national servicemen of 5RAR
Once we were soldiers

 

 

australian infantryman's combat badge
national servicemen, before, during & after the vietnam war

© Russell Hill
8 Platoon C Company 1969-70

author: russell hill

In recent times, I have read about National Servicemen and the Vietnam War, in forums mainly, but also in the occasional book, and I feel it is now time for me to put forward the details as I saw them and believe to be true.

In 1967 I was posted from Airborne Platoon to the 3rd Training Battalion (3TB) in Singleton NSW as an Infantry Instructor. This was at my own request, as I had completed my Instructors Course at the School of Infantry at Ingleburn NSW, and to get promoted in Airborne, you had to wait for someone to become deceased.

I need to state here that I was promoted to Corporal on march-in, bypassing the first tape, and became a Sergeant within 18 months. During my stay at 3TB, I was posted to 1 Platoon A Company, where I remained during my tour of duty.

3TB had been set up specifically for the training of 'Nashos' (National Servicemen). Because of the intensity of training, we had a high and regular turn over of platoon commander's, so I frequently found myself filling that roll as well as my own. It is because of this that I feel qualified to make the following observations.

On the day of march-in, buses would arrive with recruits from all over the country, normally within a 12-hour period. There was much confusion, shouting and young men wondering what the hell they had walked into. We actually sent some home again, as the LMO (Local Medical Officer) had obviously been 'on the sauce' when doing the preliminary medical - clubbed feet, a right hand with one finger and a thumb, and one poor kid who had an epileptic fit on the parade ground. After more medicals, jabs, and the excitement of a trip to the Q Store (Quartermaster's Store), we would shuffle them down to the company lines. (It was quite challenging trying to teach them to march on day one). I think it would be appropriate to say here that the stoicism and tenacity shown by those young men on Day 1 should have told us that our job to train them was not going to be as difficult as we thought.

I could recount lots about their training and development but it is sufficient to say that at the end of 12 weeks I was so proud my chest stuck out a mile on the March Out Parade; it was obvious their parents and families were equally as proud of them. The true Australian grit and resilience were there for all to see. Some went up the hill for Infantry Corps Training while others went to the other Arms and Services.

Generally I found the Nasho to be an enthusiastic and capable soldier but a few rebelled. Whilst still at Singleton on ONE occasion I had a digger who made it clear to all, including the OC (Officer Commanding) that he was not going to soldier for anyone. I was told to take him back to the platoon office and await further orders. During that time, 'said troopy' and I had a few heated words when I did the unforgivable thing by offering to take my shirt off so we could sort it out there and then. I knew immediately that I had gone past the point of no return, but to my surprise he put his hand out and said:
"Sarg, if you're prepared to go to that length to keep me here, I'll stay." He did and turned into a good soldier

I did this work for two and a half years before going to Vietnam myself as a reinforcement (Reo), and thanks to Claude Ducker who nailed me at a FSB (Fire Support Base) during a re-supply; I joined the Tigers for the remainder of my tour.

I was posted to C Company 5RAR, but at the time 8 Platoon was without an officer or a sergeant. So Jack Lake, the CSM, (Company Sergeant Major) got the job, and I took over his duties for the rest of that Operation. On return to the "Dat". I picked up my gear from Reinforcement Wing and marched into 8 Platoon C Company. Some of my chickens had come home to roost as a couple of my diggers were Nasho's that I had put through Singleton. Here I need to say that it never ever crossed my mind that there was much difference between national servicemen and regular reos, and I'm still a little surprised that this has been mentioned, but in hindsight I can understand where they are coming from as it was after all, a huge change to their lifestyle and no amount of training in such a short period of time could allay all their fears.

Anyone who reads this, and served in South Vietnam, will know that the mateship was second to none, and I believe that it was that mateship that carried the day for us all. As far as I was aware there was certainly no discrimination at any time between the nashos and the regulars.

The final chapter came when I was at 3RAR at Woodside in South Australia when Gough Whitlam abolished National Service in 1972-3. It was almost an overnight thing, with the nashos given the option: to complete their national service and take the benefits that came with it, or leave immediately and go free. Some stayed and some left, but I feel I can say without any doubt, to those young men who did their national service and served their country so well during the Vietnam War:


YOU CAN LOOK ANYONE IN THE EYE, AND NEED NEVER TAKE A BACKWARDS STEP, BECAUSE YOU WERE THE BEST.

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