Honouring our fallen Sappers and associates of the Royal Australian Engineers Association (Vic) Inc.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.”

Lest We Forget

 CPL James (Jimmy) Charles Colbert – 22nd September 1948 – 23rd February 2023 – 75

Upon the completion of his National Service (28/01/69 to 28/01/71) Jim joined 22nd Construction Regiment obtaining the rank of Corporal. He provided great service to the Regiment as a very skilled plant operator and became a valued member of the Regiment.

I am not sure of the length of service that Jim provided to the Reserve but the family located a 9 year certificate of service dated 13 Aug 92 which indicates he joined Aug 1983. 

Jim has received the following;

AASM – East Timor, Reserve Force Medal, Australian Defence Medal, National Service Medal, UNTAET Medal (UN East Timor), Soldiers Medallion for work as a PLT CPL at RAAF Base Scherger, RASB – Return from Active Service Badge for East Timor

CAPT Paul Bernard Dahan, RFM – 1938 – 26 January 2023, 85

Paul joined the Citizen Military Service (CMF) on 10th January 1967 discharging on 10th January 1987 during which time he served with 2 CDO COY, SME, 29 Plant Sqn (16 FD REGT) and various roles/positions within 3 DIV HQ.

Whilst Paul’s service history may be a little scant on information there is no doubt that Paul helped build and develop the RAE here in Victoria to what it is today and for his 20 years’ service to Defence and the RAE we must all be thankful. 

In civilian life Paul was a Physics teacher and Campus Co-Ordinator with RMIT. I know he was a very travelled man. I had some deep and meaningful discussions with Paul and am just sorry that I did not take more time to learn more about this interesting person. Paul was the Mayor of South Melbourne during 1979 – 1980.

LTCOL Warren Hardy, RFD, ED – 25th December 1933 – 22nd December 2022, 89

LTCOL Hardy joined the Citizen Military Service (CMF) on 02nd February 1955 taking compulsory discharge on 24th December 1983. Regretfully I do not hold much information of his postings or service but I do know that he Commanded 22nd Construction Regiment from 1980 – 1983 and  in 1967, as a Major, took part in the Officer visitation arrangement and went to South Vietnam.

Irrespective of the scant information that I have provided there is no doubt that Warren helped build and develop the RAE here in Victoria to what it is today and for his 28 years’ service to Defence and the RAE we must all be thankful.

Jim Davis

SGT Christopher Tzanabetis (TZ) – 10th January 1975 – 14th December 2022, 47

I had the pleasure of serving with Chris and saw him rise through the ranks reaching the rank of Sergeant with 4 CER (later 22 ER) and without hesitation I say that Chris was a very talented sapper and one that you could readily rely on to achieve the objectives or tasks – he was dependable, consistent, steadfast and a good thinker who had the ability to think outside the box. Regretfully due to his illness Chris was unable to continue with his military aspirations.

Chris enlisted in 1998 and was allocated to the RAE (4 CER) who were located at Ringwood East. He has been awarded the ADM and Long Service Medal. Chris was very well thought of by people at all levels and I know the news of his passing will shock many.

The Corps has lost a wonderful talent in TZ – people like Chris and his ability just do not come along everyday and join the Reserve

In his civilian career Chris was working for Emergency Services Victoria as a call taker (Police)

Jim Davis

MAJ Bruce Campbell, RFD, ED (Retd) – 30th November 1927 – 13th December 2022, 95

Bruce joined 22nd Construction Regiment in July 1955 and discharged on 30th November 1976 – he was one of the 1st to enlist under the newly introduced Supplementary Reserve (SR) scheme and allocated to 105 Construction Squadron.

Being a Surveyor with the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (SRWSC) Bruce quickly adapted to the military life and after undertaking extensive Officer training was Commissioned as a LT on 21st May 1958. Later promotions included CAPT in May 1961 and MAJ in 1965 – he was appointed as the OC 105 Construction Sqn in 1965 and held the appointment until his retirement in 1976. Bruce along with the other Sappers from this period laid the corner stone for the Corps in Victoria as we know it today. For a large part of his life Bruce was country based and drove many miles to attend activities. One of his many achievements that he often talked about was his involvement in the design and construction of Lake Eildon.

Bruce’s military achievements are extensive and included a period of service in Vietnam as a visiting Officer (1967) and large-scale activity at Wewak, PNG which involved road and bridge construction.

After leaving the military Bruce continued to serve the Corps through the RAE (Historical & Heritage) Association where he provided 22 years’ service. He was a foundation member of the Association and held executive positions as President, Vice President, Secretary, Past Editor of Sapper Summit and committee member. Bruce was a Sub Editor and a substantial contributor to Swan Street Sapper, was Editor of the publication for 22nd Construction Regiment’s “First 50 years” and organized and had input to Volume 4 of the RAE Corps History. Bruce was a founding member of the current RAE Association (Vic) Inc. and was awarded Life Membership in 2015.

COL Geoffrey Robert Hunt, RFD, ED – 10 August 1931 – 8 November 2022, 91

Geoff joined the Citizens Military Service (CMF) on 31st August 1955 as a LT and was posted to 22nd Construction Regiment. He enlisted into the military under the Supplementary Reserve (SR) scheme and was part of 22nd Construction Regiment just after its establishment and in the formative years. You could even say Geoff was the face of the SR scheme. 

In civilian life Geoff was an Engineer with the Country Roads Board (CRB) and quickly adapted to the military environment rising through the ranks to obtain the rank of Colonel. During his service he held appointments as the OC 107 Plant Squadron, (1966), CO 22 Construction Regiment (1975) and as Commander 6 Construction Group (1980–1983) (later known as 6 Engineer Group). He retired from the military on 31st December 1983. He also served for a period with Logistics Command where he was involved in planning of Exercises. He attended Field Forces Engineer exercises conducted at Darwin and Katherine and attended a Field Force Command Logistics Staff Course on campus at Sydney University’s St Andrew’s College in 1978.

In January 1963 Geoff took part in the very successful exercise conducted at Wewak in PNG which involved construction of bridges and roads in extremely difficult conditions. 22nd Construction Regiment deployed with a very substantial contingent who relieved 21 Construction Sqn (ARA) in place. COL John Wertheimer (Association’s Patron) was part of the 21 Construction Sqn group.

In 1971 Geoff undertook active service in Vietnam as part of the Officer training scheme and detailed his experiences in his diary which he listed in Swan Street Sapper. It is a detailed daily record of his experiences and a great insight to this experience.

In 1980, as Commander 6 Engineer Group, Geoff brought together the 5 main SR units for a series of exercises which saw the individual sqns take on tasks in the field which really tested their capabilities The exercise proved to be an outstanding success and reinforced the value of the SR terms of service.

Although Geoff’s time in the military finished a long time ago there is no doubt that this forward-thinking sapper helped shape and develop the RAE in Victoria as we know it today and we have so much to be thankful to him for.

John (Jack) Halkett – 03rd October 1931 – 13th September 2022, 91

Records indicate that Jack joined the Citizens Military Forces (CMF and later Army Reserve) on the 2nd June 1952 discharging in 1992 after 40 years loyal service and served in every rank from sapper onwards.  Jack obtained the rank of WO1 which he wore with pride for 11 years. He was SSM of 39, 80 and 99 Squadrons, a Troop SGT and acting SSM in 91 Squadron and spent time in 203 Works and group headquarters. He was instrumental in recruiting large numbers of sappers under the Supplementary Reserve (SR) scheme.

In civilian life Jack served with the Victorian Police Force where he was awarded the National Medal. Military awards include the Reserve Forces Medal (RFM) and clasps, Efficiency Medal (EM) and the Australian Defence Medal (ADM). Jack was a very loyal and strong supporter of the Old Sappers Association. 

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – 21 April 1926 – 8 September 2022, 96

Colonel – in – Chief of the Royal Australian Engineers

Elizabeth II the Queen of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth realms. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born in Mayfair, London, as the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York. Her father acceded to the throne in 1936 upon the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, making Elizabeth the heir presumptive. 

CAPT Paul Martin Nowak – 02nd November 1958 – 03rd September 2022, 64

Paul had recently retired from the ARA but was still employed by Defence working with Defence Command Support Training Centre (DCSTC) and died whilst still a serving Officer of the RAE. Paul the OPSO at 4 CER. 

In civilian life Paul was an Accountant and joined the military in 2003 as a Direct Entry Officer (CAPT). During his military career Paul’s postings including LWDC, HQ Training Command, CATC, JTF 633, Army Compliance and Assurance along with OP Bushfire Assist 2019-2020 and COVID Assist. In 2007 he transferred to a General Service Officer and was allocated to the RAE. Prior to entering the military Paul was employed in management roles with many well-known corporate entities.

Through his wife Cathie, RAE history is embedded in the family. Cathie is a direct descendant of Don Darwin, MM. Don Darwin had a distinguished WW1 military career and after returning to civilian life went on to become the Chairman of the Country Roads Board (CRB). To improve the depth and skills within the CMF (now Reserve) Don Darwin was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of the Supplementary Reserve (SR) into the military.

Bodo Hans Boettcher – 13th October 1955 – 26th July 2022, 67

Bodo joined the Reserve in April 1979 and was a member of the 2/15 Field Battery before transferring to the Engineers. He served with both RAE Regiments here in Victoria being 7 FER and 22nd Construction Regiment. Bodo took discharge in April 1999. He was awarded the RFM and ADM.

As Engineers we all profess a loyalty to the Corps but Bodo was exceptional in his allegiance to the Corps and wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to the RAE and was fiercely proud of being a sapper and of his time in the RAE.

Peter Francis Voogt -09th December 1935 – 17th April 2022, 87

Peter served as a SSGT with 7 Field Engineer Regiment from 1964 – 1977. He was a mountain of a man but in reality was all heart. Well liked and certainly liked by all. In civilian life Peter was a Victorian Police Officer.

Theodorus (Ted) Hendricus Mathiam Maria Boltong 14th Sept 1945 – 22nd Feb 2022, 77

Ted was a Vietnam Veteran who, after discharging from the ARA, joined the Reserve at 7 Field Engineer Regiment (Ringwood) rising through the ranks to Warrant Officer Class One (WO1) with 2 RSM appointments one being at 7th Engineer Support Regiment (7 ERS) and the other 3rd Recruit Training Battalion (3 TRG Gp) retiring in 2000 after 37 years of military service.

MAJ John (Eddie) Dyer, – 27th December 1946 – 25th December 2021, 74

Eddie joined the Reserve (CMF) on 25th June 1965 and retired on 27th December 2001 after serving 36 years. Eddie obtained the rank of WO1 before commissioning and reaching the Rank of Major.

Eddie was a very proud “Valley Boy” and served most of his Military Service with the Latrobe Valley based RAE Squadrons – 38 Field Squadron from 1965 – 1977 and 39 E&M Squadron 1977 – 2001 where he also spent time as the OC.

 LTCOL George Giummarra, RFD – 02nd May 1945 – 03rd November 2021, 76

In 1970 George was part of the National Service intake and then remained in the Defence Force within the Reserve – some of the Units George served with were 7 FER (1971-1983), 3 TRG GP (1984-1988), 22 Construction Regiment/6 ENGR GP (1989-1995). George discharged December 1995 with the rank of LTCOL – he held the Command Appointment as Commanding Officer of 22nd Construction Regiment 1989 – 1992.

George has been award the RFD and also is a recipient of the prestigious Blamey Award.

Keith John Raymant – 4th Aug 1948 – 31st Aug 2021, 73

Keith certainly had an interesting military career with his first introduction being back in the late 1960’s when he enlisted into the CMF and was allocated to 31 Terminal Sqn (TN) RAE. In 1971 Keith was conscripted and was part of the 24th National Service intake and after completion of training at 2RTB was posted to 21 Construction Squadron at SME. During his military career Keith spent time with RACT, 5/6 RVR and RAE before transferring to Catering Corps where he remained until his discharge in the mid 2000’s with the rank of CPL. Keith’s service included two deployments to East Timor.

Keith was a member of 105 Construction Squadron (22nd Construction Regiment)

Geoffrey Robert Burn – 23 July 1939 – 15 July 2021, 81

Geoffrey served with several Squadrons during the 1960’s but regretfully we do not hold the details of which Squadrons he was involved with but when discharged he held the rank of CPL.

Colin Haggett – 21 March 1954 – 30 March 2021, 67

Colin served in the Reserve for 26 years employed mainly within the clerical/administrative area with some of his postings being – 22nd Construction Regiment, OCTU, 4 CER, MUR and

In civilian life Colin was employed for many years within Vic Rail and towards his retirement time as a Health and Safety Advisor.

He also held the position of Senior Banner Master with ANZAC House and was responsible for the displaying of banners mainly from WW1 and WW2 units.  He managed this role with great enthusiasm. 

Hamish Ian Goddard – 18 March 2021, 40

Hamish joined 4 CER on 04th September 2002 reaching the rank of Corporal before deciding to follow his ambition of commissioning and transferred to MUR where he had all but completed his training and was due for commissioning shortly. It was anticipated that he would have returned to “family” at 22 ER.

During his time at 4 CER Hamish was awarded a Soldiers Medallion, ADM and was the President of the Junior Ranks Club at Ringwood.

Bruce Raymond Harrison – 15 March 2021, 73

Bruce held degrees in civil engineering and surveying from The Royal Military College at Duntroon, the University of Adelaide, and Staff College at Queenscliff. He retired from the Australian Army as a Lt. Colonel and treasured his time in the service.

David Christopher Wood – 16 March 1947 – 5 February 2021, 74

David served in Vietnam from December 1969 August 1970 with 17 Construction Squadron, Land Clearing Team as a Dozer Driver
Chris spent his last years in Emerald QLD
He was always proud of his service in Vietnam even after his dozer was blown up by a bomb/mine in the Barrier minfield.

Bryan Martin James – 15th September 1926 – 04th January 2021, 94

Regretfully I do not have a lot on Bryan’s military service but he was a very early recruit when the Regiment was established and was part of 104 Squadron under the Supplementary Reserve (SR) scheme.

Bryan rose from the rank of Recruit to be RSM of the Regiment in 9 years and occupied the Appointment of RSM for 6 years from 1968 – 1974.

At sad times such as this it is not the number of medals that a person wears, the type of Service they contributed (ARA or Reserve) or how long they served but it is that Bryan was a Sapper through and through and therefore deserves the recognition that he is now being paid.

MAJ Leslie (Les) Malseed, RFD, ED – 04th June 1927 – 19th December 2020, 93

 Les Malseed joined the then CMF (aged 21) as a sapper recruit member of the newly formed 16 Construction Squadron in 1948 and about 1956 he transferred to 22 Construction Regiment RAE (SR) and continued to serve in the Supplementary Reserve (SR) until his retirement at age 49 on 04th June 1976 having completed 28 years continuous service. 

He was commissioned as a LT around 1957 and proceeded through to the rank of Major. During the late 1960’s Les went to Vietnam as part of the CMF Officer’s training scheme and in 1969 he was appointed as OC of 91 Forestry Squadron (not part of 22 Construction Regiment) until his retirement in 1976 except for the period of 1973-1974 when he took up a staff appointment 

He was an enthusiastic and highly effective sapper throughout his 28 years of service. He particularly enjoyed his service with 91 Forestry Squadron where his informal and friendly character fitted in so well with his soldiers. 

Les also held positions as PMC of the Officers Mess and served on the Corps Committee and a foundation member of the RAE (Vic) Historical and Heritage Committee/Association when it was formed in April 1992. This was the forerunner to the current RAE Association (Vic) Inc. 

At the Committee’s inaugural meeting, Major Les Malseed was appointed Vice-President and Les served in this role for 20 years. On LTCOL Eastick’s retirement due to ill-health in 1998, Les took over the Presidency until the 1999 AGM, when he reverted to the role of Vice-President and continued in this role until 2009. 

Throughout his period of 17 years’ service as a senior office bearer in the RAE (H and H) Association/Committee, Les made major contributions to many of the activities. Following Les’ retirement from Committee in 2009, he has continued as a great supporter of RAE (H and H) interests. Over some 22 years, Les’ contributions have been many and invaluable. 

One of the many tasks that Les acquired was organising the series of annual Sir Clive Steele Lectures for which Les’ task included arranging presenters and venues. This arrangement continued for many years until, due to problems involving training schedules, the task reverted to the Regiments. 

Les was always a great source of information and contributed to the preparation of the RAE Vol. 4 History bibliography. 

Stewart John (Stewie) Olney – 14 July 1941 – 17th December 2020, 79

We don’t have much information concerning Stewie’s military service other than we understand he reached the rank of Warrant Officer before Commissioning. He served with 22nd Construction Regiment

This it is not about how much time a person served or what rank they obtained it is the fact that they wore the RAE hat badge and were called Sapper and that deserves our respect and acknowledgement at this sad time

Frank Stabback, August 1920 – 15 November 2020, 100

Sad news that Frank Stabback passed away on Sunday 15th November 2020 aged 100 years. A World War 2 veteran,  Frank served with the 2/10 Field Squadron RAE and was also a POW.

A sad day but we remember Frank for his contribution to his country and the RAE.

Tommy Ferguson, – 17 October 2020

Tommy was a member of the 22nd Construction Regiment obtaining the rank of LCPL. He served for many, many years as part of the Supplementary Reserve (SR) scheme and was mainly employed as a driver – often as the Duty/CO’s Driver. He deployed with the Regiment to Wewak, PNG for a major Exercise involving bridging and road works.

In civilian life Tommy was a Surveyor and worked for the old water commission (State Rivers and Water Supply Commission) and it was because of his employment that he joined the SR Reserve

Elaine Malseed, 25th September 1928 – 27th September 2020, 92

Elaine Malseed, wife of 69 years to Les Malseed. She was a delightful person and the two were exceptionally close.

Les Malseed served with the RAE for over 28 years reaching the rank of Major and at the time of his retirement was OC of 91 Forestry Squadron. Les also had a short stint in Vietnam visiting sapper units there. He was one of several Swan Street officers invited to personally experience frontline engineering.

MAJ Malseed support and contribution to the RAE did not stop with his retirement as he was a foundation member of the RAE H & H Association (the predecessor to the current RAE Association) and also contributed to the writing of the Victorian Sappers through the Swan Street Sapper and Volume 4 of the Corps History.

Typical of many wives Elaine unofficially signed on the dotted line at the same time as Les and provided support to him throughout his military service. She was an exceptional supporter to Les attending many social functions and, in most cases, providing for them with food, waitering, supper and cleaning up.

It is sad to say goodbye to such a wonder lady and whilst not a Sapper as such Elaine certainly deserves the title as “honorary Sapper” and acknowledged for the support she provided to Les over so many years. Too often we take our wives and their support for granted.

CAPT Peter White, 1948 – 10 September 2020, 71

Peter joined the Reserve in January 1968 and discharged November 1996 with the rank of Captain. He served with 8/7 Bn (2 RVR), 7 Field Engineer Regiment, 22nd Construction Regiment and 3 Training Group. He was commissioned in January 1981. In civilian life he was employed for many years within the finance industry (banking) before moving to a role in Government where he was a Procurement Officer. Peter was a husband, father, grandfather, football coach, Defence Force member, loyal employee, Scout Leader, and a taxi driver for the kids (just to name a few). Peter and Jenny recently built a new home in Ballarat.

Robert (Bob)Wesley Scorse, 4 June 1937 – 13 September 2020, 83

Bob commenced his apprenticeship as an Electrician with the State Electricity Commission of Victoria in the Latrobe Valley undertakings at Yallourn.Bob was called up for National Service in 1957 and opted for the RAAF, where he completed his Basic Training in Wagga Wagga, NSW.In 1958 he enlisted in 99 Construction Squadron, 16 Construction Regiment RAE, (Supplementary Reserve).3141450 Sapper Robert Wesley Scorse worked his way through the promotion system and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 1964.In 1967 he was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer Class II.In 1972 he was offered the opportunity to attend the first Supplementary Reserve Officers Course (conducted by 6 Construction Group RAE), for selection to study for Commissioned Rank.He was Commissioned in 1976 as 2nd Lieutenant in 39 Electrical & Mechanical Squadron, 16 Construction Regiment RAE (Supplementary Reserve).He transferred to 38 Field Squadron, 7 Field Engineer Regiment in 1980 and in 1985 was promoted to the rank of Captain, which he held until he retired in the early 1990’s.

COL John M Hutcheson MC, 4 October 1927 – 18 August 2020, 92

A distinguished military career – awarded his MC in Korea, served in Vietnam on a number of occasions, was the CO of SME, Chief Engineer 1971-72 and credited with the design of the Hutcheson Huts. His achievements were many.

COL Mark (Shep) Shephard, 8 August 2020

 “He was a leader, friend and mentor to many in the Corps and challenged the status quo and always strove to raise the bar and set the highest professional standards. Post Army he ran a construction company in PNG before returning home to Sydney and working with RPS.”  BRIG P.J. (Hutch) Hutchinson, DSC (Retd) 

Fred Banyard,  1919 – 31 May 2020, 101

Fred Banyard was the last Sapper of WA’s 13 Field Company (WW2),

 Brett Waterford, 1 November 1972 – 28 May 2020, 48

Brett joined the Army at Oakleigh with 105 Construction Squadron in 1993. Brett was one of the most conscientious people you would ever meet and this was particularly evident very early in his military career, a very popular person who was prepared to help anyone in need. After serving for 24 years Brett retired from 22nd Engineer Regiment on 31st December 2017 with the rank of Corporal and held the position of Transport NCO. In civilian life Brett was a Fire Fighter.

 Brett fought a dogged battle against an insidious disease but regretfully even with the strongest of support and determination this disease just does not take prisoners

Michael (Mick) Keen, 25 January 1948 – 26 May 2020, 72

Mick joined the Regular Army around 1972 and after basic training at Kapooka was allocated to the Engineers where he soon built a reputation and rose through the ranks to WO2 and on the way gained his EOD qualification. He served for over 24 years.

During his career Mick enjoyed numerous postings throughout Australia including a tenure as the Training Warrant Officer at Newborough (in the Latrobe Valley) with 38 Field Squadron – one of his last postings was to 13 Field Squadron in Perth, WA.

Mick also had overseas postings to.;

West Germany 1981-82, Papua New Guinea,1983 – 86, Pakistan 1991

After discharging from the ARA in 1997 Mick became part of the demining teams that operated in various countries throughout the world.

John (Jack) Muir OAM, 30 August 1925 – 20th May 2020, 95

Jack enlisted in 1955 into what was known as the Supplementary Reserve (SR) and as he worked for the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (SRWSC) in Tatura he was allocated to 105 Construction Squadron which was part of 22nd Construction Regiment. Jack was among the first to enlist into this new scheme and the SR.In 1963 Jack was part of a unique experiment which, for the first time, saw SR sappers deployed offshore. A contingent of about 90 personnel from the various Squadrons of 22nd Regiment flew to Wewak in PNG to relieve 21 Construction Squadron (ARA) which was commanded by MAJ Peter Gration (later GEN Chief of Defence) and whose Works Officer was CAPT John Wertheimer (Later COL Wertheimer). The task was mainly road building between Wewak and Maprik (130 kms of road) but also involved the construction of bridges and river crossingsObviously the bridge building component was an important part of the project and Jack was able to add a great deal to it with experience, guidance and supervision through his knowledge working with forestry crews. It had been noted that Jack’s input was invaluable to the successful completion of the bridge task. At the time of his discharge in 1972 Jack was the SSM of 105 Construction Squadron an appointment he had held since 1969. 

Harold (Harry) Buckley, 28 July 1926 – 13th May 2020, 94

Warrant Officer Class I Harry Buckley was a living legend in the RAE. He first set foot on the soil of SME Casula home of the Sappers, late 1947 His first achievement in the Corps were to be presented with the Clasp Knife with Lanyard as best student on the first Field Engineer conducted under the then CO/CI, Col “Basher” Brogan, later to become Maj Gen. In 1950 he attended the first course to qualify Field Engineer Sergeants and prepare 40 students for appointments as instructors with the National Service Training Scheme and was posted to 19 NS Trg Bn. He is mentioned in volume 4 of the History of the Royal Australian Engineers as a notable instructor at SME. Harry receives a second mention for the part he played as a Troop Sergeant with 7 independent Field Squadron in Butterworth Malaysia and Borneo in 1959 and again for his service in the legendary Australian Army Training Vietnam in 1970-71. 

LTCOL R.P. “Phil” Kudnig, 8 May 1933 – 27 April 2020, 87

Phil served from 17th March 1951 and discharged on 16th July 1979 with the rank of LTCOL

Phil was commissioned with the OCS Class December 1953 (The Third Class), he also being awarded the Governor General’s Medal.

He returned to OCS on the staff 1964 – 1966.  He then moved over The Rip to Army Staff College in 1967.

In South Vietnam he commanded 1 Fd Sqn RAE Jan – Nov 1971.

Phil’s overseas posting include Japan/Korea, United Kingdom and Vietnam.

Phil served at Ringwood East Depot in 1968 and held many Staff Appointments throughout Australia during his distinguished career.

Robert “Bob” Baguley, 21 December 1941 – 25 April 2020, 79

After a long battle with cancer Bob passed away peacefully in the early hours of Anzac Day 2020. 

Regretfully I do not have much information on Bob’s service but he enlisted 09th March 1965 and discharged 08th March 1971 and I understand that he saw active service in Borneo.

MAJ Rodney “Blue” Horton, 11 November 1947 – 19 April 2020, 73

During his 30 years military career Rod served in a most Australian states including several times in Victoria where a couple of his postings were,

1985 – 1988        6 Engineer Group as RQMS

1988 – 1990 – 7 Field Engineer Regiment as QM

Rod also served in South Vietnam (1967) and during 1999 was also involved in Op Safe Haven

Rod retired from the Army on 18th August 2002 with the rank of Major.

`Rod is survived by his wife of 51 years Aileen and his children, Sally Fontana and Trevor Horton, his grandchildren Jessica, Samantha and Madeline and his great grandchildren, Oliver, Isla, Sage, and Luna.

Phil “Von” Schneider, 27 January 1968 – 30 March 2020, 52

 Sapper 3205921 Phil Schneider affectionately known as “Von” who passed away in Thailand on 30th March 2020. Von was a member of 7th Field Engineer Regiment and served in both10 and 8 Sqns.

Phil was on holiday with his wife Cathy when, as a result of COVID-19, Thailand closed its borders and introduced strict travel restrictions which regretfully Phil and Cathy were caught up in. Phil did not pass away as a result of the virus.

 Frederick Ross McLeod, 3 February 2020 

Robert “Bob” Burns, 28 December 2019

Bob was a SSGT when I joined 7 FER back in 1975 and was an SQ. He went on to become a WO2 and as far as I know was always within the Q stream.

I found Bob to be a great bloke but one always ready to catch you out – for instance he had his keys tied onto an elastic cord which he would throw towards you only to see them spring back to Bob before reaching you – he certainly got a laugh out of this – I know that I never caught those keys.

COL Robert Sanders, 17 October 2019

I am writing to pass on some terrible news that – today – we lost one of our own in COL Rob Sanders, Director Land in DGLAND Branch at HQ JOC.

Rob collapsed in the HQ JOC gym this afternoon, and despite frantic efforts from those present to administer CPR, he was eventually pronounced deceased around 2pm.

Rob leaves behind his wife Gail and son Matt who are being cared for at this difficult time. His work colleagues are being supported by Padres and HQ staff.

As you know, Rob was an extremely well-respected and liked member of your cohort, our Army and Defence Force. Many of us interacted with Rob earlier today, so the sense of shock and grief is palpable amongst us. Please be cognisant of the shock and hurt within his family as they come to grips with this terrible tragedy – we are still consoling them and will be in a better position in time to understand how best to support them. 

As we become aware of funeral details I will also ensure this is passed on. 



Anthony (Tony) Rawlins

Major General

Deputy Chief of Army

CAPT Gerald Arthur Betts, 14 June 1951 – 12 October 2019, 68

This notice is difficult for me to write as Gerry and I enlisted about the same time into 7th Field Engineer Regiment, Ringwood, Vic and typical of the Army family we have remained good friends ever since.

On Thursday Bill van Ree (President), Don Hughes (Vice-President), Zeus (wonder dog) and I visited Gerry in the Palliative Care Unit at Shepparton Hospital and whilst Gerry did not speak during our visit I am sure he knew we were there with him.

I have no hesitation in saying that today the Corps has lost one of its most loyal, passionate and dedicated Officers in Gerry.

Gerry served in the Reserve for 38 years and rose to the rank of Captain.

Jim Davis

Bryan “Brett” Nolen, 15 August 1933 – 1 September 2019, 86

A brief note on Brett as I know. 36262 WO1 Nolen Bryan (Brett) Henry. Born to a farming family in Nyah/Tocumwal NSW. 15/08/1933.  Called up for 1st National service intake 1953, returned home and after having a blue with his bother left the farm and joined the regular Army 1956. First posting 21 construction squadron Puckapunyal. Continued his career in a number of RAE units until being promoted to Sgt. Where he was posted to LWC Canungra training troops for Vietnam. March 1967 he deployed to 1 field squadron South Vietnam until march 1968. During this deployment he worked extensively on the laying of the infamous barrier mine field at Dat Do, in which a number of sappers were killed and seriously wounded due to a number of incidents while laying mines.   His next overseas posting was New Guinea, working in road & construction tasks in which he was tasked with removing or destroying Jap UXO’s. From New Guinea as he said many times that he had won the lottery had been given a posting to RSME England, In which while there was presented his WO1 rank by her majesty Queen Elizabeth 2. While at RSME Brett was given the task to train alongside British sappers in the use & deployment of the MGB to which he was to deliver a report back home on the effectiveness & adaptability of such a bridge for use within the Australian Army and doing so overseen the first bridge being delivered to Australia. From RSME he attended the Royal school of bomb disposal at Lodge Hill and topped the course in which he was asked to stay on for a further 12 months as an instructor. After coming back to Australia Brett filled again some senior instructor positions at LWC & SME. Finally finishing his career in 1980 where it all began at 21 construction squadron. After the Army Brett was once again called upon by the commonwealth to assist in training overseas diplomats that were being sent abroad for DFAT.  Brett also lent his hand to special effects with the knowledge that he had gained throughout his career to supply SFX for the ABC series Spy force and for the movie the Odd angry shot.   In 1988 Brett was asked to a local Army reserve unit as a guest speaker, In which he said he was so impressed  with the enthusiasm and professionalism of the soldiers that he offered his time in a voluntary role  to help train the Pioneer platoon with his extensive sapper knowledge. The pioneers had no idea of the level of instruction they were about to receive and knowledge they were about to have passed to them. This voluntary instruction continued for a further  3 years seeing many troops become the most proficient pioneers they could be. In 1991 Brett was awarded an Australia day award from 4 Brigade HQ for his voluntary contribution to the Army reserve.  I personally as with many others valued his knowledge and experience throughout their time at the corps of sappers as he never shied away from anyone that had a question or thirst for sapper knowledge.   God bless ya O’l mate,  May you rest in peace Sapper,  Your knowledge & stories will be here for a long time to come.” 

Regards  Glenn Harmer

Neville Geoffrey Handley, 3 June 1942 – 24 July 2019, 77

Many of you reading this notice will not be aware of Neville but he was a very loyal and dedicated Sapper who served with 91 Forestry Squadron for in excess of 30 years where he reached the rank of Corporal and was a true asset to the squadron.

Neville joined as a Sapper but then had a change of career streams and became the cook for 91 Forestry Squadron a position which he enjoyed until his retirement from the Reserve.

In his civilian life Neville was employed by Forest Commission Victoria. In his younger days he was a competitive and highly skilled axeman but also enjoyed bowls. Married to Dianne Neville was father to 4 children.

It is the quiet unassuming people like Neville who helped forge the Reserve as we know it today and his contribution cannot be underestimated.

Neville Flintoff, 31 October 1939 – 13 June 2019, 80

Neville served between 1962 and 1970 with 21 Construction Squadron (including in Wewak, PNG), Chief Engineers Southern Region and several Engineer Units.

There was no doubt that Neville was passionate about being a sapper and was a long-time supporter of the Old Sappers Association where he was granted honorary life membership – that honorary membership transferred across to the RAE Association (Vic) Inc.

Vernon George “Whitt” Tuskin, – 14 November 2018

On the 11th March 2019 I tried to contact Vern Tuskin to wish him a very merry 96th birthday only to learn from an investigation of the internet that he had passed away on 14th November 2018 and was laid to rest on 13th December 2018 – this event is a very sad one for us not only was Whitt a WW2 veteran he was our oldest surviving member. The ranks of Australia’s WW2 veterans are thinning very quickly. We also did not get the opportunity of attending his Service to farewell this lovely man – knowing Vern though (little as I did) I am sure he would have liked a very simple Service without any fuss

Vern saw active service in the Middle East (Palestine, Syria, Egypt), Ceylon and Papua New Guinea. He served with 2/8 Engineers and ANGUA (Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit) in Papua New Guinea – the photo below from the AWM shows Vern at Malamal compound in Papua New Guinea – he is in the front on the left side. He reached the rank of SGT. He asked to be allocated to Engineers because he had a brother who was a LT in the RAE and wanted to serve with him.

Until recently Whitt had lived in his home at Oakleigh but had moved into a Care Facility

On the 07th March 2017 the then President (Colin Bowater) and I visited Vern at his home and presented him with a Tee Shirt and hat – we sat with him whilst he had his lunch which was a couple of Vegemite sandwiches.  

Vern told us of one incident during his overseas service and that was he was posted to Egypt and when heading to his compound he was challenged by the guard who turned out to be his father!

Regretfully I can add very little more other than I hope that Whitt was welcomed to the big parade ground and looked after because there is no doubt that this Sapper has certainly earned a rest after serving his country so well 

Rest in peace Vernon George (Whitt) Tuskin  – UBIQUE

Rev Canon Graeme Winterton, 1940 – 21 March 2019, 79

As I have limited knowledge of Rev Winterton and believe that he deserves greater acknowledgement for his contribution input was sought from BRIG Bob Slater (see attached) and COL John Wertheimer who has advised me as follows;

Re Graeme he was a fine man of the cloth We met when I was the Comd 6 Engr Gp about 1984 1985 . I believe Graeme was the a Capt . I have an idea he did not start as a man of the cloth – I do not recall what but it could have been for a number of years .

At the unit he was the first padre for a while and maybe not many posted since . He cared for units 7 FER  , 22 Const Sqn , Yallourn , Swan Street  and Ringwood .  He was a good listener with a sense of humour and a perceptive operator 

He transferred from Reserve to the Regular  Army  and was posted to Duntroon as RMC Chaplain . It was about  the time of the ADFA start – 1986 I imagine that was a posting as Major. Later attended church in Paynesville say between 1995 to 2000 and as the Anglican priest based in Bairnsdale , he took the limited numbers of services at Paynesville .  Also course , he would have cared for Bairnsdale Primary School 754 which I had attended earlier. 

Graeme would have been say in his mid-forties at Swan Street . As you are aware Graeme conducted the dedication service for the RAE Memorial Tree  at the Shine about 2013 , when his heath was not the best . In his latter years in Melbourne , I have a feeling he was a strong contributor to an Anglican Church charity .   Good bye to an interesting , helpful and smart man



The Reverend Winterton was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2016 Australia Day Honours “For significant service to the community through disaster recovery and emergency support ministry, and to the Anglican Church of Australia”.

Jim Davis

Desmond Arthur Ernest Oldis, – 9 March 2019

I have received a number of emails from the La Trobe Valley advising of this sad event and I think these emails speak volumes about Sapper Oldis so rather than me sitting here typing I will include them.

Des undoubtedly was a colourful character and if you upset him he would certainly let you know – irrespective he was a very fine Sapper and we should all take a moment to reflect on our loss of another of our friends who contributed so much to the Corps.

Rest in peace Des – wherever you are I am sure you would be making your mark already – you have completed a wonderful contribution to the Military and we are proud of you and acknowledge impact.

Jim Davis

CAPT David Eakins, 22 February 1927 – 3 March 2019, 92

David has been a long time member of the RAE Association and it is always difficult to say goodbye to our friends. 

I know from speaking with David’s family that he was very proud of his military service and contribution to Victorian RAE where he reached the rank of Captain.

Rest in Peace David – your duty has been done.

CAPT Claude Mervyn Wright, 4 June 1929 – 2 March 2019, 89

Claude rose to the rank of Captain and was a graduate of OCS Portsea.

Claude is survived by his wife and 2 step children – in civilian life he was a Civil Engineer.

I did not know of Claude and his application is very scant on details of his service other than he served from January 1951 to December 1964 

I find it so hard to in situations like this as Claude needs to be acknowledged for his contribution but I can provide no further information

Jim Davis.

LT Francis “Frank” Taylor, 5 January 1920 – 30 January 2019, 99

Frank served with 15th Field Company RAE (3 Div) as a Sapper then received a commission as Lieutenant. He saw active service in New Guinea & Bougainville.

Francis George Taylor (known as Frank) passed away last Wednesday 30th January 2019 after a short illness. Frank was in his 99th year.

In 1995 Frank assisted with the writing of a book on the history of 15th Field Company called “Mad Micks Mob” and felt that at the time of the writing he and the author were possibly the last survivors of the 15th Field Company and now Frank has also left us for the RAE Parade Ground above.

Fred Milkins, 16 October 1933 – 22 January 2019, 85

3157901 Milkins Fred, born 16 October 1933 passed away 22 January 2019, age 85.

He entered 15 National Service Training Battalion on 28 April 1954 at Puckapunyal Victoria, posted to D Company 18 Platoon.

Marched out 12 August 1954, posted to 38 Field Squadron, 5 Corps Engineer Regiment, Royal Australian Engineers,

(Citizen Military Forces) located in Yallourn. Fred was posted 38 Fd Sqn Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM) from 1974 to 1977.

Fred served for 23 years continuous in 38 Field Squadron RAE (CMF) at the RAE Depot, Southend Road, Yallourn.

Fred was very heavily involved in the Operation Fire Power in 1959 and his participation is detailed in Swan Street Sapper on pages 41-42. He and members of 38 Field Squadron were responsible for the demolitions component of the activity – Fred received great accolades for his dems display and contribution.

Regards Michael P Meany

Alan “Ali” Barbour, 1946 – 20 October 2018, 72

Ali was a great bloke but many would not know of him as he lived Eurobin in country Victoria and discharged from 22nd Construction Regiment in 1995 – an ex SEC employee he was part of the Supplementary Reserve (SR) and served for 27 years.

Ali kept in touch with mates from 22 CR through the Major Creek annual reunion where he was a regular attender camping there for several days.

Ali certainly had his fair share of health problems including bowel cancer but his passing was unexpected – he was in his 72nd year.

Thomas “Neville” Trevena, 1937 – 5 October 2018, 81

Neville was an outstanding person and was an exceptional supporter of the RAE Association with the result he was elevated to complimentary membership effective 23rd January 2015. 

A very loyal and skilled Sapper Neville rose to the rank of WO2 .

Neville lived in Lara but still managed to attend many of our functions – a quiet man really but not afraid to speak his mind but he was generous to a tee not only with his time but also his advice. 

A man’s man who was not afraid to get his hands dirty and was prepared to pitch in on any project that he could and provide help – a real community minded man he was the “go to man” to get things done.

Alan “Kiwi” Ngati, 5 October 2018

Many would not know Kiwi but I had the pleasure of serving with him at 22 Construction Regiment.

Kiwi is a humble man and I do not intend to embarrass him but I will mention that he has served in 2 Defence Forces – Australia and New Zealand – as a Sapper in the New Zealand Army he had just completed a drivers course when the newly qualified drivers were asked to consider volunteering to assist with a disaster – details were not disclosed but it was the Mount Erebus Air Disaster and meant working under appalling conditions – Kiwi was one of the volunteers and as a result was awarded a decoration for his part in this task.

Kiwi was also awarded a Soldiers Medallion when he served with 22nd Construction Regiment. 

Jim Davis

Mardi Yvonne Davis – Wife of Jim Davis, 25 September 2018

It is with a very heavy heart and great sadness that I have to advise of the passing on 25th September 2018 at 11.30 am of my darling wife Mardi Yvonne Davis and whilst not a sapper in the sense of the word she is without doubt the most deserving of this title.

I have sent many Vale notices but this is without doubt the most difficult I have ever had to write – I am a shattered and devastated man and wonder how I can face the world without the love of my life beside me. 

I take some comfort that Mardi passed peacefully and I had the honour of being with her as she left her worn out body for a journey to another place.

Whilst I will miss her so very much I thank everyone who has contacted me offering support and thoughts throughout Mardi’s illness

Mardi is now free from pain and whilst I would do anything to have her back I would not wish her to return to her pain ravaged body. She fought a wonderful battle against cancer.

For those of you who had the pleasure of meeting and knowing my Mardi you are truly blessed to have known a true angel here on earth.

Jim Davis

Henry “Harry” New, MID, 1916 – 10 September 2018, 102

It is my very sad duty to announce the passing on 10th September 2018 of the Associations oldest member in Harry New, MID – Harry was 102 years young

Harry was a wonderful man and a very proud and loyal member of the RAE. 

The loss of any sapper is a sad event but with the passing of Harry this is even more poignant as the RAE has lost one of its last remaining threads to a WW2 veteran.

Harry enlisted on 20th October 1939 and discharged 23rd October 1945 – he served for the entire duration of the Second World War – he was a member 2/2nd Field Company (6 DIV) and saw action in most of the main theatres of conflict of the war obtaining the rank of SSGT and was Mentioned in Dispatches.

Harry was acknowledged by the RAE Head of Corps when he reached 100 years and a copy of his certificate is attached along with an article that appeared in Army News, MUFTI and of course Sapper Summit.  He kept meticulous records of his service

Jim Davis

MAJ Brian Chirgwin, RFD,ED, 13 April 1935 – 16 August 2018, 83

Brian was a very proud sapper reaching the rank of Major and was a member of 22nd Construction Regiment – he was also a National Serviceman – there is a wonderful article by Brian on his early military service on page 140 of Swan Street Sapper

Prior to his retirement Brian was an Engineering Surveyor.

Allan “Blue” Rantell, 1945 – 29 July 2018, 73

What a devastating and tragic experience this is for Allan’s family and many friends but it is also a great loss to the Corps of the RAE with another of our Vietnam Vets passing. Allan served from 1966 – 1991 reaching the rank of CPL.

Allan was a great sapper and a very proud Vietnam Veteran. He was a Tunnel Rat and served the RAE with devotion and distinction both here and abroad. How proud he was, and what a wonderful acknowledgement, that Blue was recently awarded the Unit Citation for Gallantry for his actions at FSB Coral & Balmoral.

Allan was a Life Member of both the RAE Association (Vic) Inc. and Old Sappers Association. Blue was a great supporter to the sapper family here in Victoria and often attended the RAE Association functions.

Elizabeth “Betty” Chirgwin – Wife of Brian Chirgwin, 1938-2018

Brian Chirgwin was a long-time member of the Reserve and reached the rank of Major and was OC of 106 Construction Squadron – Betty was his strongest supporter which allowed Brian to contribute the time he did to the Reserve – in addition Brian and Betty lived in country Victoria which required a lot of travel for Brian. A truly committed RAE family.

Enough about Brian it is Betty that we need to remember and acknowledge – Betty had been married to Brian for a remarkable 59 years (18 April 1959) and the parents of 4 children (Carl and 3 sisters) and 8 grandchildren (one of whom is a CAPT in RAAC currently posted to 1 Armd Regt).

“Bill” Koostantinoes William Unmeopa, 11 July 2018

Bill was a Vietnam Veteran and a Tunnel Rat who served in SVN 1965 – 1966 with 3 Troop (1st Field Sqn) but more importantly he was an RAE man through and through – 

Regretfully the younger ones in the Corps will not know of Bill or his reputation but for those who had the opportunity of serving with Bill then they served with one of the best.

We in Victoria can lay some claim to Bill as he served as the RSM of 7 FER.

Bill has certainly earned the right to be in the front ranks for the Parade in the sky.

Max “Doc” Liverstone, 22 September 1940 – 8 July 2018, 77

Max was a Vietnam Vet (3 Field Troop) and I also understand that he was very active in Victoria for the RAE and held the position of the RAE Victorian Vietnam Vets Association.

Raymond C (Mick) Mace, MM, BEM, 10 June 1922 – 11 October 2016, 94


Mick Mace’s father, Charles Tasman Raymond Mace, a Tasmanian in the first AIF, was on Gallipoli and later repatriated. Re-enlisting, he served in France, where he was gassed and lost a lung. His service record includes a fine for breaking and entering in France, apparently as a result of him and friends returning late from a night out to find their hospital locked.

After the war he was a publican, and stationmaster at Farrell on the Emu Bay Railway; later he managed a goldmine at Mt Firebrace, Granya in Victoria’s North East. Mick’s mother was a housewife, Sylvia Irene Mary Lynch.

Mick was born on 10 June 1922 at Doncaster, Victoria and educated at Tullah Primary School in Tasmania. (Tullah’s mines produced silver and lead.) An apprentice butcher when war broke out, he tried to join the RAN; sixty men were selected from a crowd of 200, but not Mick. After driving MMTB trams, Mick learnt mining with his father at Granya. He became a diamond driller, working for the SEC at Bogong on the infant Kiewa project.

Mick joined the Second AIF on 3 June 1941, and after basic training at Puckapunyal, moved to Bonegilla. His two brothers were also soldiers. Mick would have been too young for the compulsory militia training of the thirties.

Mick left Australia in the Queen Elizabeth, part of convoy US 13, on Melbourne Cup Day 1941, and reached the Middle East on 29 November. Disembarking at Port Tewfick, part of Port Said, his contingent went by train to Gaza in Palestine to the RAE Engineer Training Battalion at New Gazi. (The RE had its SME at Port Said.) He had been designated a reinforcement field engineer in 2/13 Field Company, part of 9 Australian Division, 2 AIF. Mick says there was no stigma being a reinforcement; it was easy to fit in when you finally got to your unit. A system also ensured hospitalised soldiers waited in a holding camp until a vacancy appeared in their original unit, rather than go to a new one.

One of the three brigades forming 9 Division was 26 Brigade, comprising 23, 24 and 48 Battalions, to which 2/13 Field Company was allotted. In early 1942, Mick’s unit entrained for Alexandria, then went by truck to El Alamein. His section was under command of an infantry company; life for these diggers some months before the Battle of Alamein was endless nocturnal mine-laying and lifting, with the enemy nearby. One day a Hurricane crashed within a minefield—Mick’s section had to replace the exploded mines, and found the pilot’s shoe, all that was left of him.

Returning to Palestine, Mick and several other Australians joined a group of Tommies and Poles for a seven-month guerilla warfare school—from 31 March-1 November 1942. They became familiar with weapons from numerous countries, and learnt unarmed combat and knife-fighting; motorbikes, scooters and vintage tanks were their training aids. They did gruelling night marches and learnt to navigate by the stars. Good signal work was a priority. Mick understood that the course was testing Russian military doctrine, the concept of creating special forces—could a small independent patrol fight successfully? Possibly it influenced the growth of the SAS, which Wikipedia asserts dates from July 1941. With appropriate and impressive pyrotechnics, the students hijacked a train at Beersheba, forcing it to stop on a high pylon bridge over Wadi Gaza, which left two carriages of rather frightened British troops looking down at the distant waterless riverbed. Mick says base area security in Palestine seemed to improve afterwards. The course ended with a highly realistic airfield raid that sabotaged a Greek squadron somewhere in Palestine—the trainees did everything but initiate the final blast! Mick says his superiors discouraged relations with local Jewish settlers, and soldiers of the Arab Legion guarded many installations.

With Second El Alamein under way, the students were returned to their units, and Mick rejoined 2/13 Field Company, part of 9 Division on the northern end of the Allied line, deemed by Montgomery as a critical area. Mick and fellows spent much of their time clearing mines. The Eighth Army by now had 500 of the first electronic mine detectors—9 Division received 36. Designed in Scotland in 1941 by Lt Jozef Kosacki, a Polish engineer and signaller, this was its blooding. Theoretically the detectors doubled the speed at which heavily mined sandy country could be cleared, from 100 m to about 200 m per hour. However, Mick recounts that the intense battle noise rendered the detectors virtually inaudible. Therefore, the bulk of the mine clearing fell to sappers’ hands and bayonets, with Bangalore torpedoes on hand to blast wire entanglements.

General Montgomery so liked 9 Division, he wanted it to stay in Europe. Fortunately, the Australian government prevailed and it sailed home between 24 January-27 February 1943 in a convoy that included the Queen Mary with Mick on board, Queen Elizabeth, Mauretania, AquitaniaIle de France and two other converted liners. Mick recalls several days in a Red Sea port while the convoy gathered. He landed at Sydney to three weeks leave, after which 2/13 Field Company regrouped on the Atherton Tablelands. Mick had known sapper Lieutenant John Overall MC and bar in the Middle East. He was with him again twelve kilometres outside Gordonvale, but Overall was busy running into town daily to join a US paratroop unit practising jumps. Sometimes he ran home to his own camp for lunch, then back again to town. Tasked with the formation of 1 Parachute Battalion (Aust), Overall took many of his sappers with him to the new unit, based at Scheyville NSW, home of the Officer Training Unit (OTU) during the 1960s ands early 1970s. (I’m a graduate.) The Red Berets trained hard but were never deployed overseas. (See Wikipedia: But for a shortage of aircraft, the battalion might have been used to thwart the Sandakan Death March.) Sir John Overall, as the first head of the National Capital Development Commission, is regarded as the man who realised Walter Burley Griffin’s vision of Canberra.

LSTs took the unit to New Guinea’s north coast in mid 1943. On 4 September, 9 Division, including of course Mick and fellow sappers from 2/13 Company, landed east of Lae, with enemy bombers overhead, to encircle the Japanese garrison of up to ten thousand. Heavy rain had swollen local waterways, and it took time before a bridgehead was secured over Busu River on 9 September. Meanwhile the US 503 Parachute Infantry Regiment, with two gun crews from 2/4 Field Regiment and their cut-down 25-pounders, had landed unopposed at Nazdab, just north west of Lae with its vital airfield. After that 7 Division was flown in to block Japanese moves from Lae into the Markham Valley. After ten days of fierce and close fighting, 25 Brigade from 7 Division entered Lae and soon linked with 24 Brigade from the Ninth.

Mick remembers endless days building corduroy road in the thick swamps around Lae. Tanks were of little use. Then it was on to Finschhafen and Satelberg. Mick had three bouts of dengue fever and also malaria. Returning to Australia in late 1944, he was ordered from a troop train at Newcastle, and put in Waratah Childrens Hospital amongst the kids.

After a brief leave, he was back in Cairns boarding a former Dutch cattle boat, the Van Heutsz (named after a Netherlands general, the Pacificator of Aceh). After the vessel broke down at Milne Bay, the contingent slowly hopped along the coast to Buna, Longmac Bay and eventually early in 1945 to Morotai in the Moluccas, half of which was occupied by the US Army, and half by the Japanese, the two forces separated by wire and defensive positions.

The sappers trained on Morotai for the invasion of Tarakan, a tiny island off Borneo some 1200 kilometres to the west, and a major Royal Dutch Shell oilfield. Under Brigadier David Whitehead CBE, DSO and bar, MC, the force involved would be the almost division-sized 26 Brigade Group: 26 Brigade itself, including 2/13 Field Company—battle-scarred from the Middle East and New Guinea. Attached were 2/3 Pioneer Battalion fighting as infantry, 2/4 Commando Squadron, 2/4 Field Regiment, a squadron of eighteen Matildas from 2/9 Armoured Regiment, a machine-gun company, anti-aircraft units and a second field company. Moreover US and Dutch units, numbering almost 1000 personnel, were attached: engineers and others manning LCMs, LVTs and LCVPs; and 727 Amphibian Tractor Battalion—equipped with Alligators; Seabee detachments on LSTs; and Ambonese infantry with Dutch officers, and an associated civil affairs detachment.

Aircraft from the RAAF’s First Tactical Air Force included bomber and fighter squadrons, and the naval force came from the US Seventh Fleet, supplemented by several RAN vessels. Because the planners expected the attackers to rapidly take and consolidate Tarakan’s airfield, standing by were RAAF ground units, including 61 Airfield Construction Wing with its two airfield construction squadrons (1 and 8).

The operation began with extensive naval-mine clearing, these being mostly of Allied origin; the job was finished by 1 May. A few days before, US PT boats had started to illuminate the chosen beaches to interdict Japanese efforts at repairing obstacles at night. On 30 April, 2/4 Commando Squadron and a battery from 2/7 Field Regiment secured uninhabited Sadau Island to support the engineers clearing the beaches. Some years before, the Dutch had built numerous obstacles at Lingkas, which the Japanese had reinforced, so that these defences, comprising barbed wire, wooden posts and steel rails, extended 120 metres outwards from the shoreline. The job for 2/13 Field Company was to demolish those obstacles. Eight parties of sappers went forward in LVTs (Alligators) and landing craft, supported by Allied warships, warplanes and the battery on Sadau, starting at 1100 hrs on 30 April.

Lance Corporal Mick Mace led his section doing exactly that. Working from an Alligator, with its US Army coxswain and gunner, they were under constant heavy fire. Despite the poor odds they did their work, suffered no casualties, and next day, as Mick says, the infantry landed with dry feet.

The citation for Mick Mace’s Military Medal reads: 

For courage, personal endurance and leadership in the breaching of beach obstacles during the pre-assault phase of the landing on Tarakan Island, 30 April-31 May 1945.

LCpl Mace was the NCO in command of a demolition team engaged in the breaching of underwater beach obstacles on Lingkas Beach, Tarakan Island on 30 April (P – 1 day).

LCpl Maces’s section was transported to the position for the gap by LVT and, although the vehicle came under LMG fire on touching down, LCpl Mace IMMEDIATELY led his team into the water to attack the obstacles.

Despite the intermittent fire of the enemy LMG and sporadic mortar fire falling around the working party, LCpl Mace by his coolness and outstanding example to his men kept the work going without pause, and blew, completed and signposted his gap in thirty-five minutes.

He withdrew his party by LVT and went to the assistance of an LCVP party on Yellow Beach, who were unable to reach their objective owing to the depth of the mud. He attempted to carry a line to secure to one of obstacles to enable the section to drag themselves to the proposed gap but sank to the shoulders in the mud, and had to be dragged back through twenty-five yards of heavy mud. The LVT again came under mortar fire but LCpl Mace took the vehicle to the oil pier, and under sniper fire led his team to the beach and attacked the obstacle from the shore side with complete success. By lying flat in the mud and dragging himself along he succeeded in reaching a line thrown from the LVT and evacuated his team by this means.

His personal endurance, courage and leadership were wholly responsible for the effective completion of the two gaps.

Although the landings were very successful, the Japanese, 1700 in number, retreated into the hilly, forested inland. To protect the airfield, the Australian infanteers pursued them, backed by artillery and aircraft (eventually a formula of Liberator bombers followed by P38 Lightnings dropping napalm) to minimise casualties. Mick is still scornful about USAAF carpet-bombing techniques. The Matildas were little use off the tracks. Sappers like Mick had numerous booby traps and minefields to disarm or clear, their job made much worse because Japanese soldiers laid personal minefields in the forest without signs or records. (One of Mick’s comrades was killed thereby after VP Day.)

On 12 May Corporal John Mackey was awarded a posthumous VC for single-handedly capturing three Japanese machine-gun posts. At sea, USN PT boats sank numerous small craft and ferried Dutch interpreters seeking intelligence from the various communities, and USS Douglas A Munro destroyed Tarakan’s northern coastal battery. Resistance slowly faded and Brigadier Whitehead declared Tarakan secure on 21 June. Meanwhile restoring the airfield took two months rather than the projected single week, partly because of the swampy terrain, which necessitated extensive use of PSP (pierced steel planking). Similarly bringing the oilfields back into production took some years. Mick recalls that the oil was very pure and could be used au naturel by shipping. However, Wikipedia says that Tarakan oil was mixed with Manchurian shale oil for general naval use, and that when three Japanese aircraft carriers refueled with unrefined product before the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the oil, which had not been de-salted, corroded boilers, and that naphtha built up, volatilised and exploded. 

World War II ended on 15 August, with Mick still on Tarakan. With his three spells overseas scoring very highly on the 5×3 demobilisation assessment system, he soon found himself on the carrier, HMS Formidable, en route to Brisbane, but not before he’d participated in his friend’s funeral service. A contingent of Indian PoWs was also on the carrier. These men would convalesce in Australia before repatriation. (Generally PoWs recuperated in another country before going home.)

Mick met his wife, Eileen Kennedy, at Luna Park, St Kilda. She had been an LAC signals operative at RAAF Frognall, Camberwell. They soon married, at Balwyn, and their first domicile was 541 Swan Street, Burnley. In due course they had two sons (one now deceased) and three daughters. It was back to the SEC initially, but a few weeks in a tent at Bogong blunted Mick’s enthusiasm. Returning to Melbourne, he tried various jobs before rejoining the army in 1948. (Mick recalls its complex post-war structure: BCOF [occupation of Japan], K Force [Korea], the Interim Army, the PMF from before the War, and the Staff Corps, most of the officers.) 

Mick went straight into RAEME as a corporal, posted to Balcombe where the Army Apprentice School (AAS) was emerging. He was soon an infantry sergeant, his third corps affinity, and living nearby with his growing family. The year 1954 saw him awarded the BEM on 11 December 1952 for selfless duty overseeing the construction of the AAS oval and other sporting facilities, besides exemplary leadership as an overseer and mentor of the young apprentices. His citation is moving:

By his outstanding devotion to duty and by inspiring leadership Sergeant Mace has made a significant and important contribution to the setting up of the Army Apprentices’ School at Balcombe, Victoria. For more than a year he worked efficiently and arduously almost every day from dawn until after dark on earth-moving equipment to prepare the school oval, declining to take leave at week-ends, or during the Christmas and Easter breaks. Since the school opened he has had the responsibility for the domestic life and behavior of many of the apprentices whose high regard he has won by his strict but fair enforcement of discipline and his tolerant und understanding approach to their problems. At the beginning of 1951 he voluntarily gave up 14 days of his current year’s leave to enable him to undertake the training of the new intake from the day of their arrival at the school. No member of the staff of the school has given such self-sacrificing devotion to its welfare as Sergeant Mace has done.

That year, he transferred back to RAE as a foundation member of 21 Construction Squadron. He and family lived at Puckapunyal. With Major RA Venn diverted to staff college, Major Ted Dossetor became the squadron’s first OC; several followed in the next few years, including Mick’s great friend, Major Ern Deveson. Seeing his future clearly, Mick believed in the system and was happy to do the gamut of sapper training from FE II to the warrant officer’s qualifying course, with a specialty in plant operation, despite his long and varied military experience. This meant in all he lived at SME for over a year, long enough for him to be regarded as a staff member, and to acquire honorary membership of the sergeants mess.

Although much of 21 Squadron’s work was within Victoria, there were demanding stints overseas. In mid 1962, under Major Peter Gration (later CDF), with SSM WO II Barney Ravenscroft, 21 Construction Squadron, with a troop from 24 Construction Squadron, went to Wewak on the north-west New Guinea coast to build a major road to Passam. An imaginative arrangement over the New Year saw Victoria’s 22 Construction Regiment SR, including one of Victoria’s most stalwart sappers, Major Bruce Campbell, fly to Wewak to build two bridges and a culvert. The married soldiers of 21 Squadron went home on leave, and returned by Hercules two weeks later. This memorable and successful twelve-month deployment for 21 Construction Squadron ended in mid 1963. Sabah beckoned next. The RAE had been there since mid 1964 as part of the Konfrontasi with Sukarno’s Indonesia, firstly building airfields, but later, largely, through six-month squadron placements, constructing a road from Keningau to remote Sepulot through jungle-covered mountains. In late 1965, 21 Construction Squadron took over from its compatriot, Brisbane-based 24 Squadron, The then OC of 21 Squadron was Major (later Major General) John Stein. Six months later, Stein in turn handed the job over to Perth’s 22 Construction Squadron. After that, Vietnam took priority in the Australian Army and the RAE’s commitment to Sabah slowly became obscured, and today is not often remembered.

Now a WO II Plant Supervisor, Mick found himself, with two corporals, making occasional trips to South Vietnam to instruct and qualify sappers in fork lift and crane operation, an area revealed to be deficient after some serious accidents unloading cargo. Then in 1969, the year Mick got his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, he was off for twelve months to Nui Dat with 17 Construction Squadron under Major (later Colonel) John Wertheimer, with WO I Barney Ravenscroft again SSM. Mick marvelled at the plant resources of the US Army’s engineers: It made you cry, he says! Moreover Mick found national servicemen in general to be capable and reliable, and had a reputation for treating CMF soldiers very well. By now, one of the RAE’s most experienced and respected soldiers, Mick was also on very good terms with numerous senior officers including Brigadier Ian Gilmore and General Peter Gration. (Mick had served happily under Peter Gration at Puckapunyal, and before that AAS, but Major Gration’s horse tested their friendship when it strayed onto Mick’s carefully prepared Balcombe oval, chopping it to bits in places.) Mick left the army in 1975. He had been on innumerable courses, including plant fitter, clerk of works, demolition and blinds, plant operation, projectionist, soil stabilisation and plant supervisor. His first civilian job, a brief one, thankfully for him, was managing Seymour racecourse. Then he joined the Corps of Commissionaires, largely working in the mailroom of Deloitte Haskins and Sells. His wife died in the late 1990s. She had been ill for years, so Mick sold his medals (‘19 or 20 of them’, according to Mick’s count recently) to help support her. He was very moved when Colonel John Wertheimer over the next year organised a replica set, which General Gration presented to Mick at a ceremony at the Shrine. Now 91, with his three daughters nearby, he lives alone at Seaford, his mobility reduced by emphysema. Two daughters served in the Army Reserve. Mick Mace MM is remarkable for his good humour, his friendliness, his magnificent memory and his highly intelligent view of the worl