Bruce Steel Kingsbury was an Australian soldier who was awarded the ‘Victoria Cross’ (VC), for his gallant actions during the ‘Battle of Isurava’ in the Second World War. He was the first serviceman to receive the VC for actions in Australian territory. The war in Europe had compelled him to enlist in the “Australian Imperial Force” along with his boyhood friend Allan Avery. Initially serving in the Middle East, he later joined Australian troops fighting the Japanese in Papua New Guinea and became instrumental in demonstrating that the Japanese could, in fact, be defeated. His bravery served as the inspiration to his fellow troops who followed his lead and continued to resist the Japanese opposition. As a member of the 2/14th Infantry Battalion, his participated in many campaigns, namely. the ‘North African Campaign’, the ‘Syria-Lebanon Campaign’, the ‘Battle of Jezzine’, the ‘South West Pacific Theatre’, and his final battle at Isurava. His death, in the arms of his friend, can only be described as poetic. For a young man of 24, to display such remarkable bravery in the face of the enemy is a story that will live on forever.
Childhood & Early Life
Bruce Kingsbury was born on January 8, 1918, in Melbourne, Australia, to Philip Blencowe Kingsbury and Florence Annie Steel. His parents had emigrated from the UK before the end of World War I.
At the age of five, he met Allen Avery who would go on to become his lifelong friend and fellow serviceman.
His early education was at Windsor State School; he was a fairly good student. His academic achievements at Windsor earned him a scholarship at Melbourne Technical College.
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Bruce Kingsbury was a qualified printer industry but instead chose to assist his father in the real estate business. He disliked the job as he preferred life in the bush.
He left the city and joined a farm as the caretaker at Boundary Bend by the Murray River. Avery worked on a sheep station close by and three months later they decided to travel through western Victoria and New South Wales.
Both quit their respective jobs in February 1936, at the age of 18, and travelled north. Along the 900km walk, they found odd jobs on various farms and estates. Their adventures took them through Piangil, Leeton, and Wagga Wagga before reaching Sydney. Homesickness had caught on to them and they returned on the first train to Melbourne.
At Melbourne, Kingsbury rejoined his father’s real estate business in Northcote and worked there till 1940. Avery, on the other hand, found a job as a nurseryman.
The war in Europe was beckoning him to enlist in the army and he signed up for Australian Imperial Force on May 29, 1940, despite opposition from his parents.
Initially Bruce Kingsbury was assigned to the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion but after finding out that Avery was in the 2/14th Infantry Battalion, he requested a transfer. At Puckapunyal, a part of Seventh Section of 9 Platoon, they received basic training that included drill instruction, rifle drill, and mock battle training.
In October 1940, the entire 7th Division was posted to the Middle East and set sail aboard the ‘HMT Aquitania’. He spent time training in Tel Aviv till they received further orders.
On April 9, 1941, the battalion was garrisoned at Mersa Matruh, 300km from Tobruk in Egypt. They were sent to support the defenses of the Commonwealth’s forces and experienced air raids for the first time. They were redirected to Palestine for further training on May 23, 1941.
His first campaign was the 5-week invasion of Syria and Lebanon on June 7, 1941, where he fought against the Vichy French. During the course of this campaign, he fought many battles in various towns most notably, the ‘Battle of Jezzine’.
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As the campaign was waning, Kingsbury and Avery were assigned to collect and bury the fallen. After the Vichy French were defeated, the 2/14th set up a training camp at ‘Hill 69’, just outside Jerusalem.
The 7th Division, along with Kingsbury, left Egypt on January 30, 1942, aboard the ‘Ile de France’ that was to sail via India. They boarded the ‘The City of Paris’ in Bombay and arrived in Adelaide.
He was granted a week’s leave on March 16, 1942, returning to train with his battalion at Glen Innes for 14 days and then camping with Avery and their Commander at Yandina, Queensland. Further physical training and coast watching was carried out at Coolum Beach on Sunshine Coast.
On August 5, 1942, he travelled with the 2/14th to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea aboard the ‘James Fennimore Cooper’ to stop the Japanese from advancing on the Kokoda Track. The Japanese had previously captured the town of Kokoda twice with the second one being on August 9.
Battle of Isurava
At the town of Isurava, the Japanese were fighting the 39th and 53rd Infantry Battalions when Kingsbury and the rest of the 2/14th arrived on August 26, 1942. On the morning of August 28, Japanese Major General Tomitarō Horii launched an attack on the Australians resulting in heavy hand to hand combat.
The next day, the Japanese forces broke through the right flank threatening to usurp the headquarters of the 2/14th battalion. Though they had suffered heavy losses, the Australians prepared a counter-attack with many volunteers including Kingsbury.
Earlier that day, Kingsbury had taken the Bren Gun of Corporal Lindsay “Teddy” Bear. Taking initiative he used it to charge at the Japanese, firing from his hip. He inflicted many casualties and forced many others to find cover.
The Australians, encouraged by his actions, coerced the Japanese to retreat to the jungle. He kept moving ahead and firing, waiting for his comrades to catch up, all the while encouraging them.
He was hit by a bullet from a Japanese sniper, who disappeared after shooting. Avery carried him to the Regimental Aid Post, but he had already died by the time they reached.
Awards & Achievements
His bravery in the face of danger and disregard for his own safety earned him a posthumous ‘Victoria Cross’, Australia’s highest military decoration. His valor and devotion to duty demonstrated that a strong opposition such as the Japanese could be defeated. His Victoria Cross is displayed at ‘The War Memorial’ in Canberra.
A suburb in Melbourne, “Kingsbury”, is named after him. A commemorative ceremony is held every year in his honor.
Personal Life & Legacy
During his time in Sydney, Kingsbury met Leila Bradbury and fell in love with her. After learning that he would be stationed overseas, he decided to propose to her with a wristwatch being his engagement present. Their love story would not culminate in marriage as they were unable to arrange a marriage license before he departed.
Had he not attacked the Japanese troops at Isurava and demoralized them his battalion would have been destroyed. Though the Australians eventually lost the battle, his brave act prevented the Japanese from breaking through the Australian lines and overrun their headquarters.
Bruce Kingsbury became the target of a Japanese sniper’s bullet during the Battle of Isurava, and died on August 29, 1942. He was only 24 years of age when he passed away in the arms of his friend, Allen Avery. He was buried in the Bomana war cemetery at Port Moresby.