Victoria Crosses rarely won,
In that bloody Asian War;
Australia’s Army Training Team,
Granted members numbered four.
First came in 1965,
When a WO/2 of 28,
Died as he lived, in dashing style,
Beside his Adviser mate.
West 50 Ks from that village,
Better known as My Lai,
These Warrant Officers were K.I.A.,
In a province called Quang Ngai.
‘Dasher’ Wheatley, ‘Butch’ Swanton too,
Of ARVN troops were in control;
Caught up in heavy contact there,
In a rice paddy on patrol.
Fire coming in from front and sides,
Ambushed men began to fall;
One of whom Swanton stopped to help,
Whilst heading for the paddy wall.
When a bullet caught him in the chest,
‘Dasher’ would not leave him there;
This mate had other plans for them,
Survive or die just as a pair.
Lead and mortars crashing all around,
‘Dasher’ made it to some trees;
Having carried Swanton on his back,
Finally dropping to his knees.
The end was near, the net closed in,
Bold decision alone he made;
Hiding two beneath his chest,
‘Dasher’ drew the pins on each grenade.
As enemy forces turned him o’er,
To view their treasured prize,
A frozen look on all their faces,
Surprise and terror in their eyes.
Next day the ARVN returned to them,
Found both Aussies side by side;
VC bodies sprawled all around,
V.C. medal to one who died.
’Twas ’67, Peter Badcoe’s feat,
Assaulting dug-in NVA;
In the face of fire, he just advanced,
Until, like Wheatley, K.I.A.
The final two, in ’69,
Ray Simpson and Keith Payne;
Risked their lives to save their mates,
Both time and time again.
Throughout that brutal decade’s war,
Many deeds unsung, ignored;
And each soldier carried out his role,
No expectation of reward.
Yet of all those 50,000 men,
Four special cases it would seem;
All ex-members of AATTV,
Simply known as ‘The Team’.
Wheatley V.C. 1965 Badcoe V.C. 1967 Simpson V.C. 1969 Payne V.C. 1969
(Courtesy of The Australian newspaper)
The Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (known as AATTV or more simply as ‘The Team’) was a special unit set up in 1962, with its initial role (as a team of ‘Advisers’) being to train the inexperienced South Vietnamese soldiers in the ‘art of (guerrilla) war’. Over the next 10 years some 900 odd members of this unit saw service in Vietnam and as the war escalated some became more directly involved in a combat role. Four members of The Team were awarded the Victoria Cross (two posthumously), the highest award for valour in the Australian Armed Services. This poem is a tribute to the men of this unit.
NB. In this poem WO/2 (Warrant Officer Second Class) is read as ‘woe two’.
‘The Victoria Cross was a British decoration in the shape of a bronze
Maltese cross with maroon ribbon. It was founded by Queen Victoria
in 1856 during the Crimean War and awarded to members of the armed
forces for acts of conspicuous bravery in the face of the enemy.’
- official definition (Oxford Dictionary).
Brief summaries of the four awards:
‘On November 13th 1965, in Quang Tri Province, Wheatley was leading a platoon of ARVN when his Australian companion (Swanton) was mortally wounded. Wheatley carried his mate from the open paddy, under fire, into a clump of trees where he pulled the pins on two grenades, hid them under his chest and awaited the arrival of the advancing Viet Cong.’
‘In August 1966, in Thua Thien Province, Badcoe went alone to the aid of an American group under heavy attack, attended the wounded and ensured their safety. He then organised an attack on the enemy machine gunners and killed all of them. On April 7th 1967 Badcoe was again under heavy enemy fire and attempted to rally his ARVN force into a counter-attack, personally throwing grenades at close quarter. During this action he was shot dead.’
‘On May 6th 1969, In Kontum Province, Simpson’s platoon came under heavy attack in thick jungle. Simpson crawled across an open area under heavy fire carrying his mortally wounded comrade (Gill) on his back. He then crawled back to lob grenades on the enemy to cover his platoon’s safe withdrawal. Five days later Simpson repeated a similar act of gallantry recovering the wounded and providing cover fire for his platoon’s withdrawal.’
‘On May 24th 1969, in Quang Ngai Province, Payne, though wounded himself, rallied his frightened ARVN troops to ward off a far superior NVA force. Throughout the night Payne crept back on several occasions along the line of retreat to aid wounded and disoriented stragglers back to safety.’