Peter Badcoe

Full name:
Peter John Badcoe, VC
Born:

Malvern
SA
Australia
Died:

An Thuan
Vietnam
Occupation:
Clerk
Education:
Adelaide Technical High School
Fate:

Killed in action

Highest rank:
Major, Provisional Major
Enlistment:
Decorations/ commendations:
Victoria Cross (VC), Purple Heart, Silver Star with oak leaf, Gallantry Cross, Air Medal
Service:
Australian Army
Service Number:
41400
Conflict:
Vietnam War 1962-1975, Malayan Emergency 1948-1960
Military event:
Unit:
Australian Army Training Team Vietnam

Early life

Decorated career soldier and family man, Peter Badcoe, was born and educated in Adelaide. The son of Leslie and Gladys Badcock, he changed his last name to Badcoe in 1961. Peter had a sister, Thelma, and his father, Leslie, worked for South Australia's Engineering and Water Supply Department.

Badcoe left school at Adelaide Technical High School to become a clerk with the South Australian public service. But he wanted to serve in the military. After only a few months in his office job and persuading his reluctant father, Badcoe joined the Australian Regular Army in June 1950. He began officer training at Portsea, Victoria, and graduated in December 1952 as a second lieutenant. His first placement was with the Royal Australian Artillery.

Army service

Men walking along track in bushland

Peter Badcoe in Malaya. Badcoe served in the Malayan Emergency as a captain with 1st Field Regiment Royal Australian Artillery, c.1954. AWM 044681.

Badcoe served in several postings between 1953 and his time in Vietnam in the 1960s. These included:

  • 14th National Service Training Battalion in 1953 and 1955 to 1957
  • 1st Field Regiment 1953 to 1955 and 1957 to 1958
  • Staff Officer, Army headquarters, from 1958
  • 103rd Field Battery, Malaya, 1961 to 1963

Badcoe gained a reputation for being a conscientious and enthusiastic young officer. He was promoted to captain, then to provisional major in June 1966.

During his time with the 103rd Field Battery, Badcoe was based at Terendak, north of Malacca. He was a Battery Captain. Badcoe's wife, Denise, and their 3 daughters were living with him at Terendak; one of their happiest times together.

Personal life

Peter Badcoe was 22 when he met and married 17-year-old Denise MacMahon. The couple met at the Mosman Council Debutante Ball, where Badcoe's regiment had been invited to escort each of the debutantes. Badcoe traded places to be Denise's partner for the evening. After a short courtship, the couple married 12 months later. Badcoe had 3 daughters, Kerry (now Carey), Kim and Susanne.

In letters home to his family, Badcoe reflected the daily details of life in Vietnam. He wrote about the difficult weather conditions and his frustration with administration:

Am currently soaking wet and covered in mud not that that is desperately unusual around here at the moment. It's pouring with rain on the whole place is flooded. The men up here don't mind in the least about the colours they wear and it's a little odd to see Maj Bace in his LAVENDAR raincoat 'dep qua' (very beautiful!) I'm off to Phu Luc and VIHN Loc to visit the live operations we have going this afternoon then I've got two hours of visual recce in L19 from 4 - 6 so it's a fairly busy afternoon. Tonight I'll catch up on all the useless paperwork. Its growing with our new Division Senior adviser. He wants reports on everything he loves paper.

[Major Peter Badcoe, 24 November 1966, SAMA 1129/1/5/1-2]

He shared details of the shocking injuries suffered by casualties:

Bad day today took my first AUST casualty. As you've doubtless heard young [deleted] hit a mine lost a fair bit of his right foot, multiple wounds to the groin (the private parts will be OK though) and buttocks and wounds to the left leg. This armour plate in the bottom of the boot is all that saved any of his foot. They've been working on him all day and they've saved his heel and instep. He's had a COLONOSTOMY as his bottom was chopped to ribbons.

[Major Peter Badcoe, 16 January 1967, SAMA 1129/1/9/1-3]

He also reassured Denise and the girls at home that he was being careful:

Don't worry about me my little darling Petie is still the most highly qualified professional coward of them all and I still hold the record for "fastest man behind the paddy bund".

[Major Peter Badcoe, 16 January 1967, SAMA 1129/1/9/1-3]

A girl looks a woman while a man in suit watches the girl

The moment when 12-year-old Kerry (later Carey) Badcoe met Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Major John Gorton. Sydney, 1970. AWM P00942.001.

Vietnam

Soldier aiming rifle leaning arm on a wall of wood sleepers

Major Peter Badcoe at Holsworthy, Sydney, c.1966. AWM 044465

Badcoe joined the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) after completing special training. The AATTV was a specialist team first raised in 1962. Its job was to train and advise local soldiers, including the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN), Montagnards, Territorial Forces (Regional Force and Popular Force) and Mobile Strike (Mike) Forces.

Although its role was to train and advise, AATTV members faced some of the most dangerous fighting during the conflict. Four Victoria Crosses were awarded to members of the AATTV during the Vietnam conflict and its members received 100 decorations in total.

Badcoe reached Saigon in August 1966. He was responsible for leading and training South Vietnamese soldiers at Thua Thien province. In December, he was made sector operations officer, responsible for the whole province.

Badcoe had great respect for the Vietnamese people. Badcoe helped his 'poorly provisioned troops' get badly needed equipment and provided an orphanage with food. When a local village was hit by a napalm strike, Badcoe spent 2 days helping survivors, an experience that 'deeply disturbed him'.

Badcoe wrote to Denise of this experience and his anger and disgust were clear:

I pleaded with the useless slobs not to, as it was an extremely friendly village and all that was necessary was for these useless b-s in the bn and the APCs to come in and help us dig them out, but we were overruled by the people at Division and forced to pull back and they saturated the village in napalm. It didn't get the VC [Viet Cong], they had all dug bunkers but it got a hell of a lot of the villagers ...

[Major Peter Badcoe, 7 February 1967, SAMA 1129/1/13/1-3]

Forty civilians were killed or wounded in the attack. 'All the advisors were ropable,' Badcoe wrote his wife.

I spent all day Sunday and half of Monday getting out the bodies and cleaning up and trying to get the people a place to live and some food, what do you say to them when their houses have been burnt their families burnt to death I was so furious and disgusted I don't think I said a word all day I just couldn't speak.

[Major Peter Badcoe, 7 February 1967, SAMA 1129/14/1-3]

'Outstanding bravery' in the face of 'almost certain death'

Between February and April 1967, Badcoe was involved in 3 different actions that led to his award of a Victoria Cross (VC).

On 23 February in the Phu Thu District, Badcoe disregarded his own safety to rescue a wounded American medical adviser and retrieve the body of a second American officer, killed by enemy fire.

On 7 March, Badcoe was part of a counter-attack against Viet Cong soldiers at Quang Dien. His citation states:

His personal courage and leadership turned certain defeat into victory and prevented the enemy from capturing the District Headquarters.

[The London Gazette, 17 October 1967]

A month later, on 7 April, Badcoe came under heavy mortar fire while on an operation with South Vietnamese troops in the Huong Tra district. He was killed by machine-gun fire.

Badcoe's final acts of leadership and courage are described in his VC citation:

During the move forward to an objective the company came under heavy small arms fire and withdrew to a cemetery for cover. This left Major Badcoe and his radio operator about 50 metres in front of the leading elements, under heavy mortar fire. Seeing this withdrawal, Major Badcoe ran back to them and by encouragement and example got them moving forward again. He then set out in front of the company to lead them on; the company stopped again under heavy fire but Major Badcoe continued on to cover and prepared to throw grenades, when he rose to throw, his radio operator pulled him down as heavy small arms fire was being brought to bear on them; he later got up again to throw a grenade and was hit and killed by a burst of machine gun fire.

[The London Gazette, 17 October 1967]

American soldiers who witnessed this battle praised Badcoe's actions, claiming:

... he knew that almost certain death could be expected in face of the hail of enemy fire, and that they saw no possibility of his survival.

[Press statement by Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt. 16 October 1967. Museum Board of South Australia, BAD-00044.]

The Australian Prime Minister described Badcoe's 'personal valour and unhesitant response to the needs of his comrades-in-arms' as an inspiration.

Badcoe was posthumously awarded a VC. His bravery was also recognised by the United States and South Vietnam.

Badcoe is buried at Terendak Cemetery, Malaysia.

Commemorating Peter Badcoe VC

Men in military uniforms socialising and seated at folding chairs and tables in a large room with a bar and a jukebox

The Peter Badcoe Club, Vung Tau, South Vietnam. 1968. AWM MISC/68/0049/VN

Less than a year after Badcoe's death, the Peter Badcoe Club was officially opened and named in the Australian major's honour. The club provided rest and recreation (R & R) facilities for Australian soldiers. It included food and drink bars, sporting facilities and was a venue for visiting entertainers.

Local Vietnamese also built a shrine to honour Peter Badcoe, as well as Vietnamese mothers and children who also died that day.

Badcoe is also commemorated at a rest area at Lake George on the Federal Highway between Canberra and Sydney.

Peter Badcoe VC House aged care home in Newcastle was named in his honour.

Sources:

  • ABC, War Hero's Daughter Travels to Vietnam, 7.30, 19 May 2008, https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/war-heros-daughter-journeys-to-vietnam/2677506
  • Australian War Memorial, undated, Major Peter John Badcoe, accessed 7 June 2021. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10676758
  • Australian War Memorial, undated, A day in the life of the Badcoe Club, accessed 7 June 2021, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/F03997
  • Australian War Memorial, undated, Last Post Ceremony: Major Peter John Badcoe VC, accessed 5 June 2021, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2278410
  • McNeill, Ian, 1993, Badcoe, Peter John (1934-1967), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed 3 June 2021, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/badcoe-peter-john-9401
  • 1967, 'Officers Killed in Vietnam', The Canberra Times, 10 April, p 3, viewed 7 June 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131648592
  • 1967, 'VC for Major Killed in Vietnam', The Canberra Times, 17 October, p 1, viewed 5 June 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106992686
  • 1968 'Mrs Badcoe Receives Her Husband's Victoria Cross', The Canberra Times, 6 April, p 3, viewed 5 June 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107045533
  • South Australian Museum Archives, Major Peter John Badcoe collection, SAMA 1129, accessed 7 June 2021, http://archives.samuseum.sa.gov.au/sama1129/index.html
  • Stewart, Iain, 20 May 2008, Victoria Cross citation details, Peter Badcoe, accessed 4 June 2021, http://www.victoriacross.org.uk/bbbadcoe.htm
  • The London Gazette, 13 October 1967; Supplement, 17 October 1967, page 11273.
  • Wikipedia contributors, 1 May 2021, Peter Badcoe, accessed 3 June 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Badcoe
Malacca

Last updated: 18 November 2022

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2022), Peter John Badcoe, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 7 December 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/biographies/peter-john-badcoe
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