbury was then shot and mortally wounded by a Japanese sniper. The sniper fired one shot before disappearing. Kingsbury’s friend from the age of 5, Allen Avery (who coincidentally had each enlisted on the same day at different enlistment stations), who had been about 6 feet (1.8 m) from Kingsbury, briefly chased after the sniper. He returned to carry Kingsbury to the regimental aid post; Kingsbury was dead by the time he arrived there.

Kingsbury's actions were a turning point in the battle. The Japanese had begun to gather momentum in their attack, and were threatening to overrun the 2/14th's headquarters. His attack inflicted damage to the Japanese force, temporarily halting their advance. This allowed the Australian troops to stabilise their positions, eventually regaining control and defending the battalion's headquarters. His act of bravery served as an inspiration to the troops. However, the battle ended in defeat for the Australians, with elements of the 2/14th breaking during the afternoon of 29 August. The remainder of the battalion managed to withdraw during the night, but suffered heavy casualties and another defeat during fighting the next day at positions around the Isurava Guest House.

Authors and military analysts have speculated that had Kingsbury not attacked, the Japanese might have destroyed the battalion. The Japanese had been attacking in waves, and had started to climb a steep hill to outflank the Australians, in an effort to win the battle. The Australians were low on supplies and the Japanese were on the verge of breaking through the Australian line. Had they broken through, they would have been able to isolate the battalion's headquarters from the soldiers on the flanks. This would have prevented the Australians from retreating to Alola, allowing the Japanese to overrun them.

Kingsbury was the first Australian soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross for actions in the South Pacific and also the first on Australian territory.

Kingsbury's Rock, the rock next to which Kingsbury died, stands within sight of where the 2/14th Battalion's headquarters had been established, and has been incorporated as part of the Isurava Memorial. His body now rests in the Bomana Cemetery, Port Moresby, and his Victoria Cross is on display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

The Melbourne suburb of Kingsbury was named in his honour, as is a street in the Canberra suburb of Gowrie.

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Gallery:


Signalman R. Williams tending to Kingsbury's grave in 1944


Grave of Pte Kingsbury, 
Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea

Memorial Plaque to Bruce Kingsbury, V.C. at Kokoda along Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea.


Kingsbury's family accepting the Victoria Cross on his behalf


Kingsbury's Rock, honouring Private Bruce Steel Kingsbury VC, Isurava.

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