Richard (Dick) Kelliher
Repatriated to Australia
Irish-born Richard Kelliher won his Victoria Cross (VC) for saving the life of an injured fellow soldier. He was recognised for 'conspicuous bravery' during fighting at Nadzab, near Lae in New Guinea, in 1943.
Richard was born in Ireland to parents Michael and Mary Ann. He was the youngest of 6 boys with a younger sister, Norah.
Richard and Norah emigrated to Australia in 1929. He was 17 and his sister was 15. They joined their aunt and uncle who were living in Brisbane.
Australia was just entering the Great Depression of 1930 to 1939, and Kelliher took work where he could find it. His enlistment papers record his occupation as a 'labourer'. Kelliher also worked as a farmhand and sacristan at St Stephen's Cathedral, where he helped organise weddings and baptisms.
On 21 February 1941, aged 30 years and 5 months, Richard Kelliher enlisted in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at Brisbane. His next of kin was his sister Norah in Australia and his mother who was still in Ireland.
After basic military training with the 2nd Infantry Training Battalion, Kelliher embarked for the Middle East in June 1941, arriving a month later. In October he was posted to the 2/25th Infantry Battalion which was on garrison duty in Syria, remaining there until the unit was brought back to Australia in March 1942. In September, Kelliher sailed with the 2/25th to Port Moresby in Papua.
On 13 September 1943, during fighting at Bertie Heath's plantation at Nadzab, New Guinea, Kelliher's platoon was pinned down by fire from enemy machine guns. Acting without orders, Kelliher ran towards the enemy, hurling 2 grenades as he approached. Facing heavy return fire from the Japanese, Kelliher charged again, this time firing his Bren Gun from his hip.
Having seen his section leader, Corporal William Richards, lying wounded and under heavy fire, Kelliher requested permission to go forward and rescue him. He crawled towards his wounded comrade, dragging him to safety.
Both Kelliher and Richards were recognised for their bravery during this battle. Richards received the Military Medal (MM) and Kelliher, a Victoria Cross (VC).
Richard Kelliher's citation reads:
Private Kelliher, by these actions, acted as an inspiration to everyone 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.
[The London Gazette, 1943]
Life after the war
After the war, the VC recipient struggled to find a job. He worked as a cleaner at Brisbane City Hall for a short time, supplementing his income with a small war pension, provided on the basis of his poor health.
In 1946, he travelled to England, where he was presented with his VC by King George VI.
In 1949, Kelliher married Olive Margaret Hearn. Aged 19, the machinist from Brisbane was 20 years younger than her new husband. The couple moved to Melbourne and Kelliher found work as a gardener.
Kelliher was plagued with poor health throughout his life. During his time in the army, he suffered several bouts of malaria. He was eventually medically classified B1 and released from overseas duties.
By his late 40s, Kelliher was completely disabled and unable to work. On 28 January 1963, he suffered a fatal stroke. He was only 52.
Commemorating Richard Kelliher
Kelliher's Victoria Cross was purchased by his battalion association in 1966. It was donated to the Australian War Memorial. He is also commemorated on the Remembrance Driveway between Goulburn and Canberra.
- 1944 'NEW GRADES OF ARMY MEDICAL FITNESS', Examiner (Launceston, Tas: 1900 - 1954), 26 June, p 5, viewed 27 August 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91410136
- 1944 'Old Ireland lent this champion to the A.I.F.', The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), 15 January, p 13, viewed 27 August 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55465256
- 1945 'KELLIHER, V.C. CITY CLEANER', The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld: 1872 - 1947), 17 November, p 3 (SPORTS FINAL), viewed 27 August 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188768805
- Australian War Memorial (undated), Private Richard Kelliher, viewed 26 August 2020, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10676519
- National Archives of Australia: Department of Defence [III], Central Office, Soldier Career Management Agency; B883 Second Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1939-1947; QX500601, KELLIHER RICHARD: Service Number - QX500601: Date of birth - 01 Sep 1910: Place of birth - BALLY BEGGAN IRELAND: Place of enlistment - WACOL QLD: Next of Kin - KELLIHER MARY, 1940-1947.
- Richard E. Reid, 'Kelliher, Richard (1910–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, viewed 26 August 2020, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kelliher-richard-10672/text18969, published first in hardcopy 1996.
- The London Gazette, 28 December 1943, Supplement 36305, p 564, viewed 27 August 2020, https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/36305/supplement/5649
- The London Gazette, 18 January 1944, Supplement 36337, viewed 27 August 2020, https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/36337/supplement/391/data.pdf