Capt Bede Tongs OAM MM

Capt Bede Tongs OAM MM (Rtd) taken on 24 October 2014

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 .

Bede says:
“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.

Awards/recognition include:

Military Medal.

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.)

9 responses to “Capt Bede Tongs OAM MM

  1. I remember bede tongs telling me wat kokoda was like in the war and fighting the japanese its unbelievable on wat he and his men had to endure thank u mate for ur sacrifice i will never forget ur words

  2. I met Bede and Stewie (Simms) at Isurava in August 2002. Both wonderful, both Australian to the core and both grateful forever to the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

  3. Thank you to my uncle Bede for what you have done and achieved in his very fulfilling life so far. Both for his family, friends and country. I am so proud and honoured to be his nephew. All the best mate.

  4. I recently trekked the Kokoda Trail from Owens Corner to kokoda and our trek group arrived at Insurava in the afternoon of Tuesday 16th September 2014. Our trek leader retired Lt Col Rowan Tracey from Charlie Lynn’s Kokoda Adventures ask me if I would like to do a reading at the following mornings Dawn service at the Isurava Memorial. Of course without hesitation I said “I’d be honored to” not knowing at that stage what I would even be reading. I was handed a piece of paper with the words of the a poem called “WHAT DO YOU SAY TO A DYING MAN” that was written at the time by a Sgt Bede Tongs MM. I had seen this poem in print previously in books I have read about the Kokoda campaign, but to have the “once in a lifetime” opportunity to recite these words at a dawn service at such a sacred place on this planet that 72 years ago Australian blood soaked the very ground I stood on to stop the ultimate invasion of our country from a brutal enemy is something I will cherish until the day I die. I was a member of the Australian Army Reserve for six years 85-91(Reg # 2304511) and participated in many dawn services but the dawn of Wednesday 17th September 2014 at the Isurava Memorial PNG were I gave my all to say those words as Sgt Tongs would have wanted them said. I’ve recited your poem many times since that morning to friends & family since my return home, but never finishing it with a dry eye. I thank you Mr Tongs. I thank you and all of those soles who fought, died, lived to remember, raise families and give my children the life that they enjoy now. These are two phrases that I hold close to my heart and pass on to others at every opportunity.
    “FOR MY TODAY, THEY GAVE THEIR TOMORROW”
    “I AM BECAUSE OF WHO THEY WERE”

    Yours Sincerely,
    Les McGlinn.
    COURAGE/ENDURANCE/MATESHIP/SACRIFICE

    • Good morning, Les.

      Bede was very pleased to read your comment and sends his best wishes. ‘What do you say to a dying man?’ is indeed a very special poem and I am sure you have since found it in this blog. I had to put it up to make sure there was at least one true copy on the web!

      Bede published a book of his poetry ‘Poems of an Infanteer in the Firing Line’ in 2011. We still have some copies if you are interested.

      If you would like to contact Bede directly by email, you can through gtongs (at) bigpond.net.au

      Thank you for reading this blog and sending your comment.

      Kind regards
      Garry Tongs

  5. Thank you Bede for the privilege of knowing you. Thank you also to Garry. I am forever in debt to both of you. Garry you enabled Bede to continue to do what he did. To go to Kokoda to support our young and to tell of his experiences. Bedes mentoring of my son from the age of 15 set him on a course that has secured his future in the defence force. My son had been unsure of the defence force until he met Bede and walked the track. He now serves with pride. I thank both of you and will forever be in your debt. Nothing I say or do can explain or show how grateful I am for your support. Attending my sons march out in July 2012 at the age of 92 showed how much support you are willing to give to our young. You then attended summernats in 2013 on a 40 degree day to see him with Team Army. I was so proud to know you. I wish you much peace.

    Karina

  6. So sad to read of the passing on this great Australian. On behalf of my cousin, his friend – Laurie Davis (dec), we can only say it is time to STAND EASY. Go with God Bede – and the stories will be flowing on high.

    • Good morning, Beryl. Thank your wishes on Bede’s death. As it happens, I will be presenting the story of Bede on the Kokoda Track to a Friendship Force group and guests tonight in Queanbeyan. The title of the talk is ‘I was never idle’, Capt Bede Tongs OAM MM, Kokoda Track, 1942.

      Best wishes
      Garry

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