Bede Tongs, second of eight children was born in the town of Narranderra, New South Wales on 27 June 1920. Bede grew up in the town of Whitton where he attended Whitton Pirmary for his early education, and later travelled to Leeton where he attended Leeton High School until he was fourteen years old.
On leaving school, Bede was employed as a burr cutter on Wilga Station, 9 miles from Whitton and at shearing time worked as a rouseabout, although his dream was to be a carpenter. Bede achieved this ambition in 1936 with an apprenticeship in carpentry at Whitton followed by employment in 1939 at Canberra. Whilst working as a carpenter Bede met Joan, his wife to be, at a dance in Tharwa.
War intervened and Bede spent his war on the front-line fighting the Japanese on the Kokoda Track and in the Aitape-Wewak campaign. During leave he and Joan were married at a small gathering at St Johns Church Reid; Bede remembers the beautiful voice of Mrs Victor Southwell their neighbour, who sung for them.
Bede learned the art of Warfare well and was rapidly promoted being awarded the Military Medal and ending his war as Lieutenant Bede Tongs MM.
After the War Bede returned to his work as a carpenter and later worked as a Building Inspector and Senior Building Technician for what is now the ACT Government and was then the Department of the Interior.
Bede joined the 3rd Infantry Battalion CMF, Werriwa Regiment, Canberra in 1948. In 1953, as a Captain in the CMF, he went to Korea as a Front-Line Observer for Eastern Command.
Also in 1953, Bede became President of the 3rd Inf Bn Association, which had been meeting since 1947. From his time as President, Bede along with his wife Joan, who worked tirelessly until her death a short while ago, helped and continues to help members of the Battalions he served.
Bede has returned to Papua New Guinea nine times, including eight visits to Kokoda and the Kokoda area and keeps in touch with friends in PNG .
“I was fortunate in having two Commanding Officers who had faith in me and I returned that confidence through my commitment and actions. I was with Lt Col Alan Cameron DSO and Bar, MID on the Kokoda Track and Col Ian Hutchison DSO, OBE, MC, ED in the Aitape-Wewak Campaign.
Bede is an Ambassador for The Kokoda Track Foundation.
Bede is also the author of ‘Poems of an Infanteer’ published by Nerrigundah Publishing in 2011.
On 9 June 2014 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, Bede was granted the Medal of the Order of Australia. The full official notification reads:
MEDAL (OAM) OF THE ORDER OF AUSTRALIA IN THE GENERAL DIVISION
Mr Bede George TONGS MM
For service to veterans, particularly through military history organisations.
Active in promoting the work of the Kokoda Track Foundation as a speaker at functions and to young people who are about to walk the Track.
Made an Ambassador for the Foundation in 2013; has visited Papua New Guinea to assist families living in the vicinity of the Track.
Past President, 3rd Battalion Association.
Involved in the creation of a memorial to the 3rd Battalion at East Jindabyne; conducts annual memorial service.
Contributor of stories and poems to publications on World War II in Papua New Guinea.
WEDNESDAY 14 JANUARY 2015.
BEDE PASSED AWAY THIS MORNING AT 1AM. HE HAD BEEN ILL THROUGH MUCH OF 2014 AND DESPITE THE BEST EFFORTS OF WONDERFUL DOCTORS, HIS TIME HAD COME.
HIS DETERMINATION ENABLED HIM TO ATTEND, IN 2014:
THE ANZAC DAY DAWN SERVICE AND MARCH IN TUMBARUMBA,
THE ANNUAL REUNION OF THE 3RD BATTALION AMF IN MAY,
THE KOKODA TRACK FOUNDATION RALPH HONNER ORATION DINNER IN OCTOBER, and
THE 24TH COMMEMORATION OF THE RAISING OF THE AUSTRALIAN FLAG IN KOKODA AT EAST JINDABYNE IN NOVEMBER.
HE WAS PRESENTED WITH HIS OAM BY THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL AT GOVERNMENT HOUSE IN CANBERRA IN SEPTEMBER.
(This photo of Bede was taken on 24 October 2014, just before attending The Kokoda Track Foundation Ralph Honner Oration Dinner. Bede was accompanied by his son Garry, his grandson David and Sarah Smith.)