b. 08/01/1918 Melbourne. d. 29/08/1942 Isurava, Papua New Guinea.
Bruce Steel Kingsbury (1918-1942) was born on 8th January 1918 in Melbourne, second child of English-born parents Philip Blencowe Kingsbury, estate agent, and his wife Florence Annie, née Steel. Bruce was educated at Windsor State School and (on a scholarship) at Melbourne Technical College. At the outset of his career he preferred life in the bush and left the city for a job as caretaker on a farm at Boundary Bend by the Murray River. He and his boyhood friend Alan Avery later worked on sheep stations in New South Wales. Kingsbury returned to Melbourne, entered his father’s real-estate business at Northcote and played in the Jika Cricket Association.
Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 16th May 1940, Kingsbury was posted to the 2nd/2nd Pioneer Battalion before obtaining a transfer to Avery’s unit, the 2nd/14th Battalion. The two young men were assigned to No.9 Platoon and formed a close friendship with Harry Saunders, brother of the Aboriginal soldier Captain Reg Saunders. The battalion embarked for the Middle East in October. After training in Palestine and garrisoning Mersa Matruh, Egypt, the unit took part in the invasion of Syria which began on 8th June 1941. On the 24th, at Jezzine in the Lebanese mountains, Kingsbury’s platoon attacked a rocky peak, known as Hill 1284, which was held by the Vichy French. Although the assault failed, the French commander was to describe the courage and endurance of the Australian infantrymen that day as ‘incomparable’.
The members of the 2nd/14th Battalion returned to Australia in March 1942. Five months later they were sent to Papua to halt the Japanese on the Kokoda Track. At Isurava on 27th and 28th August the Japanese, with superior numbers, repeatedly attacked the battalion’s positions. On the 29th they broke through the right flank, threatening the Australians’ headquarters. It was essential to regain lost ground immediately. No.9 Platoon had suffered heavy losses, but its survivors volunteered to join in a counter-attack. On his own initiative Kingsbury rushed forward with a Bren gun, shooting from the hip against terrific enemy machine-gun fire and inflicting many casualties. He waited for his comrades to catch up, but, before they did, he moved ahead again, still firing, until he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.
For his coolness, determination, complete disregard for his own safety, and devotion to duty in the face of great odds, Kingsbury was awarded the Victoria Cross. The battalion’s second-in-command Major P. E. Rhoden recorded that Kingsbury’s valour had demonstrated that the previously undefeated Japanese could be beaten, and that it also inspired the 2nd/14th’s opposition to the enemy over the succeeding weeks. Kingsbury was buried in Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby. A Melbourne suburb was named after him and a commemorative plaque was unveiled at his old primary school. Kingsbury’s medals including the VC, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, and Australia Service Medal 1939-45 are held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA.
BURIAL PLACE: BOMANA CEMETERY, PORT MORESBY, PAPUA N GUINEA.
PLOT C-6, ROW E, GRAVE 1
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of the Kingsbury VC Medal at Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Jason Daniels – Image of the Kingsbury VC Board at Anzac Park, Townsville, Queensland.