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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kingsbury, Bruce Steel (1918–1942)

by James C. McAllester

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Bruce Steel Kingsbury (1918-1942), by Vahe Studio

Bruce Steel Kingsbury (1918-1942), by Vahe Studio

Australian War Memorial, P01637.001

Bruce Steel Kingsbury (1918-1942), soldier and real-estate agent, was born on 8 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 16 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 8 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 27 and 28 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.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Russell, The Second Fourteenth Battalion (Syd, 1948)
  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area—First Year (Canb, 1959)
  • H. Gordon, The Embarrassing Australian (Melb, 1962)
  • J. C. McAllester, Men of the 2/14 Battalion (Melb, 1990)
  • private information.

Citation details

James C. McAllester, 'Kingsbury, Bruce Steel (1918–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 1 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Bruce Steel Kingsbury (1918-1942), by Vahe Studio

Bruce Steel Kingsbury (1918-1942), by Vahe Studio

Australian War Memorial, P01637.001