The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (298909) Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur “Dasher” Wheatley VC, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, Vietnam War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.318
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 November 2020
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 (298909) Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur “Dasher” Wheatley VC, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, Vietnam War.

Speech transcript

298909 Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur “Dasher” Wheatley VC, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
KIA: 13 November 1965

Today, we remember and pay tribute to Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur “Dasher” Wheatley.

Kevin Wheatley was born on 13 March 1937 in Surrey Hills, New South Wales. He was the third child of Raymond and Ivy (nee Newman) Wheatley.

Growing up, Wheatley attended Maroubra Junction Junior Technical College where he was given the nickname “Patches” due to the threadbare nature of his clothing. After leaving school, he went to work with his father as a milk carter and over the next several years held a variety of different jobs.

Outside of work, Wheatley had an active social life. He played rugby league and golf. His nickname, “Dasher” was acquired on the rugby field, as – despite his stature of five feet, six inches – he was fast and had the ability to run through opponents. He also enjoyed going swimming, dancing and going to the cinema.

During this time he met Edna Davis and they began a relationship. They were married on the 20th of July 1954 at the registrar-general’s office in Sydney.

Seeking a stable and active career to support his wife and growing family, Wheatley joined the Australian Army on 12 June 1956 for a period of three years. After completing his recruit training in September, he was posted to 4RAR, which at that time, was the infantry training unit. He completed his infantry training in March 1957 and was posted to 3RAR which was preparing to deploy to Malaya.
3RAR arrived in Malaya in September 1957. While in Malaya, the battalion was stationed at Minden Barracks, in the foothills on the eastern side of the island. Although Minden was the nominal home of the battalion while it was in Malaya, it rarely spent any length of time there. Operations through the jungle lasted for days or even weeks at a time, and breaks between operations were brief.

In his downtime, Wheatley took up boxing and became renowned for his insubordination to British officers and senior NCOs. While in Malaya, he signed on for a further six years of service.

Soon after returning to Australia in August 1959, Wheatley, now a corporal, was posted to 2RAR, then two years later, to 1RAR.

In January 1964 he was promoted to sergeant and became platoon sergeant of 6 Platoon, B Company. One of his young soldiers, David Munday, recalled that Wheatley “was an extraordinary man’s man … He just had a way with the guys and when he walked into a room, his presence drew your attention.”

Wheatley was highly regarded for his training of soldiers. One of his training mantras was “someday you will have to do it real hard and real dirty”. This extended to field exercises ,where the platoon’s bathing habits led them to be called “the Scungees”. In August 1964 Wheatley was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 2 and became the Company Sergeant Major of B Company.

Wheatley was posted to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam and arrived in South Vietnam in March 1965. He was sent as an advisor to the 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment, of the 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam Division. His platoon commander was United States Marine Corps Lieutenant Jim Lowe, who recalled Wheatley being a prankster, but one who had an exceptional understanding of fighting counter-insurgency warfare. The two men worked well together training and leading their ARVN soldiers until October when Wheatley was posted to the US 5th Special Forces Group.

He was posted to an A Team led by Australian Captain Felix Fazekas and he was also reunited with his mate Warrant Officer Class 2 Ron “Butch” Swanton.

On 13 November Wheatley, Swanton and Captain Fazekas went out on an operation with South Vietnamese troops.

The citation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Wheatley tells the story of the events that followed:

At approximately 1300 hours, a Vietnamese Civil Irregular Defence Group company commenced a search and destroy operation in the Tra Bong valley, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) east of Tra Bong Special Forces camp in Quang Ngai Province. Accompanying the force were Captain F. Fazekas, senior Australian Advisor, with the centre platoon, and Warrant Officers K. A. Wheatley and R. J. Swanton with the right hand platoon. At about 1340 hours, Warrant Officer Wheatley reported contact with Viet Cong elements. The Viet Cong resistance increased in strength until finally Warrant Officer Wheatley asked for assistance.

Captain Fazekas immediately organised the centre platoon to help and personally led and fought towards the action area. While moving towards this area he received another radio message from Warrant Officer Wheatley to say that Warrant Officer Swanton had been hit in the chest, and requested an air strike and an aircraft, for the evacuation of casualties. At about this time the right platoon broke in the face of heavy Viet Cong fire and began to scatter. Although told by the Civil Irregular Defence Group medical assistant that Warrant Officer Swanton was dying, Warrant Officer Wheatley refused to abandon him. He discarded his radio to enable him to half drag, half carry Warrant Officer Swanton, under heavy machine-gun and automatic rifle fire, out of the open rice paddies into the comparative safety of a wooded area, some 200 metres away. He was assisted by a Civil Irregular Defence Group member, Private Dinh Do (pron: Ding Doh) who, when the Viet Cong were only some ten metres away, urged him to leave his dying comrade. Again he refused, and was seen to pull the pins from two grenades and calmly awaited the Viet Cong, holding one grenade in each hand. Shortly afterwards, two grenade explosions were heard, followed by several bursts of small arms fire.

The two bodies were found at first light next morning after the fighting had ceased, with Warrant Officer Wheatley lying beside Warrant Officer Swanton. Both had died of gunshot wounds.

Warrant Officer Wheatley displayed magnificent courage in the face of an overwhelming Viet Cong force which was later estimated at more than a company. He had the clear choice of abandoning a wounded comrade and saving himself by escaping through the dense timber or of staying with Warrant Officer Swanton and thereby facing certain death. He deliberately chose the latter course. His acts of heroism, determination and unflinching loyalty in the face of the enemy will always stand as examples of the true meaning of valour.

On hearing of his friend’s death, Jim Lowe organised a collection from advisors around I Corps and soon had more than enough money to pay for the return of Wheatley and Swanton’s remains to Australia, and to set up a trust fund for Wheatley’s four children.

Wheatley was laid to rest with full military honours in Pine Grove Cemetery, Eastern Creek, Sydney. He was 28 years old.

The award of the Victoria Cross to Wheatley was announced in the London Gazette on 15 December 1966. In 1967 the Wheatley family was flown to Canberra where Dasher’s son George was presented his father’s Victoria Cross by the Governor General Lord Casey. He had been awarded the United States Silver Star several weeks before his death and the Republic of Vietnam appointed him a knight of its National Order and awarded him the Military Merit Medal and Cross of Gallantry with Palm. These medals are displayed in the Memorial’s Hall of Valour.

Wheatley’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on your right, 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 Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur “Dasher” Wheatley VC, 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 (298909) Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur “Dasher” Wheatley VC, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, Vietnam War. (video)