Van Vanderkelen


(Winston) Peter Vanderkelen, known as “Van” to many of his regimental colleagues, was born in Armadale, Victoria, on 2 December 1916.

In February 1935, as a 19 year old, he joined the militia’s 37 Field Battery of the 15th Field brigade. He was among that group of gunners who still trained with horse-drawn equipment when he attended camps at Seymour, Broadmeadows, Mt Martha, and Puckapunyal.

On achieving the rank of sergeant he was transferred from the 15th Field Brigade to the 10th Field Brigade. He re-enlisted in July 1938 and was commissioned in March 1939.

He transferred from the militia to the AIF with the service number VX13933 and marched in to the 2/8 Field Regiment on 2 March 1940.

In June 1941, some seven months after the Regiment arrived in the Middle East, his appointment as Captain was confirmed.

On his return to Australia he went to North Queensland and Borneo before attending LHQ School of Artillery in June 1944 where he passed the exams to become a battery commander.

In March of 1945 he traveled to the UK and was attached to the British Army to attend counter mortar training at the Royal School of Artillery’s famed Lark Hill range on the Salisbury Plain. Interestingly, the 25 pounder ordnance with which the Regiment became so familiar at El Alamein, was developed at Lark Hill just prior to the start of World War II.

As the war in Europe drew to a conclusion and priorities changed, Peter and regimental colleague Des Cox, while still in the UK, were made responsible for helping repatriate former Australian service personnel who had been POWs in Europe.

“Van” was discharged on February 19, 1946 and following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he studied to become a gemmologist and established a diamond and precious stone wholesale business in Melbourne. He played an active role in developing the Victorian division of the Gemmological Association of Australia as its president in 1953 and again in 1960-61.

Settling in suburban Caulfield, Peter was able to maintain close and regular contact with people such as Peter Edmanson, Stan “Snooky” Barnes, Fred Rowlands, Bill Ralph and Frank Stevens. In the mid 1960s, he moved his family to the Melbourne suburb of Kooyong, to find that his immediate neighbour was, by sheer coincidence, none other than Des Cox.

Peter’s business not only saw him travel extensively through country Victoria, southern NSW and South Australia but to Tasmania where he actively maintained friendships with former regimental colleagues such as Lindsay Garrott, John Steer and Max Robinson.

Travels to northern Victoria saw him drop in on “Stump” O’Shea when Stump was mine host at the Mystic Park Hotel or Charlie Smart at Koondrook, or when in Victoria’s western district he might visit Stephen Dohle who was growing sheep at Mortlake or Stephen’s near neighbour and Hereford breeder, Bill Allan.

Peter was also an active participant in one of the more arcane forms of inter-corps rivalry to continue after the war – the cricket match.

On March 24, 1954, in what would be the first of many instances when he donned the flannels, “Van” stumped the sapper’s second highest scoring batsman, John Holland, for 39 runs. Holland, not to be outdone, then bowled “Van” for only 18 runs, helping to deliver a win to sappers by 176 runs to just 63.

A regular at Anzac Day marches and 2/8th reunions Peter died of cancer on May 1, 1980 after a short illness.

Militia exercise - Broadmeadows - 37th Battery - 10th FAB

Militia exercises Broadmeadows, either 1937 or 1938. 37th Battery, 10th FAB. Peter Vanderkelen; Unknown (loader); Phil Vanderkelen (brother of Peter Vanderkelen) (layer); Unknown.

Pyramid visit January 1940

Pyramid visit, January 1940. Wittus (2/12th?); Wilson (2/4th?); McIlroy (2/6th?); Peter Vanderkelen (2/8th); Fielding (2/7th?).

Regatta on Yarkon River, Palestine  1941.

Regatta on Yarkon River, Palestine 1941. According to Mike Vanderkelen "A RAA crew was defeated by a Jewish club crew according to the caption in my Father's album".

Peter Vanderkelen in snow in Palestine, Xmas 1941.

Peter Vanderkelen in snow in Palestine, Xmas 1941.

Phil Vanderkelen and Peter Vanderkelen, El Kantara 1941.

Phil Vanderkelen and Peter Vanderkelen, El Kantara 1941. According to Mike Vanderkelen "They met after my Father had been attending a court martial in Cairo".

Desert Hygene

Desert hygene.

El Alamein railway station

El Alamein railway station.

Regimental mascot Humsa.

Regimental mascot Humsa. The name Humsa means five in Arabic.


The writeup on Peter Vanderkelen was provided by his son Mike Vanderkelen.

Mike Vanderkelen is the principal of Infotech Marketing & Communications

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