Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rayene Stewart Simpson (1926–1978)

by Brian Kelly

This article was published:

Rayene Stewart Simpson (1926-1978), by Brian Edwin L'Estrange, 1969

Rayene Stewart Simpson (1926-1978), by Brian Edwin L'Estrange, 1969

Australian War Memorial, LES/69/0568/VN

Rayene Stewart Simpson (1926-1978), soldier, was born on 16 February 1926 at Redfern, Sydney, third child of New South Wales-born parents Robert William Simpson, labourer, and his wife Olga Maude, née Montgomery. Olga deserted her husband and children about 1931. Ray was separated from his siblings and placed in the Church of England Home for Boys, Carlingford. Educated at a local school and at Dumaresq Island Public School, Taree, he worked as a labourer.

On 15 March 1944 Simpson enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served on Morotai, and at Tarakan, Borneo, and Rabaul, New Guinea, and was demobilized on 20 January 1947 in Sydney. After taking various jobs, he joined the Australian Regular Army in January 1951. Five months later he was sent to Korea as a reinforcement for the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. On 16 January 1953 at Kure, Japan, he married Shoko Sakai, a divorcee. Next month he was promoted temporary sergeant. Returning to Australia in April 1954, he served with the 2nd Battalion, R.A.R., in Malaya (1955-57), then with the 1st Special Air Service Company, near Perth. In July 1962, promoted warrant officer, class two, he flew to Saigon for duty with the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam.

Home again from July 1963, Simpson left for a second tour with the A.A.T.T.V. twelve months later. Based at Tako, he accompanied South Vietnamese patrols in the country's north-west. On 16 September 1964 his patrol was ambushed by soldiers of the People's Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong). Although severely wounded in the right leg, he rallied his men and led them in repelling repeated assaults until help arrived. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. After recovering in a military hospital in Tokyo, he came back to Australia in June 1965. He was posted to the 1st Commando Regiment, Sydney, in January 1966, but was discharged from the army (at his own request) in May. Deciding to rejoin the A.R.A., he made his way to Saigon where, in May 1967, he enlisted and was reappointed to the A.A.T.T.V.

On 6 May 1969 Simpson commanded a Montagnard company during an operation near the Laos-Cambodia border. When the leading platoon came under heavy fire, he led the remainder of the company to its assistance. He dashed forward, reached a fellow-Australian adviser who had been wounded, and carried him to safety. Having tried unsuccessfully to subdue the enemy position with grenades, he covered the withdrawal of his company while still carrying his wounded colleague. In further fighting on 11 May he organized the rescue of wounded men trapped by enemy fire, placing himself between them and the enemy until the withdrawal was completed. For his bravery in both actions he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Simpson's character was complex. At times he was diffident in company, at others direct and blunt. He was tough, fit and dependable, but also rude, mischievous and exasperating. A proud, moral and compassionate man who was devoted to his wife, he was completely free of pretension and had simple material needs. He was well read in tactics and military history, as indicated by his infantry skills. His colourful language was legendary.

'Simmo' was discharged from the army on 4 May 1970. He obtained an administrative post in the Australian Embassy, Tokyo. Survived by his wife, he died of cancer on 18 October 1978 at the University of Tokyo medical clinic and was cremated. The Australian War Memorial, Canberra, holds his medals and his portrait by Joshua Smith.

Select Bibliography

  • I. McNeill, The Team (Canb, 1984)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily, 2nd edn, revised and condensed by J. Williams and A. Staunton (Canb, 1986)
  • D. M. Horner, SAS (Syd, 1989)
  • J. L. Menadue, funeral eulogy (1978, privately held)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Brian Kelly, 'Simpson, Rayene Stewart (1926–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Rayene Stewart Simpson (1926-1978), by Brian Edwin L'Estrange, 1969

Rayene Stewart Simpson (1926-1978), by Brian Edwin L'Estrange, 1969

Australian War Memorial, LES/69/0568/VN

Life Summary [details]


16 February, 1926
Redfern, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


18 October, 1978 (aged 52)
Tokyo, Japan

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.