Local Veterans Call for Recognition in Malaysian War Effort

Photo supplied by Les Smith

Murraylands war veterans Les Smith and Keith Wood have renewed their fight for recognition for their presence and sacrifice in Malaysia during the resurgence of the communist insurgency fifty years ago.

More than 9,000 Australian soldiers protected the RAAF Butterworth base in Malaysia between 1968 and 1989 to protect Australian assets and act as a Quick Reaction Force.

Despite the New Zealand Government recognising their country’s veterans for their service in Malaysia last year, the Australian Government has not yet acknowledged that they were working in ‘warlike’ conditions.

Murray Bridge veteran Les Smith said almost two-thirds of Australian’s fighter-bombers were based at Air Base Butterworth, (ABB) and vulnerable.

“We were deployed around the airbase, we were in harm’s way 24 hours a day. We were constantly in range of mortar attacks and we were called out on a rotational basis every night we were there,” said Les Smith.

It is understood that at the time the Australian Government’s line was to tell the public that the soldiers were using the base for “training” in order to protect political sensitivities for both countries. 

Since then the Government has not rectified the record, meaning veterans and their spouses have not been able to claim support or recognition. However, an independent tribunal is poised to re-examine the issue of medallic recognition.

On the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Rifle Company Butterworth in 2020, Chief of the Defence Force in Malaysia, Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Haji Affendi bin Haji Buang, acknowledged Australia’s support and protection and thanked our soldiers for their sacrifice.

“Your presence and sacrifice here in Malaysian soil in protecting the RMAF Butterworth base during the resurgence of the communist insurgency in 1970-1989 was a remarkable contribution and had always been the highlight of your presence here in Malaysia,” Tan Sri  Dato’ Sri Haji Affendi bin Haji Buang said.

The Department of Defence has declined an interview in August this year but provided the following statement:

“On 7 April 2022, the former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, the Hon Andrew Gee MP, announced the independent Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal (the Tribunal) will re-examine the issue of medallic recognition of Australians who served with Rifle Company Butterworth in Malaysia between 1970 and 1989.

“The nominal closing date for submissions to the Tribunal was 1 July 2022, however late submissions may be accepted as the inquiry progresses.

“As the Tribunal’s inquiry is ongoing Defence will not make further comment on this matter.”

Murraylands war veterans Les Smith and Keith Wood have renewed their fight for recognition for their presence and sacrifice in Malaysia during the resurgence of the communist insurgency fifty years ago.

More than 9,000 Australian soldiers protected the RAAF Butterworth base in Malaysia between 1968 and 1989 to protect Australian assets and act as a Quick Reaction Force.

Despite the New Zealand Government recognising their country’s veterans for their service in Malaysia last year, the Australian Government has not yet acknowledged that they were working in ‘warlike’ conditions.

Murray Bridge veteran Les Smith said almost two-thirds of Australian’s fighter-bombers were based at Air Base Butterworth, (ABB) and vulnerable.

“We were deployed around the airbase, we were in harm’s way 24 hours a day. We were constantly in range of mortar attacks and we were called out on a rotational basis every night we were there,” said Les Smith.

It is understood that at the time the Australian Government’s line was to tell the public that the soldiers were using the base for “training” in order to protect political sensitivities for both countries. 

Since then the Government has not rectified the record, meaning veterans and their spouses have not been able to claim support or recognition. However, an independent tribunal is poised to re-examine the issue of medallic recognition.

On the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Rifle Company Butterworth in 2020, Chief of the Defence Force in Malaysia, Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Haji Affendi bin Haji Buang, acknowledged Australia’s support and protection and thanked our soldiers for their sacrifice.

“Your presence and sacrifice here in Malaysian soil in protecting the RMAF Butterworth base during the resurgence of the communist insurgency in 1970-1989 was a remarkable contribution and had always been the highlight of your presence here in Malaysia,” Tan Sri  Dato’ Sri Haji Affendi bin Haji Buang said.

The Department of Defence has declined an interview but has provided the following statement:

“On 7 April 2022, the former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, the Hon Andrew Gee MP, announced the independent Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal (the Tribunal) will re-examine the issue of medallic recognition of Australians who served with Rifle Company Butterworth in Malaysia between 1970 and 1989.

“The nominal closing date for submissions to the Tribunal was 1 July 2022, however late submissions may be accepted as the inquiry progresses.

“As the Tribunal’s inquiry is ongoing Defence will not make further comment on this matter.”

Hear more from Les Smith and Keith Wood, speaking to Jennie Lenman:

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