The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2786038) Private Ian James Thomson, 3RAR, Vietnam War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.326
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 21 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 Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

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 Tristan Rallings, the story for this day was on (2786038) Private Ian James Thomson, 3RAR, Vietnam War.

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Speech transcript

2786038 Private Ian James Thomson, 3RAR
KIA 19 October 1968

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Ian Thomson.

Ian James Thomson was born in Albury, New South Wales, on 19 December 1945 to Ted and Nancy Thomson. The eldest of five siblings, he and Wendy, Eddie, Harry and Nancy were raised on a farm at Thirlmere in Wollondilly Shire, just to the south-west of Campbelltown in New South Wales.

Ian attended nearby Tahmoor Primary School, and then Picton High, where his favourite subject was metalwork. After finishing school he went into the fitting and machining trade, and continued training as a toolmaker. He was also an active member of the Citizen Military Forces, but deferred his starting date for national service with the Australian Army, allowing him to complete his civilian trade. His skills meant that he was given the opportunity to transfer to the Engineer Corps –but he chose to remain with the mates he’d trained with in the infantry.

Nicknamed “Thommo” and “Stretch”, Thomson was a generous young man who had concern and empathy for all. But he was also a larrikin; he liked nothing better than to play a practical joke, and to be on the receiving end of one in return. He rolled Jaffas down the aisle at the movies, would be first to jump off the highest rock at the waterhole, and first to ask a girl for a dance.

After basic training, Thomson was sent to South Vietnam. He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, from mid-November to mid-December 1967; then to Headquarters, 1st Australian Task Force, until April 1968. Thomson was then reassigned to serve with the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment – 3RAR – joining 2 Platoon, A Company.

Heavy fighting took place during in the Tet Offensive at the beginning of 1968, followed by a mini Tet in May and June. During the second half of the year, the Australians were involved in a series of gruelling, lengthy operations aimed at destroying enemy units in Phuoc Tuy Province and driving them from their remote bases and sanctuaries. This was designed to give the Australians better control over the province through their planned security and pacification program.

Operation Capital commenced on 12 October 1968 in the north-eastern Thua Tich district of the province. It was a gruelling operation, patrolling daily through difficult terrain, including dense jungle, and in ceaseless rain. It was a multi-battalion operation of increasing intensity, supported by US infantry and armour. Most clashes with the Viet Cong were intermittent: fleeting contacts and occasional intense actions, usually involving attacks on enemy bunkers. Enemy parties ranged from small groups to an estimated full company. But when they sensed an advantage, the Viet Cong would stay and fight.

After one brief contact on the morning of 19 October, Thomson’s 2 Platoon was attacked by a company-sized enemy force, using at least three machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Thomson was on the heavy M-60 machine-gun with his mate, Lance Corporal Paul Van Rijsewijk. They quickly went to ground on the left flank and responded, pouring fire back at the Viet Cong, and keeping this larger enemy force from over-running the platoon.
But soon the enemy RPG rounds were directed into the trees above the pair, raining down shrapnel and splinters, seriously wounding both men. Despite this, Van Rijsewijk was able to indicate that both he and Thomson were still in the fight. With bravery and determination they continued firing on the enemy. Platoon commander Second Lieutenant Peter Fraser called in artillery fire on the Viet Cong positions, and soon shells were exploding just metres in front of the Australians.

But then another volley of RPGs landed close by Thomson and Van Rijsewijk, and they were again hit. Two of their comrades, Privates Jessen and Bluzer, were able to crawl over to them, and between them managed to drag Thomson and Van Rijsewijk to a safer position. First aid was given, but Van Rijsewijk died soon afterwards. With the help of two American helicopter gunships that put down suppressing fire, the platoon managed to withdraw to the relative safety of the company position. Thomson, badly wounded but still alive, was carried out on a stretcher – but soon after arriving, he too died. After four hours the Viet Cong broke contact and withdrew, leaving behind seven dead.

Private Kevin Booth, who took over as section commander, was awarded the Military Medal for his actions that day. He later said that the medal belongs to the whole section and paid particular tribute to his two machine-gunners, Ian Thomson and Paul Van Rijsewijk, who held their position under heavy fire despite being wounded. They had undoubtedly saved the platoon from being overrun by a superior force and had saved many of their mates’ lives.
Ian Thomson’s body was brought home and he was laid to rest in his hometown cemetery at Thirlmere. He was 22 years old when he was killed in action, and had only 12 days remaining on his tour of duty.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among the 520 other 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 Private Ian James Thomson, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Craig Tibbitts
Historian, Military History Section

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