VC recipient visits Stirling

Published on LEUT Gary McHugh (author)

Location(s): HMAS Stirling, WA

Topic(s): Naval Heritage and History

Victoria Cross recipient Warrant Officer Class 2 (Ret'd) Keith Payne VC, AM, with Commanding Officer HMAS Stirling Captain Ainsley Morthorpe, RAN, at the Collie Battery historic site at Garden Island, WA. (photo: )
Victoria Cross recipient Warrant Officer Class 2 (Ret'd) Keith Payne VC, AM, with Commanding Officer HMAS Stirling Captain Ainsley Morthorpe, RAN, at the Collie Battery historic site at Garden Island, WA.

A Victoria Cross recipient was recently treated to a personal tour of HMAS Stirling.

Warrant Officer Class 2 (Ret'd) Keith Payne, accompanied by Florence - his wife of 65 years, was visiting Western Australia to attend various events.

Stirling’s Commanding Officer, Captain Ainsley Morthorpe, hosted the couple during their visit to Navy’s West Australian base.

Captain Morthorpe said Warrant Officer Payne was given an operational briefing about Stirling before he was taken to visit the more historic sites of Garden Island.

“After driving around the base, we took Warrant Officer Payne to visit the two most intact examples of the island’s World War Two heritage.

“The Collie Battery, which had two four-inch guns at the southern tip of the island, and the enormous 9.2-inch guns at Scriven Battery on the western side are still evident by the concrete gun pits and associated support infrastructure,” Captain Morthorpe said.

Although the guns themselves are long gone and the sites are in various states of decay, Warrant Officer Payne was still able to see how it had all worked.

“And with his old soldier’s eye, he was soon looking for evidence of where the ground water might have been obtained for the hundreds of soldiers living on the island.

“Despite not finding a source of fresh water on the day, Warrant Officer Payne was convinced of its existence under the island’s rocks and sand.

“He promised to come back with his water divining rod in order to prove there was fresh water in the vicinity,” Captain Morthorpe said.

Accompanying Warrant Officer Payne on his tour was Able Seaman Maritime Logistics – Support Timothy Boyd, who said the VC winner was an inspirational figure.

“I read his biography and was inspired not only by his bravery in winning the VC, but also by the story of his life and how he rose to every challenge with honour,” Able Seaman Boyd said.

Warrant Officer Payne left a lasting impression on the young sailor, and graciously signed Able Seaman Boyd’s copy of his biography.

Warrant Officer Payne was awarded the Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery while serving with the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam in 1969.

During an intense action with enemy forces, he covered the withdrawal of Australian and South Vietnamese troops, and spent hours searching the area for wounded soldiers who he then evacuated to safety.

Garden Island has a long and significant military history, having been the landing site of Captain James Stirling, RN in 1829.

The island itself has outstanding natural beauty and is home to hundreds of varieties of plants and animals, many of which are now either rare or extinct on the mainland.