TRIBUTE TO REGIMENTAL SERGEANT MAJOR WALLY THOMPSON, AO
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN
(Parliamentary Secretary) [10.06 p.m.]: I wish to pay tribute to the life of the Australian Army's first Regimental Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Class 1 Wally Thompson. Wally passed away peacefully at Bankstown Hospital on 19 April 2012. Unfortunately I was in Papua New Guinea at the time of his passing and was unable to pay my final respects to him. Wally commenced his Army service with the Citizen Military Forces in 1950 and was later conscripted into National Service. He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in 1954 and was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment where he served on operations in the jungles of Malaya.
In 1961 he was posted to the British Army Jungle Warfare Training School as an instructor. On his return to Australia in 1963 he was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment. In 1964 he was amongst our first contingent to be posted to the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam. During his tour of duty he was awarded the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star for action with the 3rd/5th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. On his return to Australia in 1965 he was posted to the Sydney University Regiment. In 1967 he served on the Headquarters 10 Task Force as a Company Sergeant Major. The following year he returned to the 1st Battalion.
In 1968 he returned to Vietnam for his second tour of duty. He was badly wounded in the Battle of Coral, causing him to be returned to Australia. After he recovered from his wounds he was posted to the Battle Wing of the Infantry Centre as the Company Sergeant Major. All infantry soldiers who served in Vietnam were trained at the Infantry Centre and they were well prepared for the action under the watchful eye of their sergeant major. In 1970 he was posted to the 4th Battalion as their Regimental Sergeant Major and returned to Vietnam for his third tour. On his return to Australia in 1973 he was posted to the Jungle Training Centre as their Regimental Sergeant Major. I believe the Battle Efficiency Courses conducted under his watchful eye would have had no equal.
He returned to the Infantry Centre in 1975 and was a proud and deserving recipient of the Order of Australia. In 1979 he was posted to the Army Training Command as the Regimental Sergeant Major. He was later posted to the 1st Brigade at Holsworthy as the Brigade Sergeant Major where I had the honour to serve with him under Brigadier John Sheldrick in 1982. The following year the post of Regimental Sergeant Major of the Australian Army was created and Wally Thompson, our most respected and experienced sergeant major, created history by being appointed to the position. He served in this role with distinction until he retired in 1987, after 37 years of loyal service to our nation. Warrant Officer Dave Ashley, the current Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army, knew Wally for over 30 years and said that the passing of Wally marked a sad day for the Australian Army and its soldiers:
Wally Thompson was the first Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army. For me, personally, he is a role model. A role model for all Australian soldiers and someone that I look up to in the work I do on a daily basis. His legacy is profound. He was truly a soldier's soldier.
There is no great accolade a soldier can receive from his peers. The staff club at Kapooka and the Soldier Promotion Centre at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville have been named in his honour. The Army was family to Wally, as it is for most career soldiers. He retained a strong interest in its welfare and was kept busy with invitations to commemorative services, graduation dinners, unit reunions and other special occasions. After a visit to the Soldiers Promotion Centre at Lavarack Barracks in 2005 he said:
I spent most of the day going around and talking to the soldiers at Lavarack, and I know I can say one thing, "We're in safe hands." They are very fine young men and women who are a credit to the Army and to Australia.
The success of an army in battle relies upon the quality of its soldiers. Wally Thompson was one of the greatest of them all, and his memory will be proudly carried on by the soldiers of our army. Warrant Officer Ashley described Wally as a great leader who epitomised the regimental sergeant major. "He seldom gave orders or directions," said Warrant Officer Ashley. "He didn't need to. When a soldier was in the wrong, Wally's mere distant presence would snap him into the right." This is a great soldiers' example of the respect Wally was, and is, held in. Wally led by example, which in our egalitarian army is the most effective form of soldier leadership.
Wally is a mentor and will remain so for the army's current crop of regimental sergeant majors, including me. While I met Wally on only a few occasions when we were both in uniform, but more so after Wally retired, Wally's example had a profound effect on me. Wally was not a "Do this" RSM but a "Do as I do and follow me" example. Wally Thompson taught me and thousands of other soldiers the true value of respect. Wally's wife, Judith, passed away just last week and was buried yesterday. They are survived by Brett, Scott, Catherine, Elizabeth, 46,500 soldiers and tens of thousands of former soldiers who had the honour to serve under Warrant Officer Class 1 Wally Thompson. Wally was not just an Australian soldier, he is the Australian soldier and the world is a poorer place for his passing. Rest in peace, Wally. Your duty is done and you did us proud.