Warrant Officer Class 2 Keith Payne, VC

Keith Payne. LES/69/0593/VN Keith Payne.
LES/69/0593/VN

Date of birth: 30 August 1933
Place of birth: Ingham, QLD

Keith Payne was born at Ingham, Queensland, on 30 August 1933. He attended Ingham State School and later became an apprentice cabinet-maker. Unsatisfied with working as a tradesman, Payne joined the army in August 1951 and was posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in September the following year.

Payne served with his unit in Korea between April 1952 and March 1953. He married Florence Plaw, a member of the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps, in December 1954, was promoted to corporal the following year and returned to operational duties when he joined the 3rd Battalion in February 1960. Payne served in Malaya with this unit and in 1965, now a sergeant, he joined the 5th Battalion. In June 1965, by now a Company Sergeant-Major, Payne was posted as an instructor to the Officer Training Unit at Scheyville, NSW. In February 1967 he joined the 2nd Pacific Islands Regiment in Papua New Guinea and remained there until March 1968 when he returned to Brisbane. On 24 February 1969 he was appointed to the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam.

In May that year he was commanding the 212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when it was attacked by a strong North Vietnamese force. His company was isolated and, surrounded on three sides, Payne's Vietnamese troops began to fall back. Payne, by now wounded in the hands and arms and under heavy fire, covered the withdrawal before organising his troops into a defensive perimeter. He then spent three hours scouring the scene of the day's fight for isolated and wounded soldiers, all the while evading the enemy who kept up regular fire. He found some forty wounded men, brought some in himself and organised the rescue of the others, leading the party back to base through enemy dominated terrain. Years later, asked whether he was afraid, Payne replied, "My God yes, yes, I was."

Payne's actions that night earned him the Victoria Cross. He was evacuated to Brisbane in September suffering from an illness, receiving a warm reception at the airport before entering hospital. In January 1970 Payne was posted to the Royal Military College Duntroon as an instructor.

Payne received his VC from the Queen aboard the Royal Yacht, Britannia, in Brisbane. He was made a Freeman of the city and of the shire in which his hometown was located. A park in Stafford, Brisbane, where Payne lived was also named after him. He received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star from the United States and the Republic of Vietnam awarded Payne the Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star. He retired from the army in 1975, but saw further action as a captain with the Army of the Sultan of Oman in the Dhofar War.

Payne returned to Australia and became active in the veteran community, particularly in counselling sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder. Payne and his wife raised five sons and are now living at Mackay in Queensland.

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