Vale Keith Bel­lis: Kokoda Track vet­eran

Euroa Gazette - - NEWS -

ON Septem­ber 24, 1921, Keith was born in Euroa to Alf and Eva Bel­lis who ran a mixed busi­ness on the Hume High­way.

He was a birth­day present for his fa­ther.

De­spite con­tract­ing po­lio at 18 months, Keith par­tic­i­pated in many phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties such as ten­nis, cy­cling and Scout­ing treks.

He was the third of eight chil­dren, the el­dest boy.

The Bel­lis fam­ily be­longed to the Angli­can Church, which is where Keith grew in faith and a love for mu­sic.

He was a Boy Scout, and achieved the high­est award, the King’s Scout.

Keith started form three (grade nine) but left mid-year.

He held a va­ri­ety of jobs: printer as­sis­tant, chemist as­sis­tant, help­ing in the fam­ily busi­ness, and brick­lay­ing in Mel­bourne.

At the out­break of World War Two he joined the Cit­i­zens Mil­i­tary Force.

As Keith knew Morse code and semaphore from Boy Scouts, he was as­signed to the Sig­nals pla­toon.

He com­pleted sig­nals and army train­ing and like his mates, he was ready for an ad­ven­ture.

In 1941, a re­quest was made for war ser­vice in Pa­pua and New Guinea.

About 50 mem­bers trans­ferred to the 39th bat­tal­ion - Keith was one of them, along with his child­hood mate Ron.

Their troop ship ‘Aqui­tania’ landed at Port Moresby in Jan­uary 1942 where they did jun­gle train­ing and en­dured bomb­ing raids.

His pla­toon nick­named Keith “Kanga” - as he al­ways marched with a hop!

The 39th Bat­tal­ion en­coun­tered the Ja­panese in­vaders on the Kokoda Track.

De­spite the ex­treme heat and hu­mid­ity, tor­ren­tial rain, lack of de­cent food and sleep, and a heavy pack, Keith’s legs still man­aged to carry him up and down the moun­tains.

He was at Isurava on sig­nal duty at Bat­tal­ion head­quar­ters when malaria over­took him.

He had to walk for 10 days back to Port Moresby, but col­lapsed on the way.

His child­hood friend Ron was also ill, and found Keith prone on the track.

Ron ig­nored Keith’s pleas to leave him there.

De­spite his se­vere dysen­tery, Ron some­how got Keith to his feet and they both made it to hos­pi­tal and re­cov­ery.

Af­ter a med­i­cal re­view, Keith be­came a full time Army Postal Ser­vices of­fi­cer, at­tached to an army hos­pi­tal near Townsville, where he made life­long friends through the lo­cal church.

Af­ter work at the army de­pot at Mar­rickville in Syd­ney, he was dis­charged in April 1946 and re­turned to the fam­ily home.

Keith’s brother Alan helped him ap­ply to the postal department, where he worked in the Spencer Street Mail Ex­change.

Af­ter four years in sub­ur­ban post of­fices, he trans­ferred to the small Western Vic­to­rian town of Wil­laura in 1950.

He joined the lo­cal Angli­can Church and at­tended coun­try dances, where he met Vola Coad, the daugh­ter of a lo­cal farmer.

Dur­ing their courtship Keith would cy­cle the six miles out from Wil­laura to the farm - they later mar­ried in 1952.

Within three years they wel­comed two daugh­ters, Ann and Elaine.

Keith be­gan the first of his many pro­duc­tive veg­etable gar­dens and or­chards.

He com­pleted year 11 in English at night school to fa­cil­i­tate his postal ca­reer.

In 1958, Keith trans­ferred to St Ar­naud where Peter was born.

Then in 1959 the fam­ily moved to Hamil­ton, Birchip in 1963, Co­huna in 1970.

All these moves were pro­mo­tions within the Post Of­fice.

In each town Keith was in­volved with the Angli­can Church, lawn bowls, choirs, RSL, his chil­dren’s in­ter­ests such as Scouts and sports.

In 1971, Keith es­tab­lished an in­door bowls club and com­pe­ti­tion in Co­huna.

In the Post Of­fice, Keith im­ple­mented new ideas to in­crease ser­vice lev­els and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Un­der his man­age­ment, the Co­huna Post Of­fice was one of the few in Vic­to­ria that ran at a profit.

Keith also co-founded the Co­huna Phi­lately Club 19721984.

On An­zac Day, Keith made it a pri­or­ity to proudly march with his mates in the 39th Bat­tal­ion or lo­cal RSL gath­er­ings.

Keith was so proud and thrilled to hear about his grand­daugh­ter Hi­lary’s re­cent achieve­ment to re­trace his foot­steps along the Kokoda Track.

Af­ter re­tire­ment in 1979, Keith and Vola moved from the Post Of­fice res­i­dence (now a health ser­vice cen­tre) to 27 Liv­ing­stone Street.

They led very full lives with all their fam­ily, so­cial and com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties.

They en­joyed sev­eral trips within Aus­tralia and over­seas, in­clud­ing Pa­pua New Guinea for the 50th an­niver­sary of the Kokoda cam­paign.

All their chil­dren were mar­ried in the 1980s, fol­lowed by the ar­rival of 6 grand­chil­dren, who were greatly loved and en­joyed.

Wider Bel­lis fam­ily re­unions were also a reg­u­lar event with Keith’s seven sib­lings and their fam­i­lies.

Keith’s mother Eva Bel­lis died at the amaz­ing age of 103 - it seems he in­her­ited some of her longevity.

In 2008, Vola moved into aged care at the Co­huna Re­tire­ment Vil­lage and Keith con­tin­ued to live at home un­til 2010 when he also moved to the vil­lage.

In 2011, Vola, his beloved wife of al­most 60 years, died.

Keith had the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend the mar­riage of two grand­chil­dren, and wel­comed the safe ar­rival of 4 great­grand­chil­dren.

Re­cently, an­other great­grand­son ar­rived at Yar­ra­wonga, and an­other is due next sum­mer.

Keith led a very full and var­ied life, with fam­ily, friends, the church and the com­mu­nity at the cen­tre.

His fam­ily gives thanks for his long, fruit­ful and faith­ful life, now be­ing in the care of God.

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