From the Archives, 1971: Our troops home by Christmas says PM

Fifty years ago, PM William McMahon’s announcement of the withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam was met with a bitter attack from Gough Whitlam, who described the conflict as “the war of the lie”.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald on August 19, 1971 Our troops home by Christmas says PM

The Prime Minister confirmed in Parliament last night that all Australian combat forces will be pulled out of Vietnam. Most will be home by Christmas. Some Australian military instructors will remain if South Vietnam wants them.

Australian Troops in June 1965. CREDIT: STUART MACGLADRIE

He made no qualifications. The withdrawal will begin “in the next few months.” Instead of fighting men, the South Vietnamese will be given defence and civil aid worth $25 million over three years.

HMAS Brisbane, due out of service in Vietnamese waters early next month, will not be replaced, Mr McMahon said.

The Government was discussing with the Vietnamese plans to keep “some military training and advisory elements” in Vietnam. These included instructors at the jungle warfare training centre in Nui Dat.

In Wellington last night the New Zealand Prime Minister, Sir Keith Holyoake, announced that all NZ forces except an Army training team would be withdrawn by the end of the year. NZ has 264 men in Vietnam.

The Australian withdrawal plans were foreshadowed exclusively in the “Herald” of July 30.

War a ‘lie’


Australian military instructor and Vietnamese trainees at Duc My on August 24, 1971.

Mr McMahon spoke to a packed House and his statement was followed immediately by a bitter attack on the Government by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam.

Mr Whitlam assailed the Government for its attitude to the war in Vietnam over the years, claiming that it had been “the war of the great lie.”

This was the basic reason for its failure, he said.

Mr McMahon’s statement was heard in comparative silence.

However, there was uproar when Mr Whitlam made clear that he was determined to make the utmost political capital out of the Government’s alleged reversal of policy.

Mr McMahon promised to table in the House today a copy of the letter asking for an Australian commitment to the war.

He did so after Mr Whitlam had asked him to table it.

In his 15-minute statement, Mr McMahon said that security throughout South Vietnam had “improved remarkably” from the time Australia first sent troops in 1965.

Then, it seemed only a matter of time before Hanoi and the Vietcong would take over the country by main force.

Advances had been made in pacification and in political, economic and social directions.

“Above all, the armed forces of the Republic, with considerable help from the Allies, have grown in size and developed their skills, cohesion and effectiveness,” he said.

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