National service to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Operation Hammersley

Running time
58 min 29 sec
Date made
Place made
Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial (AVFNM) Canberra, Australia


Wing Commander David Brewer

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning.

Welcome to the Australian Vietnam Force's National Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra for the National Commemorative Service to mark the 50th anniversary of Operation Hammersley. I am Wing Commander David Brewer, and it is my great privilege to be your master of ceremonies for this morning's service. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to elders past and present.

And I extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians present here today. I would also like to acknowledge the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and our veterans that are present today.

We thank you for your service.

I will now broadly acknowledge our official guests, her excellency, the honorable Dame Annette King, the ONZM High Commissioner for New Zealand, Lieutenant Colonel Scott Stagner, representing His Excellency Mr. Arthur B. Culvahouse Junior, Ambassador to the United States of America. Senator Jim Molan AO DSC representing the Honorable Darren Chester, MP, Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel. The Honorable Dr Mike Kelly, AM MP representing the Leader of the Federal Opposition. Major General the Honorable Michael Jeffery AC AO CVO MC former Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. Mr Alicia Payne MP representing the Honorable Shayne Neumann, MP, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel, General Angus Campbell AO DSC, Chief of the Defence Force. Vice Admiral Michael Noonan AO RAN, Chief of Navy. Lieutenant General Rick Burr AO DSC MVO Chief of Army. Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld AO DSC Chief of Airforce. Senior representatives of the ex-service community, veterans, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I would now like to acknowledge our V.I.P.s for today's service, the veterans of Operation Hammersley and the family members of the soldiers killed during the operation who are here with us today.

If you are a veteran of Operation Hammersley, would you please stand?

Ladies and gentlemen, please acknowledge the service and sacrifice of these veterans.

The families of those we lost as well as all those who served with him.

Thank you. Please be seated.

Our service today begins with the mounting of the catafalque party, the catafalque party will lead to the memorial the regimental colors, standard, guidons and core banners of the units involved in Operation Hammersley. Ladies and gentlemen, please stand. Please remain standing until the completion of the musical salute point of war.

[Mounting of the catafalque party]

The standard of the 1st Armored Regiment, the guidons of the Third Fourth Cavalry Regiment, the guidons of the 1st Aviation Regiment, the colors of the 8th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment and the Sovereign's Banner of the Royal Australian Engineers.

[Mounting of the catafalque party]

Please be seated.

I now invite Dr. Robert Hall, who served with the 8th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, during Operation Hammersley to deliver the call to remembrance.

Dr. Robert Hall:

50 years ago, Australian troops in South Vietnam embarked on Operation Hammersley. From limited beginnings Hammersley grew into a large scale effort to drive communist forces in Phuoc Tuy province from their sanctuary and the Long Hai hills. Today, those who know the story of Operation Hammersley will know of successful ambushes and heavy fighting as infantry and armor with the support of engineers, artillery, army aviation and the Royal Australian Air Force met a resolute and skilled enemy on the battlefield. Sadly, though, Operation Hammersley is also remembered for the tragic mine incidents that accounted for most of Australia's casualties during the operation.

Reflecting on the man who endured the singular fear and tension that confronted those sent into country known to be heavily mined Father Stan Hessey , a Chaplain, with the eighth Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, later wrote, 'all sorts of memories flashed through my mind. The teenage grunt, gamely placing one foot after another on ground that could erupt at any second in the mangled fire and shrapnel. The medic stooped, but rushing forward while everyone else hugged the earth.

Baby-faced subalterns making life and death decisions and growing Sargent's remaining cool, such as the face of courage. For every obvious spot lit deed, there are ten thousand microscopic, mundane, unobserved actions performed with a brave heart by someone who is terribly afraid.' On Operation Hammersley and throughout our country's involvement in Vietnam, Australian soldiers demonstrated the kind of courage about which Father Hessey wrote.

These countless deeds of unsung bravery were a sign of Australia's war, but were known then and for most most part remained known to this day only by those who were there. Yet they remind us that all who experienced the war in South Vietnam are part of a proud tradition of service reaching back over more than a century. Today is a day to reflect on the qualities of endurance and courage that characterised the Australians service in Vietnam, often in the most trying, difficult and dangerous circumstances. It's a day to reflect on what the war in Vietnam and what operations like Hammersley cost Australia, what it cost those who served and what it cost their families.

For those in the field, Hammersley left a deep impression. It took them into one of the most perilous areas of Phuoc Tuy province and the Long Hai hills, an enemy stronghold of forbidding reputation and a place where more than 30 Australians had already lost their lives. For those at home, families who farewelled men to war. Any news of casualties in the press can only have called for deepest foreboding. Sadly, 14 families were to have their worst fears realised from that moment and forever more. Their lives were marked by grief and loss. Dozens more learned that a loved one had been wounded, many seriously. The effects of service in Vietnam were far reaching and with us still. Five decades later. Today, the names of the dead of Hammersley are inscribed on our national roll of honor in the cloisters of the Australian War Memorial. Testament to their sacrifice and to the enduring place that they and all who lost their lives in war and conflict hold in our national memory. Five decades on, we remember all those who lost their lives on Operation Hammersley. And we honor all those who served.

Thank you, Dr. Hall.

Wing Commander David Brewer:

The commemorative address today will be delivered by Senator Jim Molan AO DSC.

Senator Jim Molan AO DSC:

50 years have passed since Australian troops launched Operation Hammersley in the Long Hai hills of South Vietnam's Phuoc Tuy province in early 1970. Australians had made forays into the Long Hai's and they'd made them before at the cost of at least 26 lives. But the hills were far more familiar to the communist forces. For them, the Long Hai's were a sanctuary, a base, a place for training and a staging point.

In this rugged corner of South Vietnam the Australians faced an old foe, the Viet Cong D 445 Battalion who were veterans of Long Tan and more than three years of fighting in Phuoc Tuy. The Long Hai's were strongly defended, undercut with bunkers and tunnels and sewn, of course, with landmines, a weapon that perhaps more than any other defined Hammersley.

On one day on this operation on the 28 February 1970, nine Australians were killed and 16 wounded by mines, a tragedy that was repeated too often in Vietnam and one compounded by the almost complete certainty that the mines were Australian lifted and used by the enemy. For this alone, Hammersley deserves to be remembered, but its place in Australia's wartime history was earned not only for its most tragic hours.

There was a moment, of course, when the Australians were poised to inflict a decisive defeat on the local Viet Cong. That this did not happen, that the Australians were pulled back in anticipation of an airstrike that took several days to come. More than enough time for the enemy to escape reflected the times in which the operation took place. At the highest levels of the army and in politics, the certainty of Australian deaths weighed more heavily than the chance of winning a hard fought battlefield victory.

For some who were there, it was a bitter blow. But one Viet veteran, perhaps echoing the thoughts of others, later, reflected. 'Maybe in hindsight, it was the right decision. But when you are there at the time, you know, you are going to take casualties but if you clean that battalion out, then you own the province.'The fighting on Operation Hammersley had been intense, armor and infantry fought a series of difficult, deadly actions and ahead of the Australians lay the most terrible of mine actions.

12 Australians were killed or died of wounds during the operation, with a further two killed as the Australians pursued D 445 battalion in the days immediately after. Almost 60 Australians were wounded on Hammersley. Today we remember all of those who lost their lives, and we honor all who took part in this difficult, dangerous operation. Five decades on, they are not forgotten.

If I may, on a personal note, for the veterans here present as a cadet at the Royal Military College in 1970, I think I was incapable of understanding what you went through. Since then, I've learnt what you did. I understand a little more of the sacrifice you made, and I admire you even more. Thank you.

Wing Commander David Brewer:

Thank you, Senator. Please stand and join the band of the Royal Military College Duntroon as we sing the hymn 'Make me a channel of your peace.

[Hymn titled 'Make me a channel of your peace'].

Please be seated. I now invite Colonel Ken Ashman, who served in B Squadron 3 Cavalry Regiment of the Royal Australian Armored Corps during Operation Hammersley to deliver a reading.

Colonel Ken Ashman:

The Vietnam War was closely followed in Australia through in-country TV and newspaper reports. On the 2nd of March 1970 an AAP report from Vung Tau informed newspaper readers in Australia and overseas that a few days previously, nine Australians had lost their lives in South Vietnam and another 29 had been wounded. Most were members of the 8th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment 8RAR, and most were the victims of landmines.

The headlines nine Australians die in Viet minefield, were stark, eye catching and the story told of a tragedy. Fifty years on, the words of an anonymous journalist recall one of Australia's darkest days of the Vietnam War. And I quote 'Vung, Tau.. Doctors, nurses and wardsmen here, entered Nui Dat today caring for 29 diggers wounded by two mine explosions and enemy contacts on Black Saturday. Nine Australians died in the action.

Exhausted staff at both hospitals spent long hours treating the wounded as thoughwere assisted from Australian and American helicopters into clearing wards. Surgeons and theatre staff at the first Australian Task Force Hospital, at Vung Tau, worked nonstop for 15 hours on the Long Hai mine casualties from the eighth Battalion. And later on, soldiers from the sixth Battalion wounded by rocket fragments and bullets in the Duc Thanth area. Six diggers were in the hospital's intensive care unit early today in a reported serious condition. Eight soldiers and field engineers died instantly in two mine explosions about 50 yards apart in a small rock surrounded valley. Another soldier died of injuries later. And our double RAAF Iriquois helicopter, which was winching down an Australian, was caught in the second blast and sustained 23 fragment holes.

Dead and wounded lay on the field for about 20 minutes before the first American dustoff medical evacuation helicopter arrived. It hoisted up five badly wounded diggers and ferried them to Vung Tau bout 12 miles away. It was the worst mine incident since the Australians came to Phuoc Tuy province in 1966. End quote. Though operation on which most of these casualties occurred was never named in this story. We now know that it was Hammersley and the 28th of February 1970, Black Saturday, was the day in which more Australians became landmine casualties than on any other day during the Vietnam War.

Yet while these words speak of tragedy, they remind us too, of the courage displayed by those who served. Of the soldiers on the ground and the air crew who risked their lives to rescue the wounded. And they remind us also of the tireless dedication with which medical personnel tended to man wounded on the battlefield. Today, we honor all who served on Operation Hammersley, and we remember those who lost their lives in the Long Hai hills in early 1970.

Wing Commander David Brewer:

Thank you, Colonel Ashman.

I now invite Army Chaplain Brenton McRae to lead us in a prayer of commemoration and the lord's prayer.

Army Chaplain Brenton McRae:

Let us pray. Ever loving and almighty God. We come before you this day in commemoration to offer our heartfelt thanks and gratitude for your love and mercies.

As we remember those that served with courage and honor in defence of our nation, especially those who have served in Operation Hammersley.

As we pause, reflect and remember their sacrifice may their dauntless courage in defence of our country continue to be a reminder for us and our future generations of the cost of our freedom and of all the benefits we enjoy and an incentive to sacrificial service for all people.

We pray for all our serving members, past and present, together with their families. Bless, guide, uphold and protect them we pray.

This we ask in the name of god, the father, the son and the Holy Spirit, amen. The lord's prayer. Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Wing Commander David Brewer:

Thank you, Chaplain. Wreaths will now be laid by official representatives. The first wreaths will be laid on behalf of New Zealand and the United States of America. Her Excellency the Honorable Dame Annette King ONZM High Commissioner for New Zealand, and Lieutenant Colonel Scott Stagner, representing His Excellency, Mr Arthur B. Culvahouse Junior, Ambassador of the United States of America.

The next wearth will be laid by Senator Jim Molan AO DSC representing the Minister for Veteranss Affairs.

And the Minister for Defence Personnel and the Honorable Dr. Mike Kelly AM MP, representing the Federal Ppposition.

The next wreaths will be laid on behalf of those soldiers killed during Operation Hammersley. Trooper Hugh Carlyle, represented by his niece, niece Ms Ann-marie Roach.

Lance Corporal Barry John Whiston, represented by his brother, Mr. Robert Whiston.

Sergeant Douglas Alfred Baker, represented by Dr Robert Hall, 8RAR Operation Hammersley veteran. Corporal James Joseph Barrett, represented by his sister, Mrs Margaret Corliss.

Sergeant William Joseph Hoban, represented by Mr. Len Thompson 8RAR Operation Hammersley veteran. Sapper Rodney Noel Hubble represented by Mr. Peter Macdonald, Royal Australian Engineers.

Corporal Robert James Jackson, represented by his widow, Mrs. Betty Legge, and his daughter, Mrs. Karen Stackman. Private Larry James McLennan, represented by Mr. Bill Thompson 8RAR operation Hammersley veteran.

Private Barry John Monday, represented by his sister, Mrs. Jill Nye, accompanied by her husband, Mr. Ross Nye.

Private Timo Esko A Pesonen, represented by Mr. Graham Agnew 8RAR Operation Hammersley veteran.

Private Phillip Mackay Richter represented by the house captains from Canberra Grammar, where Private Richter was a border, India Kazakoff and Harry Kilcullen.

Private Garry Maxwell West, represented by Mr. Bob D'Aarcy 8RAR Operation Hammersley, veteran. Lance Corporal John Bressington, represented by his sister, Mrs. Diane Williams.

Private Steven James O'Dal, represented by Mr. Paul Gallagher 8RAR Operation Hammersley veteran.

The next wreaths will be laid on behalf of the units that fought in Operation Hammersley.

Mr. Gary Gott, on behalf of A Squadron, 1st Armored Regiment, Royal Australian Armored Core. Mr Rex Harris on behalf of B Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment Royal Australian Armored Core.

Mr. Peter Thorp on behalf of the 1st Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers.

Major General Adrian Clunies-Ross AO MBE on behalf of the Eight Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment Association.

And Air Vice Marshal Mac Weller AM and Group Captain Bryce Martin CBE AFC on behalf of Nine Squadron Royal Australian Airforce.

The next wreath will be laid on behalf of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force by General Angus Campbell AO DSC Chief of the Australian Defence Force.

The next wreathss will be laid by Vice Admiral Michael Noonan AO RAN Chief of Navy Lieutenant General Rick Burr AO DSC MVO Chief of Army.

And Air Marshal Mel Hapfeld AO DSC Chief of Airforce.

The next wreaths will be laid by Mr. Alex McGown on behalf of the Naval Association of Australia, Brigadier Stephen Dunn AM on behalf of the Royal Australian Regiment Association.

And Group Captain Carl Schiller OAM CSM on behalf of the Airforce Association of Australia.

The next wreaths will be laid by Mr. John King on behalf of the Returned and Services League of Australia.

Mr. Robert O'Connor on behalf of Legacy Australia, Miss Pat McCabe OAM on behalf of the Australian TPI Federation. And Mrs Meg Green on behalf of the War Widows Guild of Australia.

The final wreath this morning will be laid on behalf of all veterans of the Vietnam War by Mr. Ken Foster OAM National President of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia and Mr. Bill Roberts OAM National President of the Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia.

It is now time to reflect and to silenty remember all those who have served and died in war. Please stand for The Ode, which will be followed by the Last Post, one minutes of silence and rouse. The Ode will be recited by Sergeant Blake Pascoe. Squadron Sergeant Major, First Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers.

They went with songs to the battle. They were young, straight of limb, true of eye steady and a glow. They were staunch til the end. Against odd uncounted, they fell with their faces to the foe. Thou shall grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun. And in the morning, we will remember them. Lest we forget.

Please remain standing for the Australian National Anthem. Final blessing and the dismounting of the catafalque and colour parties.

[Australian National Anthem]

I now invite Chaplain McCrae to offer a final blessing.

Chaplain McCrae:

Go forth into the world in peace. Be of good courage. Hold fast for that which is good. Render to no one to evil for evil. Strengthen the faint hearted. Support the weak. Help the afflicted. Honor every person. Love and serve the lord rejoicing in the power of the holy spirit. The blessings of god almighty, father, son and the holy spirit. Be upon you and remain with you always now and forever more. Amen.

Wing Commander David Brewer:

Thank you, Chaplain. We began our service this morning with the mounting of the catafalque party and now the catafalque party will be dismounted. The catafalque party will be led away from the memorial by the Regimental colors, standards, guidons in core banners of the units involved in Operation Hammersley.

[Catafalque party dismounts]

Please be seated.

Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our official national commemorative service to mark the 50th anniversary of Operation Hammersley. To our special guests today, the veterans of Operation Hammersley and the next of kin of the soldiers killed. Thank you for being with us for this morning's service. You honor us by your presence. You are wonderful representatives of all those who served with you. And we are so grateful for your service and sacrifice. Ladies and gentlemen, please share your appreciation. Thank you and good morning.