Vale Robin ‘Pom’ Rencher – Delta Company 6RAR
Some very sad news on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of Long Tan. Robin ‘Pom’ Rencher who was Lt Col Harry Smith’s batman/signaller in Company Headquarters (CHQ), Delta Company 6RAR and who fought and was wounded in the Battle of Long Tan, passed away at home in Oxford, England on 9th August 2016.
[Photo above: Nui Dat, Vietnam, 1966. Three members of D Company, Headquarters Company, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), resting around a sandbagged wall outside a tent in D Company lines. Left to right: 1730924 Private Phillip Rodney Dixon, 1411132 Private Robin Langdon (Pom) Rencher, 2781750 Private Russell Victor Perandis. All three served in the Battle of Long Tan.]
Robin Rencher was born on 8 February 1944 in Plymouth, Devonshire, England.
Pom joined 6RAR on 8 June 1966 and served with them until 22 February 1967. Pom was wounded twice in Vietnam, once in the Battle of Long Tan and again when a stray New Zealand artillery shell hit the Australian’s, killing CSM Jack Kirby and four others. Pom then joined 1st Division Intelligence Unit until 22 July 1971. Pom later went back to the British Army and served in Northern Ireland, West Germany and the Falklands including with the 22nd SAS Regiment. Whilst in the British Army he was known by everyone as ‘Roo’.
On 19th March 1974, Pom Rencher was awarded the British Empire Medal (Military Division) in recognition of his meritorious service in Northern Ireland during the period 1st August 1973 to 31st October 1973.
6RAR, Australian Army
Pom Rencher was dragged into the job of Harry Smith’s batman/signaller under protest while in the field on exercise in Australia in early 1966.
His first task was to cook Harry’s dinner while Harry was on a radio conference. Rencher looked around from his disgusted muttering at fate, and was astounded to see Harry, stripped to the waist, doing his share of digging for their weapon-pit. Rencher spent eight months never more than three paces from Harry, and he came to admire Harry Smith as one of the two men he ‘would unquestioningly follow anywhere’. Rencher felt a special pride in being a member of Delta Company, 6RAR. Rencher, ‘Harry was a soldier’s soldier whose professionalism rubbed off on the whole company.’
Some anecdotes of Pom Rencher before and during the Battle of Long Tan:
- Like many soldiers, everyone was pleased to leave the beach [Vung Tau], a hot, horrible place in many ways, and to go into the bush, the rubber plantation at Nui Dat. Other soldiers also found Vung Tau unbearable. ‘Even the South China Sea was warm and sticky’, says Pom Rencher. He recalls: ‘The D Company storeman, Tubby Campbell, decided he did not like it, and started swimming for home, clutching a bottle of gin. He was eventually shepherded back by a passing chopper.’
- A short distance from Harry Esler, in the CHQ position, Pom Rencher was beside a rubber tree, calmly and busily operating his radio, passing messages to Harry Smith and Morrie Stanley. All through the battle, rounds had been cracking overhead and tracer flying past. For some reason Esler and Rencher looked at each other, then faced the front again – “to see huge tracers floating towards us at head height, seemingly moving in slow motion.” Esler, “The world stopped as I waited to see who it would hit. No fear, just fascinated expectancy. After an eternity it passed exactly half way between us! I knew then that I was going to come through the battle in one piece and nothing was ever going to be the same again.”
- Everything from the platoons was being radioed back to Pom Rencher. Rencher then passed the information verbally to Harry Smith or Morrie Stanley, the New Zealand Forward (Artillery) Observer. Pressure started to build when things were getting really warm and grid-references were flying thick and fast to adjust artillery. Communications deteriorated, and Pom had to keep repeating “Say again, over” because he couldn’t hear the grids properly. He started to get really worked up and began shouting into the handset. Rencher, “I remember starting to get panicky, until a quiet voice came over the net and said, ‘Calm down, Pom.’ The near hysteria burst like a pricked balloon and I carried on with the war. I have searched memory and heart, and can say it was caused by frustration and fear of letting the platoon down, rather than fear for myself.” Rencher look around and saw Harry Smith, like a ‘rock’, always cool and collected; but the calmest man in CHQ was Morrie Stanley, calmly working the artillery fire orders as if he was on exercise back home.
- Before the fighting, in the heat of the day, Pom Rencher had drunk a lot of water and it now began to make itself felt. ‘I resisted it as long as I could, but finally had to give in to the pressure. Civilisation (or Pavlov) took over, and with large numbers of NVA and VC firing even larger numbers of bullets at me, I actually started to stand up and have a private leak behind a tree. Sanity returned and I eventually added my contribution to the thousands of gallons of rainwater that I was already lying in.’
- As Barry ‘Custard’ Meller was having his wound attended to after being found on the battlefield the morning after the Battle of Long Tan, and as Custard began to relax a little, Pom Rencher walked past and said, ‘G’Day, Custard’. Meller replied, ‘G’Day, you Pommy Bastard!’ Rencher walked on, with lightened spirits. Pom had been in Australia for only 15 months, and in 6RAR for five, and regarded Meller’s reply as ‘the finest acceptance speech I had ever heard’.
- Pom Rencher had passed many dead Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers and had been left unmoved; but then, “I came to the 11 Platoon position. My mates lying in an arc, facing outwards, with rifles still in the shoulders as if they were frozen in a drill and it only needed a touch to bring them back to life again. They hadn’t been touched by artillery, thank goodness, and the rain had washed off any blood. They looked peaceful and dignified, dying in place, doing their duty. And that’s when the tears started. I don’t suppose anyone was dry-eyed. I know I wasn’t.’ Rencher saw the body of 2Lt Gordon Sharp, ‘the young, fun-loving National Service commander of 11 Platoon, not the most brilliant soldier in the world, but one of the nicest and most well-liked people in the company.’
- Pom Rencher had a heart stopping moment when he went back to the rubber tree he’d called home for a few hours, to find, not far away, a tripod mounted 57mm RCL, loaded and cocked, pointed right at the CHQ position.
Long Tan, Vietnam. 19 august 1966. Troops in a clearing in the rubber plantation examine some of the Viet Cong weapons captured by D Company, 6th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), after the Long Tan battle. The weapons included rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles, and scores of rifles and carbines. Left to Right: 2781706 Private (pte) A. L. Parr (with back to camera); Corporal (Cpl) Ross (Blackmac) Mcdonald; Pte (Sting) Hornet; Pte Peter Doyle (with weapon); Pte (Pom) Rencher; Cpl (Bluey) Moore.
1966/67. 1400032 Private (Pte) Robin Langdon ‘Pom’ Rencher (left) and 1730924 Pte Phillip Rodney Dixon, both of D Company, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), outside a Support Section tent. The tent is one of a straight line of tents housing the Company Headquarters staff in Delta Company’s lines, 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF). Pte Dixon, a machine gunner from Support Company, shared the tent with 2781804 Pte Ian Dixon, 2781750 Pte Russell Victor Perandis, and possibly one other soldier.
South Vietnam. 18 August 1970. Solemn moment for four veterans of the historic Battle of Long Tan as they stand again on the battlefield at a fourth anniversary service. Left to right: Sergeant (Sgt) Murray Broomhall of Invercargill, NZ; Sgt John Beere of Woodville, SA; Corporal (Cpl) Robin Rencher of Plymouth, England; Sgt Bill O’Donnell of Townsville, Qld. All four were in the Battle on 18 August 1966, when eighteen Australians and at least 245 enemy were killed. Sgt Broomhall, then serving as a NZ artillery signaller, is back in Vietnam with the 161st Battery.