WWI Stories – Richard Keiran
Trudie Fraser has embarked upon her own journey to bring the story of Richard Keiran and his family to light.
Richard Kieran grew up in Gore and Greeves Street and attended the Christian Brothers College, East Melbourne. This popular young man became a grain salesman and spent three years with the 64th (City of Melbourne Regiment) and the 10th Australian Light Horse, receiving a commissioned rank in 1912. He enlisted at Essendon on 17 August 1914, within a week of war being declared and was first given the rank of sergeant in the 7th Battalion and then Second Lieutenant of ‘C’ company in the 6th Battalion.
On 20 October 1914, Richard left Melbourne on the Hororata bound for Egypt, where the battalion was to guard the Suez canal. Early in 1915 they received orders to take part in an amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula to the passage through the Dardanelles. Richard was promoted to Lieutenant on the 1 February 1915, commanding his own platoon. On 25 April 1915, Lt. Richard Keiran’s half company landed at Helles where, according to the official report by Lt. Col. W.R. Nicholl, he was wounded by shrapnel after landing at, or near, the west beach. Despite his wounds, he continued to fight, making sure that his men were securely dug in. Richard remained on duty until 27 April when he had his serious abdominal wounds dressed. Finally, on 8 May 1915, fourteen days after being wounded, he was taken on board a hospital ship sailing to Egypt. The following day, 9 May 1915, Richard Kieran died and was buried at sea.
The imposing Victorian building on the corner of Gore and Greeves Streets, Fitzroy, described as a ‘superb example of Renaissance and Classical’, was part of my research of local historic buildings. It still proudly displays its original purpose: the ‘Collingwood and Fitzroy United Friendly Societies Dispensary’ and was built as a result of the amalgamation of fifteen lodges that supplied affordable medicines to their members. To me, as a bereaved parent, the story of the first chemist, James Denis Kieran and his wife Sarah Ann is harrowing. In 1885, one year after the death of a baby daughter, they moved into the Dispensary residence with their two daughters, Eliza Marion and Annie Adeline. Three sons were born at the Dispensary: James Francis, Richard Clement and Jonathan Bernard. The Kierans lost their second child, Richard, at Gallipoli, learning of his death four days later. Their sadness on receiving his effects was perhaps lessened by the knowledge of his heroism and various acts of conspicuous gallantry (Military Order 570), his Star and Victory medal. Richard’s name is on panel 47 at the Australian National War Museum and in the Fitzroy Town Hall. Their letters show deep concern to know their son’s burial place. Finally in 1921, they received a photograph of ‘his grave’ at Gallipoli in the Lancashire Landing Cemetery, Row E, Grave 32. Yet the records contain various accounts of his ‘burial’, and it is unclear whether the parents were ever told that Richard had been buried at sea.
It was important to me to remember this family who gave so many loyal years of service to Fitzroy, and their son Richard who died aged 26 years at Gallipoli. James Kieran served for forty-two years as the resident chemist, finally retiring in 1827 at the grand age of seventy-nine, when he and his wife Sarah moved to 35 Melville Street, Hawthorn. Only four years later, in 1931, Sarah and their youngest son Jonathon died. Jonathon was only 39 years of age and married to Ann Deskin for just four years. Their deaths were followed the next year by those of James and his oldest son James (who had married Loretta Garvin of Shepparton in 1913). Thirty years later, the last of Richard’s siblings, Annie (married to Maurice MacNamara in 1910) died aged 79. The destiny of Eliza, the youngest daughter is unknown. Only one grandchild, Corinne, later Mrs Leo Starr, daughter of their eldest son, has been found. In the absence of any other known descendants of the Kierans to grieve and remember Lt. Richard Kieran, it has been my honoured task to do this for them, and at the same time to allow the residents of Fitzroy to acknowledge the sacrifice of a brave son, brother and citizen of Australia.