Peter Badcoe

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Peter John Badcoe
Peter Badcoe c.1950's P00942.002.JPG
Peter Badcock c. 1950s
Birth namePeter John Badcock
Nickname(s)The Galloping Major
Born(1934-01-11)11 January 1934
Malvern, South Australia
Died7 April 1967(1967-04-07) (aged 33)
An Thuan, Hương Trà District, South Vietnam
Buried
AllegianceAustralia
Service/branchAustralian Army
Years of service1950–1967
RankMajor
Unit1st Field Regiment
4th Field Regiment
Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
Battles/warsVietnam War
AwardsVictoria Cross
Silver Star (United States)
Knight of the National Order of Vietnam
Cross of Gallantry (Vietnam)
Armed Forces Honour Medal, 1st Class (Vietnam)

Peter John Badcoe, VC (11 January 1934 – 7 April 1967) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in battle that could be awarded at that time to a member of the Australian armed forces. Badcoe, born Peter Badcock, joined the Australian Army in 1950 and graduated from the Officer Cadet School, Portsea in 1952 as a second lieutenant in the Royal Australian Artillery. A series of regimental postings followed, including a tour in the Federation of Malaya in 1961, during which he spent a week in South Vietnam observing the fighting there. In that year, Badcock changed his surname to Badcoe. After another regimental posting, he transferred to the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, and was promoted to major.

In August 1966, Badcoe arrived in South Vietnam as a member of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. He was initially a sub-sector adviser, but in December became the operations adviser for Thừa Thiên-Huế Province. In this role, between February and April 1967, he displayed conspicuous gallantry and leadership on three occasions while on operations with South Vietnamese regional force units. In the final battle, he was killed by a burst of machine gun fire. He was highly respected by both his South Vietnamese and United States allies, and was posthumously awarded the VC for his actions. He was also awarded the United States Silver Star and numerous South Vietnamese medals. He was buried at Terendak Garrison Cemetery in Malaysia. In 2008, his medal set was auctioned for A$488,000 to Kerry Stokes in collaboration with the Government of South Australia. After going on display at the South Australian Museum and touring regional South Australia, it is now displayed in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. He has been honoured by the naming of various buildings and awards after him, including a soldiers' club in South Vietnam, an assembly room and library at Portsea, and a perpetual medal for an Australian Football League match held on Anzac Day.

Early life and career[edit]

Born Peter John Badcock on 11 January 1934 in the Adelaide suburb of Malvern, South Australia, his father was Leslie Allen Badcock, a public servant, and his mother was Gladys Mary Ann May née Overton. He was educated at Adelaide Technical High School, before gaining employment as a clerk with the South Australian Public Service in 1950.[1][2] Despite his father's opposition, Badcock held ambitions to join the Australian Army;[3] and enlisted in the Regular Army on 10 June 1950.[1]

He entered the Officer Cadet School, Portsea on 12 July 1952,[4][5] and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Australian Artillery on 13 December of the same year.[1][5] This was followed by a short posting to the 14th National Service Training Battalion then a posting to the 1st Field Regiment in 1953. He returned to train national servicemen in 1955–1957, and on 26 May 1956, he married Denise Maureen MacMahon in the Methodist Church, Manly, Sydney. The couple had three daughters. He was posted back to the 1st Field Regiment in 1957–1958. Promoted to temporary captain in 1958,[1] and substantive captain in June 1960,[4] from 1958 until 1961 he was a junior staff officer in the Directorate of Military Operations and Plans at Australian Army Headquarters. On 6 February 1961, he was posted to the 4th Field Regiment,[5] and in the same year he changed his surname to Badcoe.[1][2]

In June 1961, Badcoe was posted to the 103rd Field Battery as battery captain, and served a tour with them in the Federation of Malaya.[2][5] He was detached from Malaya to South Vietnam over the period 7–14 November 1962, and observed how that country was resisting the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese insurgency.[1] He returned to the 1st Field Regiment from November 1962 until August 1965. At this point, Badcoe transferred from the artillery to the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, and on promotion to temporary major on 10 August 1965, was posted to the Infantry Centre at Ingleburn, New South Wales.[2][5] He was promoted to provisional major in June 1966.[1]

Vietnam War[edit]

Badcoe arrived in South Vietnam on 6 August 1966 as a member of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV).[1] He was posted as a sub-sector adviser in the Nam Hóa district of Thừa Thiên province.[2][5] Badcoe was a quiet, gentle and retiring man who confided mainly in his wife, and had a dry wit. His colleagues found him inscrutable. He avoided boisterous mess activities, and preferred reading military history. Short, round and stocky, he wore horn-rimmed spectacles, and regaled his colleagues on military matters whilst off-duty. A teetotaller who did not smoke,[1] Badcoe was also so fearless he appeared reckless, and was often cautioned by colleagues in this respect. Jim Pashen, a warrant officer serving with the AATTV, recalled Badcoe driving alone in a jeep from Huế to Quảng Trị, and being shot at by snipers as he passed by. Badcoe was also very interested in Vietnam, its people and their customs, and was particularly fascinated by Huế, the ancient royal city.[6]

In December 1966, Badcoe became the operations adviser at the provincial headquarters in Huế.[1] This role generally involved planning, liaison and staff work, but Badcoe interpreted his duty statement flexibly and led local forces into combat whenever he got the chance.[2][5] He was a "veritable tiger" in combat, a characteristic that led his United States allies to dub him "The Galloping Major". At his first meeting with Badcoe, Corporal Chris Black described the scene:[6]

An old, bright red beret sat jauntily on his head. His drab jungle greens were almost hidden under the most amazing collection of weapons I have ever seen on one man. A Swedish sub-machine gun, his favourite, hung over one shoulder. It was balanced on the other side by a snub-nosed grenade launcher. On his belt an Australian pistol hung heavily and in one hand he heft an American machine-gun. He lowered the armament to the floor, crossed the room, shook hands, refused a drink and talked about his boys.

Badcoe's grave in the Terendak Garrison Cemetery

On 23 February 1967, Badcoe was advising a regional force company in the Phu Thu district and monitoring radio transmissions when he heard that a United States sub-sector adviser had been killed in action nearby and a medical adviser had been wounded and was still in danger. Without regard for his personal safety, Badcoe ran 600 metres (2,000 ft) across ground swept by fire to treat the medical adviser. He then gathered a force of platoon strength and led an attack on an enemy machine gun post located near the body of the other adviser. He personally killed a machine gun crew, lifted the dead American and carried him through hostile fire back to the company command post.[7][5]

Two weeks later, the sector reaction company was tasked to the Quảng Điền District sub-sector on 7 March in response to an attack by Viet Cong irregulars on its headquarters. Badcoe had been travelling with the sector command group, but when their truck broke down, he attached himself to the reaction company command element and led the company in an assault across open ground against a well-defended enemy position. His intervention prevented serious losses and the capture of the district headquarters.[8][5]

One month later on 7 April, Badcoe, who wrote frankly to his wife and children, penned a letter to them expressing his concerns about the conduct of the war and indicating that he should come home.[9] That same day, the divisional reaction company of the South Vietnamese 1st Division was conducting an operation in Hương Trà District on 7 April accompanied by Badcoe. While moving forward towards its objective, the company was hit by heavy small arms fire and took cover in a nearby cemetery near An Thuan. Badcoe and his radio operator were left out in the open under a mortar barrage some 50 metres (160 ft) in front of the company. He ran back and rallied the company, leading them forward again. They were again stopped by heavy fire. Badcoe lifted himself up to throw hand grenades, but was pulled down by his radio operator. When he rose to throw again, he was cut down by machine gun fire. Following his death, indirect fire was called in on the enemy position and it was assaulted and captured.[8][5]

Badcoe was buried in the Terendak Garrison Cemetery in Malacca, Malaysia. The epitaph on his gravestone reads: "He lived and died a soldier".[5] He was highly respected by both South Vietnamese and United States allies.[1]

Post-script[edit]

For his conspicuous gallantry and leadership on 23 February, 7 March and 7 April 1967, Badcoe was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in battle that could be awarded at that time to a member of the Australian armed forces. The full citation for the award appeared in The London Gazette on 17 October 1967. It read, in part:[10]

a bronze Cross pattée suspended from a crimson ribbon
The Victoria Cross

On 23rd February 1967 he was acting as an Advisor to a Regional Force Company in support of a Sector operation in Phu Thu District. He monitored a radio transmission which stated that the Subsector Adviser, a United States Army Officer, had been killed and that his body was within 50 metres of an enemy machine gun position; further, the United States Medical Adviser had been wounded and was in immediate danger from the enemy. Major Badcoe with complete disregard for his own safety moved alone across 600 metres of fire-swept ground and reached the wounded Adviser, attended to him and ensured his future safety. He then organised a force of one platoon and led them towards the enemy post. His personal leadership, words of encouragement, and actions in the face of hostile enemy fire forced the platoon to successfully assault the enemy position and capture it, where he personally killed the machine gunners directly in front of him. He then picked up the body of the dead officer and ran back to the Command post over open ground still covered by enemy fire.

On 7th March 1967, at approximately 0645 hours, the Sector Reaction Company was deployed to Quang Dien Subsector to counter an attack by the Viet Cong on the Headquarters. Major Badcoe left the Command group after their vehicle broke down and a United States Officer was killed; he joined the Company Headquarters and personally led the company in an attack over open terrain to assault and capture a heavily defended enemy position. In the face of certain death and heavy losses his personal courage and leadership turned certain defeat into victory and prevented the enemy from capturing the District Headquarters.

On 7th April 1967, on an operation in Huong Tra District, Major Badcoe was with the 1st A.R.V.N. Division Reaction Company and some armoured personnel carriers. During the move forward to an objective the company came under heavy small arms fire and withdrew to a cemetery for cover, this left Major Badcoe and his radio operator about 50 metres in front of the leading elements, under heavy mortar fire. Seeing this withdrawal, Major Badcoe ran back to them, moved amongst them and by encouragement and example got them moving forward again. He then set out in front of the company to lead them on; the company stopped again under heavy fire but Major Badcoe continued on to cover and prepared to throw grenades, when he rose to throw, his radio operator pulled him down as heavy small arms fire was being brought to bear on them; he later got up again to throw a grenade and was hit and killed by a burst of machine gun fire. Soon after, friendly artillery fire was called in and the position was assaulted and captured.

Major Badcoe's conspicuous gallantry and leadership on all these occasions was an inspiration to all, each action, ultimately, was successful, due entirely to his efforts, the final one ending in his death. His valour and leadership were in the highest traditions of the military profession and the Australian Regular Army.

— The London Gazette 17 October 1967

In addition to the Victoria Cross, Badcoe was also awarded the United States Silver Star, and was made a Knight of the National Order of Vietnam. South Vietnam also awarded him the Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Gold Star, and Silver Star, and the Armed Forces Honor Medal, First Class. An Australian and New Zealand soldiers' club in Vung Tau was named the Peter Badcoe Club in his honour in November 1967. At Portsea, the assembly room and library was named after him, complete with a portrait and bronze plaque.[2][9][11] After Portsea closed in 1985, the main lecture theatre in the Military Instruction Block at Royal Military College, Duntroon in Canberra was named after him.[12] In 1998–1999, a rest area in Badcoe's honour was established near Lake George on the Remembrance Driveway between Canberra and Sydney.[13]

Badcoe's medal group and personal memoirs were offered for sale by auction in Sydney on 20 May 2008 and were sold for A$488,000 to Kerry Stokes in collaboration with the Government of South Australia.[14] Badcoe's Victoria Cross and associated medals were displayed at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide,[15] prior to being toured to 17 regional towns in South Australia between 21 March and 20 June 2009,[16] before being displayed permanently at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra from 2016.[17] The award for the player displaying the most courage, skill, self-sacrifice and teamwork in the Australian Football League match in Adelaide on Anzac Day each year is called the Peter Badcoe VC Medal.[15]

In 2015, the Australian government repatriated the remains of 22 Australian soldiers buried at Terendak, but the Badcoe family asked that he remain buried there.[9] In 2016, the South Australian electoral district of Ashford was renamed Badcoe in his honour.[18] In late 2019, a 60-bed residential aged care facility named Peter Badcoe VC House is to be completed in Newcastle, New South Wales by RSL LifeCare.[19]

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

  • "Annual Report – Year ended 30 June 2009" (PDF). Adelaide: History Trust of South Australia. 2009. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  • Blanch, Craig; Pegram, Aaron (2018). For Valour: Australians Awarded the Victoria Cross. Sydney, New South Wales: NewSouth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-74223-542-4.
  • "Final Redistribution Report". South Australian Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  • McNeill, Ian (1993). "Badcoe, Peter John (1934–1967)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  • "Newcastle – Peter Badcoe VC House". Sydney: RSL LifeCare. 2019. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  • "No. 44431". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 October 1967. p. 11273.
  • "Peter Badcoe VC". Sydney: New South Wales Roads & Maritime Services. 2019. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  • "SAMA 1129 – Major Peter John Badcoe". Adelaide: South Australian Museum. 2017. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  • Staunton, Anthony (2005). Victoria Cross: Australia's Finest and the Battles they Fought. Prahran, Victoria: Hardie Grant. ISBN 978-1-74273-486-6.
  • "Stokes buys VC for $488,000". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax. 2008. Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  • "The Victoria Cross: Major Peter Badcoe VC" (PDF). South Australian Museum. Government of South Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 June 2009. Retrieved 30 May 2009.
  • "Victoria Cross For Valour: Peter John Badcoe VC" (PDF). South Australia Museum. Government of South Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 June 2009. Retrieved 30 May 2009.
  • "Victoria Cross medal group goes on display at Australian War Memorial". Canberra: Australian War Memorial. 2016. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  • "Victorian Heritage Database Report – Point Nepean Defence and Quarantine Precinct". Melbourne: Heritage Council Victoria. 2004. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  • Wigmore, Lionel; Harding, Bruce A. (1986). Williams, Jeff; Staunton, Anthony (eds.). They Dared Mightily (2 ed.). Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Australian War Memorial. ISBN 978-0-642-99471-4.

Further reading[edit]