Keith Payne was born at Ingham in Queensland, Australia, on 30 August 1933. After leaving school he worked as an apprentice cabinetmaker and spent a short period in the Citizen Military Force as a Reserve Soldier. He enlisted in the Regular Army on 13 August 1951, and was posted as an infantryman to the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) in September 1952. He served in Korea with the 1RAR from April 1952 to March 1953, follwoed by service with the 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade before returning to Queensland in September 1953. He married Florence Plaw, a female soldier, on 5 December 1954.
After a period of service, training Cadets and National Servicemen, he was posted to the 3rd Battalion RAR (3RAR) in February 1960. He saw further overseas service with 3RAR in Malaya, and was promoted to Sergeant on 1 June 1961. He joined the 5th Battalion RAR (5RAR) in February 1965 and was promoted to Warrant Officer in June 1965. This was followed by postings to the Officer Training Unit with the 2nd Pacific Island Regiment in Papua New Guinea. He was appointed to the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam on 24 February 1969.
Keith's initial duties in Vietnam were with a mobile strike force that was reconnoitering enemy infiltrationroutes from Laos into Vietnam. Thes routes were being used to surround the newly established Ben Hut Special Forces camp. On 24 May 1969 Keith was commanding the 212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when the unit's hilltop position was attacked by a large North Vienames force. A barrage of rockets, mortars and machinegun fire hit the two forward companies from three directions simultaneously. The indigenous soldiers under Keith's command faltered, forcing Keith to mount a vigorous single-handed defence, firing his rifle and throwing grenades to keep the enemy from over-running his panicked soldiers. In the process, he was wounded in the hands, upper arm, and hip by shrapnel from rockets and mortar rounds. The US Officer Commanding the battalion decided to make a fighting withdrawal back to base. With a small number of soldiers from his company, which had suffered heavy casualties, Keith covered the withdrawal of the rest of the force, again relying heavily on gunfire and grenades to hold off the enemy. By nightfall Keith had gathered a composite party of survivors from his own and another company into a small defencive perimeter about 350 metres from the hill they had previously occupied, and which was now in the hands of the North Vietnames Army.
In darkenss, Keith, on his own initiative, set off to find other survivors who had been cut off during the confused withdrawal. At about 9pm he found one such group, having followed the fluorescence created by their movement through the rotting vegetable matter on the ground. This was followed by similar searches over hundreds of metres of dark jungle over the next three hours. Throughout, enemy soldiers were also searching the area and occasionally firing, but Keith was able to locate 40 men, several of whom were wounded, some of whom Payne personally dragged to safety. He organised for others who were not wounded to crawl out taking the wounded with them.
He led his group of rescued soldiers back to the temporary perimeter only to find that it had been abandoned when the remaining troops withdrew back to the Battalion Base. Undeterred, he led his party, along with another group of wounded he encountered on the way, back to the battalion base, arriving around 3am.
Keith was evacuated from Vietnam in September 1969 and received a warm public welcome back in Australia. He was presented with his Victoria Cross by the Queen aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia at Brisbane, on 13 April 1970, he was also awarded the US Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and the Silver Star, while the Republic of Vietnam honoured him with its Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star. He served as an instructor at the Royal Military College Duntroon, and as a cadre staff with a reserve infantry battalion before his retirement from the Army in 1975. He saw further action when he fought with the army of the Sultan of Oman as a Captain in 1975 and 76.
Keith joined the Legion of Frontiersmen on 28 February 1975 and has been awarded the Legion Cross of Merit (LCM) from the UK Command, and the Dartnell Cross with valour clasp (DCV), the Australian Medal of Merit (AMM), The Long and Efficient Service Medal (LESM) He accepted the position of Patron to the Australian Division on 30 September 1999 and now holds the rank of an Honorary Chief Commissioner.
Vietnam Cross of Gallantry Unit Citation with Palm
Dartnell Cross with valour (DCV)
Australian Medal of Merit (AMM),
The Long and Efficient Service Medal (LESM) & bar
Australian Service Medal (ASM)
Australian Division Centennial Medal 2004
Legion Cross of Merit (LCM)
Born 30 August 1933 Australia
Warrant Officer, Australian Army
A32031 Hon Commissioner, Legion of Frontiersmen, Austalian Division
Gazetted, 19 September 1969, Ben Het, Kontum Province, Vietnam, 24 May 1969, Warrant Officer II Keith Payne, Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam.
On 24 May 1969, in Kontum Province, Warrant Officer Payne was commanding 212th Company of 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when the Battalion was attacked by a North Vietnamese force of superior strength.
The enemy isolated the two leading companies, one of which was Warrant Officer Payne's, and with heavy mortar and rocket support assaulted their position from three directions simultaneously. Under this heavy attack, the indigenous soldiers began to fall back. Directly exposing himself to the enemy's fire, Warrant Officer Payne, through his own efforts, temporarily held off the assaults by alternatively firing his weapon and running from position to position collecting grenades and throwing them at the assaulting enemy. While doing this, he was wounded in the hands and arms.
Despite his outstanding efforts, the indigenous soldiers gave way under the enemy's increased pressure and the Battalion Commander, together with several advisors and a few soldiers, withdrew. Paying no attention to his wounds and under extremely heavy enemy fire, Warrant Officer Payne covered this withdrawal by again throwing grenades and firing his own weapon at the enemy who were attempting to follow up.
Still under fire, he then ran across exposed ground to head off his own troops who were withdrawing in disorder. He successfully stopped them and organised the remnants of his and the second company into a temporary defensive perimeter by nightfall. Having achieved this, Warrant Officer Payne of his own accord and at great personal risk, moved out of the perimeter into the darkness alone in an attempt to find the wounded and other indigenous soldiers. Some had been left on the position and others were scattered in the area.
Although the enemy were still occupying the previous position, Warrant Officer Payne, with complete disregard for his own life, crawled back on to it and extricated several wounded soldiers. He then continued to search the area, in which the enemy were also moving and firing, for some three hours. He finally collected forty lost soldiers, some of whom had been wounded, and returned with this group to the temporary defensive perimeter he had left, only to find that the remainder of the battalion had moved back. Undeterred by this setback and personally assisting a seriously wounded American adviser, he led the group through the enemy to the safety of his battalion base.
His sustained and heroic personal efforts in this action were outstanding and undoubtedly saved the lives of a large number of his indigenous soldiers and several of his fellow advisors. Warrant Officer Payne's repeated acts of exceptional personal bravery and unselfish conduct in this operation were an inspiration to all Vietnamese, United States and Australian soldiers who served with him. His conspicuous gallantry was in the highest traditions of the Australian Army.
Behobeho East Africa 1915 - 1917 Nyangao Kilimanjaro Great War 1917 Belgium 1914 -18