By George Mansford April 2023 

Australia, in the 50s was alarmed at the spread of communism in our region.

North Korea had invaded South Korea. Malaya, as it was in 1948, a British Colony, was under threat by increasing insurgent attacks from established bases in its vast jungles. Alarm bells were still ringing when Communist Forces defeated the French Army in Indo China and as a result, Vietnam was split into North and South with an already growing infrastructure of communist insurgency in an infant democratic South Vietnam.

In Australia, its small military contingency to Korea had no sooner commenced its return to Australia when we were committed to assisting in troubled Malaya and soon after, South Vietnam as well. Then arrived a further commitment to counter the Indonesian confrontation in Borneo. Thus with such threats in our region and an over-committed small Armed Forces, conscription by ballot for two years’ service including overseas service was introduced in 1965.

I was there in Enoggera Barracks, Brisbane, when the first Conscripts became the nucleus of a new infantry battalion, It was certainly not an easy Unit task to be ready to fight in such a short time frame, however, our young soldiers, both regular and conscripts were magnificent and clearly a clear reflection of those ANZACs’  who had trained in the same barracks before joining the entire force sailing for Gallipoli.

History also records that our young soldiers were at war before the battalion’s first birthday and fought many a bloody battle which included battles such as Long Tan and Bribie Island.

They were not alone, many thousands of young and not so young men and women served in Vietnam and there were so many unwanted knocks on the door by sad-faced messengers with terrible news that a loved one was badly wounded or worse still, had been killed in action.

A classic example of sacrifice was demonstrated by a young married couple, two battlers with an infant son recently born, had a sad record of family sacrifice. The soldier’s father serving in England during WW2 was posted missing while on air operations over Germany. His wife’s father,  a soldier, was reported missing in action in the Pacific 1942. Then another war (Vietnam) and the wife with the arrival of an unwanted knock on the door became a widow with the news her husband, a Regular Army Warrant  Officer soldier,  had been killed in action in Vietnam.

The characteristics of our soldiers in the Vietnam era were no different to wars before them and those that followed Always pride in who they were, what they were, and where they came from. Always was their humour, no matter how grim or demanding the circumstances. They were always as one, defiant, determined and resolute. Forever yearning to be home, in their beloved land down under.

Much of their time was spent in the seemingly endless green dense jungles, swamps, rubber plantations and rice fields.

No matter where danger was so often just around the corner, be it fleeting clashes with small groups of enemy or outnumbered and under heavy fire at close range from a well-camouflaged bunker system, not forgetting the heavy use of mines and booby traps where the weight or tug of a foot would trigger terrible injuries and so often death.

Not too far away, after evacuation by helicopters, were the dedicated and devoted beloved young Florence Nightingales, ready to receive and treat such terrible bloody wounds and comfort very troubled minds.

Not surprising, our troops quickly became much more disciplined and battle-hardened veterans. They demonstrated personal and collective courage and in my view, unquestionably their most powerful armour was their trust, caring, sharing and strong faith in each other,  and immense regimental and national pride. There is much our politicians could readily learn from such soldiers’ selfless deeds and constant demonstration of unity from all walks of life, regardless of race, colour, or religion and always the belief; we are as one.

You, our students of today are our leaders of tomorrow at all levels of society. You can best honour all of our fallen by your conduct and example to those generations who will follow and mark it well, it will be an obligation of trust and honour, no matter your disappointments, trials and ordeals yet to be confronted.

Like my two young comrades in uniform with me today, hopefully, your time will be forever in peace. And yet, no matter the challenges of life confronted, always you will be standing tall, forever your love of nation, sharing, caring, and always the battle cry as it was with the ANZACS, and forever more here in the land Down Under in all walks of life; “We are as one”


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