The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (213151) Corporal Robert “Bob” Walter Bowtell, 3rd Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers, Vietnam War.

Accession Number AWM2016.2.11
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 11 January 2016
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 Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

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 (213151) Corporal Robert “Bob” Walter Bowtell, 3rd Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers, Vietnam War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

213151 Corporal Robert “Bob” Walter Bowtell, 3rd Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers
KIA 11 January 1966
No photograph in collection – Family supplied

Story delivered 11 January 2016

Today we remember and pay tribute to Corporal Robert Walter Bowtell.

Robert Bowtell was born on 25 April 1932 at Turramurra, New South Wales, to Albert and Eva Bowtell. He grew up in the Blue Mountains and attended Katoomba High School. He left school in 1948 to undertake a carpentry apprenticeship, but after five years in his chosen trade changed trades to become a painter.

Wanting to do more, Bowtell applied for service in the Australian Army. His first attempt was unsuccessful, but succeeded in enlisting on 10 July 1959. After basic training he successfully completed his Army Third Class certificate of education. That October he was posted as a rifleman to the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, which at the time was a training establishment. He qualified as a rifleman, and in March 1960 was posted to 3RAR at Enoggera in Queensland.

Soon after arriving in Brisbane Bowtell met Josephine, and after a whirlwind romance they were married on 2 July. Over the next few years they welcomed three children: Michael, Susan, and Peter.

Bowtell remained with 3RAR until 1963, when he transferred to the 1st Field Engineer Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers. For the next two years he underwent instruction and qualified as a combat engineer, and in May 1964 was promoted to corporal. That December he deployed with his unit to Sabah, Malaysia, carrying out road construction tasks before returning to Australia in June 1965.

In August Bowtell transferred to the 3rd Field Troop, RAE, and embarked for Vietnam as part of the 1RAR battle group on 11 September. By this time Josephine was pregnant with their fourth child.

Shortly after arriving the engineers began operations, and in January 1966 Operation Crimp was launched. This search-and-destroy operation in the Ho Bo woods aimed to locate and destroy a major enemy headquarters in the area.

Bowtell and another engineer were attached to 1RAR’s B Company for the operation. The company was airlifted into the area of operations, where the Australians soon incurred casualties from snipers. As they advanced they discovered enemy bunkers and a series of tunnels. The engineers, including Bowtell, began investigating, and it wasn’t long before they found weapons, documents, and other matériel. Over the ensuing days the Australians would discover that they had landed directly atop the enemy headquarters they had been sent to find.

On 11 January smoke and tear gas was blown down one of the tunnels. Bowtell was advancing along a cramped tunnel, and became wedged in a trapdoor in the floor. Frantic efforts were made to dig down into the tunnel and widen the shaft, but this took too long. After repeated attempts at rescue, Private Jim Daly volunteered to rescue Bowtell. He entered the tunnel four times and worked almost to the point of collapse, but was ordered out of the tunnel by his platoon commander before he could rescue Bowtell.

By the time he was recovered, Robert Bowtell was already dead. He was found to have dislodged his respirator during attempts to free himself and had been overcome by tear gas. With the smoke exhausting the oxygen supply, he had asphyxiated.

His body was taken to Malaysia, where he was laid to rest with full military honours in Terendak Cemetery. Back home, Josephine was left to bring up their children, and in May she gave birth to their fourth child, a son named Robert.

Bowtell’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, along with more than 500 others from the Vietnam War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Corporal Robert
Walter Bowtell, and all Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (213151) Corporal Robert “Bob” Walter Bowtell, 3rd Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers, Vietnam War. (video)