Anzac Day Commemorative Address Dawn Service 2022

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Commemorative Address given by Mr Michael Ruffin OAM. A veteran of Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.

Good morning,

Firstly, may I say how very honoured I am to be invited here today by the Returned and Services League of the ACT and the Council of the Australian War Memorial.

Anzac Day is a very special day in Australia’s calendar and a very important day for my family and myself. It is a day to reflect, and remember with pride, the Anzacs and the Anzac spirit that was first forged at Gallipoli 107 years ago. We pay tribute to all those who have served, and in particular those who have made the supreme sacrifice in all wars, up to and including Afghanistan. 

We must never forget them.

There is a mateship amongst service people. A mutual respect, a bond, and a selfless dedication to proudly serve our country when required. We should be very proud of our highly trained and professional defence force. 

I am very aware of how lucky I am to be here today. I joined the Army at 18 years of age and served for 26 years. During that time I was deployed on 3 operational tours. 

The first was with the Second Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in Malaya 1961-63, and where I had my first experience under fire.

The second was when I joined the Special Air Service regiment of which I am very proud. 2 Squadron was raised for operation in Borneo and I served there in 1966.

The third tour was Vietnam, again with 2 Squadron 1968-69.

The reason I said I was lucky to be here today, is because of an incident on New Year’s Eve 1968.

Our patrols consisted of 4 to 5 men, and on this date, two 5 man patrols had been inserted into the one landing zone. One patrol to head north and my patrol to move south.

We came across a well-used track & whilst the forward scout and I went ahead to inspect it, the other three members suddenly opened fire at the North Vietnamese soldiers moving towards us.  We hastily re-joined our patrol and we engaged them with small arms fire, before quickly withdrawing back to a clearing.

The signaller alerted headquarters that we were in contact with the enemy and needed support. I moved the patrol into an old shallow bomb crater whilst waiting for help to arrive. 

We were subjected to a mortar attack. We placed our packs on top of the small depression for extra protection.  

It turned out we had encountered a very large contingent of approximately 80 North Vietnamese.  

The mortar fire was becoming heavier and also we could see them forming up to assault us. To our dismay, they brought forward a crew served machine gun. We then started to receive mortar, rocket and machine gun fire. 

It couldn’t get much worse. We were hopelessly outnumbered and it was clear the helicopter gunships would not arrive in time. We were fast running out of ammunition.

On our left flank, two or three enemy were crawling through the grass towards us. They were so close, we had to stop them with hand grenades. Realising we couldn’t defend this position for much longer, I made a decision.  

I told my patrol to leave their packs, all except the signaller. We were going to make a run for it.

The enemy started advancing towards us. 

We stood up, and a mortar round exploded, knocking us off our feet. Some of us were bleeding, but otherwise unscathed. Fortunately, the sandy terrain around us had absorbed most of the blast, but had kicked up debris.

We stood up again and ran towards the tree line. The noise of small arms fire coming towards us was overwhelming. When we reached cover & looked back, we saw the signaller had fallen behind. Then a mortar round exploded knocking him off his feet. He jumped up again and his pack fell off his back having been cut by the shrapnel.  

He immediately fired shots into the pack to destroy the radio and ran towards us. We slipped through their corden and made our escape, aided by the rapidly fading light. 

After a very eventful night and morning, we were extremely relieved to be extracted by the ever reliable 9 Squadron RAAF helicopters. Five more lives that they had saved.  

In hindsight, it seems inconceivable, that five men could run across 100 metres of open ground, whilst being subjected to that amount of fire and not receive a single gunshot wound.  Had anyone of us been wounded, that would have been the end, as we would never have left a mate behind.

Every Anzac Day, I reflect on that experience and am so very grateful that we all survived. We still keep in touch to this day.  

Many servicemen did not survive and others have suffered due to their service.

Warfare today is totally different to the training of my era. Guerrilla warfare has been replaced by counter terrorism, where the enemy don’t wear a uniform and supposed allies can’t always be trusted. We are fortunate that our current service personnel are so highly trained, prepared to take the risks, and committed to serving their country when tasked to do so. 

Serving in the military means making friends for life. There is a lasting bond with those who have served, and Anzac Day is the day to enjoy each other’s Company, reminisce and remember those who are not with us today.

We should all be very grateful that we live in this lucky country of ours. 

This should never be taken for granted.   

Now as a grandfather, I have great faith in today’s youth to continue the traditions of Anzac Day.

In closing, I am honoured to have been invited here today and I am very proud to have worn our country’s uniform.

Thank you
 

 

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