A hand grenade ended the life of Gunning larrikin Barry Thompson

REMEMBERING: Two of Private Barry Thompson's sisters, Valda Lees and Helen Keed, with his official photo and the flag with his name that was carried in the Welcome Home March. Photo: supplied

REMEMBERING: Two of Private Barry Thompson's sisters, Valda Lees and Helen Keed, with his official photo and the flag with his name that was carried in the Welcome Home March. Photo: supplied

As Keith and Doris Thompson contemplated their newborn son Barry on September 13 in 1947, they would have had no inkling that this very date would lead to his death on February 1, 1970, aged 22.

Barry Thompson was the third of five children, having four sisters, Margaret, June, Valda and Helen.  He grew up in Gunning, went to Gunning Public School and worked as a shearer and shed hand. That was all to change with his call up on May 1, 1968.

In 1964 the Menzies government, concerned about ‘aggressive communism’ and insufficient army strength, introduced national service. A legislative amendment extended this to ‘special overseas service including combat duties’. All 20-year-old men had to register with the Department of Labour and National Service. Marbles inscribed with birthdays were drawn out of a barrel. 

Private B J Thompson, ID 2789920, served for 11 months in Vietnam as a rifleman with the 5th Battalion in the Royal Australian Regiment mainly as a forward scout for his section. According to his comrades he was a likeable larrikin and very good in this role. On February 1 in 1970 he was hit by an exploding hand grenade, dying in the arms of a comrade. When news of his death came to his mother, his sister Helen remembers answering the door and on seeing the Army officer, immediately exclaimed “Barry’s dead. Barry’s dead.”  Let’s remember Private Thompson as his sister Valda Lees places a wreath for him at the Gunning Cenotaph.

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