The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (235354) Lieutenant Robin Christiaan Pothof, 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Vietnam War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.343
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 9 December 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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (235354) Lieutenant Robin Christiaan Pothof, 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Vietnam War.

Speech transcript

235354 Lieutenant Robin Christiaan Pothof, 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment
KIA 26 April 1970
Story delivered 9 December 2018

Today, we remember and pay tribute to Lieutenant Robin Christiaan Pothof.

Robin Pothof was born in The Hague, Holland on 16 June 1948 to Leendert and Margaret Pothof. His father was a Dutch naval officer who had served in Australian waters on special operations during the Second World War. During this time he met and married Margaret, who was serving in the Australian Army. In 1948 Leendert took his wife and young son to the Netherlands, where Robin was born.

After retiring from the Dutch Navy Pothof’s father returned to the sea, working for Esso in the Indonesian islands. As her husband was at sea for long periods of time, Margaret took her sons to Australia and lived with her parents in Newcastle.

In 1955 the family moved to Sumatra where Pothof and his brother attended a Dutch school. Both boys became fluent speakers of Dutch and Bahasa. Five years later Pothof’s father, who still worked for Esso, was transferred to Singapore.

Pothof began high school the same year, attending Knox Grammar School in Sydney as a boarder. He became known as an excellent swimmer and was an active member of the school’s cadet unit. After completing high school, he was accepted into the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in Canberra.

Pothof arrived at RMC on 29 January 1965. He soon became known as an “excellent swimmer and a good water polo player”. His class mates called him “the Fish”. In 1968 he was “president of the RMC Swimming Committee and played in the first water polo team”.

His superiors and class mates remembered him as having a “cheerful, easy going personality”. Pothof was also remembered as an excellent writer and was awarded the Sydney Morning Herald Award for the best essay on the use of armour.

His leave breaks were spent in Singapore with his parents and in his 1968 year book his class mates called him “our man in Singapore.”

On 11 December 1968 Pothof received his commission as a lieutenant. He was posted to the 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, which was at Holsworthy preparing for its second deployment to Vietnam. He became platoon commander of 9 Platoon, C Company and by the end of 1969 was regarded as a good platoon commander.

On 3 February 1970, with 7RAR less than a fortnight away from sailing to Vietnam, Pothof was hospitalised. His service record does not record the cause, but he was not released until the 18th of the month, two days after the main body of the battalion had sailed for Vietnam.

Pothof flew out of Sydney on 3 March and landed in Saigon the following day. He re-joined his battalion at the 1st Australian Task Force’s base at Nui Dat soon after.

The men of 7RAR began operations immediately and were involved in a number of contacts over the next month. During this time the barrier minefield, which had been laid by Australian engineers in 1967 between Dat Do and Lang Phuoc Hai was being removed. Mines were lifted by the enemy and used against the Australians with devastating consequences.

In April, 7RAR was involved in an operation which aimed to destroy the Viet Cong’s D445 Provincial Mobile Battalion. C Company, however, was sent to the Horseshoe near Dat Do to train soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, conduct patrols and ambushes, and provide security to Australian engineers tasked with clearing the minefield.

On 22 April, Pothof’s platoon was sent to Night Defensive Position Timothy near Ap Lo Gom to provide security for a mine clearing team that was stationed there.

Three nights later Pothof and the engineer officer Lt Jones, who happened to be an RMC class mate, rode along in an armoured personnel carrier through a gap in the minefield to conduct an ambush patrol.

The APCs dropped off the patrol and returned to NDP Timothy without incident, but Savage and his men became involved in a sustained firefight. On the morning of 26 April Savage was flown back to Task Force Headquarters to debrief senior officers. He did not return to Timothy until mid-afternoon.

Though Savage had had no rest, Pothof had developed a tropical ulcer on his leg and was forced to hand command of his patrol to him. In exchange, Pothof agreed to do Savage’s job, travelling out with the patrol to reconnoitre a position for an ambush patrol the following night.

Pothof rode out with the patrol, sitting on top of the APC to conduct his reconnaissance. When the APCs slowed down at the drop off point, the patrol exited the moving vehicles, so as to not give their positions away to any enemy in the vicinity.

As the APCs re-entered the minefield gap on the return journey, the APC Pothof was riding on triggered a pressure mine which had been made with around 30 kilograms of plastic explosive and laid in the minefield gap by the Viet Cong.

The force of explosion threw the APC into the air and Pothof was killed instantly. Savage later recalled turning around after hearing the explosion and seeing the APC returning to earth upside down.

As night had fallen, a Centurion tank was sent from Timothy, which was only a few hundred meters away, to provide illumination of the area with its searchlight. Riding on the back of the tank was an engineer mini team, which began the painstaking task of clearing a path to the APC. This enabled the four wounded APC crewmen from B Squadron, 3 Cavalry Regiment to be recovered and evacuated.

Despite providing some illumination, the tank’s searchlight could not locate Pothof. It wasn’t until a Sioux helicopter flew over the site of the incident using its searchlight that Pothof’s badly mutilated body was found, over 15 meters from the upturned APC, near the edge of the minefield.

A memorial service for Pothof was held at Dat Do on 30 April with 7RAR’s padre, Father Keith Teefey, officiating over a ceremony that ended with Sergeant Roy Savage playing the Last Post on his own bugle.

Pothof’s remains were returned to Australia and laid to rest with full military honours on 7 May 1970 in the RSL section of Woden Cemetery, Canberra. He was 21 years old.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with more than 500 others from 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 Lieutenant Robin Christiaan Pothof, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (235354) Lieutenant Robin Christiaan Pothof, 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Vietnam War. (video)