WOII K. PAYNE, VC
KEITH PAYNE was born at Ingham, Queensland, on 30 August 1933, the son of Henry Thomas Payne. He was educated at Ingham state school and then apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. On 13 August 1951 he enlisted in the regular army, after a short period with 31st Infantry Battalion CMF, and was posted to the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment in September 1952. He served in Korea with the 1st Battalion from April 1952 until March 1953, then the 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade Defence and Employment Platoon, and returned to Queensland in September where he married Florence Catherine Plaw, of the WRAAC, on 4 December 1954.
Periods with the 4th Cadet and the 11th National Service Training Battalion followed, and on 17 February 1960 he joined the 3rd Battalion. He accompanied the 3rd to Malaya, was promoted to Sergeant on 1 June 1961 and in February 1965 joined the 5th Battalion; promotion to temporary Warrant Officer Class 2 came on 4 June 1965. The following June he went as Company Sergeant Major to the Officer Training Unit and from February 1967 until March 1968 served in Papua New Guinea with the 2nd Pacific Islands Regiment. He was posted to Headquarters Northern Command at Brisbane prior to being appointed to the Training Team in Vietnam on 24 February 1969.
Payne soon joined a mobile strike force battalion which was reconnoitring enemy infiltration routes from Laos into Vietnam. Once the routes were located they were interdicted in an attempt to relieve the pressure on the recently constructed and occupied Ben Het Special Forces camp.
On 24 May (nearly two weeks after Ray Simpson won the Victoria Cross) Payne was commanding the 212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when the battalion was attacked by a numerically superior North Vietnamese force. The two forward companies were heavily attacked with rockets, mortars and machine-guns from three directions simultaneously. The indigenous soldiers faltered so Payne rushed about firing his Armalite rifle and hurling grenaded to keep the enemy at bay while he tried to rally the soldiers. In doing so he was wounded in the hands, upper arm and hip by four pieces of rocket shrapnel and one piece of mortar shrapnel.
The battalion commander decided to fight his way back to base and this movement commenced by the only available route. With a few remnants of his company, which had suffered heavy casualties, Payne covered the withdrawal with grenades and gunfire and then attempted to round up more of his company. By nightfall he had succeeded in gathering a composite party of his own and another company and had established a small defensive perimeter. about 350 metres north-east of the hill. the enemy by now had captured the former hill-top position.
In darkness Payne set off to locate those who had been cut off and disoriented. At 9 p.m. (2100hrs) he crawled over to one displaced group, having tracked them by the fluorescence of their footsteps in rotting vegetable matter on the ground, and thus began a 800 metre traverse of the area for the next three hours. The enemy were moving about and firing, but Payne was able to locate some forty men, some wounded, some of whom Payne personally dragged out. He organized others who were not wounded to crawl out on their stomachs with wounded on their backs.
Once he concentrated his party he navigated them back to the temporary perimeter only to find the position abandoned by troops who had moved back to the battalion base. Undeterred he led his party, as well as another group of wounded encountered enroute, back to the battalion base where they arrived at about 3 a.m.(0300hrs).
Evacuated from Vietnam for medical reasons in September 1969, Payne received a warm public welcome at Brisbane before entering an army hospital for treatment. On his recovery he was posted as an instructor at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, remaining until he joined the 42nd Battalion, the Royal Queensland Regiment, at Mackay, Queensland, on 20 December 1972. He had been presented with his Victoria Cross by the Queen aboard Britannia, at Brisbane, on 13 April 1970. The United States recommended the award of the Silver Star later updated to Distinguished Service Cross while the Republic of Vietnam honoured him with its Cross of Gallantry With Bronze Star.
Payne was honoured in other ways: his photograph and citation are displayed in the Hall of Heroes at the John F Kennedy Center for Military Assistance, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; he was made a freeman of the city of Brisbane and the shire of Hinchinbrook; a park in Brisbane suburb of Stafford, where he lived at the time of his decoration, was named Keith Payne Park in July 1971; and his portrait was painted for the Australian War Memorial by Stanley Bourne.
Payne left the Army on 31 March 1975. During 1975 and 1976, with the rank of Captain, he fought with the army of the Sultan of Oman in the Dhofar war. Although the British army seconded officers and men for this campaign, Payne as an Australian had to go there in a private capacity. Keith and Florence, having raised five sons, are now living at North Mackay.
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