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Category: VC winners

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Private Bruce Steel KINGSBURY, VC

His Victoria Cross was the first gained on territory administered by the Australian Commonwealth. 

It was also the first one awarded in the South-West Pacific Area.

© Harry Willey. 2002.

2/14th Australian Infantry Battalion

 21st Brigade, 7th Division, , A.I.F.

29 August 1942, at Isurava, Papua

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1939/45 Star
  • Africa Star
  • Pacific Star
  • Defence Medal
  • 1939/45 British War Medal
  • Australia service Medal 1939/45
CITATION: In New Guinea, the Battalion to which Private Kingsbury belonged had been holding a position in the Isurava area for two days against continuous and fierce enemy attacks. On 29 August, 1942, the enemy attacked in such force that they succeeded in breaking through the Battalion 's right flank, creating serious threats both to the rest of the Battalion and to its Headquarters. To avoid the situation becoming more desperate it was essential to regain immediately lost ground on the right flank.

Private Kingsbury, who was one of the few survivors of a Platoon which had been overrun and severely cut about by the enemy, immediately volunteered to join a different platoon which had been ordered to counterattack. He rushed forward firing the Bren gun from his hip through terrific machine-gun fire and succeeded in clearing a path through the enemy. Continuing to sweep enemy positions with his fire and inflicting an extremely high number of casualties on them, Private Kingsbury was then seen to fall to the ground shot dead by the bullet from a sniper hiding in the wood. Private Kingsbury displayed a complete disregard for his own safety. His initiative and superb courage made possible the recapture of a position, which undoubtedly saved Battalion Headquarters, as well as causing heavy casualties amongst the enemy. His coolness, determination and devotion to duty in the face of great odds were an inspiration to his comrades.

(London Gazette: 9 February 1943.)

ANZAC DAY 2002- Bomana War Cemetery: Australian Army Warrant Officer (WO2), Ian Risk reflects on the heroic actions of Australian Victoria Cross recipient Private Bruce Kingsbury at an ANZAC Day service held at Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby, PNG.

Bruce Kingsbury, son of Philip Blencowe and Florence Annie Kingsbury was born near Melbourne, Victoria on 8 January 1918. At the conclusion of his Schooling he was awarded a scholarship to the Melbourne Technical College for two years, he emerged qualified to work in the printing industry, instead he chose to work in his fathers real estate business in Preston a Melbourne suburb.

Not happy in this work and missing the company of his mate, Alan Avery, he obtained a position as a caretaker for three months on a property at Natya in the Mallee District of Victoria, near where Alan was working on a sheep and wheat farm.

At the conclusion of his contract in February 1936, Bruce and Alan looking for a bit of adventure set off to walk to Sydney 560 ml,(900kl) on a working holiday. Picking fruit at Piangil in Victoria before crossing the border and working at Goodnight, Leeton, and Wagga Wagga in Southern New South Wales, before making their way to Sydney where tired and homesick they immediately boarded a train for the return journey to Melbourne.

Bruce once again entered his father's real estate business this time in the Melbourne suburb of Northcote, where he worked until the 29 May 1940. When against his parents wishes he enlisted in the AIF, at the Preston recruiting centre, completely unaware that his mate Alan Avery had enlisted on the same day.

Three days after enlistment, Kingsbury was posted to the independent unit the 2/2nd Pioneers, but on 7 June after meeting Alan Avery at the Puckapunyal training camp, he gained permission to transfer to the 2/14th Battalion. With whom he embarked from Sydney on board the ‘HMT Aquitania’ on 19 October.1940.

After receiving further training in Palestine, the 2/14th moved to Mersa Matruh, 186ml, (300kl) from Tobruk, where defensive positions were prepared and they immediately experienced their first Air Raids.

Early in June 1941, the 2/14th began its first campaign, the invasion of Lebanon. Fighting their first battle not against the Germans as they had expected but against the French Foreign Legion.

Following their defeat of the French, the 2/14th was given leave in Beirut, before they took up their new position 16kl inland from Tripoli where they set up a training camp at Hill 69.

Following the outbreak of the War in the Pacific the 2/14th on the 30 January 1942 embarked onboard ‘Ile de France’ formerly a 84,000 ton trans-Atlantic liner bound for Bombay, from here they re-embarked on ‘The City of Paris,’ for Australia, where they disembarked in Adelaide and entered a training camp at Springbank.

They arrived in Melbourne on the 16 March for a weeks leave, before travelling by train to Glen Innes in northern New South Wales for two weeks hard training,

Bruce and Alan were selected to mark out a training camp, before they drove their new Commander to Yandina near the Blackall Range in Queensland, 70ml (113km) north of Brisbane

Mid July saw the training exercise move to Coolum Beach on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, where in addition to physical training they were instructed in coast watch and reconnaissance duties.

The Battalion moved on the 5 August 1942 aboard the ‘James Fennimore Cooper’ an American Liberty ship to Port Moresby, which just months before had been the home of 400 civilians mostly employed by Burns Philp.

The civilians had all been evacuated and the 49th Australian Militia Battalion had moved in, they were joined by the 39th and 53rd Battalions these young militia men welcomed the arrival of the well trained and experienced men of the 2/14th and 2/16th A.I.F. Battalions.

The Japanese landed 1,500 troops in the Gona-Buna area on the 21 July followed by a further 4,000 with Port Moresby as their target. To take Port Moresby they would have to use the Kokoda Track, and defeat the men of the 2/14th and 2/16th, who had moved to a position at McDonald’s Corner in order to spent a few days preparing for their crossing of the "Track" that traversed the Owen Stanley Ranges, which at Mt Bellamy reached 2,250mts into the sky.

The 2/14th was ordered to march to Isurava, and relieve the 39th and retake Kokoda, a village where the Japanese had twice forced the 39th to withdraw. The average pack carried by the Australians during this trek over the Kokoda Track was 40 kilograms.

On Wednesday the 26 August as the 2/14th arrived at Isurava, Major General Tomitaro Horii the Japanese commander flushed with the successes his troops had, had at Guam, Rabaul and Salamaua was ready to overrun the 300 remaining men of the 39th and advance to Port Moresby.

Twelve rifle platoons of the 2/14th formed a solid defence around Isurava, and waited with the knowledge that they were out numbered by the Japanese six to one, Horii’s artillery increased its bombardment which continued throughout the night.

Early on the morning of 28 August, Horii released the full strength of his offensive, the Japanese attacked in waves, some despite the efforts of the Australians broke through their lines and engaged in hand to hand fighting.

On the 29th due to the death of their Lieutenant and subsequent serious wounding of Sgt Jock Lochhead, command fell to Lindsay ‘Teddy’ Bear who was acting as Bren gunner, following ‘Teddy’s withdrawal due to his multiple wounds. Bruce Kingsbury who had distinguished himself as a rifleman found himself with the Bren gun, fighting side by side with his mate Alan Avery who was armed with a Tommy gun.

As Kingsbury was checking the Bren gun the Japanese made a further attack, he immediately raced toward the enemy, shouting, "Follow me! We can turn them back!" inspired by his action his men followed him, as they succeeded in slowly forcing the Japanese back to their lines. As the Japanese withdrew to the shelter of the jungle, Kingsbury stood relieved for the moment that the fighting was over. A Japanese sniper unnoticed by the Australians from atop of a 4 metre rock fired a single shot which found its mark in the chest of Private Bruce Kingsbury. Despite the efforts of Alan Avery who carried his mate back to the Regimental Aid Post Kingsbury was dead.

His Victoria Cross was the first gained on territory administered by the Australian Commonwealth. It was also the first one awarded in the South-West Pacific Area.

Private Kingsbury, was buried at Kokoda War Cemetery. He was unmarried.

Bruce Kingsbury and Alan Avery along with Lindsay ‘Teddy’ Bear, Edward Silver, J Whitechurch, Harry ‘Jarmbe’ Saunders, B. G. Wilson, D O’Connor, F.J. Parsons, Neil Gordon and E.R. Jobe were members of Section Seven of the 9th Platoon, in the 2/14th Battalion which in 1945 was described as the most highly decorated Section in Australian and British military history.

  • These men, the eleven original members of this Section, between them were awarded, 

    • a Victoria Cross, 

    • a Distinguished Conduct Medal and 

    • four Military Medals.

The medals of Private Bruce Steel Kingsbury, after many years in a private collection were purchased at auction by the Victorian Branch of the Returned Servicemen’s League for $158,000 and presented to the Australian War Museum on the 9th November 1998.


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