HERE’S part 2 of DAVID BUTTERFIELD’S recollections about his life as a ‘Nasho’, one of the 63,735 young Australian men called up for mandatory national service. In this installment, he’s just arrived at Corps Training near Manly.
While many Nashos ended up on the front lines of the Vietnam War, others went on peacekeeping missions elsewhere or stayed on home soil. They’re now campaigning to receive a Gold Card from the federal government to cover all their medical expenses, the same as their comrades who saw action. They’re also on the hunt for other Nashos to join their campaign, so if that’s you, contact national president Geoff Parkes on 0418 392 748, or visit http://www.nashofairgo.com.au or email, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE location being close to Manly and a ferry boat ride to Sydney made life quite pleasant.
We also had more leisure time if we weren’t on extra duties.
I do recall a propaganda chat when we were shown a map of the world with the communist countries coloured in red and how quickly since 1917 the map got redder and redder as it moved closer to Australia.
The “domino theory”; if we don’t stop them here (Vietnam), they’ll be on our doorstep before we know it. That was never going to happen and of course it never did.
12th Field Regiment, Holsworthy near Liverpool.
Life in the regiment was a bit of everything, the usual previously mentioned stuff but where training stepped up to go fight a war that was never officially declared a war.
A lot of field gun firing exercises on the Holsworthy Range, lots of guard duty (two hours on four hours off from 8pm to 8am the next day).
I recall a duty officer once, full of booze, calling out the guard for inspection late in the night as a bit of fun for him – unlike the guys trying to get a bit of sleep while not actually on guard.
Holsworthy barracks were mainly fibro type huts, they were old and cold – without our mosquito nets we would have been eaten alive.
At weekends, if you didn’t have extra duties, we might go into Sydney or the local RSL Club in Liverpool for our fun.
That is the West and South Aussie boys – most Victorians drove back home, and the NSW boys went home every night let alone weekends – it was a day job for them.
In April 1967 I was picked to undergo jungle training at Canungra in Queensland – a place you go to before being sent to Vietnam.
A tough joint this place, two days off in three weeks.
Lots of physical and weapon training, obstacle courses, muscle-toughening courses; it was full on.
Exercises out in the rainforest with the leeches, snakes and unfriendly vegetation.
I passed the training and went back to Holsworthy.
On parade it was ‘who’s been to Canungra?’
Hands went up – ‘you, you and you pack your bags for a week’s pre-embarkation leave and then off to Vietnam’ – I didn’t get picked.
Soon it became ‘who’s been to Canungra and would like to go to Vietnam?’
My hand never went up!
Maybe I was a gutless wonder, but I’m still around today so I don’t care.
Many of the guys I was with at 12th Field went to Vietnam and I know of two that were killed at Fire Support Base, Coral, just after the communists Tet offensive in 1968.
I had other mates who went to Malaya; I really wanted to join them but was knocked back.
It came at a time I was getting very depressed.
I’d received my ‘Dear John’ letter, which most West Aussies received at some stage.
As well, a couple of former mates decided I was a good target for bullying – an uncalled for, an unnecessary and unpleasant experience.
The only time I’d been bullied and towards the end of my service.
School of Artillery again
The last three months of service I volunteered to go back to the school as a driver.
Ten hours’ training in how to drive trucks and Land Rovers.
I had so many close calls mainly through dodgy brakes.
Running off the road following a tyre deflation in convoy and rolling the bofors gun I was towing, as well as tossing around all the guys in the back was the scariest event.
I ran over unexploded artillery ordinance at night when towing field guns for night firing exercises.
So army life in Australia was not without its dangers.
Many Nashos, who didn’t go to Vietnam had injuries that they may have since died from or which they suffer from today. Others died from different causes
Then the end – Exit interview question: “Would you like to sign on”. Answer: “No thanks!”
Australia should never have been involved in this unpopular war – people power made a huge contribution in bringing it to an end
The only other time men were conscripted to fight in a war was in WWII and they weren’t sent overseas to fight until 1943.
Every 1 in 14 eligible young men were conscripted; for the rest it was business as usual.
They had their jobs, probable promotions, their tertiary studies, their friends and loved ones and their sweethearts.
We had to start again and adjust to civilian life – two years behind the 8-ball.