The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (42252) Sergeant Bernard Lyle Smith, 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR), Vietnam.

Places
Accession Number AWM2017.1.230
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 18 August 2017
Access Open
Conflict Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960
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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (42252) Sergeant Bernard Lyle Smith, 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR), Vietnam.

Speech transcript

42252 Sergeant Bernard Lyle Smith, 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR)
KIA 9 March 1969
Photograph: P06362.057

Story delivered 18 August 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Bernard Lyle Smith.

Bernard Smith was born on 2 September 1939 at Snowtown in South Australia, the son of Edward Lyle and Mary Ilene Smith. Bernard attended Wallaroo Primary School and then Kadina High School, before moving to Adelaide and studying at Sacred Heart College.

“Bernie”, as he became known, enjoyed football and tennis, and became a talented musician. Having learnt the piano from childhood, he developed the ability to play music by ear. He also played tenor horn with several community brass bands and a local group. At the age of 14, he applied to join the Australian Army as a “Band Boy” but was unsuccessful.

The following year he left school and joined the South Australian Railways, where he worked as an assistant shunter and porter for almost four years, apparently biding his time until he was old enough to begin a military career. He had some inspiring role models in his family. His father had served as a radio operator in the Australian Army in the Second World War; his grandfather had served in South Africa during the Boer War; and three great-uncles had served in the Australian Imperial Force in the First World War (one killed in action near Gueudecourt and another dying from wounds suffered at Le Cateau).

In November 1958, just two months after turning 19, Bernard Smith enlisted in the Australian Regular Army with the written consent of his father and elected to serve in the infantry. After recruit training he was posted to a battalion, serving in Malaya from September 1959 to November 1961.

In April 1962, not long after returning to Australia, he married Janice Leonora Bain. Together the couple settled in Sydney, and Smith continued to develop his military skills, attending army schools and instructional training courses.

In March 1965 he joined the 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR), a newly raised battalion being prepared for service in Vietnam. This was the first battalion to be made up equally of conscripted men and regular soldiers. Bernard was soon promoted to corporal and, at the age of 26, was training the first intake of 20-year-old National Servicemen to march into 5RAR’s base at Holsworthy.

The battalion arrived in Vietnam in May 1966. Soldiers laboured to establish a task force base at Nui Dat and conducted operations to extend control over Viet Cong-dominated territory. Constant patrolling soon became a staple of the Australian infantryman’s experience in Vietnam.

Corporal Bernard Smith was chosen to join the Reconnaissance Platoon, a specially-formed team of selected and trained volunteers who carried out reconnaissance ahead of battalion movements, and laid ambushes. Their work was effective in eliminating the Viet Cong, but it was demanding. 5RAR’s intelligence officer Captain Robert O’Neill recalled that they were “lucky to have one night a month in base at Nui Dat”.

When 5RAR’s tour of duty ended in May 1967 the battalion returned to Sydney and marched through the city to a tumultuous welcome from a cheering crowd. It had been an exhausting year, with the pressure of continuous operations and the ever-present dangers of casualties from enemy ambushes and mines. The infantrymen of 5RAR had each walked an average of over 1,100 kilometres on patrol. For Bernard and his comrades of the Reconnaissance Platoon, the burden had been even greater.

In August 1967, Bernard was promoted to sergeant and posted to the Officer Training Unit at Scheyville, New South Wales, where he worked as an instructor, training young National Servicemen selected as platoon commanders. The following year, on 30 August 1968, he was posted to his former unit, 5RAR, which was re-forming and preparing for its second tour of duty to Vietnam. As an experienced senior NCO with operational experience in Vietnam, he was a valuable asset to the battalion. Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Colin Khan recalled that “the strength of the battalion was a hard core of outstanding regular sergeants and warrant officers”, especially in the early days, before his officers gained equivalent battle experience.

On 15 February 1969, after 12 months intensive training in Australia, 5RAR arrived in Vietnam. Sergeant Bernard Smith had arrived a week earlier with the unit’s advance party. After two weeks’ acclimatisation, the battalion commenced its “shakedown” operation on 1 March: a reconnaissance-in-force in the Nui Dinh foothills, west of the task force base at Nui Dat.
The operation finished on the night of 8 March with a cordon-and-search of the northern hamlets of the village of Hoa Long, a kilometre south of the Nui Dat base. D Company moved into position in the cordon shortly after 1.00 am.

Under a half-moon, the young officer commanding 10 Platoon cut through a fence around a South Vietnamese territorial force outpost which was known to be surrounded by a minefield. Followed by his troops, he entered the minefield and cut his way through another fence, and then a third.

When the party heard the click of a rifle bolt or safety catch, the platoon commander dropped to his knees and fired his rifle towards the post. The occupants retaliated with automatic rifle fire and grenades, and the officer and two others were hit. A fire fight erupted, with the Australians responding with rifle and machine-gun fire.

By the time the firing stopped, the platoon commander was dead and three others were wounded. Platoon Sergeant Bernard Smith came forward to take over. Along with a section commander and a scout, he bravely mounted a rescue mission into the minefield.

Shortly afterwards, one of the NCOs accidentally activated a trip wire, detonating one or perhaps two M16 mines. Bernard Smith and another soldier were killed instantly, and four were wounded. Over the next four hours, soldiers struggled in the dark to extract stranded and wounded men from the minefield.

Seven soldiers were wounded in the incident and three died. Second Lieutenant Brian Walker, Sergeant Bernard Smith, and Corporal George Gilbert all left behind wives and young children in Australia. They were the first fatal casualties of the battalion’s tour; sadly they were not to be the last.

Bernard Smith was 29 years of age. He was survived by his younger sister Sondra, his young wife Janice, and his two infant boys, Stuart aged five, and Edward, who was 15 months old. Bernard’s remains were returned home to Australia and he was buried at Wallaroo Cemetery in South Australia.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among more than 500 Australians who died in or as a result of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Sergeant Bernard Lyle Smith, 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 (42252) Sergeant Bernard Lyle Smith, 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR), Vietnam. (video)