Arguably the backbone and discipline of any infantry company is the Company Sergeant Major (CSM). These soldiers of Warrant Officer rank are part father figure, part teacher and part principle / headmaster. Almost all of the CSM’s I’ve come across have had very strong and unique personalities made up of steadiness, humour, discipline but ultimately a sense of fairness. In the case of D Company (Coy), 6RAR, the CSM was the 31 year old WO2 (Warrant Officer) Jack Kirby.
While the short and nuggetty Major Harry Smith, Officer Commanding (OC) D Coy and the young soldiers strode out on training runs, Jack Kirby was feeling his age and weight. Kirby was a Malaya veteran and naturally a big build. Unable to keep up on the runs, he nevertheless plugged along, always finishing and earning the respect of the soldiers. At the Battle of Long Tan he was to deepen and broaden their regard with his steadiness, bravery and humour.
Throughout the battle ‘Big Jack’ Kirby disregarded his own safety while braving enemy fire to distribute ammunition. Kirby continuously exposed himself to enemy fire to carry wounded Australian’s over his shoulder back to the Company Aid Post. At a critical point in the battle Kirby rushed out of the D Coy perimeter to silence a wheeled enemy heavy machine gun which was setting up less than 50 metres away from the Australians. He knew in just a few moments this heavy machinegun would be able to strafe and decimate the Australians. Kirby killed the enemy machinegun crew, rushed back and continued to carry on handing out ammunition, moving around the entire company position and giving out words of encouragement to the D Coy soldiers.
*This article appeared in The Canberra Times on 15 January 2011 but as there is no online version it has been reproduced here.
The greatest impediment to an honest assessment of the way honours were allocated after the battle of Long Tan is a concept that dates back to Roman times. ”De mortuis nil nisi bonum” effectively translates as ”of the dead, (speak) nothing but good”.
Long Tan is a special challenge in that many of those honoured as well as those denied honours are dead.
There has been an apparent reluctance by some of those charged with making tough calls on these issues to dig too deeply.
**Update: Watch Channel 7’s Sunrise Soapbox discuss this story at the bottom of this post.
The man who led Australian soldiers to victory at the bloody Battle of Long Tan 44 years ago is taking his fight for medals justice to the Federal Court.
Harry Smith, Lieutenant Colonel retired, today confirmed he will be pursuing court action in the New Year to get sign-off for the medals and commendations denied to eight members of Delta Company, two of Alpha Company 6RAR, and one of the Armoured Troop which repelled 2,500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong enemy in an historic conflict on August 18, 1966.
Smith was the commanding officer of the 108 Australian and New Zealand troops that defied the odds in a three hour battle amid a rubber plantation deluged by monsoonal rains, and who later recommended a list of awards for gallantry that was slashed by senior officers.
Fourteen years ago he launched a campaign to gain recognition for all the soldiers on that list when the awards were denied a hearing at a formal Review in 1998, which approved 81 other Vietnam awards.
The pending class action is in support of the final 11 men “left out in the cold.”