The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1200029) Private Larry Richard Downes, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Indonesian Confrontation.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.244
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 31 August 2020
Access Open
Conflict Indonesian Confrontation, 1962-1966
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

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 Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (1200029) Private Larry Richard Downes, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Indonesian Confrontation.

Speech transcript

1200029 Private Larry Richard Downes, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
KIA: 17 May 1965

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Larry Richard Downes.

Larry Downes was born in Toowoomba, Queensland on 12 June 1945, one of five children born to Garth and Isobel Downes.

He grew up on the family wheat farm at Bell in the Darling Downs, attended Oakey State School, and as a young man went to work for his father as a farmer and lorry driver. Downes had a wide variety of interests, including tennis, football, cricket, water skiing, shooting and rock collecting.

Shortly after his 18th birthday, Downes joined the Australian Army on 10 February 1964. He was sent to the 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Kapooka for basic training.

Downes handled weapons training well. He was a first class shot with the SLR and qualified on the General Purpose Machine Gun.

After Kapooka, Downes was sent to the School of Infantry at Ingleburn. After completing his infantry training in September, he was posted to the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment. At this time, 3RAR was based at Terendak in Malaya as part of Australia’s commitment to Malayan security following independence in 1957, providing a deterrent to aggression by communist forces in south-east Asia.

Downes and other men from Ingleburn who had been posted to 3RAR flew out from Sydney to Singapore on 24 September, then travelling to Terendak where they joined 3RAR. Downes was posted to 3 Platoon, A Company.

Since late 1962 Indonesia had been involved in fomenting rebellions in Malaysian territory in a bid to destabilise efforts to create a Federated Malaysia. In January 1963, Indonesian Foreign Minister Subandrio used the term Konfrontasi to describe Indonesia’s policy towards Malaysia. After Indonesian armed forces began infiltration operations into Malaysian territory, Britain responded by sending forces to Sarawak and Sabah to protect the long border with Indonesia.

Initially reluctant to commit ground forces, in February 1965 the Australian government announced that 3RAR and an SAS squadron were to be sent to Sarawak and Brunei to take part in clandestine operations against Indonesian forces in Kalimantan. These Claret operations were designed to disrupt efforts by Indonesian forces to infiltrate into Malaysia.

3RAR began preparations for deployment to Borneo on 13 February, where they would be taking over from the 1/7th Gurkha Rifles in Sarawak.

A Company, 3RAR was selected to be the advance party for the deployment. In early March, Downes and his company were sent to the forward base at Stass, close to the Sarawak-Kalimantan border. Patrolling began almost immediately.

The rest of 3RAR arrived in Sarawak on 23 March and took over their area of operations. That afternoon, 3 Platoon was patrolling near the Sarawak-Kalimantan border when a mine was tripped. Acting platoon commander Sergeant Reg Weiland was killed instantly and a local Iban tracker, Mudah anak Jali, died from his wounds. Three other men were wounded, and helicopters called to evacuate casualties were shot at by Indonesian forces as they neared the landing zone.

It was a brutal introduction to an undeclared war for the Australians. Their sense of unease was compounded when several more mines were located nearby.

The platoon was brought back to strength with reinforcements from Terendak, including Sergeant Vince Vella, who replaced his friend Reg Weiland as acting platoon commander.

On 17 May, 3 Platoon was on a reconnaissance patrol near the Sarawak-Kalimantan border. During the patrol, Downes tripped a concealed mine and was killed instantly when it exploded. Sergeant Vince Vella, who was only an hour away from being flown out of the jungle to Kuching, was also killed instantly. It was a devastating blow to the platoon, which had not experienced enemy contact, but had suffered men killed and wounded.

Downes was laid to rest two days later in the Ulu Padang Cemetery in Singapore. In 1975 he was re-interred in Kranji Military Cemetery. He was 21 years old.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among 22 other Australians who died as a result of their service during the Indonesian Confrontation.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private Larry Richard Downes, 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 (1200029) Private Larry Richard Downes, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Indonesian Confrontation. (video)