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Reginald Vincent (Reg) McKellar (1914–1995)

by Mark Johnston

This article was published:

Reginald Vincent McKellar (1914–1995), soldier and printer, was born on 9 November 1914 at Grenfell, New South Wales, son of Coonamble-born Percival Frederick McKellar, printer, and his Queensland-born wife Ada Florence Rose, née Lewis. Soon after Reg’s birth the family moved to Enmore, Sydney. Percival served as a private in the 9th Light Trench Mortar Battery, Australian Imperial Force (AIF), and was gassed on the Western Front in November 1917. After the end of the war the family moved to Hornsby, where Reg became an apprentice printer with the Advocate. The family moved later to Mount Kuring-gai.

With the outbreak of World War II, McKellar enlisted on 9 November 1939 in the Citizen Military Forces and then on 27 May 1940 in the AIF. He was allotted to the 2/13th Battalion (the ‘Devil’s Own’), a unit of the 20th Brigade, which later transferred to the newly formed 9th Division. Standing five feet eleven inches (180 cm) tall with a diamond-shaped face, short brown hair, thin moustache, and strong thrusting chin, he once told a war cameraman ‘I’m no Clark Gable’ (Fearnside 1993, 330). The 2/13th Battalion embarked for the Middle East in October. On 4 April 1941 in Libya, during the Allied withdrawal from Benghazi to Tobruk, the battalion became the first complete Australian army unit to engage the Germans, in an action at Er Regima, about fifteen miles (24 km) east of Benghazi.

During the siege of Tobruk, McKellar proved an outstanding soldier. He led a two-man reconnaissance patrol more than two thousand yards (1,800 m) forward of Australian positions, gaining valuable information on enemy dispositions. Later that month at Ed Duda, south of Tobruk, he led an ambush on a German artillery command vehicle, capturing five prisoners, maps, plans, orders, and equipment. By then he was renowned within the battalion for his ‘“one-man” exhibitions of daring and initiative’ (Fearnside 1993, 154). Following his attendance at a junior leaders’ course in March 1942, he was assessed as being ‘a very keen and energetic NCO’ who ‘would be an extremely capable and reliable Platoon Sergeant’ (NAA B883).

The 2/13th took part in the battle of El Alamein, Egypt (23 October–5 November 1942). In the Fig Orchard area on the night of 28–29 October, McKellar led ten men through a minefield and captured two machine-gun posts and a mortar post. He was promoted to acting sergeant on 5 November but reverted in rank in December when he was hospitalised with hepatitis. For outstanding bravery and leadership, he was awarded the Military Medal (1943).

As a lance sergeant from January 1943, McKellar returned to Australia with his battalion in February and undertook jungle training. In July the 2/13th embarked from Cairns for New Guinea and in early September made an amphibious landing at Lae. On the 25th of that month he led a patrol in which he killed one enemy sniper and wounded another. Although injured in the left arm and leg he remained on duty. He was promoted to sergeant on 30 October. The following day, while trying to penetrate a Japanese position with a small patrol, he crawled to within ten yards (9 m) of the enemy before being badly wounded. Following hospital treatment he returned to Australia in February 1944. In May he was awarded a Bar to his Military Medal for ‘consistent daring, determination and skill as a leader of patrols’ (NAA B883). He rejoined the 2/13th for operations in Borneo in June 1945 but was evacuated to Australia the following month for medical reasons, before being discharged on 9 October.

McKellar returned to civilian life at Mount Kuring-gai, later moving to Hornsby. On 8 April 1954 at St John’s Church of England, Darlinghurst, Sydney, he married Heather Jean Daniels, a shop assistant. By 1958 McKellar was working at Darlinghurst West as a compositor. Predeceased by his wife, he died at Darlinghurst on 7 June 1995 and was cremated. The couple had no children.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • The Devil’s Own Despatch (Sydney). ‘Valedictory.’ September 1995, 53–54
  • Fearnside, Geoffrey Harry, ed. Bayonets Abroad: A History of the 2/13 Battalion in the Second World War. Swanbourne, WA: John Burridge Military Antiques, 1993
  • Maughan, Barton. Tobruk and El Alamein. Vol. 3 of Series 1 (Army) of Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1966
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX21667, McKellar, Reginald Vincent
  • National Archives of Australia. B2455, McKellar P.F.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Mark Johnston, 'McKellar, Reginald Vincent (Reg) (1914–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 12 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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