|Object type||Last Post film|
Australian War Memorial
|Place made||Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell|
|Date made||2 November 2020|
Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
|Copying Provisions||Copy provided for personal non-commercial use|
The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Pilot Officer Robert Charles Carver, No. 2 Squadron, RAAF, Vietnam.
The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on Pilot Officer Robert Charles Carver, No. 2 Squadron, RAAF, Vietnam.
Pilot Officer Robert Charles Carver, No. 2 Squadron, RAAF
KIA: 3 November 1970
Today, we remember and pay tribute to Pilot Officer Robert Charles Carver.
Robert Carver, known as “Bob”, was born on 2 July 1946 in Townsville, Queensland, the second of Sydney and Edna Carver’s two sons.
He attended Harristown State High School, where he had an excellent academic record and was an active participant in the school’s extra-curricular activities. He was a member of the First XI cricket team and the school’s tennis team. He also served in the school’s army cadet unit, and in 1963 he was the senior Cadet Under Officer. The same year he was also a school prefect.
Outside school he was a member of the Toowoomba pistol and tennis clubs, and also enjoyed weightlifting and golf.
After graduating in 1963, Carver began a traineeship as a radiographer the following year. By 1968 he had qualified and was working at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, but his heart was not in his work.
Seeking greater challenges, Carver tried unsuccessfully to join the Australian Army as a pilot in April 1968. Soon after, he submitted an application to the Royal Australian Air Force. He was found unsuitable for pilot training in July, but was offered the opportunity to train as a navigator, which he accepted.
During his application process, Carver’s former school principal provided a glowing character reference, saying that “he has a warm, friendly personality and is morally sound.”
Carver joined the Royal Australian Air Force on 13 January 1969, becoming a member of No. 37 Navigator Course located at East Sale in Victoria. He graduated on 23 January 1970 and was commissioned with the rank of pilot officer.
In his end of course report, Carver’s chief instructor described him as having “a significant personality and could be described as a born leader. He has proved himself to be a reliable person with a mature outlook on life. Carver is an excellent crew member and is extremely likeable.” The report concluded “Carver should make an excellent officer as well as an above average navigator.”
His next posting was to No. 33 Bomber Operational Conversion Course at No. 1 Operational Training Unit, at Amberley, Queensland. Carver successfully completed this course in August and was posted to No. 2 Squadron, RAAF, which was based at Phan Rang in South Vietnam.
He took his final leave at the beginning of September, and then flew out from Sydney on 16 September. After arriving at Phan Rang, Carver was soon on operations.
On 3 November, Carver was tasked to be the navigator on a routine sortie to bomb a North Vietnam Army unit located in Quang Nam province near the Laos border. By this stage, Carver had completed 33 operational sorties and had made a positive impression with his superiors and colleagues. The pilot was Flying Officer Michael Herbert, a seasoned veteran with 198 completed operational sorties over a 9-month period.
Their aircraft, Canberra bomber A84-231, call sign Magpie 91 took off from Phan Rang at 7 pm, loaded with six 750-pound bombs, and flew towards Da Nang. Herbert reported that the sortie “should be no problem, it’s pretty good up here tonight.”
Just after 8 pm, as Magpie 91 neared Da Nang, the local US radar control officer advised Herbert to ascend to 22,000 feet, placing the aircraft out of enemy anti-aircraft range. Bombs were released over the target at 8.22 pm and Herbert radioed “six away, breaking left.” The radar controller radioed Magpie 91 stating “that was an excellent run, sir. It looked real good down here, and we enjoyed working with you and see you another day.” Herbert acknowledged the transmission and just over a minute later Magpie 91 disappeared from US radar screens.
Despite three days of intensive air searches by Australian and US aircraft, no trace of the missing Canberra bomber or its crew could be found. The steep hills and thick vegetation defeated all attempts at location. Carver and Herbert were declared missing.
When the last of Australia’s forces withdrew from Vietnam in 1972, six men remained missing in action. Private Peter Gillson and Lance Corporal Richard Parker, both from 1RAR; Lance Corporal John Gillespie, an Army medic; Private David Fisher from the SAS; and Bob Carver and Michael Herbert. For their families, it was the start of more than 30 years of not knowing.
In 1982 three hunters from the Katu people of the mountains located the crash site and removed wire for their snares. As they spoke little Vietnamese and could not read or write, their discovery went unreported. An Australian government mission to Vietnam in 1984 failed to find any trace of the missing Australians – and it was not until 2007 that the efforts to locate them were renewed.
The late Jim Bourke, who had served in Vietnam with the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regment, was instrumental in forming the veterans’ organisation Operation Aussies Home. It was his drive and determination, backed by the Australian Army History Unit and other Defence resources, that would eventually bring all six missing men home. In April 2007 Parker and Gillson were located, followed by Gillespie that November. Fisher was located in September 2008, leaving only Carver and Herbert to be found. Bourke provided a detailed report to the RAAF regarding the location of Carver and Herbert.
In April 2009 a combined Army and RAAF team went to Quang Nam province to locate the Canberra bomber and its crew. In a stroke of luck, the three hunters who had discovered the wrecked Canberra bomber in 1982 were still alive. The information they provided enabled a mixed group of Vietnamese and Australians to travel to the wreck of Magpie 91. The crash site was located in dense jungle on a remote hillside in Quang Nam province. In late July 2009, the remains of Carver and Herbert were located, identified and repatriated home.
Carver’s funeral was held with full military honours at St Luke’s
Cathedral in Toowoomba on the 2nd of September. At the end of the ceremony, the Last Post was played, followed by the flyover of an F-111 aircraft. Herbert’s funeral was held in Adelaide on the 7th of September and he too was accorded the Last Post and flyover.
Several theories have been put forward as to how Magpie 91 came to grief, such as a ground to air missile – but the cause of the crash may never be known.
Bob Carver was 24. His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with more than 500 others from the Vietnam War.
This is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Pilot Officer Robert Charles Carver, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Historian, Military History Section
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Pilot Officer Robert Charles Carver, No. 2 Squadron, RAAF, Vietnam. (video)