‘Deeply ashamed’ By Danika Dent
SITTING on a worn leather armchair, David Edwards shakes his head slowly. “Why’d I do it? I just don’t know,” he says. David Edwards has been outed as a fraud – a wannabe Vietnam War veteran. Dr Edwards fessed up to the State RSL president Major General David McLachlan that he was wearing medals he was not entitled to five months ago.
However, the charade had been going on for many, many years. “I wore the ribbons when I was back in the service,” he said. The former Wing Commander left the RAAF in 1984. “I re-engaged with the veteran community about seven or eight years ago.” It was a move that saw Dr Edwards rise to the rank of president in the Leongatha RSL. “It’s something I’ve asked myself a lot, why’d I do it; it was like I fell into a trench and I couldn’t dig my way out. “It starts as a charade, and then gets more serious. “I’m not denying anything.
“I’ve been a dill. “It was a stupid thing to do.” Dr Edwards says he had no excuse for deceiving his family, friends, colleagues and community. “I’ve caused great embarrassment to my family and the community here,” he said. “I’m profoundly sorry for what I have done.”
Dr Edwards says the whole episode has been particularly difficult for his family – who had no idea of his fake service records. It has been a huge fall of grace for the family – the family are direct descendants of Air Commodore Sir Hughie Edwards, one of Australia’s most highly-decorated servicemen in WWII. “It was a big rep to live up to,” Dr Edwards says, “perhaps it informed my stupid behaviour; I don’t know. “I do know that I’ve got to deal with this – I won’t deny there was a big impulse to get in the car and drive away. “But I’ve still got to live here and it’s a small town – I’ve got to face it.” It was during a small town information session for welfare volunteers that his story began to unravel. A visiting Vietnam Veteran, a veteran of 9th Squadron – the same squadron Dr Edwards purported to be from, couldn’t place his ‘colleague’.
Further suspicions were raised after Anzac Day 2012 where he proudly wore seven medals on his chest as he led the parade as RSL president. With the State RSL’s involvement, it was revealed Dr Edwards was entitled to only three medals: a Defence Force Medal, showing he had been a member of the defence force, a National Medal, acknowledging he had served 15 years, and Defence Long Service Medal. Dr Edwards had never seen active service; he served as an equipment, supply and logistics officer. He admitted he bought the replica medals in military shops and online – a process he says was “easy”. Falsely claiming to be a returned soldier, wearing service decorations not conferred and falsely representing oneself as a person upon whom military decorations had been conferred are federal offences. The offence can include a $3300 fine or six months imprisonment.
In the deal with the State RSL body, Dr Edwards resigned from the RSL, resigned as Leongatha RSL president – a role he held for over two years, and reported to police. The Australian Federal Police did not have any records of former Wing Commander Dr David Edwards; but noted that since there was no evidence that Dr Edwards received any monetary benefit from his fraud, the investigation was not a priority. “The AFP has primary responsibility for investigating criminal offences against the Commonwealth (including matters such as this),” an AFP spokesperson said. “To ensure that limited resources are directed to the matters of highest priority, the AFP evaluates all matters in accordance with its Case Categorisation and Prioritisation Model (CCPM).” Dr Edwards says he also presented himself to local police; but “they didn’t seem too interested”.
WHILE an investigation at this time seems unlikely, Vietnam Veterans and other veterans remain upset, disappointed and angry at Dr Edwards’ charade. “It’s an insult to Vietnam Veterans to wear the wrong medals,” Bass Coast Veterans Centre pension officer, Rod Gallagher said. “This action diminishes the value of the medals. “But the thing is, you wear those medals for the unit, and the mates you served with, and especially for those men who didn’t come home, not just to commemorate your own service. “To me it’s unfathomable and tragic.” It is the second time the Leongatha RSL has had a president who claimed to have fought in Vietnam.
In 2002, president Raymond ‘John’ Matthews was deposed as president after it emerged he falsely claimed to be a Vietnam Veteran.
Leongatha RSL secretary Noel Laing described the incident as “disappointing”. “It’s embarrassing that we’ve had this happen here,” Mr Laing said. “We’ve been fooled for not doing our research or checking people’s records.” The Leongatha RSL was keen to distance itself from Dr Edwards and his presidency; a presidency it labelled ‘troublesome’. Mr Peter Carruthers replaced Dr Edwards in May. Dr Edwards was acting president when the incumbent Graham Heath was suspended when the Leongatha RSL was investigated for workplace bullying and bad corporate governance and management. “We’ve just got to get on with running the RSL,” Mr Carruthers said.