Peter John Badcoe was born on 11th January 1934 at Malvern, South Australia, the son of public servant Leslie Allen Badcoe and his wife Gladys Mary Ann May (née Overton). He was educated at Adelaide Technical High School. On 12th July 1952 he entered the Australian Regular Army as a cadet at the Officer Cadet School, Portsea, Victoria, and graduated as a second lieutenant in December 1952. He was posted to the 14th National Service Training Battalion (1953 and 1955-57) and the 1st Field Regiment (1953-55 and 1957-58). On 26th May 1956 he married Denise Maureen MacMahon in the Methodist Church, Manly, Sydney and they had three daughters.
Promoted temporary captain in December 1958, he served at Army Headquarters as a staff officer until posted to Malaya with the 103rd Field Battery from September 1961 to November 1963. During this service he visited South Vietnam for two weeks in November 1962. From November 1963 until August 1965 he served with the 1st Field Regiment in Australia before applying to join the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. After attending the adviser’s course at the Intelligence Centre and at Canungra, he was promoted provisional major and arrived in Vietnam in August 1966.
Short in stature, with a roundish face, receding hairIine and wearing heavy-rimmed spectacles, Badcoe was not the usual image of a hero. A non-drinker and non-smoker, away from soldiering he was a quiet family man with a dry sense of humour. He showed boundless enthusiasm in field exercises and in his off-duty discourses on martial matters. He served as a sub-sector adviser in the Nam Hoa district of Thua Thien province until December 1966 when he became operations adviser for the whole province. He was in action during his first week at Nam Hoa and the legend of his determination and aggressive spirit began to grow. However, it was as operations adviser that Peter Badcoe performed the three feats of heroism that together earned him the Victoria Cross.
On 23rd February 1967, in the rice-covered coastal plains of Phu Thu district, Badcoe ran across almost 600 metres of fire-swept ground to assist a platoon of the South Vietnamese Popular Forces. Rallying the small unit, he led it in a frontal attack against a machine-gun post and shot the gun crew. His actions and shouts of encouragement inspired the unit, which inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. He retrieved the body of an American adviser and returned under fire to evacuate the wounded. Less than two weeks later, on 7th March, Badcoe organized a relieving company into platoons which he led in a dash, again across open, fire-swept ground, to prevent the fall of Quang Dien district headquarters, which was being attacked by a strong enemy force. The fierce assault forced the enemy to withdraw.
One month later, on 7th April 1967, Badcoe learnt that South Vietnamese forces were in difficulty near the hamlet of An Thuan, just north of Hue. Knowing that air support would be unavailable to the South Vietnamese without advisers being present, he proceeded to the scene in a jeep. He took charge and rallied the South Vietnamese, who had fallen back in the face of withering fire. Setting an example, he pushed forward, and the South Vietnamese began to follow until stopped by a hail of fire. Refusing to fall back, Badcoe made several attempts with grenades to silence the machine-gun, which was having a devastating effect. At one stage he was pulled out of the line of fire by his sergeant but, rising to throw another grenade, he was shot and killed.
Peter Badcoe was buried in the Terendak Military Cemetery, Malacca, Malaysia. Six months later he was awarded the second of four Victoria Crosses awarded to Australian troops in Vietnam. His V.C. and other medals are on display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
I.G. McNeill: The Team: Australian Army Advisers in Vietnam 1962-1972 (University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1984)
L. Wigmore (ed.): They Dared Mightily, 2nd edition, revised and condensed by J. Williams & A. Staunton (Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1986)