On the First of February 1964, 4 RAR held its inaugural parade at the Woodside barracks under command of its first Commanding Officer Lt Col D.S.Thomson MC (pictured below). This was not a bad effort considering that the raising instructions were only issued on 13 January 1964 and the unit was to be at full strength by 31 March 1964. Less than three months to raise a battalion in a relative time of peace would be a daunting effort for any commander but David Thomson was and still is, a man of extreme mental, physical and moral courage. He was also surrounded by officers, warrant officers, senior and junior non- commissioned officers and soldiers who possessed the same virtues but who perhaps did not fully realise their contribution to 4 RAR until many years later. The next eighteen months were spent in preparation for the relief of 3 RAR in Malaysia and a tour of duty in Borneo, following which the battalion completed two tours of South Vietnam. It has since served in East Timor and Iraq, and Afghanistan, as 4 RAR (Cdo). [On 19 July 2009 4 RAR (Cdo) was renamed as 2 Commando Regiment (2 Cdo Regt].
Lt Col David Thompson MC, later to retire as Brigadier, The Honourable David Thomson MC and with an MID, graduated from Duntroon and served as a Platoon Commander with the 2/16 Australian Infantry Battalion in New Guinea in World War Two. Later he joined 65 Battalion, which soon after became 1 AR and then 1 RAR. He later served in Korea as a Major, commanding A Company 1 RAR.
Seeing Brigadier Thomson at Holsworthy recently reminded me of the first time that we experienced his leadership. Here was this fair haired, medium sized, young looking Lieutenant Colonel with a chest full of ribbons including an MC and who actually spoke to his Diggers, not only that but he knew all our names, the names of our wives and all of our children. This had never happened before in the units that I had served with! He approached his job and his responsibilities with total enthusiasm and insisted that we work hard and play hard, but God help those who did not manage to combine the two with the honour of the battalion uppermost. Officers and soldiers were sometimes suddenly posted and never heard of again and many a junior NCO and soldier changed shirts on short notice. Senior NCOs were not left out of this party game either.
Unknown to the many participants in the early beginnings of the Royal Australian Regiment, the intertwining of the web that began the history of 4 RAR probably commenced not on 01 February 1964 but much earlier.
In Balikpapan, Dutch Borneo immediately after World War Two, a young Platoon Commander named Lt David Thomson, fresh from the battlefields of New Guinea, presented himself to his new Company Commander in the 2/9th Infantry Battalion as a volunteer to serve in the proposed 65 Battalion which was to serve as part of the occupation force in Japan.
His new Company Commander was Captain Colin (Cha Cha) East (pictured lower right) whose shirt was probably unbuttoned to the waist (as was his want) as he welcomed his new Platoon Commander. On 11 October 1945 Lt David Thomson and Pte Frank Dean were the first two members to march into the newly raised 65 Infantry Battalion that became First Battalion, The Australian Regiment and then First Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment.
On 02 July 1952, Major David Thomson, the Officer Commanding A Company 1 RAR, led a company attack onto a Chinese defensive position on Hill 227 in Korea.
One of the section commanders was Corporal “Squizzy” Taylor, later to become QM of 4 RAR in South Vietnam. Captain Colin East commanded the Machine Gun Platoon providing supporting fire. During the entire assault on Hill 227, Corporal Jock Burgess assaulting with CHQ, played the bagpipes at full blast. Was it a result of this that later, Lieutenant Colonel Thomson commenced, as the commanding officer of 4 RAR, to use his two main catch cries, "This is the first time", and, "Can you hear me up the back"?
Some distance away on another hill, probably ramrod straight yet keeping a watchful eye on his own Diggers was WO2 L.E. (Paddy) Brennan MBE (pictured below), later to become the first RSM of 4 RAR.
There were many other young and older soldiers and officers who, unknowingly were to be involved in the emerging history of 4 RAR during those days of the Korean and Malayan wars that followed but the history writing pen had yet to be raised.
Lt Col Colin (Cha Cha) East MBE
Lt Col David Thompson MC MID
On 10 November 1966, Lt Col David Thomson MC handed over command of 4 RAR to Lt Col Colin (Cha Cha) East MBE. The history of 4 RAR that had begun with these two officers in 1945 in Borneo came full circle and again Borneo was involved. The Battalion had just returned in September 1966, from a six months operational tour of Borneo as apart of its two-year deployment to Malaysia.
If Brigadier, the Honourable David Thomson MC is regarded as the Father of the Fourth, then his wife Judy has every right to be known as the Mother of the Fourth. She was such a beacon of light to the especially younger wives of the Battalion. Some were experiencing their first married quarter. Not an easy experience especially in the Adelaide suburb of Athol Park with lovely white gravel for front and back lawns, dirt roads that turned to mud in winter, no telephones and totally isolated from the civilian and Battalion community.
Judy did an absolutely marvellous job in melding the wives and the families of the Battalion together but it wasn't until Malaysia and Borneo that her deft hand at organising, consulting and at times consoling came to mean much more than being the President of the Ladies Club, but more like being the surrogate mother and sister to the wives and at times, the men of the Fourth Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment affectionately known as the Fourth of Foot (David's Own).
WO2 L.E. (Paddy) Brennan MBE
The history of 4 RAR may have officially begun at Woodside in 1964 but the manifestation of its beginning and its place in history began its course when two very young but seasoned officers met and saluted each other in Borneo in 1945, some nineteen years earlier.
Article authored by
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