BOOKS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Victoria Cross: Australia's Finest and the Battles They Fought, by Anthony Staunton
, December 3, 2005
Australia's VC winnersVICTORIA CROSS: Australia's Finest and the Battles They Fought
by Anthony Staunton
Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books
Softcover RRP: $34.95The Victoria Cross is the highest military award for bravery for any serviceman in the Commonwealth and, since its institution in 1856, has been awarded to just 1,352 individuals.
The VC is not restricted to officers, and the sole condition for its award is that it can only be won "in the presence of the enemy ... [for] some signal act of valour or devotion to their country".
Since the first VC was awarded to an Australian in 1900, just 95 Australians have won the award, and this book tells their stories.
In 1986, Anthony Staunton wrote an earlier account of the actions which led to the award of the Australian VCs, under the title, They Dared Mightily
. It was published by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.Victoria Cross
is an expanded account, incorporating additional information which has come to light on the Australian VC winners, giving a brief biography of each of them and an exhilarating account of the circumstances of their actions.
It also includes a superb collection of over 100 rarely-seen photographs from the Australian War Memorial of the VC winners, and a new section on Australian George Cross medal-winners.
This is a book to be read and treasured. It recounts stories of extraordinary heroism in which, occasionally, a soldier performs duties which are quite out of the ordinary.
For example, Richard Kelleher was an Irish immigrant who worked as a labourer in Brisbane before enlisting in the Australian Infantry Force in 1941. He spent a year in the Middle East on sentry duty until his unit returned to defend Australia in 1942. His unit was sent to Papua in early 1942, where it fought the Japanese on the bloody Kokoda trail.
During one operation, under heavy fire, Kelleher's platoon commander sent him back with a battle report to HQ, but after his unit returned on leave to Australia, he was court-marshalled for cowardice in leaving his post in the face of enemy fire.
As his platoon commander had been killed, he could not corroborate Kelleher's story, so he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.
His conviction was later quashed, and Private Kelleher returned to Papua, where he won the VC during bitter fighting outside the town of Lae, on the north-east side of Papua New Guinea, single-handedly attacking an entrenched enemy post, saving his own platoon and rescuing his wounded section leader.
This book will inspire and enthral all who read it.