|Object type||Last Post film|
Australian War Memorial
|Place made||Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell|
|Date made||10 December 2019|
Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
|Copying Provisions||Copy provided for personal non-commercial use|
The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (235407) Lieutenant John William Wheeler, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Vietnam War.
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 Meliah Hampton, the story for this day was on (235407) Lieutenant John William Wheeler, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Vietnam.
235407 Lieutenant John William Wheeler, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
KIA 2 March 1971
Today we remember and pay tribute to Lieutenant John William Wheeler.
John Wheeler was born on Anzac Day 1948 in the Sydney suburb of Cremorne, the son of Roy and Enid Wheeler. The family later moved to Canberra, where Wheeler attended Lyneham High School. After leaving school, Wheeler applied for and was accepted into Royal Military College Duntroon in January 1966.
Wheeler graduated from RMC Duntroon on 10 December 1969 with the rank of lieutenant, and was posted to the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment – known as 3RAR. Based at Woodside Camp in South Australia, the battalion had served in Vietnam from late 1967 to late 1968. When Wheeler joined, it had begun training for a second tour of service. Wheeler spent 1970 training in South Australia, and at the Jungle Warfare Training Centre at Canungra, Queensland, preparing for battlefield conditions he would encounter in South Vietnam. The battalion completed its final training exercise at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland at the end of the year.
At the end of February 1971, 3RAR embarked on HMAS Sydney at Port Adelaide, arriving at Vung Tau at the end of the month, before moving to its area of operations in Phuoc Tuy province. At this time, the Australian forces’ role in Vietnam was changing. Responsibility for local villages had been handed over to South Vietnamese authorities as part of a broader strategy of “Vietnamization”. As a result, 3RAR’s role was to patrol areas of the province searching for Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces.
Australian commanders intended to familiarise the battalion to Vietnam by deploying the unit to a relatively quiet area where the men could undertake in-country training. However, the area to which 3RAR had deployed turned out to have high enemy activity.
On the night of 2 March 1971, the battalion took up a defensive position east of Nui Dat. That night, the unit experienced its first major contact with the enemy.
Wheeler, who was commanding 10 Platoon of D Company, reported an unknown number of Viet Cong soldiers in front of his area. The platoon engaged the enemy with small arms fire, and Viet Cong troops fired back. This contact with the enemy was to last throughout the night. Other men in the battalion recalled Wheeler moving between defensive positions, supporting and encouraging his men.
When a large explosion occurred in 10 Platoon’s area, probably caused by a satchel charge, two soldiers were wounded in the blast, and Wheeler and another man, Private Paul Manning, were killed.
Wheeler was 22 years old.
A medic, Corporal Allan Lowe, was able to help evacuate the wounded soldiers under enemy fire. He later returned to the area and helped recover the bodies of the two fallen Australians. For his efforts, Lowe was later Mentioned in Despatches.
Wheeler’s remains were returned to Canberra, and were cremated at Norwood Park in March 1971. He was survived in Australia by his parents, his brother David and his sisters Ruth and Louise.
Lieutenant John William Wheeler is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among more than 500 Australians who died while serving 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 Lieutenant John William Wheeler, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Historian, Military History Section
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (235407) Lieutenant John William Wheeler, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Vietnam War. (video)