Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett – A diggers point of view

Abalinx 26 June 2018 Peter Adamis

Preamble.        Who was “Tony, “Harry the Hat” Hammett, one may ask?  Only those who have served would know the name or the nickname and I can only express my own thoughts on this extraordinary man from my own life experience and what he meant to me as young soldier.  Before I go on to describe this great man, I must add that it is not often in life that we can find the time to sit down and reflect on life and find the right words to demonstrate or express our thanks to those who assisted in making us who we are.  We can start from our early positive memories of our parents, siblings, childhood friends, relatives and workmates or we can delve on the negative aspects of life and seek the answers to our make in those aberrations of life.  A copy of the article maybe downloaded by clicking on: ANTHONY HARRY THE HAT HAMMETT – DIGGERS VIEW 26 JUNE 2018

PREFACE BY GEORGE MANSFORD.    BRIGADIER Tony Hammett MID – A Brother in Arms.  No matter how well you condensed the life and character of “the Hat” there would be not be adequate space or time.  Suffice to say I served alongside this warrior in three battalions of our beloved Regiment, first as a Sergeant and finally as his second in command in 6RAR.

Hammett was a true blue commander of the highest order. He knew his military history and learnt from it. He understood soldiers and always obtained maximum performance from them.  He exploited the values of teamwork and mateship to the full and struck gold. His very presence provided confidence and pride in who we were and what we could and in time would become. 

Soldiering with such a man was a daily adventure and more than often than not wherever the task ended, he was already planning the next phase and above all, he was there to be seen by even the most junior soldier.  Why was I not surprised when I heard that the “Hat” had led a company in an attack with fixed bayonets in the battle of Balmoral-Coral during the Vietnam War?    My last conversation was late at night and he was preparing to fly out from Cairns the next morning. I watched the take off and later that day the magnificent “Hat” was gone from the Planet. However, he did leave some very big footprints for tomorrow’s warriors to follow and you cannot miss them. They’re big bastards.   George Mansford.

Tribute.   Throughout this article I will be referring to my own experiences with “Harry the Hat” (Brigadier) and have added information about him gleaned from various sources such as verbal discussions, electronic comments, my observations and personal research using whatever technology could provide me with at the time of my research.  I must admit that it has taken me a very long time to gather this information and I apologise in advance of any errors in writing this article on “Tony, “Harry the Hat” Hammett.

I also apologise in advance to his surviving family should I make any errors regarding his service history or his character. I can only write as I have mentioned above.  Having said that I must qualify this with the following statement: I am not the best qualified person to write about “Harry the Hat Hammett”. I leave that to better qualified people than I and to those who have been in combat with him at one time or another.  As such my skill with the quill is limited and I put pen to paper to express my thanks to a warrior of a bygone era.

I am merely paying my respects to one of many men who took the time to talk with me and treat me as an individual and interested in my concept of life. A great man who inspired me as a young soldier and whose inspirational ideas and concepts helped me throughout my military career.

I guess the above statements is the best way of describing someone who I admired as a leader. “Harry the Hat Hammett”, took an active interest in the welfare of the men under his command and I (we) in turn reciprocated by working hard to meet the challenges we were faced with in the early nineteen seventies. Communication is an essential skill required and can be found in the trusty old haversack of any good leader…as well as his family there was one person among many who knew him was Warrie George Mansford. Warrie George is a legend to many of us and I am pleased to announce that at the time of writing, he is alive and well living in Cairns. He is often visited by Jim Hammett the son of Tony Hammett.

In short, Anthony “Harry the Hat” Hammett was a charismatic leader, a soldier’s soldier, an excellent communicator, a people’s person, with the dash and daring expected of a first class leader, in adverse conditions and being confronted by the unexpected.

I reflect back on our youth and chuckle because he was a Victorian and it was something I could always use with my peers that the best of the best came from the State of Victoria, however that is merely between friends as I was to find out, such leaders are to be found in all walks of life and from all parts of the Australian continent. He was certainly one of them.

If I had to describe him in one word it would be “inspirational”. Of his personal life, I only knew that he was married to Lyn with two children, a girl and a boy (Mellissa and James – [Jim]). I did not have any knowledge of his earlier background other than he was a Duntroon cadet.

There was no need for us to know any more other than he was our boss who was responsible for our training, wellbeing and preparing us for war. It was only much later that I found that he had enlisted and graduated during a time when Vietnam, Malayan Emergency, Indonesian Confrontation, Suez Canal, Aden, South American battles and most of all the “Cold War” were still raging.

It was also a time when societies were beginning to emerge from post their WW2 shells and a new informed world community was beginning to flex their will and express themselves openly.  However, it was still a world in chaos, a world that still seesawed between the forces of communism and that of the free world. Rare Individual.    Harry the Hat Hammett was one of those rare individuals who had a certain panache about him that made him an incredible leader of men. He was a caring and compassionate man who cared much for those who served with him. His concept of caring was to ensure that his men under his command were prepared for battle and to meet any exigency at anytime and anywhere.

He once told me “Peter, when I leave this Battalion, I want to make sure that I leave in a better shape than what I found it in”. What I do know is that his advice on soldiering and indeed life itself remained with me throughout my 27 years Regular Army and subsequent years in the Reserves.    He was like many others of his era, a man of values, a father figure, setting the example at all times and never asking another to do a task that he was not able to do himself.

He was an Olympic Pentathlon representing Australia in the Olympics, a husband, father, good friend to those who knew of him and extremely loyal. A bloke you would follow to the ends of the earth and back. Such was the measure of the man.

That without the ability to communicate one’s ideas, it matters less how brilliant a person may be if you cannot communicate effectively. Hammett’s battered haversack from years of soldiering brimmed such knowledge. Yet it seemed, there were also new innovative ideas ready to be plucked out of unseen compartments and implemented in our training programme. On reflection, I wonder if there had been any room for rations.

He commanded a great team of experienced officers and NCOs’ (Non Commissioned Officers). Men who had served in Korea, WW2, the Malayan Emergency, Vietnam, Indonesian confrontation and in Singapore The men I am referring to is the likes “Warrie” George Mansford, Peter Stammers, Bert Franks, Dick Spain, Adrian D’Hage, Gary Adams, Maurice Barwick, Phil (Butch) Buttigieg, Peter Feeney, Ron Llewellyn and others of their ilk to name a few.  Tony Hammett’s leadership.        When leadership is thrust upon you, itis an honour, a privilege and with it comes much responsibility. Tony Hammett certainly demonstrated all the attributes of leadership.  As a young digger under Tony Hammett, I always believed that leadership came in many forms and disguises and yet now after being in leadership roles I am of the opinion that leadership is a conglomeration of attributes that operate in harmony with one another. 

Leadership is serving and leading the people who place their faith in you and believe that you are the one to follow.  The first thing  that comes to my mind is a string of positive characteristics that describe Tony Hammett: “Positive outlook on life, love, honesty, societal values, credibility, charismatic, inspirational, fearless, a soldiers soldier, communicative, selfishness, hope, accessibility, integrity, innovative, motivated, compassionate and faith. I would like to think that while he was commanding the Battalion, he passed on those characteristics to us younger blokes by the example he set.

Tony “Harry the Hat”, Hammett in my opinion stood head and shoulders above all else and it was my view he had the ability to command by the mere presence of his being and we who served with him, would have gone to hell and back. He was proactive at all times, making sure that the needs of his men were met and that the best form of entertainment that he and his Operations Officer, “Warrie” George Mansford could devise. It was the toughest, demanding training and development of battle discipline so necessary in war.

My Memories of the Boss.        Memories are like the mountain streams that flow swiftly through the undergrowth and make their way down towards the plains and valleys far below, seeking to find the shortest route to the sea. Only to be soaked up by the sun out in the ocean and be drawn up into the clouds to renew the cycle of life. This article on Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett is a living document like the many others I have written on people dear to me and as such memories will be added and the cycle never ends. We as Australians like the Spartans of old, suffer from the tall poppy syndrome and are reluctant to write about ourselves as a nation and as such much history disappears, and myths begin to spring up and became embellished as the years go by.

Meeting the Boss.        Although I have written about this before, the yarns are still worth noting.  It was mid 1974 some months after the Brisbane floods of January that year that I began working as an assistant to the A Company Orderly, learning the ropes when I had my fist face to face “interview” with the new Commanding Officer. I didn’t know him from a bar of soap and anyway, he was an officer and we never really got to the big lads at battalion headquarters at our level unless there was a court martial. Here I am sitting in the office minding my own business when I get a phone call. It was the Commanding Officer.

He asked what was type of shells were used for the battalion mortars. He wanted me to find out and come up to his office and tell him face to face. I shit myself. I had not a bloody clue. I was not a bloody mortar man. The best I ever got to was a Machine Gunner or a scout when I was in the platoons out bush. I am only a bloody digger how am I supposed to know?   I raced into the CSM, who was good old Burt Franks. (What a top bloke) I stammered out my story and he put on a serious voice and said hmm this is serious. Let me see what I can do. He turned around to his cabinet, pulled out some military training manual. Looked it up and then gave me the answer.  

He said when you get to Battalion Headquarters, be smart about it and make sure you remember what I told you.  I marched out of his office and then raced up to Battalion Head Quarters. At the top of the stairs stood the RSM, WO1 K.D. Stockley and advised him that the CO had asked for me, to which the RSM looked at me with half a smile on his face and said, make your way to the Adjutant at the end of the corridor. 

Like a good little digger, I turned and quick marched up the corridor and faced the Adjutants door, knocked on it, saluted and advised him why I was there.  The Adjutant had a grin on his face and I thought I was in deep shit. My mind was racing. Did someone dob me in for having a punch up the other day or was it because I was drunk the night before.  The Adjutant went past me and knocked on the Commanding Officer’s door and said Sir, Private Adamis is here to see you. Bring him in Adjt, said the CO. Come in said the Adjutant to me. I marched past the Adjutant, right up to the front of the CO’s desk and slapped to attention giving him one of my best bonzer salutes. Sir reporting as ordered.

I then gave him the answer he was seeking. The CO looking at me with a grin on his face, seeing I was I was nervous, told me to stand at ease. The CO stood up, came around to my side of the table, thrust out his hand and said “would you like a cup of tea”. I just looked at him as he ushered me into the corner of the large room and asked me to sit down as he wanted to have a chat to me.   Well what can I say? For the next sixty minutes, I was blurting out my life story. He had me hook line and sinker.  His approach, kindness and the encouragement he showed me was unbelievable and I felt I could follow this bloke anywhere. I learnt many valuable lessons on leadership after that first initial meeting and often used the same approach many years later when placed in leadership roles.  Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett was using his vast man management skills to get to understand the men under his command face to face.

Parachuting.    I really don’t care what others think about who started the ball rolling regarding parachuting amongst the Battalions. All that I can say is what I know and that is that Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett started it all by using cunning stealth and old boys network to qualify a quarter of the battalion as parachutists.  I was one of the lucky few to become qualified and be recommended for a Stick Commanders Course. However on my last jump, I landed very heavily injuring my upper spine and putting a stop to remaining regimental, thus began my Infantry Clerk administrative career. 

The Whitlam Years.      When the Khemlani loans affair was nearing its climax and Fraser had blocked supply, we the young soldiers did not know what was going to happen. The CO reassured us that all will be well but he was overwhelmed by the normal rumour mill, half-truths being peddled barrack room lawyers and innuendos being gleaned from various sources. At one stage we all relaxing after a major exercise out in the jungle when Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett strolled by and sat with us. He asked us how we were going and we all answered we were fine. We then peppered him with questions regarding the government stance and what was it going to do about supply. We were all novices and knew nothing about politics. The CO said all will be fine and that he was sure that the Government would work its problems out.

I turned around to the CO and said that some should just get an SLR (Self Loading rifle) and just shoot Whitlam for putting the country into such jeopardy. This is how green around the gills I was at the time. I thought that all Labor politicians were secretly Communists and I hated communists. It was one of many reasons that I had enlisted in the first place. Well old Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett looked at me with those steely eyes of his and I could see him thinking whether I was being fair dinkum or not.  But then he laughed and we all laughed with him. The matter was soon forgotten. Years later, I wondered to myself the severity of what I had said and how it could have been taken out of context. Another lesson learnt.

Exercises.        What can I say other than they were extremely challenging all the time. There was never a dull moment under the leadership of Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett. Every month there was something new going on. We as soldiers were encourage to take create opportunities, take advantage of our environment, test our soldiery skills at all times, improve our knowledge, apply for education and leadership courses and contribute to the overall effectiveness of the Battalion. We worked hard, played hard and certainly even our sports “entertainment” such as long route marches, running through the back hills of Enoggera, making our way back to Brisbane from Shoalwater Bay, Tully, Raspberry Creek, Charleville and other God forsaken training environments our Commanding officer and his cunning and devious (bless his soul) Operations Officer (Warrie George Mansford) could think of.

Sport & Entertainment. I know from my research that Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett when he was in 1 RAR also coached the 1 RAR Battalion Boxing team along with that indomitable Regimental Sergeant major, Jack Currie.  I found this from a photograph which has sadly disappeared with the ravages of time. One other bloke in the photograph was Glen Barlow who was my Section Commander when I was with 1 RAR, but that’s another story in itself. Within 6 RAR, I enjoyed playing hockey, the occasional Aussie Rules, Rugby, murder ball and ran quite often on for long distances as I loved running in the warm rain during the monsoon seasons.  Yes it was hard yakka and we revelled in it. In other words we were expected to remain in top physical condition at all times.           

Even running through 8/9 RAR, our sister battalion lines located near the Enoggera Gates entrance, with Blue the Battalion mascot, all shouting out baaa, baaa, baaa. This was because the mascot for 8/9 RAR was a Merino Ram. At other times the battalion had family BBQs and other family like minded events to ensure that the women and the children felt a part of the battalion. The only other time I felt that a Battalion was family was when I was with 1 RAR, my first battalion. It is of interest to note that some many years later, Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett’s son Jim became the Commanding Officer of 8/9 RAR.         

Cyclone Tracey.                       When Cyclone Tracey hit, the Battalion began the difficult task of processing, clothing, accommodating and providing security to the numerous Cyclone Tracey refugees. Those on leave were recalled to help the Battalion carry out its tasks. As for me, I was selected to process the refugees coming in droves from Darwin in all manner of transport, whether it was by boat, aeroplane, cattle trucks or vehicles, they were processed at Enoggera Barracks.

Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett selected me because he knew I spoke two languages.  Those of involved in the processing worked about 18 hours a day assisting the refugees coming through the barracks. At one stage one Chinese couple had an escort as they were carrying in excess of a few million dollars in precious stones, gems, diamonds and other valuables.  The Commanding Officer was everywhere. Coordinating everything, visiting everyone, encouraging one and all and even assisting during the initial process giving us a break.

When the majority of the refugee process was completed, the Battalion was requested along with many other units to go to Darwin under General Stretton and help those who stayed behind to clean up Darwin. 95% of the Battalion went to Darwin for the clean-up, while the remainder was made of students designated on courses and Rear Details to look after the Battalion’s assets.  While we attended leadership and Admin and Logistic courses the Battalion did us proud cleaning up Darwin and many untold and unpublished to this day cam e back down to us through various channels. It was evident that Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett has done it again. His leadership attributes were put the test in a peacetime scenario and the Battalion once again had earned its spurs so to speak.

Post Battalion.             Although I have mentioned it elsewhere, Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett would keep in touch with diggers no matter where they were. When I was posted to the South to a place we referred to as “Mexico” (Victoria, he would come to the unit and visit me and leave a note if I was not there. I remember in 1979 he was not very happy with my new unit which was Central Army Records Office (CARO) because we had beaten all of the Infantry Regiments in rifle shooting under the leadership of Danny Parisian (RAR – Deceased). I know from other sources that he sent out requests for the Battalions to take up the challenges to defeat us.

He thought it embarrassing that we were able to beat the regiment. Mind you most if not all of us on the Rifle Shooting team were either in the Royal Australian Regiment or ex Vietnam Veterans who knew a thing or two about rifle shooting.  I chuckled when I told Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett that his ex-digger got eighth spot the first year and then 48th in the second year in the Top Army Fifty Rifle Shooting Club. I would like to think that it was his training that made us beat the Regiment. (Pic: Blue and his dog handler)

In today’s society, if you translate that into the outside world, industries wishing to remain competitive would mean education, training and selecting the best people for the job. Tony “Harry the Hat”, Hammett would not ask another to do a job that he himself was not capable of doing and would be seen with the men under his command during the rough and tumble of “murder ball, a hybrid of Gaelic football, soccer and grid iron. At other times you would see him running with a few hundred others around the area with aim of bonding with his men.

In the jungles of North Queensland, Tony “Harry the Hat”, Hammett would be seen visiting the men, with his Regimental Sergeant Major, and Operations Officer (George Mansford), asking questions, seeing that they were being fed, had all the right equipment and up to date information as well as asking did the men know why they were there.  On reflection one could say that he was a captain of industry observing and monitoring the status of his organisation and whether it was to survive in a competitive world. In our case we were being prepared for war and “Harry the hat” Hammett wanted to know whether we had reached our full potential.

The Eagle has landed.  When we heard of his death, it was not only a shock to the system, but we who had served with him carried on the legacy of leadership and the many examples that he demonstrated while alive. He had achieved his objectives and had left us in a better standard of readiness in that which he first arrived.

That was his legacy. As the years went by he kept in touch with us young blokes he had commanded, no matter where we were posted throughout the world we felt bonded to him. His inspirational alone was enough for us to follow and yet he gave us more tools to advance to a higher level that we ever thought possible and made us believe that we could soar like eagles.

As years went by, I kept in touch with him, inviting him to our boy’s baptisms and other events and wrote to him of my thoughts on the family and of the Army in General. I still have one of his little notes (amongst my treasured military items) he would often leave behind at the front desk if he missed me on his visits to Victoria. It broke my heart so to speak when I heard of his passing and it was very difficult for me to focus on my job at the time.   It is therefore fitting when I say that when the Eagle has landed and laid to rest, his (Tony Hammett) legacy and examples he left behind in us young diggers and others who served with him would live on in the hearts of men and women who served and continually to serve this country we call home. – Australia.    

Duty First and Infantry role.      I don’t expect all readers to understand, but it is important to me that no matter who we were, where we came from, the men and women of this nation who served and continue to serve did so in order to sustain the freedoms we have today.   Therefore, I have added a brief explanation on the motto and role of the infantry role within the Royal Australian Regiment.   The role of infantry, we were trained to:

“Seek out and close with the enemy, to kill or capture him, to seize and hold
ground and to repel attack by day or night, regardless of season, weather or terrain”.

It should come as no surprise to anyone; why men and women like Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett ensured that the best form of entertainment we could ever have was more training in order to prepare us for battle. The Royal Australian Infantry Corps motto is ‘Duty and Honour’, while the motto of the infantry units varies individually.  Whilst I was still serving the motto Duty First was instilled into my psyche that long after I had gone from the Regiment, the motto remained embedded within me and positively influenced in my daily life.

I am not alone.             Please note that I am not a left or right wing extremist in my views but a simple conservative who wants Australia for Australians and not for the likes of external influences on our Australian society and culture.  Therefore hopeful that the legacies left behind by these brilliant men and women of this nation are not forgotten or discarded due to procrastination, lack of leadership and poor vigilance. We live in a world that is becoming frighteningly complacent, privacy becoming irrelevant, our children not being taught to love their country (Australia), political correctness, ideologies, discriminatory practices and concepts being used as a tool to change behaviours that are not in the interest of the nation. In short, I fear for the future and what it brings. We are all responsible and saying otherwise is abrogating one’s duty is like saying I am not part of Australian society.

ANZAC GARDENS – PELLANA.       

Amidst the background of the Taygetos Mountain range and its lofty peaks lie ANZAC Gardens and the Avenue of Honour. It is one of its kind. (Pic: Pellana Avenue of Honour from the air). A town which was once the capital of ancient Lakonia and the home of Helen of Troy and her husband Menelaus “Master of the War Cry”.    A fitting tribute to Hellenes, Greeks and New Zealanders who served their nations.   

The Gardens are located in the village of Pellana Lakonia Greece some many thousands of kilometres from the shores of Australia and yet close to the shores of Gallipoli and that of Thermopylae where Spartans and their allies held off the Persian invaders. It is fitting that the Monument and the Pellana of Honour is located in the ancient village.    The village where mighty warriors of old once roamed the very soil that the monument and Avenue of Honour are located. With two and a half years to go, the gardens will be open to the public. Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett’s is not alone.

ANZAC Gardens and Avenue of Honour.      Engraved upon a plaque are the names of 275 people. One of them being Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett.  It is one of five marble slabs located in Pellana, Lakonia, Greece.  Many names will be familiar to those who have served or have had a positive influence on my life. This my way of saying thank you. 

Conclusion.     In closing, I would like to add that I am humbled by the experience and yet feel exalted knowing that I served with him.  Today, Tony “Harry the Hat” Hammett’s leadership attributes could well be translated into any of the captains of industry, fill any ambassadorial post, Government position and/or political representative while at the same be there for the Aussie battler. I thank all those friends who helped me put this article together and acknowledge those with whom we shared values and life together as I know full well it has been a long time coming.  I remind readers that this is a personal tribute and much more can be written about Anthony “Harry the Hat” Hammett by better qualified individuals than I.   I wish you all well and hope you have enjoyed reading of a soldier from yesterday who set the example for all who followed him. He was as they say in the ranks, “fair dinkum and true blue”.

Peter Adamis is a Freelance Journalist/Social Media Commentator and writer. He is a retired Australian military serviceman and an Industry organisational & Occupational (OHS) & Training Consultant whose interests are within the parameters of domestic and international political spectrum.  He is an avid blogger and contributes to domestic and international community news media outlets as well as to local and Ethnic News.  He holds a Bachelor   of Adult Learning & Development (Monash), Grad Dip Occupational Health & Safety, (Monash), and Dip. Training & Assessment, Dip Public Administration, and Dip Frontline Management. Website: abalinx.com Contact via Email: abalinx@gmail.com

           

BATTLE OF FSB CORAL

 Had Tony Hammett been alive today he would have been awarded additional honours and awards for his contribution to the Battle of Fire Support Base Coral.       Unfortunately time is not always with the brave and the valiant and one hope that whatever those survivors have received that those who have gone, their relatives are acknowledged and recognised.   (Pic LtCol Bennett and Major A Hammett)

Address by his Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia 14 May 2008.                        

On the occasion of remembrance service and presentation of honour title to 102nd field battery RAA, Royal Regiment of Australian artillery national memorial, mount pleasant, Canberra.  At the end of January 1968, communist forces in South Vietnam launched concentrated attacks against most major cities and regional centres.   

The 1st Australian Task Force deployed two battalions twenty kilometres northeast of Bien Hoa city to intercept and disrupt the approach of enemy forces towards Saigon and possible attacks on the US base complex at Long Binh – Bien Hoa.    Several fire support bases were established to provide flexible, defended firing points for artillery and mortars, in support of our infantry, armoured and cavalry forces.

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Occupation of fire support base Coral began on 12 May 1968, however the defences were still incomplete when at about 3.30 am the next morning, a brief but intense rocket and mortar barrage preceded a violent assault on Coral by North Vietnamese Army regular forces.   The ensuing battle was fierce; genuine close-quarter fighting, with guns firing splintex rounds over open sights, and at one point Tony Hammett, Commanding D Company 1RAR, ordering his company to ‘fix bayonets’.

The 1RAR mortar platoon position was over-run, along with one of 102 Field Battery’s six 105 mm howitzers. However by 6.30am and with the aid of extensive air support the attack was finally beaten off and the gun pit and howitzer retaken. 

Eleven Australians were killed and 28 wounded, whilst a further three died in patrol clashes on 14 May. At least 52 of the enemy were killed.   At 2.15 am on 16 May Coral again came under attack, this time from a North Vietnamese Army force estimated at three battalions.  The base was now defended by armoured personnel carriers of A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, and 1RAR’s rifle companies, all of which were heavily engaged.   Part of the A Company position was occupied for a period, but the enemy was forced to withdraw. The attack was repelled after four hours of fighting, with the Australians having suffered five men killed and nineteen wounded.   Two members of an American battery which had reinforced the base were also wounded. 

Some 34 enemy bodies were recovered, but blood trails and drag marks indicated that many more casualties had been removed.  On 22 May Coral was subjected to yet another rocket and mortar barrage, but this time the North Vietnamese Army troops were dispersed by return fire from 1RAR’s mortars as they formed up to attack.

Although there were further bombardments on 26 and 28 May, and patrols sent out from the base came into contact with the enemy, Coral was not seriously threatened again.  During fighting on 26 May the base’s defenders even turned the tables on the enemy by sending a troop of Centurion tanks from C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment outside the perimeter wire with infantry support. 

These engaged and destroyed most of an enemy bunker system that had been discovered. God bless the tanks; they saved all our bacon on so many separate occasions throughout the Vietnam War.   Between 26 and 31 May further fighting continued at Coral and its surrounding patrol zone, before operations were terminated on 6 June 1968.  During this period, at least 45 of the enemy were accounted for, for the loss of one Australian with seven wounded.  So why do we specifically recognise 102 Field Battery through the award of the ‘Coral’ Honour title today?

Essentially it is because in all the battles and clashes that took place in that three weeks of sustained and heavy fighting, the guns were always there, invariably providing close, accurate and immediate support to their infantry, armoured, engineer and cavalry colleagues in need.  (Pic: NVA dead at FSB Coral).Secondly, we honour the Battery because it itself was assaulted and bombarded and temporarily lost a gun, yet in these hectic and very tough battle conditions, the gun crews stuck brilliantly and bravely to their task of supporting their infantry, armour and cavalry comrades, even though at times they were firing over open sights at a determined enemy assault force closing on their own gun lines.

And thirdly, it is totally fitting and appropriate that with the award of the battle honour ‘Coral Balmoral’ to the Royal Australian Regiment, that the Battery which shared the same dangers and experiences should also share in battle honour recognition.  (This has since been acknowledged).  And so it is that on this 40th anniversary, we remember and honour the Australian servicemen who acquitted themselves so supremely well in these fierce encounters, and in particular the gallant gunners of 102 Field Battery.  We remember with sadness, pride and gratitude, the 25 Australians killed and 100 wounded at Coral and Balmoral.

Observer at FSB Coral.                        This was at the bunker system that had been located the previous day, by Bob Hennessy’s Company and Mick Butler’s Troop, on their advance from FSB Coral to FSB Balmoral. As I flew back to FSB Coral from FSB Balmoral early in the afternoon, Gerry McCormack’s 1 Troop; together with Tony Hammett’s D Company, 1RAR, were in the process of destroying that complex.  David Catterall.

Royal Australian Artillery Vietnam History.    Tony Hammett’s D Coy/1RAR, supported by Gerry McCormack’s 1 Troop, went out to seek out and destroy the bunker system. It was probably only about 3000 away metres away from where I was at Coral but the noise was deafening and the sight of the exploding napalm was fearsome. 

I thought again to myself ‘…what the bloody hell are you doing here you whacker’!!? I was off back to Nui Dat on the first available Chinook helicopter which happened to be quite late that afternoon after the bunker system battle had subsided and LTCOL Bennett (CO 1RAR) had withdrawn the force back to FSB Coral by mid-afternoon because of fading light.  RAAC support to tanks in South Vietnam during 1968.        

SECOND LIEUTENANT GORDON ALEXANDER OBSERVATIONS.   Second Lieutenant Gordon Alexander was sent on such a task by his OC, Major Tony Hammett:   ‘At the gun position, Alexander spoke to Ian Ahearn, the Gun Position Officer (GPO), and one of the Section Commanders, Bob Lowry.  They told him of the newly dug positions in the rubber trees just north of the guns, and that they thought there was ’something funny going on’.

 

The mission was in support of D Company 1 RAR as it closed in on the FSPB and made contact with a group of NVA. Major Tony Hammett led his company in an assault, over open ground with fixed bayonets and 102 Field Battery’s ‘walking’ artillery fire falling just 150 metres ahead. It was to prove inspirational to a company that had been badly hit during the previous night particularly as the assault succeeded in over running the enemy position without a single casualty.

An estimated NVA Regiment struck A Company and D Company 1 RAR in turn. Massive US artillery and air support including strikes by fighter bombers using napalm was instrumental in defeating the NVA assault. The Gunners of 102 Field Battery had been in a savage and bloody fight and had survived almost unscathed a result that was due largely to luck combined with a dogged will to win through.  On the other hand the NVA commander had little luck; his reconnaissance elements had failed to detect the mortar position.

His assault was dislocated by the resistance of the mortar men, his troops moving in on the FSPB struck D Company 1 RAR resulting in three guns being turned to point on his axis of assault, the Number 4 Gun detachment had remained awake at their gun after a fire mission and quickly responded to the assault and the three northern guns had been ‘bunded’ therefore the NVA supporting fire was high.   Journal of the Royal Australian Artillery Historical Company No. 84 September 2012

HON DR BRENDAN NELSON AO.     

Fire Support Base Coral – Balmoral 50th anniversary commemorative address.    12 May 2018.  The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson AO Director of the Australian War Memorial

Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free. First line of our national anthem; we sing it often, we hear it sung often. Less often do we pause to reflect on what it means? Therein lays the great paradox.  It is often those things most important in our lives we are tempted to take for granted – the magic vitality of youth, not appreciated until it has gone forever; families who love and support us giving a framework and architecture to our lives.

Australian citizenship – whether by birth or by choice, conferring upon us political, economic and religious freedoms.   We are Australians, defined less by our constitution and the machinery of our democracy than we are by our values and our beliefs, the way we relate to one another and see our place in the world.  We are shaped by our heroes and our villains; our triumphs and our failures; the way as a people we have faced adversity and how we will face the inevitable adversities that are coming, responding to new, emerging and threatening horizons..

Pic: Australian soldiers at FSB Coral 1968). As individuals and as a nation, every layer of experience shapes us, and in ways that we do not fully comprehend at the time.  The events that bring us here today changed lives, and they changed us.    We pause here today, half a century after the heroism of those who fought at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral.   We do so in honour those who died in our name and the 61,000 Australians whom veterans here represent – young Australians who served, fought, suffered, died and were wounded in the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War inflicted deep wounds on many of these young Australians. Many returned bearing emotional wounds denied healing by many who shunned them as reminders of war they opposed. From indifference to anger, the hurt inflicted remains the source of deep sorrows.  In this, we failed you.  Our nation emerged from the Vietnam War deeply divided, yet now determined to learn from the experiences of those who went in our name and our responses to them.  With humility, gratitude and immense pride we say to you that what you did in Vietnam – at Coral and Balmoral, is as valued by us as those who landed at Gallipoli, endured the Kokoda track, held the line at Kapyong or fought under our flag in the dust of Uruzgan. The power is in the story – your story.

Fifty years ago today, two Australian infantry battalions, three artillery batteries and support units moved in to establish the base in an area known to the Americans as “the catcher’s mit”. For the 1st Australian task Force (1 ATF), it was a leap into the unknown. Fire Support Base Coral was just 45 km north of Saigon and 60 km north-west of the Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat. As dusk descended on the evening of 12 May 1968, so too did unease. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army had attacked Saigon a week earlier in the communist Second General Offensive. The Australians now stood at enemy infiltration routes expected to be used in withdrawing from the capital.     

Intelligence warned of a likely enemy presence – small groups wishing to avoid contact. But a brief reconnaissance by the Australians discovered 100 freshly dug enemy weapon pits close to the newly established fire support base. Ominously, enemy ground fire prevented low level air reconnaissance. The threat had been seriously underestimated. After a messy, disorganised insertion into the landing zone, the American company commander providing initial protection warned as he left, “You won’t need to find Charlie, they’ll come looking for you”.

By nightfall the base defences were only partially completed with companies and support units dispersed.  Lt Colonel J.J. ‘Jim’ Shelton felt an enemy attack imminent. In an act that undoubtedly saved lives, he ordered his men to dig in. Most had time to dig individual ‘shell scrapes’ less than a metre deep. The gunners of 102 Battery had dug theirs only 15 cm when they were ordered, “stand to”. Heavy dusk rain filled the scrapes with mud, causing many weapons to later jam. Sporadic enemy contacts began probing the base defences, marking Australian positons by return fire.

The NVA commander at Division headquarters only 9 kilometres away, ordered a battalion and two infiltration groups to attack before the Australians settled. Only 250 metres from the base perimeter, the NVA dug in undetected.  Close to 3.30 in the morning, all hell broke loose. Rocket and mortar fire fell onto the base – 102 Field Battery and 1RAR mortar platoon enduring the heaviest fire. Five minutes of intense fire, a ten minute pause and then the North Vietnamese rushed the Australian position.

One soldier shouted to Lt Tony Jensen, “There are about 400 “nogs” (slang for Viet Cong) 50 yards away”. Bombardier Andy Forsdike was lying with his M60 machine-gun team of seven men 20 metres out in front of 102 Field Battery:  VC (Viet Cong) got up from all around us…they crawled up to within four feet of the M60 and we didn’t even know they were there…they were holding their AK47s up in the air spraying bullets….  there was yelling coming from the Mortar section – we could hear one of the Mortar Crew yelling that they were coming in, and not to fire – then we heard two Australian voices screaming ‘they’ve got us’, but because of the number of VC between us and the mortars we could not help them… in the end we fired at the VC on the track and we possibly hit our two mortar men.

The enemy assault quickly overran the mortars, moving through the position at speed. As luck would have it, shortly before the main attack, the artillery battery had fired a mission to the north. The gunners were still standing at their posts, their guns facing directly to the assaulting enemy lines of 150 to 200 men.

Gunners began firing over open sights, point blank into the waves of enemy troops. Lieutenant Tony Jensen, second-in-command of the mortar platoon, was facing annihilation from the overwhelming force. Two men sprang from their pits and were killed. Desperate, he ordered direct fire onto his own positon from the anti-tank platoon’s recoilless rifles.   He screamed to his men, “Stay down….Splintex coming in!”  Thousands of Splintex darts swept across the platoon, clearing everything above ground. Gunner David ‘Thomo’ Thomas of 102 Field Battery was forever haunted by this moment: I will never forget carrying Splintex over the number 4 gun – Stevo’s gun…. I tripped and fell down and had a poncho wrapped around my ankles….I looked down and there was Bluey Sawtell.  He was dead; he had been shot in the head and was under the poncho near our gun bay. I covered him up and kept going.

One howitzer of 102 Field Battery was overrun, another damaged and abandoned. Desperate close-quarters fighting continued. Two Australian officers attacked the gun pit with grenades and regained the captured gun. (Pic: Centurions at FSB Coral).  Helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft delivered support while a C-47 “Spooky” illuminated the battlefield with flares, hosing the enemy with fire from multiple mini-guns. The enemy began a fighting withdrawal at 4.30 am, the last one found and killed in the number 6 gun emplacement just after 6 am.

 

The enemy had left 52 of its dead.   On a clearing patrol, several Australians were not far from the gun position when Gunner Ayson (No. 6 gun) opened fire on an NVA in the grass.   On instinct the men went to ground. Bombardier D’Arcy was now looking at an enemy soldier and into the barrel of his AK47. He pulled the trigger on his M60. It jammed:  All I remember was Ayson firing; I hit the ground …..and seeing the barrel of an enemy gun I pulled the trigger and nothing happened. I was yelling for Burnsie to bloody well shoot him, just bloody shoot him…..Burnsie assured me he was already dead and I could get up and stop shouting.   Of the 18 men in the Australian mortar platoon, five were dead and 8 wounded.  In total, 11 Australians had been killed and 28 wounded. Their average age was 22. 

This is a story of sheer courage, determination, leadership and luck.  The attack on Fire Support Base Coral was the most sustained ground attack on an Australian gun positon since the Second World War.  Thomas Robert ‘Tom’ Loughridge of 1RAR wrote to his brother ‘Tiger’ on 21 May 1968, days before Balmoral.  Across the top of the 1RAR letterhead he scrawled, ‘Don’t let anyone else read this’. ….our first night out here one of the chaps in my section was killed by shrapnel from a 2” mortar bomb. He was Bevan Trimble from Bendigo. He was lying only 3 to 4 feet away from me when he was killed.    Please don’t tell mum, dad and Sue any of this as they would only worry like hell and there is nothing to worry about now as it is all over and things are very quiet again…  Over almost four weeks in further actions at Coral and the nearby Fire Support Base Balmoral, Australians fought some of their largest and most sustained battles of the Vietnam War.  At its end would be 26 Australians dead and 100 wounded.

Together they had repelled a massive attack and accounted for more than 300 enemy soldiers killed. None who survived would ever be the same again. Robin Carbins was a member of 3RAR. On 23 May – his 23rd birthday, he inserted into Balmoral. The next day he came under heavy attack, Centurion tanks helping defend the position. Robin completed his tour and returned to Australia ashamed to tell anyone he was a Vietnam veteran. He had 13 jobs in two years, describing Vietnam as “the dirty war”. He married, divorced and married again. When a mate asked one day if he would march on Anzac Day, Denise, his wife of ten years said, “Why would he do that?”  Emotionally Robin turned to her, “Because I’m a Vietnam vet”. He had never told her. Years later he said:  It’s been a long journey with PTSD…I spent 30 years trying to forget about the war, keeping myself busy.   I still have nightmares and bad days, but I’ve come to terms with it.

A Unit Citation for Gallantry has been finally awarded these men of Coral-Balmoral. Many among us will wonder what that means. It means this.  Bob Wilson was 17 years old in 1963 when he joined the army. A boy from Oberon, he had never heard of Vietnam – “had no idea where it was”. On his second tour in 1968 he fought in these actions. Of the belated award he said:  It feels like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. This is not about personal recognition, these are battle honours for our unit…we can carry the colours on our flag and all the young blokes can wear the citation.   When we came back, World War Two veterans didn’t want to know us, they turned their backs.  We want to make sure the young ones get proper help and are well cared for. This citation is part of that.   I’m terrified of crowds and I can’t go to the Anzac Day Dawn service, but when I’m with these blokes, it’s like a pair of old slippers. I can relax.

The wife of one veteran said this of her husband’s reaction to the news:  It is not often that he shows his emotions like that….he had another big cry after (speaking to you)… and…it was good that he was able to ‘let it out’….thank you so much for being there for him….. you always have been….  I think you are all….very, very brave to have not only survived being there in Vietnam, but for all these years that have followed. Australia owes you a great deal. And we do.  It is tempting, human beings that we are, to settle for the broad brushstrokes of our history, headlines, popular imagery and mythology.  Our comfortable lives breed easy indifference to individual sacrifices made in our name, devotion to duty and our country. Corporal Allan ‘Jack’ Parr of 1RAR’s mortar platoon was there fifty years ago today, calling in the Splintex fire on his own positon at Coral.

Only last week he said:  Numerous times I have stood in front of the Vietnam (Roll of Honour) panel and read ‘our’ names. I come to John O’Brien and dwell sometime…… He died in my shallow shell scrape next to me. Bob Hickey was 5metres away.  Jock W was 10 m away as was Errol Bailey and ‘Tiny’ Watson. I think to myself…. Just what more could I have done to save them? It happened so quickly. Then there was the 8 wounded, some of whom are still with us.  We still see their faces. We still hear their voices. We know what pain and grief their passing caused, and still causes today. 

I console myself by saying… well what I did was enough to prevent another 8 names or 13 more names appearing on the panel.  I feel a little better.  I move on, I don’t look back and I give thanks.  I pledge that I will do everything possible, until my dying day, to ensure that their sacrifice and service to our great nation is remembered, and honoured…

The challenge and responsibility we place at the feet of the next generation is to not allow the past to become a distant stranger.  To young Australians, these Vietnam Veterans amongst us – like you, were once young.Yet out of a sense of duty to our country, they gave their innocent youth; 521 of their friends gave their lives, and thousands more their good health – for us. You will honour them best by the way you live your lives and shape our nation.  To fail in this will be to diminish ourselves and demean the values that bind us for which they gave so much that is so precious.  For we are young, and we are free.  Lest we forget.

REFLECTIONS AND MEMORIES. 

The following are but a few of the recollections gleaned during the research and once again apologies are in order that not more recollections could not be found. I put it down to the fact that many of his colleagues and peers have since joined him in the afterlife.   I have tried to keep within the spirit of the reflections and memories as they were passed onto me. Each memory or reflection is preceded by the contributor in blue text to differentiate between memories.

MAURICE BARWICK.          Maurice Barwick was attending a lecture being provided by brigadier AW Hammett. Maurice sat in the back of the room keeping quiet and listening. Three times throughout the lecture Tony Hammett would say “Now isn’t that right Maurice” as if he wanted someone who knew of the experience to confirm. Maurice was the most junior member in the room, but it certainly boosted his ego to be singled out.  Maurice said that Duntroon, Tony Hammett was two years ahead of him, but always had fond memories of him. They had both served in 1 RAR together.

ADRIAN D.HAGE.       At a 6 RAR Association Reunion in Perth West Australia, Adrian provided me the funny story which I am sure that when Adrian reads this he will be able to spruce the story somewhat.  Any way to cut a long story short, Adrian was running late to one of Tony Hammett’s briefing. He had already been warned I advance of the meeting and it just so happened that the night before Adrian had gone out partying and had come home late.  He woke, quickly dressing as he could and made it to the lift, still dressing on the way. As he jumped into the lift, who should be there but Tony Hammett?  What was said I must admit I cannot remember but I don’t think that Tony was very happy?     

GARY ADAMS.                        When I went from 6 RAR to Infantry Centre Tony Hammett was the Commandant and as he had been in 6 RAR, was a great boss who backed his senior and junior NCO’s 100%…  In those days we would run the IET Platoons out to the range and “Harry the Hat” would ring me up to see what time the platoon was leaving. Next minute, there he would be, webbing and weapon with his battered slouch hat and he would run with the diggers, especially the 9 mile run out to Range Control.  All of whom were somewhat in awe of him. He never tried to take control of any run, just ran as one of the boys.  He would always wear a slouch hat with the side down on the runs and our forced marches. He left everything to the NCO’s and just ran with the diggers, giving encouragement when it was needed. A true leader.

We also had a very strange padre who was, I think a bit of a predator on the young soldiers. He would invite some to go out on his yacht of a weekend.  Anyway, in my office window in Depot Coy I had an A4 sized photo of the results of an ambush…over which I had added letters with the message. “The infantry role is to close with and kill the enemy.”  So along comes the padre and demands I take it down.  I refuse, so off he goes in a huff up to see “Harry the Hat” who eventually comes down to see what all the fuss is about…the padre is in tow of course bristling with self-important indignation. 

“Harry the Hat” looks at the photo and turns to the padre. “It is Sgt Adams job to train these young men to fight and kill. You don’t come here meddling, now away you go and don’t come back here to his office again”. Which was probably as close as I have ever heard him go to actually saying “F… Off”.  As for the padre, he was in at dinner one night when the formidable Mrs Polly tipped a tureen of hot soup into his lap with the comment “You won’t be chasing the wee young soldiers now you old queer”. She was regarded by the staff as a 100% legend and nothing ever happened to her over that incident.  Mrs Polk was the Officers Mess civilian kitchen supervisor at Infantry Centre.

PHIL (BUTCH) BUTTIGIEG.     We had not long before finished our two tours of Vietnam and more than 2 years in Singapore. So barrack room soldiering at Enoggera was anything but exciting as the unit struggled to settle down to a life without an enemy and no foreseeable prospect of overseas service ahead.            I recall CO Hammett got around with his beret and parachute wings. He was certainly an approachable man who seemed to have the respect of the unit. 

RON LLEWELLYN.      Tony Hammett and I were like souls and we knew it. I had some close moments with him. I was made the Battalion Assistant Fire Officer and the Battalion Boxing Officer as punishments for two of my misdemeanours. My wife and I were guests in his house. I too do a bit of reflecting these days – I guess as our numbers dwindle our mortality becomes real.

MELBOURNE HIGH SCHOOL OLD BOYS’ ASSOCIATION.     

Hammett Anthony (Tony) High School Old Boys’ Association (MHSOBA) deeply regrets the tragic recalls his life with great affection. Tony honoured the work in the tradition of Melbourne High School. The MHSOBA conveys its love and sympathy to the Hammett family.    

The President and members of the Armed Forces Federation of Australia extend their deepest sympathy to the family of their late member.  Comrade, Legatee Anthony William Hammett. From the President and follow Legatees In memory of our departed Lest We Forget.

MICHAEL RUSSELL.   I see James (Jim) Hammett name up there (pic: Jim Hammett left). His father was the O.C. Delta Co. in the battle of Coral-Balmoral and died years later, in retirement, in a plane crash in Gosford, carrying polllies around. Tony Hammett would be proud of his boy today. Good onya Jimmy. Army News.

JIM HAMMETT.            (Pic: Jim Hammett) Jim is the son of Tony Hammett. He went on to serve in a variety of military postings including Commanding Officer of 8/9 RAR. At the time of writing he is still a serving member. Later in life, my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting his son Jim, during the 8/9 RAR Tattoo held in Brisbane. I hear that Jim is a chip off the old block.

PETER FEENEY.         “Harry the Hat” was preceded as CO of 6RAR by Healey and succeeded in turn by Peter Stokes, all of whom I served under albeit for the former and the latter, a short time and it was my misfortune to have served with LTCOL Hammett a longer time but not long enough. All three men had an influence on me in my very formative years as a 2LT in RAInf.   LTCOL Hammett inspired us to be the best by following his example. An accomplished athlete (Pentathalete) he exuded energy and everyone in the battalion tried to meet his expectations. Nothing was beyond him it seemed.  Subalterns were not allowed in the bar until 4.30, expected to be finalizing any issues with troops, sorting training programmes etc.

One Friday Ron Llewelyn and I skived off early at about 1605. We were about to order a beer when the CO rocketed into the mess and said “What are you two doing?” As quick as a flash, Ron said “Getting some water Sir. It’s such a lovely afternoon Sir, Feens and I thought we would run the Hill (Enoggera Hill). Hammett    “Beaut give me 5 and I will join you” and proceeded to run us both ragged as we did the whole of the Battalion Cross Country. Still laugh at this today! An awesome bloke, loved by his officers and men to the last.

Hammett was instrumental in reviving the Army’s parachute capability. His mate, Harry Smith, MC was CO of PTS at the time and knowing that many courses would be undersubscribed, Hammett would call Harry a few days before a basic para course was due to start and then without notice we would get the word – get your arse to PTS by Monday for the Basic Para Course. It how I (Peter Feeney) got my wings.   Some years later I was doing a refresher jump at SWBTA and Hammett was on the aircraft doing the same thing and sitting opposite me on the C130.  

My stick got the order to Stand Up, Hook On which we did. “Check Equipment “came the call which we did. “Green On – Go” and we started to shuffle forwards and Hammett yelled out to me “Hey Feens, this is your 13th jump right?”    As I continued shuffling to the door my previous jumps flashed through my mind and yes this was my 13th. Talk about shitting’ blue lights!!

[Post Script] With due respect to Peter Feeney, he must have had some inside knowledge. However, as stated earlier, I was to find out many years later from “Warrie” George Mansford that the PARA school did not know of the intent until about the third course when it realised there were some unofficial students. (6 RAR had used the same movement order as the official student for all).  Peter Adamis

TRAGEDY STRIKES.  

The news media headlines heralded the sad news that a Canberra jet pilot killed. Five die as secret business venture ends in tragedy.      Anthony William Hammett, the Canberra owner-pilot of the executive jet which crashed near Kingaroy, north-west of Brisbane, on Thursday night was a former army brigadier and helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam.  A family spokesman said yesterday Mr Hammett had been a member of the Australian Army staff in Canberra until his retirement five years ago. 

Mr Hammett and four other men, property developer James Brady, 50, of St Marys, corporate solicitor David Charles Ferrier, 46, of Turramurra, accountant Peter Weir, 53, of Blacktown, and Australian Technical Association consultant Kenneth Gerard Newton, 59, of Gympie. The aircraft was on a flight from Cairns to Camden, near Sydney, when it crashed about a kilometre from the northern end of Wondai airstrip. Mr Hammett, of Griffith, was awarded the Order of Australia for his role as the commanding officer of the sixth battalion which helped in Darwin after Cyclone Tracy.  In 1960 he represented Australia in the pentathlon at the Rome Olympic Games and was a founder of pentathlon competitions in Canberra. He is survived by his wife, Lyn, and their two teenage children, James and Melissa.

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