Victoria Cross : Warrant Officer Class 2 K Payne, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam

Unit Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
Place Asia: Vietnam, Kontum Province
Accession Number REL48055.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Award
Physical description Bronze
Location Main Bld: Hall of Valour: Main Hall: Vietnam
Maker Hancocks
Place made United Kingdom: England, Greater London
Date made c 1969
Conflict Vietnam, 1962-1975

Victoria Cross. Engraved reverse suspender with recipient's details; reverse cross with date of action.

History / Summary

Keith Payne was born at Ingham, Queensland, on 30 August 1933. He joined the Australian Regular Army in 1951 and was posted to Korea the following year. In the next decade he served in Malaya and Papua New Guinea, and was appointed to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam in February 1969.

In May of that year in Kontum Province, Payne's company came under heavy attack. As the local troops fell back, Payne, wounded and under constant fire, valiantly fought to hold off the enemy. Having rallied his own men, he then set about bringing in the wounded, including an American advisor. For his actions he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the United States Distinguished Service Cross, the United States Silver Star and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star. Payne was the last Australian to receive the Victoria Cross under the Imperial Honours system. The citation for the award reads:

'On 24th 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 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.

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 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 collection 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 advisor 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.’

After his retirement Payne settled in Queensland and in 2006 was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to the community. In June 2015 he was further recognised when he was appointed Member of the Order of Australia for 'significant service to veterans and their families as an ambassador, patron and as an advocate for veterans' health and welfare.'

Payne’s Victoria Cross is accompanied by the OAM, the Australian Active Service Medal, service medals for Korea, Malaya, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea, Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee medals, the Centenary Medal, Long Service Medals, awards from the United States, South Vietnam and Malaysia, and campaign medals for private foreign military service.