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Pte Richard Kelliher
Australian Army, 2/25th Battalion

Background
Born in Ballybeggan, Tralee, County Kerry in Ireland. In 1929, he emigrated with his sister Norah to Queensland, Australia. Due to lack of work in the Great Depression his sister moved to Sydney while Kelliher became a swagman. Kelliher suffered from poor health suffering from both typhoid and meningitis.

Wartime History
Click For Enlargement 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 which was on garrison duty in Syria.

In March 1942, the battalion returned to Australia and was sent to New Guinea, where it took part in the Battle of Buna-Gona, later that year. Kelliher was arrested after allegedly running from the front. He was later court martialled for cowardice in the face of the enemy, while 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 September 13, 1943 while advancing on Lae, the platoon to which Private Kelliher was attached came under 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.

Victoria Cross Citation
Victoria Cross
"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 from 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.

Nothing this, he then returned to his section, seized a Bren gun, again dashed forward to 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 rifle fire from another position. 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 - 28 December 1943)

Postwar
In 1944 he was declared medically unfit for active service and discharged. He 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 January 16, 1963 had a stroke. He died in Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital on January 28, 1963.

In 1966, the 2/25th Battalion Association bought his Victoria Cross for $2,000 and donated it to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) where it is on display.

References
WW2 Nominal Roll - Pte Richard Kelliher
The London Gazette - 28 December 1943

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Last Updated
May 22, 2017

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