Kiwi veterans of the 161 Battery to receive new medal

Skippy in Viet Nam 1966 wearing his talisman Tiki

My father was in 161 Battery. He was an Australian on secondment to the New Zealand army, and his fellow soldiers called him Skippy. He has told me a number of stories about his time in Vietnam. One that sticks in my mind was how he and others manned the guns through the famous battle of Long Tan and then collapsed exhausted beside them while guarded by other soldiers as they slept.

I have written on the blog about what happened to his Pounamu tiki that my mother gave him before he left for Vietnam.

My father wore into battle a pounamu tiki hand carved in Opotiki. It was his lucky charm. During one battle to take a hill in Vietnam, he lost it. He was very upset as it had been his talisman as my mother had given it to him. They were pushed off the hill and later attempted to take it again.

During one of the attempts, my father found his pounamu necklace hanging on a piece of wire. It may have been a fence or barbed wire I am not sure. He put it back on and in that attempt to take the hill they were victorious.[…]


Now more than fifty years after my Dad left Vietnam, Australia is honouring Kiwi Vietnam veterans from The 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, with a first-of-its-kind citation. quote.

[…]The 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, is the first unit to receive an Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry, in recognition of its efforts as part of the Australian Task Force during the Vietnam War.

[…] Last year, the Australian government awarded the Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry for “extraordinary gallantry” to the Australian units who fought to keep the North Vietnamese forces out of Saigon in a three-month series of battles in 1968.

Now, the Australians are extending the same honour to the men of the 161 Battery of the Royal New Zealand who fought alongside them.
The surviving members and the families of the fallen members of the Kiwi unit will be presented with the award at a parade held at Linton Military Camp, near Palmerston North, on Friday.

The 161 Battery deployed to Vietnam in July 1965, before linking up with the newly formed 1st Australian Task Force a year later and fighting alongside them until Australia and New Zealand pulled out in 1971.

The Kiwi unit’s first big operation with the task force was to set up and defend two fire support bases, named Coral and Balmoral, in the Area of Operation Surfers ? a piece of land critical to the advance of the North Vietnamese Army.
They were in for a three-month-long series of some of the largest and most protracted battles of the task force’s war as the North Vietnamese pushed for Saigon in 1968.

The gunners of the 161 Battery received high praise for the accuracy and volume of barrages they laid down in support of the Australian battalions’ positions at critical stages of the defence.

Although a New Zealand unit has never before received a citation from the Australian government, three New Zealand veterans have previously shared such an honour.
They were attached to D Company of the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment during the battle of Long Tan in 1966. The Kiwi soldiers were given special approval in 2010 to accept and wear the citation for gallantry D Company earned in that battle. end quote.


Skippy at Nui Dat, 1966