The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (215745) Corporal Robert Bernard Hickey, 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Vietnam War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.133
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 13 May 2018
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 , the story for this day was on (215745) Corporal Robert Bernard Hickey, 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Vietnam War.

Speech transcript

215745 Corporal Robert Bernard Hickey, 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
KIA 13 May 1968
Story delivered 13 May 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Corporal Robert Bernard Hickey.

Known as “Bob”, Robert Hickey was born on 24 October 1943 in the Sydney suburb of Punchbowl.

Growing up, he attended Kempsey High School, gaining his intermediate certificate in 1959. One of his main interests was building model aircraft.

Before joining the Australian Regular Army, Hickey had been living at home in Merrylands and working as a storeman and parts salesman for Kell and Piper Proprietary Limited, an automotive service company.

He joined the army on 11 May 1964. After completing basic training and initial employment training as a rifleman, he was posted to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.

Arriving at Holsworthy in early December 1964, he was posted to B Company. 1RAR was split to help raise 5RAR in March 1965, and at the end of April, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced that 1RAR was going to be deployed to Vietnam.

The men of 1RAR began intensive training. On 12 May, during a leave break, Hickey married his sweetheart Margaret June Adams at the Registrar General’s Office in Sydney.

Hickey and his comrades flew out from Richmond Airbase on 7 June. After a stop in Townsville, they flew on to Saigon, arriving the following day.

1RAR served as the third battalion of the US Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade and were based at Bien Hoa. The Australians took part in their first major operation at the end of the month. Despite early equipment and stores issues, and differences with the Americans in approach to training and warfare, 1RAR performed its job well. 1RAR was replaced at the end of its tour by the 1st Australian Task Force, with two battalions, 5RAR and 6RAR, deploying to Vietnam in May and June 1966. The men of 1RAR returned to Australia, where many found adjusting back to peacetime very difficult.

For Hickey, life was still busy. Over the following year, he passed several promotion courses, which saw him promoted to lance corporal in October, and then temporary corporal in February 1967. Further courses and promotions followed during 1967. Hickey was promoted to corporal in September and spent some time as an acting platoon sergeant.

He and Margaret spent as much time together as army life allowed. Their son David was born in early April 1967.

By the start of 1968, 1RAR had been warned for service in Vietnam and preparations began for the battalion’s second tour.

On learning that her husband would once again be deploying to Vietnam, Margaret began to experience recurring nightmares of her husband’s death. She was so upset by these dreams she visited the battalion’s chaplain. Given her concerns, and the fact that she was pregnant with their second child, Hickey was transferred as a section commander to the mortar platoon in Support Company. It was felt that this platoon would be the safest option for him on his second deployment.

Hickey arrived in Vietnam with 1RAR’s main element in early April 1968. After a shakedown operation, 1RAR was involved in Operation Blaxland at the end of April, successfully locating and destroying enemy camps in the Nui Dinh Hills. This was followed immediately after by Operation Toan Thang I.

With enemy forces withdrawing from Saigon following a devastating offensive, the 1st Australian Task Force was directed to assist in cutting off the enemy’s escape. The Australians began deploying into their area of operations on 12 May. 1 ATF had never conducted an operation on this scale before and the insertion of troops was beset by delays and confusion.

Nearby enemy soldiers observed the Australian deployment to the open area that was going to become Fire Support Patrol Base Coral and began their preparations for a large-scale attack.

It took most of the afternoon for 1RAR to be airlifted to FSPB Coral. Defensive positions were being hastily dug, but due to the size of the base and the deployment of the rifle companies, the 1RAR Mortar Platoon and 102 Field Battery were left dangerously exposed.

This weakness was pinpointed by the enemy. The Australians experienced several enemy contacts during the evening, which were later realised to be probing attacks.

Around 2.30 am, Hickey reported to his platoon commander that he could hear “about 400 [Vietnamese talking] fifty metres away”. Men were woken and stood-to, awaiting the assault. Hickey’s platoon commander tried to convince his superior that an attack was under way, but was initially met with scepticism.

At around 3:30 am, rocket and mortar fire fell on FSPB Coral, with the heaviest concentration falling on 102 Field Battery and 1RAR’s Mortar Platoon. Hickey and several of his comrades were killed instantly.

The North Vietnamese Army main force regiments began their assault soon after, advancing in waves against the Australian positions. All of the Mortar Platoon pits, along with one gun of 102 Battery were overrun. Another gun was put out of action. The remaining guns of 102 Battery fired splintex and high explosive rounds directly into the enemy soldiers, saving the surviving members of 1RAR’s mortar platoon.

Further support came from the recoilless rifles of 1RAR’s anti-tank platoon, 3RAR’s mortars, New Zealand’s 161 Battery, Huey Cobra gunships, and Douglas AC-47 gunships known by the call sign “Spooky”.

By 6:30am the enemy had been driven back with heavy losses and the defenders of FSPB Coral could take stock. 1RAR had suffered heavy losses. Of the 18 men in the mortar platoon, five had been killed, including Hickey, and a further eight wounded. In all, 11 Australians had been killed and a further 28 wounded.

Hickey’s remains were returned to Australia and he was accorded a funeral with full military honours. He was laid to rest in Rookwood Cemetery.

He was 24 years old.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on your right, along with more than 500 others from the Vietnam War.

We now remember Corporal Robert Bernard Hickey, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section
1032 words

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (215745) Corporal Robert Bernard Hickey, 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Vietnam War. (video)