Victoria Cross hero Daniel Keighran has always known courage under dire circumstances.
Decades before he would become a national treasure, Keighran grew up on dirt floors with no mains electricity and no money.
Born in Nambour and raised in Lowmead – a small town about 80km from Bundaberg in regional Queensland – Keighran’s life could have so easily gone down a different path.
Keighran’s fight against the Taliban took him around the world, including East Timor, Malaysia, Iraq and Afghanistan
Daniel Keighran, who received the Victoria Cross after serving in the Middle East, proposed to Casey Nixon at the Magic Millions Raceday, on the Gold Coast, in January last year
The first person he ever knew to be shot was his own father – who arrived on his doorstep for the first time after vanishing a decade earlier.
Out of the blue, he hooked back up with Keighran’s mum and the family all moved from the Sunshine Coast out into the wilderness.
Still, Keighran counts himself lucky.
He had a loving mother and his one male constant was his grandfather – a World War II veteran.
By the time Keighran would make his mark on Australian history aged just 27, he had been in the army 10 years and served in East Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The Battle of Derapet took place in Afghanistan on August 24, 2010.
I was a leader on the ground, so I stood up and led from the front – the only way I could do that was by drawing enemy fire to myself.
Keighran had been on the ground as part of ‘Operation Slipper’.
The young corporal had been on patrol with the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, when he and his Afghan patrol were overrun with Taliban fighters.
For near on four hours the battle raged in which which time Keighran repeatedly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to help identify targets and clear the wounded.
He would lose close mate Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney in the battle.
‘I don’t think what I did was really brave. It was what was required at the time,’ he would say of his actions that day.
In 2012, Keighran became the third recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia when Governor-General Quentin Bryce presented him with the medal.
On Tuesday, Keighran was among veterans to attend the dawn service at Currumbin in Queensland.
Corporal Daniel Keighran VC and his wife Kathryn meet Queen Elizabeth II during an audience with her at Buckingham Palace on November 06, 2013 in London
Daniel Keighran is warded the Victoria Cross in 2012
Speaking to Sunrise, Keighran again paid tribute to his grandfather, whom he credits with keeping him on the straight and narrow during his formative years.
‘I was very fortunate to have someone in my life who inspired me and I looked up to them and they were my hero and that person was my grandfather,’ he said.
Keighran had always shared a special bond with his grandfather, whom would teach him about how to safely use firearms during fishing trips when he was a teenager.
It wasn’t until Keighran enlisted with the Australian Defence Force at age 17 that his beloved grandfather began to tell him about the highs and lows of the war he had witnessed.
The World War II artillery sergeant had shelled his own troops through misinformation during the war and lived out his life dealing with the trauma of that incident.
When Keighran’s father returned out of the blue, after abandoning his family for years, he and his sister were literally forced to live in a dirt floor shack.
‘That was home for a couple of years before we established a property and a proper dwelling on the place,’ he told the ABC in 2020.
‘That was my upbringing as a kid. I remember drinking water and I used to strain it because it had mosquito larvae in it.’
Despite the obvious hardships, Keighran embraced the freedom of wandering about the bush with a rifle slung over his shoulder.
Keighran believes the ‘Anzac spirit’ remains alive and well today
Keighran being saluted by General David Hurley after receiving the Victoria Cross for Australia in 2012
Keighran’s move into the armed forces was an obvious choice.
‘There was no options realistically for employment for that sort of low socioeconomic group,’ he said.
‘The army, or defence for me, was a way out. It probably was the only way out.’
Keighran told Sunrise on Monday that he’d made the right decision.
‘It turned me into a man that’s for sure,’ he told Sunrise.
‘The defence force was a great option for me and go and serve my country and I’m very proud to have done so for over a decade.’
Keighran said it took him a long time to accept that he was among the elite to have been awarded the Victoria Cross.
The VC is is the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system and has been awarded to only eight Australians since the end of World War II.
‘It has taken me a long time to come to terms with it I think. I think I’m just a normal bloke doing what I thought was best in a chaotic situation in a combat zone in Afghanistan,’ he said.
‘I was placed in a situation where by my team, and one of my mates was in peril and I acted. And I would do it again.’
Keighran proposes to Casey Nixon at the Magic Millions raceday on the Gold Coast in 2021
Daniel Keighran VC attends an afternoon tea reception for members of the Victoria Cross in London in 2014
Recalling the battle, Keighran painted a picture of absolute calm among utter madness.
‘I was very present at that point in time and I think for me it was, I was in a position where by I could see people in trouble and I was in a position where I thought I could affect change,’ he said.
‘And I was a leader on the ground, so I stood up and led from the front – the only way I could do that was by drawing enemy fire to myself. It was an option that was risky and I could have ended up being a casualty that day and somehow I wasn’t killed. I should have been for what I did.’
Since leaving the ADF, Keighran has forged ahead with a new life away for the chaos and carnage of war.
Last year he popped the question to Casey Nixon at the Magic Millions Raceday, on the Gold Coast.
Keighran released his book ‘Courage Under Fire’ in 2020 where he detailed the highs and lows of a military career and the toll it took on his personal life.
At the time of the 2010 battle, Keighran had been engaged to his first wife Kathryn.
The pair had met in 2007, and Keighran was desperately seeking time off to spend with his partner.
The army refused and Keighran put in for discharge and left by mid-2011.
He would later suffer burnout from the subsequent media touring, endless formal engagements, speaking tours and his itinerant job with Australian Defence Apparel.
His marriage suffered because of it and Keighran and Kathryn divorced in 2019.
The war hero admitted in the book he has come a long way since that time.
‘I’ve come out of that now; things have fallen into place that hadn’t when I was at the end of writing,’ he wrote.
‘I’ve finished uni, I’ve got a professional career, I’m in a new relationship. I wouldn’t have had those things without having the VC.’
Keighran released his book ‘Courage Under Fire’ in 2020 where he detailed the highs and lows of a military career and the toll it took on his personal life