RAYENE STEWART SIMPSON was born at Chippendale, New South Wales, on 16 February 1926. 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 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.
Demobilised in January 1947, Simpson for four years worked at various jobs - tram conductor, builders' labourer, sugar cane cutter, 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 advisors for the Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam (AATTV) who left by air for Vietnam in July 1962.
A year later he returned to the Special Air Service unit in Australia for twelve months service before his second tour of duty with the 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 the 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 in Tokyo.
Simpson had been promoted to Sergeant on 1 July 1955 and to temporary Warrant Officer Class II 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. On 6 and 11 May 1969, 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.
Paraphrased from 'They Dared Mightily', 1986 ed
His citation for the Victoria Cross reads:
Warrant Officer Simpson enlisted initially in 1951. He saw active service in the Pacific, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam.
On 6th May 1969, Warrant Officer Simpson was serving as Commander of 232nd Mobile Strike Force Company of 5th Special Forces Group on a search and clear operation in Kontum Province, near the Laotian border. When one of his platoons became heavily engaged with the enemy, he led the remainder of his company to its assistance. Disregarding the dangers involved, he placed himself at the front of his troops, thus becoming a focal point of enemy fire, and personally led the assault on the left flank of the enemy position. As the company moved forward, an Australian Warrant Officer commanding one of the platoons was seriously wounded and the assault began to falter. Warrant Officer Simpson, at great personal risk and under heavy enemy fire, moved across open ground, reached the wounded Warrant Officer and carried him to a position of safety. He then returned to his company where, with complete disregard for his safety, he crawled forward to within ten metres of the enemy and threw grenades into their positions. As darkness fell, and being unable to break into the enemy position, Warrant Officer Simpson ordered his company to withdraw. He then threw smoke grenades and, carrying a wounded platoon leader, covered the withdrawal of his company together with five indigenous soldiers. His leadership and personal bravery in this action were outstanding.
On 11th May 1969, in the same operation, Warrant Officer Simpson's Battalion Commander was killed and an Australian Warrant Officer and several indigenous soldiers were wounded. In addition, one other Australian Warrant Officer who had been separated from the majority of his troops was contained in the area by enemy fire. Warrant Officer Simpson quickly organised two platoons of indigenous soldiers and several advisors and led them to the position of contact. On reaching the position the element with Warrant Officer Simpson came under heavy fire and all but a few of the soldiers with him fell back. Disregarding his own safety, he moved forward in the face of accurate enemy machine-gun fire, in order to cover the initial evacuation of the casualties. The wounded were eventually moved out of the line of enemy fire, which all this time was directed at Warrant Officer Simpson from close range. At the risk of almost certain death he made several attempts to move further forward towards his Battalion Commander's body but on each occasion he was stopped by heavy fire. Realising the position was becoming untenable and that priority should be given to extricating other casualties as quickly as possible, Warrant Officer Simpson alone and still under enemy fire covered the withdrawal of the wounded by personally placing himself between the wounded and the enemy. From this position he fought on and by outstanding courage and valour was able to prevent the enemy advance until the wounded were removed from the immediate vicinity. Warrant Officer Simpson's gallant and individual action and his coolness under fire were exceptional and were instrumental in achieving the successful evacuation of the wounded to the helicopter evacuation pad.
Warrant Officer Simpson's repeated acts of personal bravery in this operation were an inspiration to all Vietnamese, United States and Australian soldiers who served with him. His conspicuous gallantry was in the highest tradition of the Australian Army.
(Australian Post War Section)