Rayene Stewart Simpson
Known as ‘Ray’
1 Special Air Service Regiment
RAY SIMPSON was born at Chippendale, New South Wales, on 16 February 1926, the son of R.W. Simpson. Educated at Carlingford and Dumaresque Island public schools, Taree, New South Wales, he joined the second AIF on 15 March 1944 and was sent to the 41st/2nd Infantry Battalion, a 'holding' unit for young soldiers under nineteen years. On the morning of 5 August 1944, Simpson had his first taste of action when he was part of a detachment sent to reinforce the garrison troops at Cowra after the escape of several hundred Japanese prisoners-of-war. One of his duties that day was to man number one Vickers machine-gun, identical to number two gun which several hours earlier had been defended by to the death by Privates Hardy and Jones who were both posthumously awarded the George Cross. He was first posted to the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion, AIF and later served with an Advanced Ordnance Depot and the 26th Battalion, AIF.
Demobilized in January 1947, Simpson for four years worked at various jobs - tram conductor, builder's labourer, sugar canecutter, sailor around Papua New Guinea - before re-enlisting in 1951 for service in Korea with the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment. He was appointed Lance Corporal on 30 November 1951 and promoted to Corporal on 21 January 1953. During this period he married Shoko Sakai, a Japanese citizen, on 5 March 1952.
He was posted to the 2nd Battalion in January 1954 and he served in Malaya with this unit for two years from October 1955. Simpson was next posted to 1st Special Air Service Company in November 1957 and served with that unit until selected as one of the initial group of advisers for the AATTV (Australian Army Training Team , Vietnam) who left by air for Vietnam in July 1962.
A year later he returned to the Special Air Service unit in Australia for twelve month's service before his second tour of duty with AATTV in Vietnam commenced in July 1964. During this second tour he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions when a patrol was ambushed at Tako on 16 September. Simpson, although severely wounded in the leg, held off the enemy while he called for assistance by radio. He and his men repelled several enemy assaults until help arrived, and none too soon as their ammunition had almost gone and Simpson was weak from loss of blood. He was evacuated by helicopter to the 6th Field Hospital at Nha Trang and he later convalesced at Toyko.
Simpson had been promoted to Sergeant on 1 July 1955 and to temporary Warrant Officer Class 2 in July 1964, the latter promotion being confirmed on 1 October the same year.
On 16 May 1966 Simpson left the army for a second time but re-enlisted in Saigon a year later for his third period of service with the AATTV. When he performed the actions for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross he was serving in Kontum province, near the Laotian border, as commander of a mobile strike force.
In a battalion-scale operation on 6 May the 232nd Company of the Mobile Strike Force, under Simpson was moving through the jungle of large trees and dense bamboo undergrowth in rain and poor visibility in II Corps area near the junction of the borders of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. When one of his platoons became heavily engaged with the enemy Simpson led the remainder of his company to its assistance. As the company moved forward, one of the platoon commanders, Australian Warrant Officer M.W. Gill, was seriously wounded and the assault began to falter. Simpson, in the face of heavy enemy fire, moved across open ground and carried Gill to safety. He returned to his company then crawled forward to within ten metres of the enemy. From here he lobbed grenades into their positions. Simpson then ordered his company to withdraw and he and five indigenous soldiers covered the withdrawal.
Next morning, Simpson's company rejoined the battalion in another position where it was resupplied. Three days later, on 10 May, contact was again made with the enemy, but insufficient air support and the reticence of the indigenous soldiers caused it to be broken off.
At first light the next day artillery pounded the enemy positions and the battalion moved forward again to find the bunkers unoccupied. The battalion probed ahead with Warrant Officer A.M. Kelly leading the 231st Company. In the first burst of fire from the next contact, Kelly was wounded and the battalion commander, Captain Green of the American Special Forces, was killed when he went to assist Kelly. Simpson quickly organized two platoons of soldiers and several advisers and led them to the location of the contact. Despite the fact that most of his soldiers had fled, Simpson moved forward through withering machine-gun fire in order to cover the initial evacuation of the casualties. The wounded, including Kelly, were evacuated but Simpson was unable to reach Green's body because of the heave accurate enemy fire. He then covered the evacuation of the wounded to the helicopter pad by placing himself between them and the enemy. The action ended indecisively next day when the battalion was evacuated.
Simpson received his Victoria Cross from the Queen during an investiture held at Government House, Sydney, on 1 May 1970. The United States awarded him the Silver Star and the Bronze Star For Valour. In 1972 he took up a position as administrative officer at the Australian Embassy, Tokyo. He died of cancer in Tokyo on 18 October 1978 and was buried at the Yokohama war cemetery, Japan.
His medals and a portrait by Joshua Smith are displayed in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial and his photograph and citation are displayed in the Hall of Heroes, John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, USA.