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My ANZAC Story: Ben Keays

Fred Keays photographed in Egypt before being deployed to Gallipoli. - Brisbane Lions,Ben Keays
Fred Keays photographed in Egypt before being deployed to Gallipoli.

When Ben Keays looks at his Brisbane Lions guernsey it represents much more than meets the eye.

To him, it’s a piece of history he shares with his late great-grandfather Fred and great-uncle Desmond who both played for Fitzroy in the VFL.

“The Fitzroy era seems so far away [for some] but for me, I’ve always been so close to it. And same for my Dad,” Keays said. 

With ANZAC Day approaching next week, it's this time of the year he thinks of them the most. 

As a sixteen-year-old Fred Keays enlisted in the Australian Army to fight in World War I.

A photograph taken of him at the Australian training base in Egypt captures his youth and innocence before he was deployed to fight. 

“It’s pretty powerful,” Keays said.

“It only sort of sinks in now when I have an idea of what war was like.

“To be there as a sixteen-year-old, compared to what I was doing as a sixteen-year-old is pretty phenomenal. So obviously I will never come close to anything like that but to have that history and then for him to go back….it's amazing.”

Fred Keays in his Collingwood guernsey during his days in the VFL.

Fred was sent to Gallipoli in November 1915 with the 8th Battalion. After the retreat in December 1915, he was moved to France and believed to have injured his leg while fighting on the Western Front. He returned home to Fitzroy in 1919.

The love of footy has been passed down through generations of the Keays family. Between 1919-20, after serving his country, Fred played five games for Fitzroy in the VFL and kicked one goal. In 1922 he played three games for the Pies.

When Ben was drafted to the Lions in 2015 he thought of his family connection and what this would mean for his father Matt.

“It was always in the back of my mind I guess. I’ve been a massive Lions supporter my whole life and Dad was a Fitzroy supporter all his life, so we were the diehards,” he said. 

Between the World Wars Fred married Bernice and had nine children and adopted a son. At the age of 39, he again enlisted and served his country between 1940-45. This time, he was joined by four of his children, three sons and a daughter, who worked as a nurse.

Desmond Charles Keays took after his father Fred.

“He played for Fitzroy as well, but he was actually the one who didn’t return home. He died as a Prisoner of War in World War II. The
other sons came home,” Keays said.

Although Ben never met Fred, stories of his life have been recounted. Growing up his father Matt regularly showed Ben and his brothers Tyler and Jordan photographs of their ancestors and shared stories from both wars.

(L-R): Ben Keays, cousin Jason, Ben's father Matt and brothers Tyler and Jordan

“To hear some of the stories I guess words that come to mind are courage and bravery he had to not only go to war once but twice."

“The love for his family as well, having a lot of his sons going to World War II with him. 

Ben admits if he had not been drafted, he would have followed the family tradition and taken up a career in the Australian Defence Force.

“I was interested in it as a career when I was younger. I was obviously always playing footy and that was the goal….That was going to be my back up plan,“ he said.

This week Ben, along with Stefan Martin, presented the Lions’ 2018 ANZAC guernsey to the 7th Combat Brigade at the Gallipoli Barracks.

Keays presents Brigadier Anthony Rawlins from the 7th Brigade with the 2018 ANZAC guernsey. 

It was a proud moment for him to be able to share the Keays’ ANZAC history with modern-day soldiers.

One day he hopes to visit the places his great-grandfather and great-uncle gallantly fought for their country.  

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs