Rayene (Ray) Simpson
Died from cancer in 1978
Rayene 'Ray' Simpson was a highly-decorated and experienced soldier who served in 4 major conflicts. He was fearless, did not always follow the rules and 'knew every swear word in the book'. But, those who knew Simpson also spoke of his inspirational leadership, his steadfast loyalty to mates, and his devotion to his wife, Sakai Shoko.
Simpson served in World War II, the Korean War and the Malayan Emergency before doing 3 tours of Vietnam.
For his service in the Vietnam War, Simpson received a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and then the Victoria Cross (VC). He was one of only 4 Australians to be awarded a VC in that conflict.
Simpson was born in 1926 in the inner-city suburb of Chippendale to Robert and Olga Simpson. When he was 5, Simpson's mother disappeared, leaving Robert to raise the children. When his father could not cope, Simpson was placed in an orphanage in Carlingford, separated from his siblings.
Simpson worked on a Taree dairy farm when he was 12 years old. He stayed there for 2 years before returning to Sydney. Eager to join the Army, he enlisted as soon as he turned 18.
Simpson served in 4 conflicts:
- World War II
- Korean War
- Malayan Emergency
- Vietnam War
He first joined the Army on 15 March 1944 and was posted to the 41/2 Battalion. In August that year, he was sent to Cowra to reinforce garrison troops at Cowra prisoner-of-war camp, after the Cowra breakout by Japanese prisoners.
Simpson also served on Morotai, in the Netherland East Indies; Tarakan, off the coast of Borneo; and Rabaul, in New Britain, off New Guinea.
Simpson left the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in January 1947. For the next 4 years, he worked in various jobs as a builder's labourer, a sailor, a sugarcane cutter, and a tram conductor.
He rejoined the Army 4 years later to serve in the Korean War, attached to the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR). Although it is unclear why he did so, Simpson used his brother's name and birth date to enlist in January 1951.
In January 1954, Simpson joined the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR) and served in Malaya for 2 years from 1955. In November 1957, he became one of the original members of the 1st Special Air Service Company (SAS).
In 1962, Simpson joined the 30-person Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV).
Members of the AATTV were the first Australian soldiers sent to Vietnam. They started arriving in Saigon in August 1962. Their role was to train and advise the South Vietnamese military. The AATTV worked alongside Australians and Americans, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and US Special Forces. Team members worked in the field and joined units on operations.
The AATTV was the most highly decorated Australian unit during the Vietnam War.
Simpson served 3 tours of Vietnam, beginning in:
- August 1962
- July 1964
- May 1966.
In September 1964, Simpson was on an operation with a South Vietnamese patrol. They were attacked by National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) soldiers. During the attack, and despite his serious wounds, Simpson demonstrated inspiring leadership and courage.
Simpson's action was recognised with the award of a Distinguished Conduct Medal. His award citation recounts what happened:
[While on patrol], led by a Vietnamese Special Forces Officer the platoon sized group was intercepted by a superior Viet Cong Force. The Vietnamese leader was an early casualty. Warrant Officer Simpson was severely wounded by rifle fire in the right leg. Despite his wound, he rallied the platoon, formed a defensive position, contacted base by radio, and, by personal example and inspiring leadership, held off repeated assaults by the Viet Cong force, until, with ammunition almost exhausted, and himself weak from loss of blood, the relief force he had alerted arrived at the scene. Even then, not until he was satisfied that the position was secure and the troops of his patrol adequately cared for did he permit himself to be evacuated.
Simpson recovered from his wounds in Japan but returned to Australia. He took up duties with the 1st Battalion, Royal NSW Regiment (Commando) in January 1966. Simpson resigned from the Army in May of that year. But missing the army life and his wife, he reenlisted the following year in Saigon.
During his third and final tour of Vietnam, Simpson was awarded the VC.
In May 1969, Simpson was involved in 2 actions that resulted in his VC. On 6 May, under heavy fire, Simpson rescued a fellow AATTV adviser. On 11 May, Simpson put himself between wounded men and enemy fire to organise their rescue.
His citation reads:
Disregarding his own safety, he moved forward in the face of accurate enemy machine-gun fire, in order to cover the initial evacuation of the casualties. The wounded were eventually moved out of the line of enemy fire, which all this time was directed at Warrant Officer Simpson from close range. At the risk of almost certain death he made several attempts to move further forward towards his Battalion Commander's body but on each occasion he was stopped by heavy fire. Realising the position was becoming untenable and that priority should be given to extricating other casualties as quickly as possible, Warrant Officer Simpson alone and still under enemy fire covered the withdrawal of the wounded by personally placing himself between the wounded and the enemy. From this position he fought on and by outstanding courage and valour was able to prevent the enemy advance until the wounded were removed from the immediate vicinity. Warrant Officer Simpson's gallant and individual action and his coolness under fire were exceptional and were instrumental in achieving the successful evacuation of the wounded to the helicopter evacuation pad.
Warrant Officer Simpson's repeated acts of personal bravery in this operation were an inspiration to all Vietnamese, United States and Australian soldiers who served with him. His conspicuous gallantry was in the highest tradition of the Australian Army.
Queen Elizabeth II presented Simpson with his VC at a ceremony at Government House, Sydney, on 1 May 1970.
After the war
After the war, Simpson settled in Tokyo with his wife, Shoko. The couple married in January 1953 after a 1-month courtship. Shoko remained in Japan throughout Simpson's war service, caring for her elderly mother. This was one of the reasons Simpson returned to Vietnam for 3 tours. Doing so meant he could access extended leave to see his wife in Japan.
After his service in Vietnam, Simpson worked for a liquor importing business. He later took up an administrative post with the Australian Embassy in Tokyo.
Simpson died from cancer in Tokyo on 18 October 1978. He was 52. A memorial service was held in his honour at the Duntroon Royal Military College in Canberra.
Simpson is buried in the post-war section of the Yokohama Commonwealth War Cemetery in Japan.
Commemorating Rayene Simpson VC
Simpson is commemorated at the following places:
- Canberra Remembrance Park, Campbell, ACT
- Carlingford Public School, Carlingford, NSW
- John F Kennedy Hall of Heroes, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, United States
- North Bondi War Memorial, Bondi, NSW
- Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Walk, Seymour, Victoria
The Australian War Memorial holds Simpson's Victoria Cross and his official portrait by Joshua Smith.
- 1978 'LAST POST FOR V.C. WINNER', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 1 November, p 3, viewed 26 March 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article110920556
- 2016 'Simmo and the SAS', interview by Geraldine Doogue, ABC Radio, Saturday Extra, with Michael Malone, 16 Apr 2016, viewed 26 March 2021, https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/saturdayextra/simmo-and-the-sas/7288906
- 2019 'Learn about Victoria Cross recipient, Ray Simpson', Manning River Times, 22 April, viewed 26 March 2021, https://www.manningrivertimes.com.au/story/5536631/remembering-victoria-cross-recipient-ray-simpson/
- Audacity: Stories of heroic Australians in wartime, Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/resources/audacity-stories-heroic-australians-wartime
- Australian War Memorial, 'Australian Army Training Team Vietnam', https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U53430
- Australian War Memorial, 'Simpson, Rayene Stewart (Ray) VC, DCM (Warrant Officer, b.1926 - d.1978)', https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1201230
- Australian War Memorial, 'Distinguished Conduct Medal: Warrant Officer Second Class R S Simpson, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam', https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C229550
- Australian War Memorial, 'Warrant Officer Class 2, Rayene Stewart (Ray) Simpson', https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10676745
- Australian War Memorial, 'Warrant Officer Class 2, Rayene Simpson', https://www.awm.gov.au/learn/memorial-boxes/2/case-studies/rayene-simpson
- Brian Kelly, 'Simpson, Rayene Stewart (1928-1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2002, viewed 26 March 2021, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/simpson-rayene-stewart-11699
- Wikipedia, 'Ray Simpson, soldier', viewed 29 March 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Simpson_(soldier).