Courage Under Fire
An extraordinary soldier, an extraordinary day, a lifelong legacy
Daniel Keighran VC with Tony Park
Sydney, NSW: Pan Macmillan, 2020
Hardback 384pp RRP $44.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, October 2021
Born in Nambour in 1983, Daniel, with his mother and sister, spent his early years in an orderly and quiet life with his grandparents nearby. His favourite pastime was fishing in his World War II veteran grandfather’s tinnie on the Maroochydore River. The life skills and values passed on during these fishing days became the cornerstone of Daniel’s life and ethics.
When eleven years-old, his father appeared in Daniel’s life for the first time and ripped them 400 kilometres to Lowmead (about 80 km north-west of Bundaberg to live in a bush humpy in appalling conditions. Father, being a drunkard and a bully normally operated outside the law, saw life became a test of fortitude and survival for the family. Finishing high school in 2000, and taking part in the Olympic Torch Relay, Daniel then sought certainty and orderliness by joining the Australian Army.
He thrived in the environment in recruit training and was posted to D Company 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR). 2001 was Daniel’s first-time outside Australia with company training at Butterworth, Malaysia. Two years later he served as a UN peacekeeper in Timor Leste, where he qualified as a driver – preferring to ride rather than walk. By 2006, now a lance corporal, he was posted to Iraq as a Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle driver.
Three weeks before his first tour to Afghanistan in 2007, he met his future wife, Kathryn. He had the same the same role in Afghanistan, but with the Special Operations Task Group. Whilst constantly being fired at, Daniel never returned fire for his entire tour. Promoted to corporal in 2009, Daniel’s second tour in 2010 saw him fitting out newly-delivered Bushmasters, before, as dismounted infantry mentoring elements of the Afghan Army in Uruzgan Province.
It was on 24th August 2010, during a firefight with insurgents at the village of Derapet, that his colleague was wounded. To draw attention away from those attending the casualty and to identify the location of enemy fire, Daniel deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire on numerous occasions. The force was then able to withdraw without suffering any additional casualties.
Discharged from the Army soon after his return and joining the Army Reserve, Daniel worked for a drilling company in Kalgoorlie. A small house was acquired, and Kathryn moved to Kalgoorlie, working at the local TAFE, while Daniel secured work as a truck driver in the Frog’s Leg Gold Mine. The couple were married in November 2011. A number of Daniel’s Derapet colleagues received gallantry awards in the 2012 New Year’s Honours List, but Daniel was not mentioned. In September 2012 Lieutenant General Morrison, then Chief of Army (CA) by phone informed Daniel he had been nominated for a bravery award. A fortnight later Daniel was summoned to the Kalgoorlie Airport where he presented the couple with a letter from the Governor General Dame Quentin Bryce informing Daniel that the Queen had approved he be awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia and including an option to accept or reject the award. The CA’s comment: “This is going to change your life.’
The ADF ‘sanitised’ Daniel’s past before the investiture and organised many of his colleagues to attend the ceremony on 1st November 2012. As a VC winner, Daniel had become public property. Thus began a non-stop series of commitments both locally, interstate and overseas. Daniel was appointed to the Australian War Memorial Council in 2016. In January 2017, Jack was born, but absences saw the couple divorce in 2019. Meeting Dame Quentin Bryce in 2016, she suggested Daniel do an MBA (which he subsequently completed in August 2020).
Daniel Keighran has always demonstrated a quiet self-confidence, and the desire to help anyone in a time of need, irrespective of the potential personal cost. He has thrived on life’s challenges and has never turned away from danger.
A well-written and enjoyable account of an extraordinary life.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.