Victoria Cross : Warrant Officer Second Class R S Simpson, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam

Place Asia: Vietnam, Kontum Province
Accession Number REL/06323.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Award
Physical description Bronze
Location Main Bld: Hall of Valour: Main Hall: Vietnam
Maker Hancocks
Place made United Kingdom
Date made c 1969
Conflict Vietnam, 1962-1975

Victoria Cross. Engraved reverse suspender with recipient's details, and reverse cross with date of action.

History / Summary

Rayene Stewart ‘Ray’ or ‘Simmo’ Simpson was born in Redfern, Sydney, on 16 February 1926 to Robert William and Olga Maude (nee Montgomery) Simpson. He and his siblings were separated when he was placed in a children’s home in Carlingford after the marriage ended about 1930. His early education was at Carlingford Public School. In the mid 1930s, Ray was placed in the care of a First World War soldier-settler and his sister on a dairy farm near Taree, NSW. Here he attended the Dumaresq Island Public School.

Simpson worked as a labourer in the Taree district before enlisting in the second AIF on 29 February 1944 at Newtown. On 2 June, he was posted to 14 Infantry Training Battalion, based near Cowra in central-western NSW. On 5 August he was with a detachment sent to the Cowra prisoner of war camp following a mass breakout by Japanese prisoners. At the camp he was posted as second gunner on number one Vickers machine gun. Hours earlier, privates Ben Hardy and Ralph Jones had been killed by the escapees while manning the number two gun. Simpson was highly critical of the camp’s defences. In 1978, the year before he died, he told historian Harry Gordon that the placement of the two Vickers machine guns on the day was ‘a complete schemozzle’.

Simpson was transferred to 41st/2nd Infantry Battalion on 27 September 1944 before being moved to 2/3 Pioneer Battalion. He saw service in Morotai and Tarakan in 1945 before returning to Sydney in June 1946. In August he spent time in 101 Australian General Hospital suffering from malaria. He was discharged from the AIF on 20 January 1947.

Following the war, Simpson worked as a tram conductor and labourer before re-enlisting in the army. On 17 January 1951, for reasons that are not clear, he enlisted in the Australian Regular Army using his brother’s name and birth date. This was corrected by a Statutory Declaration on 31 May when he was posted as private number 24492 to 1 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) at Ingleburn. On 20 June he was transferred to 3RAR reinforcements, joining the regiment in Korea on 10 July. He was promoted to lance corporal on 30 November 1951. Simpson married Shoko Sakai in Japan on 16 January 1953. On 13 June he was promoted to corporal; then to sergeant on 1 July 1955.

After transferring to 2RAR in August 1955, he served in Malaya until October 1957. After arriving back in Australia from Malaya, Simpson transferred to 1 Special Air Service Company remaining with this unit until July 1962 when he commenced duty as a warrant officer with the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), arriving in Saigon on 3 August. By the end of 1962, Simpson had earned the praise of the Americans with whom he had worked. United States Captain Robert L Korchek wrote a letter of appreciation to Simpson noting that he had:

'...seen few soldiers who possess the broad military knowledge, know how, and common sense that you do Sgt Simpson...I speak for my men as well when I say that I would indeed welcome the chance to again serve with you in the future...[m]y thanks again to a professional soldier for a job well done.'

Simpson’s first tour of duty in Vietnam ended in July 1963 when he returned to Australia as an instructor at the Officer Cadet School, Southern Command.

In July 1964, Simpson rejoined AATTV in Saigon for his second tour of duty. As a previous AATTV member, Simpson was a valued addition as he could be ‘rapidly assimilated.’ He was posted to Danang as part of ‘A’ Team together with United States and South Vietnamese Special Forces. Based at Kham Duc in Quang Nam Province, Simpson was instrumental in the training and organisation of a new patrol base at Ta Ko, a rugged and remote village close to the Vietnamese/Laos border. The base was designed to control cross border penetration of enemy troops.

On 16 September, Simpson was on patrol with a Vietnamese Special Forces platoon when they were ambushed by a unit of the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong). The Vietnamese commander of Simpson’s platoon soon became a casualty in the ensuing fire fight and Simpson, himself seriously wounded in the leg, assumed effective command of the unit. Though suffering from blood loss, he organised the platoon into a defensive position and held on until reinforcements arrived. He was air lifted to Da Nang, and then on to 8 Field Hospital at Nha Trang for treatment. On 20 October he was moved to Zama Field Hospital in Japan to convalesce closer to his wife. For his actions during the fighting he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Simpson’s wound was such that he was not released from hospital until mid May 1965. He returned to Australia the following month and was discharged from the army at his own request in May 1966. Apparently civilian life did not suit him and he returned to Saigon at his own expense where, on 2 May 1967, he re-enlisted in the army. Initially a private, he was quickly re-instated to warrant officer within the AATTV, now with service number 217622. During 1968 he was based at Ban Me Thuot, training Montagnard (indigenous tribesmen) troops for Provisional Reconnaissance Units.

By May 1969, Simpson was commanding 232 Company, 3 Battalion (3Bn) of Mobile Strike Force Command. On 6 May, 232 Company was at the forefront of 3Bn’s push to prevent enemy troops infiltrating across the borders of Laos and Cambodia. Nearing a clearing mid afternoon, the platoon leading the company came under heavy fire from North Vietnamese forces, entrenched and camouflaged at the opposite side of the clearing. Simpson immediately brought the remainder of the company forward and led them in a counter-attack. During the ensuing firefight, platoon commander Warrant Officer Michael Gill was badly wounded. Simpson moved into the line of fire to rescue the fallen man and carried him to safety.

He immediately returned to the fight only to witness the momentum failing as the Montagnards began falling back. In an effort to regain the situation, Simpson crawled to within ten metres of the enemy and attempted to neutralise their position with grenades. Nearing dusk, he finally gave the order to withdraw when it became evident the enemy position would hold. Simpson, carrying the wounded Gill, covered the withdrawal of the company, together with five Montagnards, using phosphorus grenades to put down a thick screen of smoke. For this action Simpson was recommended for an American Silver Star for bravery by his battalion commander, United States Captain Martin L Green Jr.

In a continuation of the same operation at dawn on 11 May, following an artillery bombardment of the enemy bunkers, the battalion advanced only to find the bunkers unoccupied. Moving forward, the leading unit, 231 Company, came under fire at a small clearing and Warrant Officer Andrew Kelly and several other troops were wounded. Shortly afterwards, Captain Green was killed going to Kelly’s aid. Kelly managed to radio Simpson who immediately responded by organising two platoons of Montagnard troops and several advisors to assist. In the meantime Warrant Officer Brian Walsh, commanding 232 Company, managed to drag Kelly behind a tree and retrieve papers from Captain Green’s body. Walsh was later awarded a Military Medal for his actions.

When Simpson’s party reached the clearing the Montagnards were reluctant to proceed so Simpson, Walsh, and US Specialist Sergeant Peter Holmburg, a platoon commander in Simpson’s company, went forward to retrieve the dead and wounded. Facing intense enemy fire, Simpson placed himself between the enemy and the party to cover the evacuation of the casualties. Holmberg recalled later that ‘the whole area was sprayed. Warrant Officer Simpson’s area caught the full blast and the tree that he was beside was ripped apart.’ Simpson stayed behind, shielding the withdrawing party until they were safely away. For his actions of the 6 and 11 May, Simpson was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). The citation for the award reads:

'On 6th May 1969 Warrant Officer Simpson was serving as Commander of 232nd Mobile Strike Force Company of 5th Special Forces Group on a search and clear operation in Kontum Province, near the Laotion border. When one of his platoons became heavily engaged with the enemy, he led the remainder of his company to its assistance. Disregarding the dangers involved, he placed himself at the front of his troops, thus becoming the focal point of enemy fire, and personally led the assault on the left flank of the enemy position. As the company moved forward, an Australian Warrant Officer commanding one of the platoons was seriously wounded and the assault began to falter. Warrant Officer Simpson, at great personal risk and under heavy enemy fire, moved across open ground, reached the wounded Warrant Officer and carried him to a position of safety. He then returned to his company where, with complete disregard for his safety, he crawled forward to within ten metres of the enemy and threw grenades into their positions. As darkness fell, and being unable to break into the enemy position, Warrant Officer Simpson ordered his company to withdraw. He then threw smoke grenades and, carrying a wounded platoon leader, covered the withdrawal of the company together with five indigenous soldiers. His leadership and personal bravery in this action were outstanding.

On 11th May 1969, in the same operation, Warrant Officer Simpson’s Battalion Commander was killed and an Australian Warrant Officer and several indigenous soldiers were wounded. In addition one other Australian Warrant Officer who had been separated from the majority of his troops was contained in the area by enemy fire. Warrant Officer Simpson quickly organised two platoons of indigenous soldiers and several advisors and led them to the position of the contact. On reaching the position the element with Warrant Officer Simpson came under heavy fire and all but a few of the soldiers with him fell back. Disregarding his own safety, he moved forward in the face of accurate enemy machine gun fire, in order to cover the initial evacuation of the casualties. The wounded were eventually moved out of the line of enemy fire, which all this time was directed at Warrant Officer Simpson from close range. At the risk of almost certain death he made several attempts to move further forward towards his Battalion Commander’s body but on each occasion he was stopped by heavy fire. Realising the position was becoming untenable and that priority should be given to extricating other casualties as quickly as possible, Warrant Officer Simpson alone and still under enemy fire covered the withdrawal of the wounded by personally placing himself between the wounded and the enemy. From this position he fought on and by outstanding courage and valour was able to prevent the enemy advance until the wounded were removed from the immediate vicinity. Warrant Officer Simpson‘s gallant and individual action and his coolness under fire were exceptional and were instrumental in achieving the successful evacuation of the wounded to the helicopter evacuation pad.

Warrant Officer Simpson’s repeated acts of personal bravery in this operation were an inspiration to all Vietnamese, United States and Australian Soldiers who served with him. His conspicuous gallantry was in the highest tradition of the Australian Army.'

Simpson was invested with his VC by Queen Elizabeth II at Government House in Sydney on 1 May 1970. He was discharged from the army four days later. In 1972 he took up an administrative position with the Australian Embassy in Tokyo. He died in Japan on 18 October 1978. His VC and medals came into the Memorial’s collection in 1981.