is a fictitious story concerning a group of young soldiers serving in one of the
battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) operating from the 1st
Australian Task Force (1ATF) base in
author has taken certain creative liberties in writing the story, so any
inaccuracies can be forgiven. The narrative is reminiscent of the tales spun on
ANZAC day. Basically true, but spiced with a degree of embellishment and
characters are true to life, the events realistic. The novel is interspersed
with humour, romance and rejection, sex, the coarse language of soldiers when
discussing generalities and under stress, close-quarter engagements with the
Viet Cong (VC), and anger, directed not only at the enemy, but at times towards
one another and often towards those in Australia protesting against the war.
reading the book, I was vividly reminded of my service in
a good read. Enjoy.
may come as a surprise to many Australians that conscription has been a part of
this country’s history since Federation. The fact that young and middle-aged
Australians possess only a scant knowledge of past military conflicts (Gallipoli
being the exception) is a sad reflection on our education system.
child growing up in the early sixties learnt a great deal about English and
American history. People such as Nelson, Washington, Lincoln and Bonaparte
filled the pages of history texts. It was well known that Audie Murphy was the
most highly decorated American soldier in World War II. How many Australians
have heard of ‘Harry’
as a private, he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. During World War I he
won the Distinguished Service Order twice, a Distinguished Conduct Medal and the
Victoria Cross. He was made a Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint
George and was also awarded a Croix de Guerre by the French Government (Lindsay,
though, his name is barely recognised in this country. The contribution of
as the contribution of our heroes has been central to Australian history, so has
the concept of National Service. There has probably never been another issue
that socially, politically and militarily has caused so much controversy as
conscription. The egalitarian nature of Australian society and a deeply rooted
resentment to being forced to do anything against one’s wishes, especially by
governments, has been an Australian tradition. Attempts, therefore, to force
Australians to go to war were strongly resisted. The issue of voluntary
contribution versus compulsory conscription has significantly influenced our
history and warrants clarification.
Federation, the initial Defence Act provided for conscription for home defence
but not for overseas service. In fact, ‘conscription for home defence operated
for all but sixteen years between 1911 and 1964.’ In 1916, Prime Minister
Billy Hughes attempted to introduce conscription for overseas service but lacked
a Senate majority to affect any legislative changes. He subsequently resorted to
referendums, which were narrowly defeated in 1916 and 1917 (Jordens, in
Pemberton, 2000 p.64).
changed in 1942 when
by the professionalism and experience of soldiers from the Second 2/14 AIF
Battalion, Militia and AIF fought side by side at Kokoda, never shirking in ‘courage, endurance and sacrifice’. Leadership and an unswerving
loyalty to mates melded the two units into a fighting force that halted the
Japanese push through
1943, Prime Minister Curtin was faced with a major dilemma. He needed more
troops to send to
1942, opinion polls on conscription received consistent approval. However,
conscription for overseas service was strongly rejected when polled in 1950 and
Cold War in Europe, the Arab-Israeli war and the start of the Korean War in 1950
highlighted the fact that
1950s conscripts did not see active service. ‘However some Navy National
Servicemen were present on ships that visited Korean waters during the Korean
War, at the atom bomb sites at
1959, National Service was abolished for a number of reasons. The army viewed
conscription as a waste of resources on the basis that it produced only
semi-trained soldiers who could not be directed to serve overseas. Furthermore,
conscription for home defence was seen as useless when
to Jordens (2000, p.65), the decision to re-introduce conscription in the
sixties appears to have been ‘politically motivated and related to the vision
by Prime Minister Menzies of Australia’s economic and strategic role in South
1964, the National Service Act was enacted on the grounds of increased risks in
the South Pacific region. Mr Menzies cited
army did go on a major recruiting drive in 1964 but rejected 70 per cent of the
11,500 who applied. With conscription, it was possible to acquire a more
educated and skilled section of the workforce from a much larger pool.
1960s scheme was only for the army, and men aged 20 were randomly selected by a
birthday ballot. Between 1965 and 1972, sixteen ballots were conducted, the
first eleven secretly. Men were drafted for two years’ fulltime service and
integrated into regular army units. 17,424 national servicemen served in
is relevant to note that despite the secrecy and timing of the introduction of
conscription, there was a significant degree of public opinion support. The
perceived threat from
has been said about claims that conscripts were sent to an overseas war zone. It
has been argued that conscripts, in fact, volunteered to join Vietnam-bound
units. This may be true, but mateship and peer pressures are powerful forces and
it was always likely that twenty-year-olds would follow the close friendships
they had forged during recruit and corps training. All conscripts were given
options for their chosen corps. Seldom did anyone receive their first preference
unless it was for infantry, artillery or armoured corps.
the war in
casualties mounted, the tide changed and mass demonstrations occurred throughout
the country. The ranks of dissenters were being filled not only by highly
educated youth from universities and technical colleges, but also by all sectors
of society. The number of draft resisters increased, and the conscription and
was unbelievable for the returning veterans that they had participated in a war
that was unsuccessful. The Australians in
many Australians held no animosity towards the troops, there were numerous
incidents of abuse. From my own experience, the public gave an enthusiastic and
warm response to the march through the streets of
Cunnington was born in
was employed for twenty-three years by the Queensland Corrective Services
Department, most of these years in a field management role. Along the way, he
collected an Arts Degree in Psychology and Sociology and a Graduate Diploma in
early 2000, John turned his hand to writing with a particular interest in the
areas of military history, crime and deviance. Married with three adult
children, John lives on
Read a sample:
Read a sample:
The sun may shine and leaves
The rain may pour and
But the world goes on like a
In all its glory, in all its
The happiness and the
turmoil to me aren’t true
For my small world is
centred on you.
a wave of uneasiness engulfed me. Shiuli vaporised. I had the feeling that it
was all too quiet. An eerie implacable silence prevailed. A sudden alien noise
– a crunching sound directly in front – caused my stomach to churn. My
fingers nervously caressed the trigger mechanism of the machine gun. There was
another crunch, like broken glass being crushed on cement. My breathing slowed
as a precarious feeling flooded through me. Pins and needles rushed down my
legs. My eyes bored through the gaps between the bamboo and into the jungle
behind. Please be a fucking pig. Then
it happened. Black-clothed forms began emerging into the clearing.
shit.’ I lashed out at Mick with my foot.
was instantly alert. Taking one look at my stiffened pose, he instinctively knew
what to do. He anxiously fumbled for the Claymore plungers.
till I fire,’ I murmured, trying to whisper and suck in my words at the same
seconds seemed like an eternity. My pulse was racing and my heartbeat seemed to
echo through my chest. For a fleeting moment, I thought my drumming heart might
give me away. An inner voice murmured, ‘Centre of mass.’ My finger tightened
on the trigger and a murderous hail of bullets sped towards the black clothing.
ears rang as the Claymores exploded, their vicious cargo slicing and slashing
bamboo, trees and bodies. Mick must have clipped on another belt of ammunition
as shells kept spitting out of the chamber. The ground close to us shuddered as
a rocket slammed into it. From some invisible point the black figures returned
fire with a determined vengeance. Bullets buzzed through the air, pelting the
overhead canopy like a savage hailstorm.
thunderous onslaught was suddenly reduced to sporadic firing as if both sides
had simultaneously disengaged through some subconscious agreement. I could hear
the frenetic bursts of armalite fire and the steady clap of SLRs to my left and
right as the forward section fired at the invisible foe. The returning fire
seemed to have diminished and the sinister shroud of silence descended again.
eyes scanned the clearing. A thin wisp of smoke hovered above the overheated gun
barrel. A familiar high-pitched squeal overhead told me that the platoon
commander had called in artillery support from the fire support base.
was pretty close. They’ll fire for effect soon.’
was quite surprised at the calm tone of my voice given that the adrenaline
pumping through my veins had heightened all my senses. Everything seemed to be
in slow motion. My hearing and sight seemed acute, almost superhuman. The blotch
on my hand was crimson.
on cue a barrage of artillery shells zinged overhead and pounded the area about
three hundred yards in front. Silence again. Then another barrage, a relentless,
explosive intensity that was both frightening and reassuring. Another ringing
haze of dust and floating, shredded foliage obscured my vision. I thought I
could see a foot about twenty yards in front. Like the gradual lifting of a fog,
the dust settled and the outlines of trees and bamboo re-emerged. It was a foot.
I could make out toes. With rifles to our shoulders and eyes seeking the first
sign of movement, we waited…and waited.
took the section about an hour to sweep through the area. Three bundles of black
clothed figures were lying motionless on the ground. Biggs had just bent over to
retrieve an AK-47 when Hugo screamed and discharged half a magazine into one of
moving. He’s fucking moving.’ He emptied the remainder of his magazine at
the inert bundle. I saw Biggs grab his shoulder.
Hugo,’ Rocco confirmed. ‘You’ve shot half his head off.’
a moment I was mesmerised by the corpse lying in front of me. Hugo’s burst of
fire had totally blown away one side of the head as if someone had
professionally sliced through the skull with the dexterity of a master surgeon.
An eye hung down from a piece of pulverised flesh, and the brain had completely
disintegrated. The whole cavity was exposed. A feeling of revulsion and
astonishment gripped me for a moment.
section commander, Jim White, yelled out to us. ‘Jack, you and Biggs drag
these first two behind the bamboo. Cover them with leaves or something. And for
fuck’s sake hurry up.’
and I immediately responded, grabbing the victim’s pants while we tried to
avoid touching the skin of the corpse. However, it was impossible, and in unison
we grabbed the ankles and hauled the body along the ground. As the torso bounced
over the rough terrain, the hanging eye quivered violently as if venting a final
indignation. The skin felt like warm rubber and I was glad when the task was
getting sick of dragging stiffs around,’ a pale-faced Biggs said. ‘How come
we always seem to be the burial party, mate?’
I could do was shrug my shoulders and shake my head. Like Biggs, I had become
sick of burying people.
next morning we moved to another location. An energy-sapping humidity, fuelled
by a blazing sun, quickly took its toll. Tentatively the platoon moved across a
narrow stream, its crystal clear water gurgling contentedly over a rocky base. I
gave one fleeting look at the mound of leaves near the bamboo thicket that
concealed two corpses. Their identity would never be known. In a short time the
remains would have rotted or been consumed by wild pigs. They would simply cease
to exist. I harboured no anger towards the Viet Cong, but no pity either.
Occasionally I thought of the families of the dead soldiers who would never see
them again and never know where they were buried.
mound reminded me of an incubating wild turkey’s nest. Perhaps
we have become like wild animals, I thought. Certainly
we’re fucking turkeys for being here. I looked back to see Biggs pause and
flick what looked like a small piece of metal towards the pile of leaves. It
glittered as it spun through the sunlight before it vanished under the foliage
of the bush grave.
had a trance-like look on his face. Then his head and shoulders appeared to
reacted immediately and moved on.
eyes returned to scan mode. The grand master considered his next move and on
command, the pawns eased forward.
next day I hurriedly scribbled a few words to Shiuli.
is just a short note to let you know that every thing is OK here. I want to
catch the re-supply chopper so don’t have much time. Hope you are well and not
stressing too much about work. Say hello to your mum for me and have a good time
at the footy. Up the mighty Brethren. I was stunned to hear that some bloke had
burned down the O’Connor Boathouse. It was one of Brissie’s icons. Oh well
there is still Cloudland I guess. Things haven’t changed much here. We are
still roaming around the jungles trying
to stem the tide
of communist aggression. Ha! Ha! It’s a pretty boring existence. I’ll write
a proper letter when I get time.
I wrote you a little poem. Hope you like it.
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