Supporting the work of Keith Payne VC AM

A message from Rick Meehan OAM JP, Chairman, Keith Payne VC Veterans Benefit Group (KPVCVBG)

The KPVCVBG was established in 2018, under the guidance of Australia’s oldest Victoria Cross (VC) recipient, Mr Keith Payne VC AM DSC (US) SS (US). The work of the Group is to continue the many years of work he has done advocating for veterans, both serving and in retirement.

While the KPVCVBG is located in the Shoalhaven on the south coast of NSW, the benefits and reach of this group is Australia wide. The Group is made up of veterans from all three services as well as different trades, ages, genders and deployments, which makes for a dynamic and experience-filled mix.

Keith has been coming to Nowra regularly for the last 15 years and is a well-known identity in the Shoalhaven. As an old soldier, he is very supportive of our organisations and puts the veterans and families first and foremost.

‘I’m extremely proud,’ says Keith. ‘They are covering all the bases as much as possible, looking after the veterans. Some time ago, I approached Rick Meehan OAM and Fred Campbell to carry on my life’s work looking after veterans. I’m not getting any younger. They started locally and their reach is always expanding. They are doing a fantastic job and it’s a model that should be copied right throughout Australia. I must congratulate both men on their work and achievements looking after veterans.’

On a local level, our group holds a bi-weekly ‘walk to talk’ session (Monday and Friday), which enables veterans (and family and friends) to mix with like-minded people. These sessions involve walking around the local Shoalhaven community, followed by hot brews and plenty of stories. We have close affiliations with the two main navy bases (HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell) and the Parachute Training School in the region.

We hold an annual Digger Day Rugby game at the Shoalhaven Rugby Club. These days include a visit by many of our VC, George Cross and Cross of Valour  recipients from around Australia and the world, who are flown in by the Fleet Air Arm. A themed Digger Day jersey is produced each year, with these player jerseys being auctioned off to raise money for our veterans. The concept of Digger Day has spread and is successfully run in South Australia with talks to start in Western Australia and Queensland.

We are heavily involved in NAIDOC Week, with a focus on commemorating local Indigenous servicemen. In addition, we have added the loss of the destroyers HMAS Voyager and USS Frank E Evans commemorative ceremonies to our extensive list of activities. Given a number of our members are Fleet Air Arm members and were on board HMAS Melbourne during one or both of these sad events, the commemorations are very fitting and moving.

Our group was at the forefront in discovering 16 forgotten First World War veterans who were laid to rest in the Nowra General Cemetery and other local cemeteries in unmarked graves. With the support of a local historian and DVA, 15 of the graves have now received proper war graves over the plot with the graves rededicated by Navy chaplains from HMAS Albatross. This has been a resounding success, all of which could not have been accomplished without the support of DVA and our members.

Several years ago, we received a substantial grant from DVA to establish the Veteran Surfing Project, aimed at using surfing and the ocean as a way to support veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS). This project was a huge success in providing support for our veterans.

Every year we participate in DVA’s Veterans Health Week initiatives, all of which bring veterans together and are an opportunity to promote health and wellbeing. As an organisation we are continually seeking out new opportunities to engage with all our veterans within the wider community.

On a more strategic level, as well as engaging with many other ex-service organisations, our group engages with various ministers and government officials. We encourage all veterans to reach out to our group for any veteran-related matters or to simply be involved in any of our activities.

We have extremely strong ties with DVA. All staff we have dealt with are very supportive and helpful when we submit grant applications and follow up on our activities. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them.

On 30 August 2023, Keith Payne will turn 90. A special black-tie gala event has been organised at the Australian War Memorial to honour his remarkable career and to showcase the outstanding work he has done in supporting veterans with PTS.

Older man in formal dress wearing large number of medals including the Victoria Cross

Keith Payne VC AM