Renton Moffatt KELLY

Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Pte 2531 26y3m 29 Feb 1916 7 Jun 1916 KA 2 & 7

Private Renton Moffatt Kelly (1887—1917)


Family background and early life

Renton Moffatt Kelly was born at Arthur Street, Fortitude Valley, the eldest child of Thomas Kelly and Jane Moffatt (née Henderson).  He had a younger brother, Thomas Henderson Kelly and a younger sister, Vera Norton Kelly.  He attended Fortitude Valley State School where he was a member of the school cadet corps, rising to the rank of Sergeant and winning a gold medal for shooting. He became a Freemason.  The family lived at Ratho, 88 Constitution Road, Windsor or Eildon Hill, as the locality was then known. Mr and Mrs Kelly were listed on the communion roll at Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in the city.

Enlistment and service

On 29 February 1916, Renton Moffatt Kelly enlisted to serve overseas in the Australian Imperial Force.  He was then working as a horse trainer but had also worked in an insurance office and had experience as a sugar boiler.  While stationed at Rifle Range Camp, Enoggera for training, he received the rank of Corporal and embarked on HMAT Seang Choon from Brisbane on 19 September, bound for Plymouth, England.

While Renton Moffatt Kelly was undergoing further training at Codford on Salisbury Plain, several interesting notes were recorded on his service card. He forfeited two days pay for “absenting himself from hut 23 when in close isolation”.  He spent 21 days in hospital with mumps.  He was assigned to 52nd Battalion, AIF and chose to serve as a Private in the ranks.  

His father later explained in a letter1 to the Department of Defence: 

“He left here as a Corporal and was re-appointed in England but petitioned twice for leave to give up his stripes on purpose to go with his company instead of remaining as a drill instructor to which he had been appointed.”  

Private Kelly proceeded to join his unit at Étaples in France on 21 April 1917. 

Killed in action

The 52nd Infantry Battalion was about to be engaged in dangerous operations in the Ypres Sector in Belgium.  As part of the Australian Fourth Division, the battalion played a key role in the Battle of Messines in early June 1917, during which Private R. M. Kelly was killed in action.

As so often happened during this tragic war, letters were exchanged between the Department of Defence in Melbourne and the soldier’s grieving family, sometimes for a period of years afterwards.  Misunderstandings occurred.  At one stage, on being given the opportunity to express preferences with regard to an inscription on his son’s grave, Mr Kelly wrote with courtesy: 

“Your favour of the 22nd ult just to hand for which I thank you as I was not aware that the Star of David usually represented the Jewish faith. Will you kindly have a cross inscribed on my son’s headstone instead of the star as stated on the form. Yours truly,

Thos Kelly”2

As it happened, R. M. Kelly died with no known grave and with 45,000 others, his name is inscribed on the walls of the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, Belgium.

In 1918, Mr Kelly acknowledged receipt of parcels containing personal effects – a wallet, cards, photos, lock of hair, two certificates and a Masonic apron.

As next-of-kin, Mr Thomas Kelly attended to correspondence but he died in 1925.  It was for his widow a sad task to request her son’s death certificate as late as 1926.

She wrote:

 “Re Renton Moffatt Kelly No 2531, killed in Action. Messines, June 7th 1917

The Superintendent, Commonwealth Bank Savings Bank Dept require me to produce Military Certificate of Death of my son named above, and advises such certificate may be obtained on application to you. I request you will forward me the required certificate as early as possible.

I remain,

Yours truly,

Jane Kelly.”3

Private Renton Moffatt Kelly is commemorated on Panel 155 at the Australian War Memorial, the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium and in Brisbane on the War Memorial at Windsor where he lived and on the Honour Board at Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church where with his family, he worshipped.  

At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the Stone of Remembrance, now famous in war cemeteries and memorials throughout the world, bears the words,


1. Letter written by Mr Thomas Kelly to Officer-in-charge, Department of Defence, Melbourne, 19 October 1920
2. Letter,  T Kelly to Department of Defence dated 31 Jan 1920
3. Mrs J Kelly to Officer-in-charge, Victoria Barracks, Base Records, Melbourne, dated 25th February 1926

• National Archives of Australia, World War 1 records
• Australian War Memorial
Annual Reports, 1901 – 1925, Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church Archives
• Bean, C. E. W., Anzac to Amiens, Penguin Books, 2014
• Queensland War Memorial Register
• Queensland Registers of Births Deaths and Marriages
• Brisbane City Council cemetery records
The Telegraph, Brisbane, 30 November, 1925
The Brisbane Courier, 29 December 1925, page 4

Compiled by Noel Adsett, Brisbane. August 2015 ©



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