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WWI tactics 'absolute stupidity', says hero

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BerichtGeplaatst: 22 Apr 2008 12:37    Onderwerp: WWI tactics 'absolute stupidity', says hero Reageer met quote

BRISBANE - One of Australia's greatest heroes, Vietnam War veteran Keith Payne, says World War I commanders were "stupid" to use the tactic of going "over the top".

Going "over the top" meant leaving your trench to fight - a tactic which saw the slaughter of thousands of Australian soldiers during WWI, including 5000 in the Battle of the Somme.

Payne today reflected on the courage - and mistakes - of Australian soldiers as he launched a new exhibition at Queensland Museum titled The Courage of Ordinary Men: Three Stories of the Victoria Cross.

"It frightens me to think of what my performance may have been had I lived at the time of the First World War," the 74-year-old Victoria Cross recipient said.

"I don't think somehow I would've gladly gone `over the top' as they did in those days, because my training says to me that this is stupidity, absolute stupidity, that any commander would ... say `over the top' and who cares how many come out.

"We don't fight wars like that any more and that's why we don't have the casualties that they had during the First World War."

The exhibition showcases the wartime experiences of Victoria Cross winners Private Patrick Bugden, Private Robert Beatham and Major Blair Wark.

"It (the medal) doesn't really belong to you as an individual," Payne said.

"It belongs to the people that were with you on that occasion, and quite a number of them didn't come home."

On May 24, 1969 Warrant Officer Payne was commanding a company of Vietnamese soldiers in Kontum Province when they were attacked by a large force of North Vietnamese troops.

Although wounded in the hands and arms and under heavy fire, he held off the attack while supervising the withdrawal of his men.

After discovering many of his soldiers had been left behind, Payne went back alone into enemy territory and for three hours scoured the scene for wounded soldiers, eventually finding 40 men and leading them to safety.

Payne's actions that night earned him the Victoria Cross, which he last year sold to the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum.

Jane McLeish, the great niece of Pte Robert Beatham, travelled from Grassington, in North Yorkshire, for the Brisbane exhibition launch.

Beatham received the VC for bravery during an attack north of Rosieres, east of Amiens, in August 1918.

"The battalion needed to advance, and even though he was wounded, he ran forward and took out a machine gun post, killing several people but knowing he was going to die," McLeish said.

"It's a very big honour to the family to have our family history displayed here."

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