December 1, 2021

Cpl James (Gabby) Hayes

213834 Corporal James Francis Hayes

‘Gabby’ was born in Goulburn NSW on 24th November 1939. He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in the early 1960s.  He was allotted to infantry and found his way to 3 RAR. His nickname was possibly derived from the Hollywood actor who co-starred with western movie hero Roy Rogers.

In 3RAR, Enoggera, he created a minor sensation by sending a letter to the Minister for the Army. He informed the Minister that Australian Military Regulations and Orders prohibited commissioned officers from having servants. Gabby claimed “Batmen” were nothing more than servants and should be abolished.

Gabby went with 3 RAR to Terendak Barracks, Malacca, Malaysia in late 1963. He saw active service on the Malay Peninsula and in Sarawak during Indonesian Confrontation as a member of 3 Platoon, A Company.

On return to Australia many, mostly single, soldiers from 3 RAR were posted to the newly forming 7 RAR.   Gaby Hayes was one of the chosen lucky sons to share the pleasures of an abandoned Second World War camp at Puckapunyal.

3 Platoon 3 RAR in Sarawak June 1965. Gabby Hayes is second from right, front row.

During the 18 months lead-up to Vietnam 7 RAR underwent the intense and rigorous training required to be battle ready. As training took priority above all other matters, the administration of the Battalion was often in catch-up mode.  One of the distractions was the publication of Smith’s Weekly.  One of the most persistent letter writers on hardships diggers were experiencing was Gabby.  Although he had some wins his advice was generally a silk purse compared to the existing sow’s ear.  Gabby took delight in itemising editorial errors, a constant feature of Smith’s Weekly.

In mid-1966, there was an urgent call for trained soldier reinforcements to be sent to Vietnam. As a result Hayes volunteered and was posted to 1st Australian Reinforcement Unit in Vietnam from 13th June 1966 to 11th December 1966.

On his return to Australia Gabby was not happy because he had failed to serve in a battalion while in Vietnam.  When he arrived back in Australia, he immediately found his way back to Puckapunyal and sat on the CO’s front verandah until Lt Col Eric Smith returned some days later. He then demanded to be taken on strength in 7 RAR for the forthcoming tour of Vietnam. The CO, impressed by such determination, pulled some strings, and had Gabby posted to 3 Platoon, A Coy, 7 RAR – the same Platoon he left in 3 RAR.

Corporal J. F. Hayes was a section commander in A Company during the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha on 6 August 1967. In the opening shots of the engagement, two sections were leaderless within minutes, ‘Lofty’ Aylett was 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 platoon commander 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.

Coincidentally, this was on the eve of the anniversary of the 7th Infantry Battalion’s heroic stand at Lone Pine, Gallipoli. Later Lt Col 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 his will Gabby made the 7 RAR Sergeants’ Mess a beneficiary on the condition it be expended on a toast to infantrymen on the Battalion’s birthday by mess members and assembled Battalion corporals.  The Sergeants’ Mess chose to purchase a silver tray and have it inscribed with the “Gabby Hayes” story. In return the Mess displayed the tray and funded the toast each year in perpetuity. Barry Caligari, later the CO of 1 RAR, wrote:

The RSM at the time was WO1 Reg Bandy, MBE, and he asked me to write the inscription for the silver tray. I felt honoured. Corporal Hayes also set aside money to buy a trophy for competition at indoor sports between the sergeants and corporals of 7 RAR.

Gabby Hayes is buried in St Patrick’s Cemetery, Kenmore, Goulburn, NSW.

1 thought on “Cpl James (Gabby) Hayes

  1. I am saddened but at the same time proud of Cpl Hayes service and sacrifice in 1967. I was only 16 then but joined up at 18 1/2 and served as a L/ Cpl in 3R.A.R. 2nd tour in 1971. Young soldiers of today should be inspired by his bravery and dedication. He did his ” Duty First ” and may his name and actions never be forgotten. Lest We Forget.

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