The Mount Evelyn community are saddened by the recent passing of local Vietnam veteran and Mount Evelyn enlistee, William ‘Bill’ John Smart.
Bill was born in Cardiff, Wales and came out to Australia at a young age with his parents, both World War II veterans. He grew up in Mount Evelyn, attending the Montrose State School and Lilydale High School.
At the age of 15 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy and after his initial training in Western Australia his first sea posting was on HMAS Sydney. He was with the HMAS Sydney on its first tour to take troops and equipment to Vietnam in 1965.
After further training, in 1968 he was transferred to HMAS Hobart and was with them during their patrols and operations off the coast of Vietnam. On 17 June, 1968 HMAS Hobart was attacked by a US fighter jet that later claimed it thought it was attacking the enemy. Two ship mates of Bill’s were killed in the attack, while he was also wounded in action.
The following is his recollection of what happened that night from the book ‘Yarra Valley Vietnam Veterans’:
“That night is still a sore point with me and a lot of other people.
It was 2.15am and we weren’t far from Tiger Island (Gulf of Tonkin).
“As it was a quiet night, I went up on deck with Able Seaman ‘Bungy’ Williams to operate the night vision telescope. The next thing they said ‘slow moving aircraft – unidentified’.
“So, I went to the night sight to see if I could see it. Then ‘BANG’. It was just an instant ‘BANG’, no lingering explosion, it just stopped quiet, different from the movies where an explosion lasts three or four seconds, it was just a ‘BANG’ and that was it.
“It turned out it was an American plane and he later claimed he thought we were a helicopter. How could you be so stupid? The ship weighs 4600 tonnes and it was a bright night and lit up with the moonlight.
So, there was this instant ‘BANG’.
“I thought Bungy Williams had hit me because I got a thump under the armpit. It worked out later that I had got a bit of the missile casing, it went under the sleeve gap and hit the bone but it didn’t go any further and the heat of it cauterised it. The only thing that stopped anything else going into the ticker was the sleeveless flak jacket.
“So I then looked at Bungy but he was slumped, I soon found out he’d been hit in the back. He fell forward and I picked him up as he couldn’t walk and I had to carry him.
“Then the next thing, he’s come around for another go. ‘BANG’ again.
It sliced down the hull to where the missile directors were. Straight down, slashed straight through it, straight through the deck. Ray Hunt, he was my boss, he was the chief weapons electrician, he was killed there.
“That night on the ship there were eleven wounded and two dead, Butterworth and Hunt. They got Bungy right in the back and he was a long time on the operating table and then evacuated back to Australia.”
Bill also later went on to serve on the patrol boat HMAS Ardent and after his career in the navy worked for many years with the PMG. He lived the rest of his life in Mount Evelyn, involved in steam engine clubs and the RSL. He was recently involved in the protests to save the ‘birthing tree’ down along the Western Highway.
Lest We Forget.