The ‘Gabby’ Hayes Night
Toast – ‘To The Australian Infantryman’.
CPL Hayes of 7 RAR was killed in action in Vietnam 6 Aug 67. In his Will he left money to the Battalion Sergeants’ Mess for the drinking of a toast each year on the Battalion’s birthday. CPL Hayes also set aside money to buy a trophy for competition at indoor sports between the sergeants and corporals of 7 RAR.
CPL Hayes had served in Vietnam with 1 RAR (1965-66) and shortly after his return, travelled to Puckapunyal to press the CO 7 RAR to arrange a transfer for him so that he could return to Vietnam. Later LTCOL Smith said of him, ‘He died leading his men into action. He was a very fine soldier who was an inspiration to his men’.
In the opening shots of the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha 1 Platoon really walked into it. Within minutes, two sections were leaderless, ‘Lofty’ Aylett being shot leading his men into action, and ‘Gabby’Hayes, taking cover at the head of his men behind a log which unfortunately lay the wrong way, receiving a direct burst from a machine gun not ten yards away.’ Two section commanders dead, a dozen men wounded, and Rod Smith was in trouble. A shot for shot battle commenced.
Private Des Burley, the machine gunner in Corporal Hayes’s 3 Section of 1 Platoon, (who was later wounded) said:
The bravest act that I saw in Vietnam was Gabby Hayes so intent on making sure that his section was down on the ground in firing position that he left himself completely exposed to enemy fire. He never fired a shot, he was riddled with machine gun bullets. My thoughts then were, what a waste of a great leader.