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Peter John Badcoe (1934–1967)

by Ian McNeill

This article was published:

Peter John Badcoe (1934-1967), by unknown photographer

Peter John Badcoe (1934-1967), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 116857

Peter John Badcoe (1934-1967), army officer, was born on 11 January 1934 at Malvern, Adelaide, son of Leslie Allen Badcock, public servant, and his wife Gladys Mary Ann May, née Overton. Educated at Adelaide Technical High School, in 1950 Peter entered the South Australian Public Service as a clerk. He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army on 10 June 1950. Graduating from the Officer Cadet School, Portsea, Victoria, on 13 December 1952, he was allocated to the Royal Australian Artillery. Postings to the 14th National Service Training Battalion (1953 and 1955-57) and the 1st Field Regiment (1953-55 and 1957-58) followed. On 26 May 1956 he married 17-year-old Denise Maureen MacMahon in the Methodist Church, Manly, Sydney.

Promoted temporary captain, in December 1958 Badcock was sent to Army Headquarters as a staff officer. In 1961 he changed his surname to Badcoe. While serving in Malaya with the 103rd Field Battery from September 1961 to November 1963, he spent a week (7-14 November 1962) in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). He saw the conditions under which the South resisted communist insurgency which was led by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). Back in Australia, Badcoe returned to the 1st Field Regiment, but in 1965 transferred to the infantry; in June 1966 he was promoted provisional major. He arrived in Saigon on 6 August to join the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. Short, round and stocky, with horn-rimmed spectacles, Badcoe did not look a hero. He was a quiet, gentle and retiring man, with a dry sense of humour. His wife was his confidante. Badcoe neither drank alcohol nor smoked; bored by boisterous mess activities, he preferred the company of a book on military history. To his colleagues he was an enigma, yet many humoured his boundless enthusiasm in field exercises and his off-duty discourses on martial matters.

Serving in Thua Thien province, in December 1966 Badcoe became operations adviser at provincial headquarters, Hue. On 23 February 1967, during a small operation in the Phu Thu district, he ran across almost 650 yards (594 m) of fire-swept ground to assist a platoon of the South Vietnamese Popular Forces. Taking charge of the unit, Badcoe led it in a frontal attack, averting defeat and inflicting heavy casualties. He collected the corpse of an American adviser and braved further volleys to rescue one who was wounded. Commanding the province's reaction company on 7 March, Badcoe conducted a series of fierce assaults which put to flight a strong People's Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong) formation and saved the district headquarters of Quang Dien and its defenders.

On 7 April 1967 he wrote his last letter to his wife: 'It's time I came home. I'm getting bitter and cynical . . . I can see more and more good about the Vietnamese and less and less about the US advisers'. That day he learned that the 1st Division Reaction Company was in difficulty near the hamlet of An Thuan. Knowing that the company would be denied air support unless advisers were present, he drove there by jeep with a United States Army sergeant. On arrival, Badcoe found that the force had fallen back. He took charge and rallied the men in the face of withering fire. Crawling ahead, he made several attempts to silence a machine-gun with grenades. His sergeant at one stage pulled him out of the line of fire. Rising again to throw another grenade, Badcoe was shot and killed.

For his feats of gallantry and leadership, he won the Victoria Cross and the United States Silver Star; the Republic of Vietnam awarded him its National Order, three Crosses for Gallantry and the Armed Forces Honour Medal. Badcoe had been highly respected by his Vietnamese and American comrades-in-arms. Survived by his wife and three daughters, he was buried in the Terendak military cemetery, Malacca, Malaysia. His widow presented his decorations to the Australian War Memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • I. McNeill, The Team (Canb, 1984)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily, revised and condensed by J. Williams and A. Staunton (Canb, 1986)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 17 Oct 1967
  • Mirror (Sydney), 22 Oct 1967
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • Department of Defence (Army Office), Canberra records
  • private information.

Citation details

Ian McNeill, 'Badcoe, Peter John (1934–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Peter John Badcoe (1934-1967), by unknown photographer

Peter John Badcoe (1934-1967), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 116857

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Badcock, Peter John

11 January, 1934
Malvern, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


7 April, 1967 (aged 33)
An Thuan, Vietnam