The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (41400) Major Peter John Badcoe VC, Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam.

Places
Accession Number AWM2017.1.97
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 07 April 2017
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
Description

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 Sharon Bown, the story for this day was on (41400) Major Peter John Badcoe VC, Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam.

Speech transcript

41400 Major Peter John Badcoe VC, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam KIA 7 April 1967
Photograph: AWM 116857

Story delivered 7 April 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Major Peter John Badcoe.

Peter Badcoe was born on 11 of January 1934 in Adelaide, the second child of Leslie and Gladys Badcock. From early boyhood his ambition was to be a soldier, and most of his hobbies, games, and interests centred on the military.

He was educated at Adelaide Technical High School. After gaining his intermediate certificate, he left school at the age of 15. He found work as a clerk, but he yearned for a life of action in the military, continually urging his father to permit him to enlist.

Seven weeks’ service in a National Service Training Battalion in early 1952 gave him a taste of army life. With his father’s reluctant consent, he enlisted in the Australian Regular Army at the age of 18. One month later, he entered the Officer Cadet School at Portsea, Victoria. After graduating he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Artillery, with postings to a National Service Training Battalion and the 1st Field Regiment.

The young officer was stocky, solidly built, and robust. His commanding officers commended his tireless enthusiasm, professional capabilities, and dedication, apparently unencumbered by his poor eyesight and heavy horn-rimmed spectacles.

In 1956, aged 22, he married 17-year-old Denise Maureen MacMahon in Sydney. Over the next five years, the couple had three daughters. He became a devoted father. His letters home were often addressed to “My Darling Girls”, and mentioned how much he loved and missed them all.

Promoted to temporary captain in December 1958, he worked as a general staff officer at Army Headquarters in Canberra. In July 1961 he changed his surname to Badcoe. Returning to regimental duties, he served in Malaya from late 1961 to 1963 as battery captain with 103 Field Battery based at Terendak, accompanied by his family during one of the happiest periods of their lives together.

In November 1962 Badcoe briefly visited South Vietnam as a military observer. He joined South Vietnamese units on operations and in action, and was impressed with the role of US Army advisers in training and leading Republic of Vietnam soldiers. The experience inspired him to apply for posting to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam as an adviser.

After attending adviser courses at the Intelligence Centre and Canungra, he arrived in Saigon in August 1966 to fulfil his ambition of joining “The Team”, already regarded as an elite unit.

Badcoe was initially allotted as sub-sector adviser to Nam Hoa district of Thua Thien province, where the war was almost constant and intense. His role was to train and lead two companies of South Vietnamese territorial soldiers. In December he became operations officer, responsible for operations in the entire province.

To his colleagues, Badcoe was a quiet but friendly officer with a dry sense of humour. He was an intensely private man whose wife remained his sole confidante. He neither drank alcohol nor smoked. Bored by boisterous mess activities, he preferred the company of a book on small arms or military history. In action, he seemed invincible, at the forefront of his troops, conspicuous in his red paratrooper beret.

Badcoe quickly acquired an understanding of the Vietnamese people, and an affectionate regard for the soldiers he trained and led. He traded spirits and souvenirs from the Australian canteen with American Marines in Danang in order to obtain equipment for his poorly provisioned troops. He also acquired food and supplies which he donated to a local orphanage.

But he gradually grew disillusioned with the conduct of the conflict in Vietnam. He began to view it as “an unwinnable war”. After napalm airstrikes against a village occupied by the Viet Cong left 40 civilians dead or wounded, Badcoe spent two days trying to help survivors. The experience deeply disturbed him.

Nevertheless, in three separate actions in early 1967 he performed feats of individual heroism which earned him the Victoria Cross.

On the 23 February, during a small operation in Phu Thu district, he ran across some 600 metres of fire-swept open ground to assist a territorial platoon. Taking charge of the unit, Badcoe led it in a frontal attack. He single-handedly charged an enemy machine-gun post and shot the crew. He also retrieved the body of an American adviser killed in the action, and then braved further enemy fire to rescue another who was wounded.

On 7 March, the district headquarters of Quang Dien near Hue came under attack from a strong Viet Cong force. While commanding the province's reaction company, Badcoe organised and led a series of fierce assaults which drove out the Viet Cong and saved the headquarters.

One month later, on the 7 April 1967, he wrote to his wife: “It’s time I came home. I'm getting bitter and cynical … I can see more and more good about the Vietnamese and less and less about the US advisers.” This was to be his last letter home.

That same day he learned that the Reaction Company of the South Vietnamese 1st Division was in difficulty near the hamlet of An Thuan. Knowing that the company would be denied air support unless advisers were present, he drove a jeep there with a US Army sergeant.

Finding that the force had fallen back, he took charge and rallied the men in the face of withering fire. Crawling ahead, he made several attempts to silence a machine-gun with grenades. At one stage the American sergeant pulled him out of the line of fire. Rising again to throw another grenade, Badcoe was shot and killed instantly.

For his feats of gallantry and leadership, he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and the United States Silver Star. The Republic of Vietnam awarded him its National Order, three Crosses for Gallantry, and the Armed Forces Honour Medal.

Peter Badcoe had been an inspiration to his Australian, Vietnamese, and American comrades-in-arms. Attendance at his memorial service in Hue was the largest that could be recalled for any allied soldier.

He had confided to his wife that he believed military funerals were horrendous for families, so he preferred to be buried in Terendak military cemetery in Malaysia. His headstone bears the simple, poignant inscription provided by his widow: “He lived and died a soldier”.

Peter Badcoe’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among more than 500 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 Major Peter John Badcoe, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Ashley Ekins Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (41400) Major Peter John Badcoe VC, Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam. (video)