Francis “Frank” Topp was born in Toowoomba, Queensland on 26 January 1947, to Norman and Bridget Topp, the second of 11 children.
He grew up on the family’s dairy farm at Flagstone Creek near the town of Helidon. He attended Flagstone Creek State School and Downlands College in Toowoomba, where he joined the school’s cadet unit.
On 6 July 1964, aged 17, Frank joined the Australian Regular Army for a six-year period. He was posted to the 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Kapooka for training.
On 15 July, Topp embarked from Sydney for the 1st Australian Reinforcement Unit at Nui Dat outside Saigon in South Vietnam. On 17 August, he joined 5 Section, 11 Platoon, D Company.
Earlier that morning, Nui Dat had been bombarded by the Viet Cong, with over 100 rounds fired from mortars, recoilless rifles and a Japanese field gun landing inside the base’s perimeter. 24 Australians were wounded.
It was Topp’s first experience of enemy fire.
B Company 6RAR left Nui Dat to find the Viet Cong mortar baseplate positions. They spent the night outside the wire, then patrolled to the edge of the Long Tan rubber plantation.
D Company, led by Major Harry Smith, left Nui Dat at 11am that morning to relieve B Company.
Lance Corporal John Robbins, 5 Section’s commander, checked with Topp that he was alright during his first time outside the wire. Topp also met a mate from Kapooka, Private David Thomas, now in B Company, 6RAR.
Shortly after 3pm, 11 Platoon encountered Vietnamese troops in the Long Tan rubber plantation. After a brief firefight, the enemy withdrew and the Australians followed. At 4pm, 11 Platoon met heavy opposition with immediate casualties.
After the initial burst of fire, Topp’s 5 Section was ordered to form an L-shaped defensive position. As they moved to comply, the men came under fire. Several were hit, including Topp, who was shot and killed instantly.
He was 19 years old. Topp had been in Vietnam for a month and with his battalion for just 24 hours.
In this, the battle of Long Tan, 108 soldiers of D Company, 6RAR, fought an intense and dramatic battle against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces. 11 Platoon was engaged on three sides, in danger of being cut off and wiped out entirely. Monsoonal rain deluged the area, reducing visibility to 50 metres and turned the ground into slick, red mud.
In the hours that followed, a numerically-superior Vietnamese force attempted to overrun D Company. D company hung on tenaciously.
At 7pm, 3 Troop, 1 Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron arrived with A Company, 6RAR on board. They attacked quickly, stopping the enemy attack from going ahead. As night fell, the enemy withdrew.
D Company returned to the battle site the next morning, to recover their comrades and the dead. They also recovered three wounded Vietnamese soldiers and buried over 245 enemy dead.
Topp’s remains were returned to Australia and he was laid to rest in Helidon Catholic Cemetery, Queensland.
Michael Kelly, Historian, Military History Section