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The white man's ghost

PNG link to newest Victoria Cross winner

Ben_Roberts-Smith_VC CORPORAL BEN ROBERTS-SMITH, who on Sunday was awarded the Victoria Cross and became Australia's most highly decorated serving soldier, has a close connection with PNG.

His father, Major General Len Roberts-Smith RFD QC (below), was Chief Crown Prosecutor in PNG in the 1970s and married the daughter of then PNG Police Commissioner, Brian Holloway.

Len Roberts-Smith Ben Roberts-Smith was awarded the VC for most conspicuous gallantry in circumstances of extreme peril on 11 June 2010 during the Shah Wali Kot Offensive in Afghanistan.

He was born in 1978, not long after the family returned to South Australia, where Len Roberts-Smith became a magistrate.

He had joined the Australian Army Reserve in 1964, transferring to the Australian Army Legal Corps in 1970.

From 2001, Justice Roberts-Smith served as Acting Judge Advocate General of the Australian Defence Force, and in 2002 he was promoted to Major General.

Spotter: Bob Lawrence

The VC citation:

On 11 June 2010, a troop of the Special Operations Task Group conducted a helicopter assault into Tizak, Kandahar Province, in order to capture or kill a senior Taliban commander.

Immediately upon the helicopter insertion, the troop was engaged by machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire from multiple, dominating positions. Two soldiers were wounded in action and the troop was pinned down by fire from three machine guns in an elevated fortified position to the south of the village. Under the cover of close air support, suppressive small arms and machine gun fire, Roberts-Smith and his patrol manoeuvred to within 70 metres of the enemy position in order to neutralise the enemy machine gun positions and regain the initiative.

Upon commencement of the assault, the patrol drew very heavy, intense, effective and sustained fire from the enemy position. Roberts-Smith and his patrol members fought towards the enemy position until, at a range of 40 metres (44 yd), the weight of fire prevented further movement forward. At this point, he identified the opportunity to exploit some cover provided by a small structure.

As he approached the structure, Roberts-Smith identified an insurgent grenadier in the throes of engaging his patrol. Roberts-Smith engaged the insurgent at point-blank range resulting in the death of the insurgent. With the members of his patrol still pinned down by the three enemy machine gun positions, he exposed his own position in order to draw fire away from his patrol, which enabled them to bring fire to bear against the enemy. His actions enabled his Patrol Commander to throw a grenade and silence one of the machine guns. Seizing the advantage, and demonstrating extreme devotion to duty and the most conspicuous gallantry, Roberts-Smith, with a total disregard for his own safety, stormed the enemy position killing the two remaining machine gunners.

His act of valour enabled his patrol to break-in to the enemy position and to lift the weight of fire from the remainder of the troop who had been pinned down by the machine gun fire. On seizing the fortified gun position, Corporal Roberts Smith then took the initiative again and continued to assault enemy positions in depth during which he and another patrol member engaged and killed further enemy. His acts of selfless valour directly enabled his troop to go on and clear the village of Tizak of Taliban. This decisive engagement subsequently caused the remainder of the Taliban in Shah Woli Kot District to retreat from the area


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Reginald Renagi

I commend spotter Bob Lawrence for bringing to the readers of 'PNG Attitude' this Aussie war hero's story.

The added comments by Max Hayes are well-noted about Cpl Ben Roberts-Smith's grandfather's role in frontier TP&NG during the pre-Independence era.

The heroic actions by Ben is an indication of the professionalism of Australia's SAS units in foreign deployments in recent years.

This feel-good story just makes me admire more what my own nephew who is also around Ben's age and a fellow Aussie SAS trooper.

Some years ago, he was posted to the PNG Defence Force Training School at the Goldie River Barracks outside Port Moresby for three years.

When hostilities broke out in the Middle-East and Australia joined the US Coalition forces to deploy to Iraq, my SAS trooper nephew was immediately recalled back to Australia within two weeks notice to move.

My SAS nephew is also my own local hero (like his then 19 year-old PIB grandfather many years ago on the Kokoda trek during WW2).

He was one of the first SAS units to go deep inside Iraq, and later into Afghanistan on special operations a few times before returning to Australia for family reunion stints.

Max Hayes

You are well aware of the recent award of the Victoria Cross to Cpl Ben Roberts-Smith of the SAS for his gallantry in Afghanistan.

There has been much publicity of his father, Major General Len Roberts-Smith RFD QC, recently a Judge Advocate General for the Defence Forces, but nothing on Ben's grandfather who also had a meritorious career as a senior commissioned police officer in Papua New Guinea and with whom I worked, as one of his junior officers, for some years.

Brian John Holloway CBE (also MBE) QPM (Queen's Police Medal) and Police Long Service & Good Conduct Medal, was the last expatriate Australian Police Commissioner of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary when PNG Independence was proclaimed in 1975.

His courage, demonstrated over many years in the various internal tribal problems, was in large part the result of the peaceful transition to Papua New Guinea Independence. He served in the RPNGC between 1948 and 1975.

In an effort to establish that Ben also had a meritorious grandfather, I circulated this information widely amongst my colleagues, the press and various RSL sub branches.

As a result of this, I was invited to a select gathering of former SAS held at the Kelvin Club on Tuesday 8 February. It was a real honour to be invited and meet Ben, who towers over me.

David Hughes

Congratulations on a job well done.

David Hughes
Vice Chairman
South Wales Branch
Western Front Association

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