The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (27758) Warrant Officer Class 2 John William Kirby, 6th Battalion, RAR, Vietnam

Accession Number PAFU2013/182.01
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 12 June 2013
Access Open
Conflict Vietnam, 1962-1975
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

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. The story for this day was on (27758) Warrant Officer Class 2 John William Kirby, 6th Battalion, RAR, Vietnam.

Note: There is no recording for this event

Speech transcript

27758 Warrant Officer Class 2 John William Kirby, 6th Battalion, RAR
DOW 6 February 1967
Photograph: CUN/66/0852/VN

Story delivered 12 June 2013

Today, we remember and pay tribute to Warrant Officer Class 2 John William Kirby.

Jack Kirby was a career soldier. Born in Sydney in 1935, he enlisted in the Australian Army shortly after his 18th birthday. He served in Korea with the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, and with 3RAR in Malaya, where his courage and initiative was first noted. In 1963 he was made an instructor at the Jungle Warfare School at Kota Tinggi and, during the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation, he served with 3RAR in Sarawak, Borneo.

By the time he was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer in January 1966, Jack Kirby was a member of that elite group of experienced non-commissioned officers who comprised the backbone of the Australian Army. He was posted as Company Sergeant Major to D Company 6RAR, then training for its first tour of duty in Vietnam.

Kirby was a popular leader with "nashos" and regulars alike, widely respected for his experience and abilities. He was affectionately nick-named "Big Jack" by his soldiers for his burly physique and blunt manner. In June 1966, 6RAR became the third Australian infantry battalion to enter the war in South Vietnam. The company was destined to become one of the most celebrated infantry units to serve in the war.

On the afternoon of the 18th of August 1966 D Company, numbering just 108 men, encountered a combined force of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army regulars, estimated at over 2,000 men. Under intense enemy fire, they fought off repeated enemy assaults, assisted by accurate artillery fire from their base at Nui Dat. The company was later awarded a US Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in what became known as the Battle of Long Tan.

Throughout the fierce three-hour-long engagement Warrant Officer Kirby was a mainstay of the company. Under almost continuous enemy fire, the CSM moved among the soldiers, distributing ammunition, organising the collection and treatment of the wounded, steadying and encouraging the men, and even joking with them on occasion. At one stage of the battle, Kirby rushed out and personally silenced an enemy heavy machine gun. For his outstanding bravery and inspirational leadership, Kirby was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Almost six months later on 6 February 1967, during a routine search-and destroy mission, several misdirected artillery rounds fell on D Company headquarters. Four Australian soldiers were killed or died of wounds and 13
others were wounded. Jack Kirby was hit in the chest by shrapnel and died before he could be evacuated.

Kirby's death by "friendly fire" stunned his comrades. Ron Eglinton, a machine-gunner wounded in the action at Long Tan, later recalled, "He was a big, gruff, heavy man, a real father figure to us all, and he was dead." The medical officer who treated Kirby reflected that he "had appeared invincible at Long Tan, and & had become a mixture of hero, idol, mascot and good luck charm for the Company".

Jack Kirby was 31 years old. His body was flown home to Australia for a funeral with full military honours on 23 February 1967.

Jack Kirby's name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with around 500 others from the Vietnam War and his photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

His is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Warrant Officer John William Kirby, and all
those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.