Capt Bede Tongs OAM MM
Eulogy by Garry Tongs on the day of Bede’s Funeral Service and Burial 27 January 2015
(As delivered, transcript of audio.)
I’d like to acknowledge everyone personally but that is rather difficult, so thank you so much for coming. But I do need to mention three people who are here. Owen Baskett, who was in Bede’s 10 Platoon of B Company in 1942, Len Griffiths, who was in D Company of 3rd Battalion AMF and I’m hoping that John Dickie has arrived. John was with the 2/3rd Battalion and Bede and John kept in touch for many, many years. [John Dickie was there.]
As I say, there are many people here who I would like to mention individually and one whose absence I acknowledge and that is General Gordon Maitland AO OBE RFD ED. I spoke to General Maitland the other day, we had a long conversation, and he was very disappointed he wasn’t able to travel to be with us today.
Bede George Donald Tongs was born on 27 June 1920. His family home was Whitton so his mother, Rebecca Edith (nee Finley, born in Carrathool in 1897), had to travel to Narrandera for his birth. His father Henri George Tongs, was born in Alton, Hampshire in 1894, arriving in Australia in 1911. 1071 George Tongs was an ANZAC, landing on the afternoon of 25 April 1915.
Bede was the second of five brothers and two sisters: Alf, Reg, Keith, Joyce, Fay, Mel and Ron. Ronny is here with us today, which is wonderful.
Bede married Joan Davies, who was born in Wingello in 1922 and has one son, Garry – me, two grandchildren Angela and David and one great-grandson John Taylor. Angela’s partner Steve is here today but, unfortunately, David’s partner Sarah could not be here.
Bede became a carpenter and followed in the footsteps of the Lord. Bede’s calling was to serve his Country. He was a Gentleman and Front-Line Soldier.
Bede did not let his past control his future.
He remembered the past, lived in the present and looked forward to the future. On his death bed he was looking forward to his future with the love of his life, my mother Joan.
Bede attributed his survival to being alert, having a purpose, a sense of humour and being with lovely people. So he would have, well he is enjoying it now, I am sure.
Bede was a Christian, a Soldier, a Community Leader, an Inspiration to many and a family man. Another of his sayings was ‘My Faith is My Strength.’ He never had to think about that as his Faith was always there. And of course, everyone who knew Bede heard him say ’there is strength in a smile!’
There was a lot in the man, as we honour Bede Tongs.
He was very pleased to have the name Bede because there was another chap many years ago called The Venerable Bede and he thought that wasn’t too bad, he would have liked to have ‘Venerable’ in front of it but that wasn’t to be. There was something that applied to Bede about the Venerable Bede and this quotation says, ‘Bede was not satisfied with just collecting. As Benedicta Ward has commented, “Bede not only had books, but he read them as well, and he did his utmost to share what they contained.”’ All of you would have experienced that. Bede collected and read all he could on the Kokoda Campaign and the Korean War. He could then combine that knowledge with his own experiences. I must admit there were some books he didn’t read, because he wouldn’t read [them].
Bede was a Commander’s Soldier and was fortunate enough to have two Commanding Officers he had great respect for on the Kokoda Track and Beyond, Alan Cameron, and the Aitape-Wewak Campaign, Ian Hutchison. Very pleased to say that Susan, Ian Hutchinson’s daughter is with us today. They knew he would get the job done and he agreed with them. Every now and then he would tell me some patrols couldn’t find the enemy, but he always did.
Bede and my mother Joan were a team. The only time they were apart was when Bede went overseas, and generally to Papua New Guinea, that was the only place he went to, or was forced by illness to be in hospital. Their first goal was to sustain the memory of the 3rd Battalion AMF.
Bede put a plaque at Eora Creek in 1980 with the inscription:
“The Japanese with Banzai yells could not dislodge this Gallant Force as history writers tell.”
Bede and Joan also helped organise the East Jindabyne monument, and Nene Prendergast OAM is here and she was one of the organisers, which was dedicated in 1991 to commemorate the raising of the Australian flag at Kokoda on 2nd November 1942 by Private Merv Shea of Yass who was in the 3rd Battalion AMF. They also raised money and organised plaques for the Kokoda Memorial Walkway near Concord Hospital. Bede and Joan supported widows of Battalion members when they had problems in getting pensions.
Bede helped reform the 3rd Battalion, Werriwa Regiment as a CMF unit. He served from 1948 until 1957. He was very amused by the fact that the Duke of Edinburgh couldn’t get his tongue around ‘Werriwa Regiment’. He couldn’t say ‘Werriwa’.
He was elected President of the 3rd Battalion AMF Association in 1953 and held that until his death. He was also elected President of the Oaks Estate Progress Association in 1953 and fulfilled the roll until 1972. Kerb and guttering, bitumen roads the community hall, sewerage were all achieved during his time.
In 1956 he became a Lay Reader in this Church. He built the Lych Gate and that is why we are here today, apart from him being a Lay Reader, he wanted to be taken out through that Lych Gate. After severe illness over 1956 to 1959 he became a Building Inspector in Canberra.
He visited Papua New Guinea 9 times, returning to Kokoda eight of those times.
For some years he was a volunteer at the Australian War Memorial at Wreath Laying ceremonies and School visits.
He has been presented to the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh and twice to the Queen.
He was proud to be recognised with the award of the Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List last year and to have it presented by the Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.
There are many ways to look at a man and on the Isuarava monument on the Kokoda Track, there are four pillars dedicated to COURAGE, ENDURANCE, SACRIFICE and MATESHIP. Bede exemplified all these characteristics.
It goes without saying that he had courage – you only have to read the Citation for his Military Medal, he silenced a machine gun and he was known for taking patrols behind enemy lines. [His endurance was amazing during and after the war.] Like many others, his sacrifice included leaving his wife-to-be, the woman he loved, in 1942 for what was to become the Kokoda Campaign. After that, on leave in September 1944 Bede and Joan were married on Saturday 16th and went to Sydney for their honeymoon. Four days later, Bede went out to Joan, who was waiting in the taxi that had bought them from the Hotel Sydney [to Marrickville Depot,] and said ‘I’ll be a little while, I’ll see you later.’ Later was January 1946.
Sacrifice for Bede and Joan continued in various forms for many years after the war, all the while serving their Country.
Bede’s mateship was on display as Platoon Commander of 10 Platoon, B Company, on the Kokoda Track. He looked after the men he was responsible for including risking his life to silence a machine gun to ensure other lives were not lost. After the war it was Reserve Forces mateship and 3rd Battalion Association mateship that kept on going.
I was going to be a bit facetious and say this is the only eulogy that should have footnotes and references to the internet so you can go and read some of the things there, but I won’t say that but you might have got the message.
There are a number of condolence messages and I would like to read some of those, parts of them.
“A great man was your dad. And a great soldier, humanist, poet and keeper of the stories of our tribe and so much more.”
I wanted to quote these because of the words [being] used: ‘soldier’ – we knew about that, ‘humanist’ and ‘poet’ ‘keeper of the stories of our tribe’.
“Every minute spent in Bede’s company was a privilege I’ll never forget. Bede gave the big vision of life in war and peace and in particular of life on the track. Bede had his unique way of combining nuances of humanity with humour and Australianness which through his amazing memory and contextualisation of events became profound. On every occasion that I had the pleasure of Bede’s company he invariably conducted himself with grace, kindness and that egalitarian, [meritocratic,] unpretentious all-Australian way of approaching life and his responsibility as a keeper of the flame.”
“It was my great honour to know Bede, and a privilege to witness the enormous on-going contribution he continued to offer to the wider humanity both through his example and words.”
“A great Australian.”
But one condolence message was very, very special – they were all special. But this one came from one of the staff of The Kokoda Track Foundation in Port Moresby, Saii Faole, who is our Logistics Officer up there and he said:
“I am really sad when I read the death story of the Kokoda Hero, VALE:Captain BEDE TONGS. I remember one day I got on the plane with Captain BEDE from Port Moresby to Efogi then to Kokoda on Sunbird Aviation. When I recall these memories (it) gives much pain in my heart.
May our Lord God comfort BEDE’s immediate families and bless them for the sacrifices which he has given in 1942 in which most of the Australians and Papua New Guineans are now benefiting.
MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE
I will pass on this message to Mr Faole Bokoi, the last remaining Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel in Manari Village.”
Bede loved Menari so much, when he came back he named his house ‘Menari’.
“Bede was always most popular with the students being able to easily put them at ease and at the completion of the ceremony, answer their questions in a manner that they easily understood.”
“Bede’s 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.”
Bede was always wanting to let younger people know, particularly those in the Services, that if you followed your manuals, if you were well trained, you had a better chance of survival and he would just stand there and say, ‘Well, here I am. It works!”
“Bede was a strong supporter of the (Duke of Edinburgh’s) Award and presented the Gold Awards at a Ceremony in 2013.”
He was also a strong supporter of Scouting, both in the ACT, in Australia and Internationally.
“We were so privileged to have met Bede, to have his support for our Tumbarumba Rotary Club Kokoda project and for his constant encouragement of our students, leaders and trekkers. A truly amazing man.”
“I quote him in every leadership presentation I do.”
“We will miss your beautiful heart and spirit.”
“We will remember you. For your courage and outstanding attitude, for your leadership and service. We’re so privileged to have known you.”
“It was a privilege to have known you and an honour to call you my mate.”
“A thorough charmer with more game than a man quarter his age, a great egg and someone I was privileged to call my friend.”
On being awarded the OAM, there were a number of congratulations:
“I know that your tireless efforts were undertaken without any expectations – that’s just the man you are. However, it is heartening to see that due recognition does occur.”
“Great congratulations Bede on your award of the OAM which is very richly deserved for all your wonderful aid to fellow Australians and Papuan New Guineans.”
“ ‘Bout time’ some would say!”
“He is a tireless worker for his old comrades and has sustained his efforts for a very long time.”
“Given the time and effort Bede expends every year visiting youth groups, schools, elements of the armed forces, and his tireless support for The Kokoda Track Foundation and for the 3rd Infantry Battalion Veterans, this award is both timely and very well deserved.”
I had a note earlier on, in square brackets, which just said ‘forgiveness’. Bede went to Japan in 1953 on his way to Korea and he’d thought, before he left Australia, “The first Japanese I see, I’ll kick him in the shins!” He was there five minutes and he said to the interpreter/driver “How do you say ‘Thank You’ in Japanese?” And that was Bede.
There are many who know Bede Tongs and in the future, there will be those who know about Bede Tongs.
“A humble man with a big heart for all he met and especially for PNG. Great ambassador to The Foundation. We will miss you dear wantok.”
N43917 NX126952 252109
CAPT BEDE GEORGE DONALD TONGS OAM MM
Rest on, rest on Soldier
Yours is a job well done.