Like many returned soldiers Keith Elliott did not talk much about his time at war, his daughter, Liz Bassett, says.

But he was happy to write a book about his journey from a farming upbringing through to his post-war life in the priesthood — and it was in that book that he happily showed Bassett a photo of her, in her mum's arms, when she was a little girl.

"I was 9 years old when he showed me the picture — and it was only then I found out he had won the Victoria Cross."

It was never something the man who showed extraordinary bravery during his service in WWII made a big thing of.


One thing he did say on one occasion though was that in his opinion every man in the battalion should have got a VC.

It was that VC which has sparked what will be an emotional and memorable journey to London for her as she attends the 30th reunion for past and present Victoria Cross and George Cross recipients, and their families, next month.

Her family had received an invitation and she was keen to put her hand up — so she and one of her sons, James, will represent their dad and grandfather.

She said her brother, Peter, had attended a couple of past reunions for the family but this would be her first, although she had been a bit concerned about the financial side of getting there.

So, as a long-time member of Club Hastings, and having lived in the Bay for 34 years, she called to see club CEO Jackie Wells and slightly nervously asked if the club would be able to assist.

"We had no hesitation at all," was how Jackie put it. "Proud to be part of this."

She said it was wonderful to have family of Keith Elliott in the Bay, and all the club wanted in return was for Bassett to "tell us all about it" when she arrives back home.

The photograph of Keith Elliott VC, and replicas of the nine medals he earned, is among the impressive line-up of all the New Zealand VC recipients which makes up a special memorial room at the club.


Bassett said she was especially looking forward to meeting with Lord Ashcroft, who was instrumental in helping get back several VCs, including her father's, which had been stolen from the Waiouru War Museum in late 2007, and recovered a couple of months later after Ashcroft set up a $200,000 reward.

New Zealand Army deputy chief Brigadier Philip Gibbons and Victoria Cross recipient Sergeant Keith Elliot's son Doug Elliot thrilled with the return of the Waiouru army medals.
New Zealand Army deputy chief Brigadier Philip Gibbons and Victoria Cross recipient Sergeant Keith Elliot's son Doug Elliot thrilled with the return of the Waiouru army medals.

Sergeant Elliott earned his Victoria Cross while serving with 22 Battalion, and it was during one of the ferocious battles of El Alamein, at Ruweisat Ridge on July 15, 1942, that he led his embattled platoon to a successful breakout.

Under heavy machine-gun and mortar fire he led a bayonet charge across 500m of open, and dangerous, ground.

Despite being wounded in the chest he managed to capture an anti-tank gun and several machine-gun positions ... and 50 prisoners were taken.

And, although he sustained more wounds, he went on to help take out two more enemy machine-gun positions and captured another 80 prisoners.

He was promoted to Second Lieutenant in May 1943 and soon after was sent back to New Zealand as part of a campaign to boost morale back in his homeland.


There is a strong link to Anzac Day here, as he was born in Apiti on April 25 in 1916, one of nine children and the son of a farmer.

He was educated in Feilding where he attended Feilding Agricultural High School, but he was unable to complete his schooling as he had to work on the family farm.

Elliott was a farm manager when war broke out and he volunteered with the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and was posted to 22 Battalion.

He saw action in Greece and Crete then North Africa, and was a sergeant during Operation Crusader in November 1941 where he was among 700 Kiwi troops who were captured by the German forces.

But two months later he was free and went on to serve as a platoon commander during the first battle of El Alamein.

After returning to civilian life he resumed farming, but in 1948 became a priest and shifted around the lower North Island for the next few years serving with a number of churches.


"We moved around a bit," was how Bassett put it.

Elliott was also a chaplain for the Territorial Force.

Bassett said he "always had the faith" and said before going into battle he would climb to a high point and pray.

It was on one of those occasions he saw German tanks heading their way, although his commanders were not convinced — which led him to say "I know a swastika when I see one".

She said he was a firm man who would make his point, and could be stubborn — it was while effectively disobeying orders that he won his VC.

While Elliott never lived in Hawke's Bay he often visited to see her and her boys, and loved nothing better than to head up to Lake Waikaremoana for a spot of fishing.


"He loved fishing and he loved rugby," she said, adding that he would also come to the Bay to carry out Anzac services.

In 1981, after years of devotion and giving, he retired from the priesthood and died eight years later at the age of 73.

Of the "giving", she said he once picked up a hitchhiker in the rain who did not have a raincoat.

"So he gave him his — and he'd just bought it."