b. 13/03/1937 Surry Hills, NSW, Australia. d. 13/11/1965 Tra Bong, Vietnam.
Kevin Arthur “Dasher” Wheatley (1937-1965) was born on 13th March 1937 at Surry Hills, Sydney, third child of Raymond George Wheatley, labourer, and his wife Ivy Sarah Ann, née Newman, both born in Sydney. Educated at Maroubra Junction Junior Technical School, Kevin worked as a milk carter, food sterilizer, machine operator and brick burner. At the registrar-general’s office, Sydney, on 20th July 1954 he married a 14-year-old milk-bar assistant Edna Aileen Davis, who used her stepfather’s surname, Gimson.
On 12th June 1956 Wheatley enlisted in the Australian Regular Army. Following recruit training he joined the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in September 1956 and transferred to the 3rd Battalion in March 1957. He served in the Malayan Emergency from September that year to July 1959, before transferring in August to the 2nd Battalion and in June 1961 to the 1st Battalion. In January 1964 he was promoted sergeant and in August, temporary warrant officer, class two. Short and stocky, he was a highly respected and well-liked non-commissioned officer with a reputation as a rough, wild man who was a good soldier. He was known as ‘Dasher’ for his Rugby Union football prowess.
Arriving in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in March 1965, Wheatley joined the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. He distinguished himself on 28th May by risking heavy fire to rescue a 3-year-old girl. On 18th August, when South Vietnamese troops ceased advancing during an assault, he took the lead and inspired them to continue charging up a hill. His men routed some fifty People’s Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong) soldiers.
Wheatley and another Australian, Warrant Officer R. J. Swanton, were on a search and destroy mission in the Tra Bong valley, Quang Ngai province, with a platoon of the Civil Irregular Defence Group on 13th November 1965 when it was attacked by the Viet Cong. The platoon broke in the face of heavy fire and began to scatter. Swanton was shot in the chest. Although told that Swanton was dying, Wheatley refused to leave him. Under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, he half-dragged and half-carried Swanton out of open rice paddies into the comparative safety of nearby jungle. He refused a second request to withdraw, pulled the pins from his two grenades and waited with his motionless colleague while the enemy approached. Two grenade explosions were heard, followed by several bursts of fire. Wheatley and Swanton were found at first light next morning, dead from gunshot wounds.
The Australian policy at the time was to bury their war dead overseas but Wheatley’s body was returned to Australia after funds were raised privately. Survived by his wife, and their son, George, and three daughter, Phyllis, Ellen and Leanne, he was buried with full military honours in Pine Grove Cemetery, Eastern Creek, Sydney, New South Wales. A public outcry resulted in the government announcing on 21st January 1966 that the remains of service personnel who died overseas would in future be returned to Australia at public expense if their families desired.
For refusing to abandon a wounded comrade in the face of overwhelming odds Wheatley was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. “He had the clear choice of abandoning a wounded comrade and saving himself by escaping through the dense timber or of staying with Warrant Officer Swanton and thereby facing certain death. He deliberately chose the latter course. His acts of heroism, determination and unflinching loyalty in the face of the enemy will always stand as examples of the true meaning of valour.” He was also awarded the United States of America’s Silver Star (though it was not presented to the family at the time). The Republic of Vietnam had appointed him a Knight of its National Order and awarded him its Military Merit Medal and Cross of Gallantry with Palm. The latter two awards were pinned onto Wheatley’s coffin by a Vietnamese Colonel. In 1993 Wheatley’s V.C. and other medals were presented to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. In 2002, the Kevin Wheatley VC Memorial Wall was unveiled in Campbeltown, New South Wales. It commemorates those who had fallen from the Campbeltown district. It was unveiled by Keith Payne VC and Mrs Edna Wheatley. In 2021, following a long campaign, Edna Wheatley and George Wheatley were presented with the Silver Star by the US Government at a ceremony in Canberra. On 30th January 2024 it was announced that Kevin Wheatley VC would be awarded a posthumous Medal of Gallantry for two other acts of gallantry prior to his VC action.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA.
BURIAL PLACE: PINE GROVE CEMETERY, BLACKTOWN, NSW, AUSTRALIA.
Edna Wheatley (widow of Kevin Wheatley VC) and George Wheatley (son of Kevin Wheatley VC) – for access to their family archive for numerous images for this page.