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Keith Albert McEvoy (1918–1990)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Keith Albert McEvoy (1918-1990), soldier, was born on 9 November 1918 at Northam, Western Australia, fourth child of South Australian-born John Matthew McEvoy, agent, and his Perth-born wife Hilda Martha, née Dance. Keith attended school at Grass Valley before working as a truck driver. Standing 5 ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall, with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Claremont on 5 April 1941. After initial training he joined the 7th Infantry Training Centre (later the Guerrilla Warfare School), Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria. Transferred to the 2/3rd Australian Independent Company on 2 September, he embarked from Sydney on 17 December for New Caledonia where he helped to train the raw, largely National Guard, American troops who began arriving in March 1942. He was promoted to lance corporal on 25 July and two weeks later he returned to Australia.

From January 1943 McEvoy was engaged in close-quarter fighting against the Japanese in the Wau-Salamaua area, New Guinea. On 15-16 July his section spearheaded the attack on the strongly entrenched Japanese position at Ambush Knoll, about two miles (3.2 km) south of the Francisco River. Although under heavy fire, McEvoy ordered an assault, leaped over a bamboo barricade across the ridge and pushed forward towards the enemy. Only one of his men could follow as the other five had been wounded by a grenade. In McEvoy’s words: ‘I noticed I had one man with me and he had the light of battle in his eye and was shouting above the din, “Come on Mac, let’s go through the b-s”’. They forced the enemy to withdraw from part of their forward trench, enabling other members    of the company to move forward. Despite heavy resistance, McEvoy continued his action throughout the afternoon and maintained harassing fire during the night. By morning the enemy had withdrawn. For his ‘dash and courage of the highest merit’, ‘Digger’ McEvoy was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. On 9 August he was wounded in action, and three weeks later was promoted to corporal.

McEvoy returned to Australia in October and was hospitalised for two months with malaria. After training on the Atherton Tableland, Queensland, he left for Moratai, Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), in June 1945 with the 2/3rd Commando Squadron to take part in the invasion of Balikpapan, Borneo. He suffered further health setbacks and in September reverted to the rank of trooper at his own request. In February 1946 he returned to Sydney and was discharged from the AIF on 16 April.

Under the repatriation scheme McEvoy qualified as a jeweller and watchmaker, but preferred a freer outdoor life working around Northam, Western Australia, as a driver for Wright & Co. Ltd, produce merchants, and later as a gardener at Claremont, Perth. On 4 September 1948 at St Brigid’s Catholic Church, West Perth, he married Marjorie Joan Barker, a hairdresser. He was genial and even-tempered, had a host of friends, liked a drink and enjoyed bowls. A good horseman, he was actively involved in the Riding for the Disabled Association of Western Australia. Survived by his wife and their three daughters, he died on 1 September 1990 at his home at Yokine, Perth, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives (1961)
  • R. C. Garland, Nothing is Forever (1997)
  • B883, item WX11335 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'McEvoy, Keith Albert (1918–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 27 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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